Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Visitors provide perfect excuse for trip to Cadaques

I have been a bit remiss in keeping the blog up to date. It is difficult to disrupt the routine  of reading a book outside while enjoying the sunshine and spectacular, clear blue skies. The new Jo Nesbo book, Police was a real page turner. Later in the day it's down to the beach for a swim enjoying the still warm water.

We did enjoy breaking our routine to welcome friends from White Rock. It was a very quick trip but we did visit Cadaques, the picturesque village where Dali and many others painted. Since our friends are real foodies we went to Compartir for lunch. Compartir is the restaurant run by three chefs who worked at El Bulli, which was touted as the best restaurant in the world for many years before the chef, Ferran retired.

We decided to sit outside to enjoy the beautiful day. The whole idea of Compartir is that you share, thus the name Compartir, which means exactly that in Spanish. Our lunch began with a glass of apple calvados with a lovely foam on top. I must say that it went down very easily.

We ordered several dishes to share. We were doing so much talking and laughing that my descriptions of the food are somewhat inadequate. We started with pan tomat, the traditional Spanish toasted bread with tomato rubbed over it. Then we had cod balls served with a fabulous mousse, shrimps in a very light batter, lovely monkfish topped with mango and fennel. This was delicious. My favourite was the deep fried rabbit ribs. Then it was time for dessert. We had a cheesecake with a difference as there was no actual cake but a wonderful sauce with wild raspberries. The other dessert we shared was called an omlette, a lovely white coconut, soft meringue over a mouth-watering fruit concoction. Delicious. After an excellent espresso, it was time to continue our travels.

We continued along the coast to Port Ligat and Dali's house. Unfortunately, we had lingered too long over lunch as the last tour was full for the day. Back in the car, we continued to the Cap de Creus, the easternmost point on the Iberian peninsula. I always love the drive through the giant rocks with their strange, eerie shapes.

It was a lovely day at the tip of the Cap with not too much wind. The landscape had changed since the last time we were there with hundreds of stone Inukshuks made by visitors. In fact we watched a couple gather up rocks to make their own Inukshuk. I'm not sure if I like all these man-made shrines. There were so many of them and I think they spoiled the natural landscape.

It was time to return back to the Nautica for a glass of cava, enjoying the view over the marina. We arrived back home just in time to watch a full moon slowly conjure itself from the mountain facing the house, a perfect start to a laughter filled evening.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Day trip to Barcelona to see Tintin exhibit and renovated market

Thursday morning and it was time for a long overdue visit to Barcelona. We particularly wanted to see the Herge exhibit at the Museum de Catalunya before it closed at the end of September. For those of you who don't know, Herge was the Belgian author of the Tintin books that continue to sell four million copies a year in more than fifty languages.

Herge drew on the news stories and books of the day. On display were clippings of articles about fascist plots, ships, pictures of the desert and the race to the moon. There were postcards, catalogs and even a book about Rasputin. Entertainers such as Rudolph Valentino were also included in his books, Valentino in Cigars of the Pharaoh. Each display featured a different book and all the clippings and other materials that Herge used for that particular book. The pictures, when compared with the originals, are remarkably accurate.

It was really interesting to see how Herge had developed his colourful books from events of the time. And of course it is easy see how the books still retain their popularity today.

After a short walk we arrived in El Born. Our first stop was the new Mercat de Princessa, which is really a number of tapas bars with beautiful displays of meats, breads, sausages, desserts and wines on display. We didn't stop for anything to eat today but we will go back there the next time we stay in el Born.

We continued our walk to the old El Born Market, which reopened the day before. The giant market was built in the late 1870s and has had a varied history. It has been both a  retail and then wholesale market. The nearby and smaller Santa Catarina market always did more business than its giant neighbour. Eventually the rundown El Born market closed in 1971. Changing governments had different plans for the market. In 2002 renovations were underway to make the site the Provincial Library of Barcelona, when medieval remains were discovered. We have passed the 'under construction' market for many years and tried to peek behind the hoardings. We were quite excited that now we could visit the market.

