Huelva, the back streets

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Next Station

The great student city of Salamanca greets us with great sheets of rain that pour down on our flimsy summer dresses upon arrival. Depressed much? We come from an area where the sun pours down in overly enthusiastic rays of heat, to this. As if it was not enough to leave the love of our lives behind.

To console ourselves we head off in search of some café that will serve some kind of a tapa this late at night and find what will soon become two of our staples: bolas de atun (a ball made from mashed potato, mixed with tuna and served aioli) and huevos fritos (fried eggs served on bits and pieces of salty ham). As we mentioned, Salamanca is a student town and therefore going out for a glass of wine and a snack – even for folks living on a budget – honestly does not break the bank.
Example: lunch could cost you all of 2 euro 80, for two people, including either a glass of wine or a small beer or a coffee and then of course the choice of two between a selection of tapas per person: the above mentioned winners as part of the mix or artichokes drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil or a salad of mussels, octopus and peppers or a fat slice of tortilla or little red peppers stuffed with creamy, um, stuff or a portion of chorizo. . . And two samples of whatever, really do the trick.

That evening we also settle into our new quarters: this time ‘round we share an apartment with other international students of Mester Language School. There’s a Frenchy, a Jappy, two Dutchies and a sweet Chinese girl (Chinesesy doesn’t quite work, does it?).

Although the vibe and the rhythm is completely different here, another kind of caring evolves between us and the city. Salamanca is lot smaller than our previous home, foreign students flock the streets (here, we rarely came across local Spaniards and had to make an adequate effort to track down discotecas or bars where they were hiding away, life is more fast-paced and the city is old. Salamanca houses on of the oldest universities in Europe, the original building dating back to the 12th century. During war time, when part of the university and cathedral were bombed, advanced people of the time, decided to be a little adventurous with the rebuilding and replaced certain facades or clusters of has-been swirls, with a frog (which is now Salamanca’s representing icon: la rana de Salamanca), an astronaut and even a dragon licking an ice-cream cone.
Thought they were kak funny, hey, pulling a sly little joke like that.

(shakes of the head)

And then, to elaborate on the bars . . . sigh. . . We discover what Salamanca is actually famous for – behind all the pretence of this history and culture shizz. Definitely the bars.

There’s Jacko’s – name after the legend, the king of dance and sing and decorated in his honour as well; there’s The Irish Rover, a stunning Irish bar, made up in the rich art deco style, with heavy brocade curtains, quaint chairs and sunken couches arranged around booth tables, old-school bar and winding wooden staircase; to top that, there’s El Corillo that is a jazz café and tapas bar, where all the arty types gather for a fat chat and glass of something-something; Candela was the place to hit late at night when one is in the mood for some serious salsa, Spanish music and the company of Spanish ladies and gentlemen; Tropica, where, often, Latin ballroom fundi’s join up to jam it out on smooth sounds and have a delicious, huge, freshly shaken cocktail.
So the names just carry on: from reggae bars to more glitzy hang-outs, or just downright scruffy places, though still with warm atmosphere and where good times are sure to be had.

Have we hit another jackpot, or what?

The Road Trip de las Chicas

Our last night was a bitter sweet one: with the end of one adventure, came the beginning of another and also the arrival of Lindi’s mother. After we picked auntie Susan up at the airport and booked her into her hotel, we give her a grand night tour of Sevilla. Pretty city lights and a couple of vodka later, we join our friends one last time and head of to bed: tomorrow, nice and early, begins The Road Trip to eventually take us to Salamanca.caramelos
The Route of The Road Trip:

Granada - Cordoba - Merida - Salamanca

DIA UNO: First pit stop takes places at the side of the road, at some cafeteria, that looks a bit like the dining hall of a student residence, but where everything claims to be caseros – home made. And boy, do we dig into a meal of salad, fish, pureed potatoes and cookies that almost gives you the feeling that your own mother is spoon feeding you the Sunday lunch that she has been working on for two days straight with her fragile, loving little hands. It was gooooooood.
As we continue – Lindi and I not having to drive, in the magies vol, ogies toe fashion – the Spanish countryside folded out before us (in the moments that we were awake): luscious green fields, hundreds of energy brewing wind mills, small towns and run down churches. Before we know it, we have arrived at the place we shall rest our heads for the first evening.
That night we were treated to a guided city tour of Granada. We drive up windy, quaint little cobblestone roads, so narrow, you almost wouldn’t dare to walk there. We came to a halt, somewhere with a high altitude, and enjoyed the breath taking view that surrounded us. Granada lay before us like an ocean of warm, glowing lights and a vibrant bustle that even warmed our freezing little snouts from it’s distance. We then walk back to somewhere with a less significant altitude and were led to a cave-like looking place where we are served the best sangria in town and also watched an enigmatic and passionate Flamenco show. The lights were dimmed and the beauties and the arrogants took over the stage in a heated fashion – chests out, hands flaying, their feet feverishly tapping out beats that almost clash with those of the drum and guitar, all this with fixed expressions.

