El Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre

25 10 2013
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

The city’s yet new, but weekend nature escapes feel just right. This time, amiga Maite invites me to el Delta del Ebro, Ebre en Catalan.

I have (very) vague memories of Histories of Spain 365 with Chris. There was some mention that the Peninsula was drier than you might expect, and I’m sure there was a quiz question about the major rivers that I missed. I do remember the name Ebro, though. The etymology of Iberian derives from it.

Where fresh meets salt, the shallowest of islands are swallowed up in seagulls. The short cruise we take doesn’t swing by close enough for a proper shot of the birds, but I’m pretty sure I note a faint “Mine? Mine?” in the humid air anyway.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Post-boat, we head to Casa de Fusta, an institution in the Delta since 1926. The whole area is covered in swampy rice fields; the grains here are so renowned they actually carry their own D.O.P. to ensure the enthusiast of quality.

We split the menú de desgustación plus a few extra special entrantes between the table. The menú is a wide amalgamation of goodies from the sea, including brandada de bacalao, cigalas y sepia con cebolla y patatas, y arroz caldoso con rape y langostinos.

I’ve been promised that one may enjoy ortiguillas rebozadas – fried anemone – in this area, and so request it. They’re the mysterious breaded gooballs pictured above. Ñam!

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

The terrain here is so flat that people build lookout points to be able to take a proper survey. There are 316 species of birds that make the Delta their home. Elongated necks and beaks can be seen picking about the fields from up here for kilometers.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Post-rice feast, we take a much needed long walk on Playa de la Marquesa.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Sea to one side, rice to the other, and this tiny strip of sand in between.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Weekends are just so much longer this way.

Looking to Cuenca

5 02 2013
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

I first visited Cuenca in 2008 as a junior in college doing my study-abroad in Valencia. It was at that point in the program when everyone’s simply sick to death of each other, and hackles are raised by even the slightest provocation. Absolutely no one had any desire to be shipped away in a bus together, much less to this dinky middle-of-nowhere destination.

Although it was well into spring by the time of our visit, we were hit with a combination of sleet and hail upon arrival. None had thought to bring boots/umbrella, and the soggy time spent prowling the extreme slopes of Cuenca’s hills just served to exacerbate initial crankiness. Supposedly there were hanging houses somewhere in the murk, but hell if we cared enough at that point to suss them out.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

After an obligatory group tour through the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (which we all grudgingly admitted was pretty damn sweet. Check out Antonio Saura’s rendition of Brigitte Bardot), we scattered as far apart from each other as possible, each holing up in a different rincón of the city for stress beers. The designated hotel was located far from the center, however, and the mandate from on high was to be back in the bus by 10PM at the latest. Anyone who’s gone out at night in Spain knows this is early to the point of absurdity, and as such resulted in great trudging of feet.

Sopping, grumpy, and half-intoxicated across the board, we winced our way one by one onto the bus like bedraggled cats, and waited for a complete head count.

The last one to show was Chris, our coordinator for the semester. She was ripped, and immediately invited everyone to further drinks in the hotel bar. Well hey.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

The mood did a 180, and the Backstreet Boys made an a capella appearance. Loud and thoroughly guiri, we burst all at once into the couldn’t-be-chintzier bar. Rum and cokes sprung into eager little fists, and we had ourselves a catharsis. Animosity blurred along with vision. Chris enthused about pool boy butts. And I’ve loved Cuenca ever since.

Returning this late December bore no comparison, and was completely lovely in its own right. I tried ajoarriero (the wiki makes it looks appealing. ours was a cold ceramic cazuela of white gloop) and zarajo (… don’t). I hit up another abstract art smorgasbord, Museo Fundación Antonio Pérez. And I managed to spy the hanging houses with my own eyes, unobstructed by cloud or malice.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

w/r/t the title:
¿Alguna vez has puesto a alguien mirando hacia Cuenca? Sea cual sea tu respuesta, es muy probable que necesites esta aplicación.

Asturias: In the Midst of Urchins

4 02 2013

Thighs on Christmas

I’d wanted to hit Asturias ever since my first year in Madrid, when their tourism board ran a months-long campaign in the Sol metro that I had to pass through each weekday on my way north. The 2012 December puente brought the time, the cash, the company. Behold: Oviedo calves at Christmastime.

HelloGray Sky Shapes 1

The Asturian capital is stately and gray under December skies.

Storefront Sausage FantasiesFonts on Christmas

The area is known for taking delight in gastronomic excess; embutidos, quesos, and sidra abound.

No car at my disposal this time around, so mountains and surrounding expansive country must wait.

Puerto de Gijón
Oricios!No More Oricios

Coastal Gijón is easily accessible by bus, and brought the promise of eating odd bits from the sea. If the last bus back had left just a moment later, I might have fit in a third plate of oricios.

For the curious: they’re briny, the velvet of the bright orange roe interrupted here and there by a stray gritty crunch from the spines. They remind me of how one’s lips taste after an hour spent diving. Lovely, and wonderful in canned form as well.

Halloween 2011 at el Instituto José Luis Sampedro

27 10 2011

Last year, the auxiliares at Tres Cantos‘ own Instituto José Luis Sampedro set ourselves apart as much as possible, concocting a group theme of American superheroes (dedicated readers will recall my extremely brief stint as Captain America).

This year, we have integrated.


Adventures in Spanish Eats: Oreja Edition

6 10 2011

Morcilla: What Your Study-Abroad Teacher Warned You About. The not-so-secret ingredient that gives this Spanish sausage its characteristic blackish hue and earthy flavor is pig’s blood, which somehow manages to give many foreigners the heebie-jeebies. However, having already fallen in spicy vampiric love with Thailand’s nam tok – spicy soup deepened in flavor by the addition of fresh sangre – I remain free of such tikismiquis qualms; morcilla is one of my absolute top Spanish dishes.

There are two common variations, the kind made with onions and the Burgos variety made with rice. Burgos’ is best and has the rep to back it up. Lateral‘s version, pictured above, is total offal magnificence.

These gorgeous green puppies are pimientos de Padrón, and I think there’s some kind of blogging law about including the following gallego couplet in their description:

Coma os pementos de Padrón,
uns pican e outros non

The wiki claims 1 in 10 are unexpectedly hot enough to rattle your bones, but personal experience slates it at more like 1 in 20. Either way, the majority of the sautéed (or sometimes grilled) peppers taste of charred vegetable sweetness, accented perfectly by unmistakable Spanish EVOO and crunchy crystals of salt; it’s only when you’ve finally given up on seeking out any lurking Scoville beasties that they come out to play.

Funnily enough, I encountered these the last time I was back in the states, there marketed as Exotic Shishito Peppers From Japan. Munching them with mom and bro was magnificent in Greensburg back in June; the most recent Iberian iteration was the pictured plateful from Bar El Jamón in Lavapiés.

Couchsurfer Eddie convinces me to order up a ración of oreja along with the beloved peppers, and I savor hot, gooey, greasy gelatin vaguely reminiscent of animal product for the first and last time.