Initially we were quite surprised that there is no market on the site today. In fact Seamus had some difficulty coming to grips with this. It didn't matter though, the building is magnificent with its high ceiling and 19th century cast iron architecture.

The archeological excavations show what life was like in the 1700s at the time of the Siege of Barcelona. You can clearly see the remains of the houses and the roads. The people of Barcelona loved their sweets and were very social as they are today. You can clearly see the remnants of the ice house that provided ice for the favourite granitas, shaved ice drinks. The big vat where the brandy was made is quite prominent. The attack at the time of the siege devastated the site.

Notarized documentation exists about the area so that it is known who lived in the buildings. At the sides of the market or cultural centre are museums showing daily life in the area with lots of ceramics and displays and a war room. We will visit these next time we are in Barcelona.

We did visit the restaurant or tapas bar for a beer and some beautiful pan tomat, grilled wonderful, multigrain bread with tomato rubbed in it. Delicious. At one end of the restaurant was a huge nine-screen display showing the stages of the magnificent renovation.

After a quick visit to the nearby Santa Catarina market to admire the food displays, we went to the adjoining Market restaurant, our favourite, for lunch. We had an odd non Spanish lunch of a 'melt in your mouth' Thai chicken curry and oriental ribs that came with rice wraps, strings of cucumber and a black bean paste. We were instructed to eat them like Peking Duck. Never having had Peking Duck we were a bit baffled for a minute but managed to eat the delicious concoction with no difficulty.

A window shopping walk up the incredibly busy Passeig de Gracias finished our day. Unsure about the time of the Figueres train, we made it to the platform with two minutes to spare.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Catalans chant "independencia" on their national day

Finally on Wednesday the rain stopped, which was perfect timing for the torchlight parade from the lighthouse to El Port de la Selva. The parade marked the end of the Siege of Barcelona on September 11, 1714, a very important day in the history of Catalonia. Catalonia was a party in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), where the old crowns of Castile and Aragon fought over who should be crowned as king of Spain following the death of Charles II. Catalonia, which favoured archduke Charles as successor, was on the losing side in a war which ended with Europe recognising Philip V as the new king of Spain.

After months of resistance Barcelona finally surrendered on September 11, 1714. Modern Spain was born, but Catalonia was to pay a heavy price for its support for the Austrian candidate: Catalan language was forbidden and Catalan institutions abolished. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the day on which Barcelona fell, honouring those killed defending the country's laws and institutions.

In 1931 the Catalans regained their freedom with Catalan being taught in schools and Parliament reopened. Sadly, this was not to last. Catalunya once again found itself on the losing side, this time in the Spanish Civil War. The Franco dictatorship came down heavily on all things Catalan. It was forbidden to even speak Catalan, let alone teach it in the schools. Everything was governed from Madrid. The Civil War was a particularly bad time for El Port de la Selva, which was bombed twice.

It was quite magnificent watching the orange flames of the torches snake their way along the Ronda and then across the beach into town. Balconies and terraces were festooned with the red and yellow of the Catalan flag. In the central square red, yellow, blue and white candles were lit forming the Catalan independence flag. The mayor gave a speech followed by everyone passionately singing the Catalan hymn. I felt like I was in the middle of a scene in Les Miz. Over and over everyone chanted, "Independencia, Independencia."

The barbecue's had been fired up and now everyone formed an orderly line for a giant sausage on lovely, fresh crusty bread accompanied by a glass of red wine. We sat on one of the benches overlooking the beach and thoroughly enjoyed our food. Independencia.

Wednesday, September 11 dawned, Diada Nationale. Today was the day of the Catalan Way, where hands would be joined in a giant chain running from the French border in the north down to the province of Valencia in the south to mark solidarity for Catalan independence.

Following Franco's death Catalans regained some of their independence but today they give more to Spain financially than they get back thus spurring on the independence movement. When we returned from our coffee young and old were waiting for the bus to take them to the spot where they would join the human chain. In the square the sardana band was playing and people were performing the traditional Catalan dance, which is always performed on special holidays.