DIA DOS: Yet again, we get up early, chow a quick breakfast of sarmies al estillo de Espana and hop into a bus, that will this morning take us to pay a tribute to the Alambra – the Arabian palace situated in Granada, very famous, but not very pretty from the outside. Many hours, longs walks and a lot of historical facts later, our lives have basically been changed by the beauty and utter mystery of what we just experienced: to try and explain the detail - though, the word detail does not even have quite the accurate ring to it - of the gardens and rooms, will take up a couple of books’ pages. As we moved slowly, through all the intricate arches, over hand-painted tiles and up and down levels of ancient art, one could feel a certain sacredness almost resting one’s shoulder.
All too soon, we have to return to the real world and continue on the long road. The next treat, however, was not far away and the next pit stop was to be had in the city of Cordoba – home to the Mezquita. During dark and stormy times is Spain, when religion once again played puppeteer to the unruly storms, the Catholics decided to take over the mosque in Cordoba and transform it into a Cathedral. Thus, on the outside, the building merely looks like the same old, same old, but inside, alongside with typical Catholic nooks of Jesus or other dramatic and over the top artworks and stuff, can be seen the distinct flavour of Muslim architecture. Needless to say: amazing.
Finally we arrive in Merida, in for another round of magic.

DIA TRES: We trek through the little town of Merida, passing roman aqueducts locals carrying boxes of sweet-smelling churros and interesting little music shops, brunch on queso Manchego doused with olive oil, salad and coffee and resume along the roman paths where we quickly get sucked even further into a centuries’ old empire: a gladiator arena, theatre area, typical roman house (complete with mosaic floors) as well as captivating marble statues of gods and goddesses.
We stop for a divine lunch which we are served by a friendly, stocky Spaniard, of revuelto (scrambled eggs tossed with exotic mushrooms), mixed salad, fried fish and marinated tomatoes and a long copa of vino tinto, before we carry on to our end-destination, waving goodbye to the Romanesque palaces of our ancestors, the next stop forming the next chapter packed with Spanish tomatoes.

The Sevillian Train Passes. . .

To our great dismay, Lindi and I arrived at the last week of the glorious fun in the sun to be had in the city of oranges. In our last attempt to grasp and sample the city’s majesty and ambience, we drew up a to-do list of the things that still needed to be done:
1. Visit the hippy city of Cadiz on the Costa del Sol
2. Try on as many of the flamboyant and extravagantly expensive Flamenco dresses (or trajes) – the Fiesta de Primavera (Spring festival) is soon to grace the streets of Sevilla and to dress up, watch Flamenco shows and drink in tents will be the order of the day
3. Visit the Alameda de Hercules (historical site in Seville) in the Macarena suburb
4. Go for paddle on rio of the city, cocktail in hand
5. Laze around in the breath taking gardens, El Parque de Maria Luisa, of Seville

So, one Saturday morning, rising early from our beds we attempt to catch the morning bus to head on to the sunny side. Karin, our German freundin, also tags along to help us make a start to the list. The day sweeps past in a blur of great food (lunch being an enormous plate of fish, adobo style, and grilled peppers topped with coarse sea salt) good company, sea air, an educating walk-about the city and ending, lazily, on the beach with an ice-cream cone of fig, rose water and naartjie in hand. It really is like a big Kalkbay exploded on the coast of Spain. Everyone just seems to concentrate on breathing in the good air as they glide past in floaty pants and dreadlock coifs.
As we procrastinate leaving the side of these fearless hobo’s, we at least sweeten the deal on arrival in Sevilla, by buying candy floss sticks the size of our heads!

The next day, Tessa (one of our Dutch friends), Karin and we swing by some ridiculously over-priced stores, to see just how Spanish we could be in the traditional Spring trajes. One would never say it, but these things are incredibly small and tight.
Lindi and I then take a stroll down to the Alameda to go and look at this famed and spectacular ruin of Sevilla. It ends up being a pile of old rocks stacked on each other, with some mythological God posed on top, at both ends of what looked like an old running trek. However, the true magic of this square in the Macarena suburb, comes from the interesting and different people prancing around, as well as from the vibey, divergent, alternative cafés that seem to have blossomed all over the place and hug the arena. And just to prove to ourselves that we actually don’t care that we don’t fit into these preposterous dresses, we treat ourselves to a decadent lunch at Casa Paco, of stuffed baby marrows, blanketed in melted cheese, a marinated salmon tapa and home baked brown bread brushed with a touch of cinnamon, topped with ham and drizzled with cumin olive oil.
We manage to waffle through the other activities and all too soon, the last night arrives.

In true South African style – or rather, in true Afrikanie style – we ceremoniously greet Sevilla with a braai (we scavenged stokkies and leaves from a river bank near our flat and trekked it into the Centre City in backpacks; we even stopped at the Chinese shop to buy a 3 euro roster). Little did we know, however, that the braai we were busy setting up, was an illegal one, as two Spanish oaks kindly informed us – seeing that it was on public property, next to the Guadalquivir rio and directly opposite a small police station.
Nevertheless, we carried on with our barbacoa, roasting chicken strips and bits of bread on the open flames, beneath the not-so-starry Sevillian sky.
With a last Salud! with glass of Tempranillo, all our international maaitjies and teary smiles, we say cheers to the wistful surroundings and our beloved casa. . .