Not wanting to miss history int he making we decided that we would go into Figueres to see the human chain. There was great excitement as everyone was wearing their yellow Catalan T-shirts or sporting a yellow and red Catalan flag, sometimes both. Dogs were wearing Catalan neckerchief and even cows in the fields were draped with Catalan flags. What an atmosphere.  A drumming band provided entertainment as did a local Catalan castell group. These are the people that climb on top of one another forming human pyramids. They were quite spectacular. Even when they weren't performing they were always walking with someone standing on their shoulders.

As 15:14 approached everyone chanted the Independencia chant over and over while moving into an orderly line. A band stood behind the human chain and played the Catalan anthem. It was very moving to look up the street and see the red and yellow human chain. Photographers moved along the line taking pictures of the entire chain.

It was a lovely experience to see such a well organized event with people obviously enjoying themselves in a such a calm and friendly fashion. It will be interesting to see how the government in Madrid reacts to this show of Catalan solidarity.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

We explore wine making process, feet first

Another week of beautiful weather has slipped by in the Port. Finally, we have calm water every day making for great swimming. The only event of last week was another Nit de Jazz at the Nautica with the same group as last time but sounding even better than before. Once again there was masses of food with shrimp and scallop brochettes, Serrano ham  bruschetta and a huge plate of sweet mussels. That was just the appetizers. This was followed by grilled turbot, and completed with small but incredibly tasty petit fours of chocolate mousse, raspberry mousse, lemon tart and best of all a tiny white coconut mound with a yellow blob on top resembling an egg. With as much wine as you wanted to drink and glasses of cava at the end it made for a lovely evening.

However, today was  the day I have been looking forward to for a long time, Fes-te el Most. We made an early start taking the road up the mountain passing the monastery. Early in the morning there were a few cyclists and hikers and one lone black goat resting in the middle of the road. Once at the top we headed down the mountain to Villajuiga and on to the Empordalia Cooperativa in Pau. Lots of people were milling about, and the open air tourist bus that is like a train was ready for boarding. We were off but unfortunately sitting in the back, which brought back long forgotten feelings of being in the back car of a roller coaster every time we went around a curve. We cut off the main road and stopped in the middle of a vineyard.

We were going to help with the vendemia, or harvesting of the grapes. Most of this particular field had been harvested last week but some grapes remained for us. Forming into groups of four we were given a big plastic bin and some secateurs. We were told how to cut the grapes with one hand while cupping the bottom of the bunch in the other hand. These were cava grapes and quite sweet to eat. In fact I think I did as much eating as cutting. The bunches were quite big and in no time our bin was full. Our bins were loaded on the train and it was time for the return journey along the road to Pau.

We carried the bins into a long room and placed them beside big, old wooden carriers for the grapes. But first, breakfast. We adjourned to the next room for pan tomat - fresh tomatoes rubbed into bread leaving just the pulp - an assortment of meats, local red and white wine and some biscotti. Fortified, we went back to our grapes.

It was time to do what we came for. Crush the grapes. First we had to wash our feet. Then we put half the grapes in the wooden container. In I went. It was an odd sensation stepping up and down crushing the grapes. Seamus joined me and we stomped up and down together slowly feeling the grapes turn to liquid. Our new friends took their turn at crushing, while we added more grapes. Finally, they had enough so Seamus and I gallantly finished the task. What fun.

It was time to wash our feet again and get those pips out from between our toes. The press was assembled and everyone took turns dumping their wooden container into the press. Much of the juice just ran through into plastic containers but to ensure that all the juice was extracted from the rappa, or must, it had to be pressed by pushing the lever back and forth, click, clack, click, clack. When it would go no more the press was taken apart leaving just the must that can be used for distilling grappa or other local liqueurs.

Meanwhile the juice had been dumped into an aluminum container and from there jugs and then bottles of juice were filled. We were given a little glass of the juice we had all made; it was sweet but not too sweet. Delicious. The juice from the press tasted slightly different since the stalks were still on the grapes. Best of all we were given bottles of our juice to take home with us with strict instructions to put them in the fridge.

Crushing the grapes using my feet was something I have always wanted to do and I would definitely do it again. The winery only takes a few people four Sundays in September so we were lucky to be able to go. Tonight cava grape juice with dinner. MMMMMMM.