Saturday, May 15, 2010

Remembering Morocco

In Sevilla, our tour is winding down (but not before tonight's final dinner and horse drawn carriage ride, of course). Spain and Morocco have been a whirlwind, with too few opportunities to write about the experience. While Morocco now feels like a world away, I can still recall sitting on the roof terrace of the Dar Nour by night, surrounded by the layered rooftops of the kasbah, and hearing the day's final call to prayer as the meuzzins one by one began their chant. Unlike most Muslim countries, in Morocco the call to prayer is still sung by a live meuzzin rather than a recording, and the sound spreads throughout the city via the loudspeakers atop the minarets.

Below, the streets are packed with action until late in the evening. Kids and cats roam the twisting alleys while men drink mint tea at tables lining the sidewalks. Many women are out two, making their way though the narrow streets in both traditional caftans and headscarves and skintight jeans, but the cafe scene still belongs to the men.

Some of the best food can be found just outside the prime tourist zone at Le Saveur de Poisson, where one menu is served for lunch and dinner. Take a seat and you will be presented with a dish of black olives, a bowl of housemade chili oil, roasted almonds, and a basket of Moroccan breads. Soon, a bowl of shrimp and couscous soup appears. Dip your bread in the chili oil - it's positively addictive, and far spicier than almost anything you'll find in Spain. Even the flavor othe roasted almonds seems amplified beyond any you've tasted before.

But these simple delights are only the beginning. An earthenware dish of shrimp baked with spinach and cubes of fish soon follows, steaming hot from the oven. It tastes fresh and bright, the shrimp bursting with flavor, the fish and spinach melting together on the tounge. A main course follows of flatfish simply roasted over coals, served alongside kebabs of swordfish. Fresh and meaty, sweet and tender, nothing beats seafood roasted to perfection.

Finally, there is dessert. Toasted barley and pinenuts are mixed with coarse brown sugar and thick, dark honey that is just starting to crystalize, and luscious strawberries topped with the same honey round out the meal. Throughout it all, your goblet is constantly refilled with a home brewed fruit juice, tasting of figs and plums.

Like Morocco itself, the meal is enchanting and exotic. It's also a respite from the crowded streets outside, much like the roof terraces take you away from the bustle of a city packed with people, traffic, and non-ending noise. Spain feels tame by comparison. Here in Sevilla the weather is perfect, the city is beautiful, and the atmosphere is relaxed. But I can't wait to go back to Morocco for another taste of this different world.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Jamon and the Alhambra

It´s a sunny day in Granada, with any snow merely a distant memory (after all, it didn´t even really stick). This morning, the group gaped in awe at stalagtite ceilings in the Alhambra, and even managed to beat most of the crowds. Down below in the old town, I headed for lunch at a local tapas bar with the guide and driver.

As any good Spaniard, or good traveler in Spain, knows, crowded equals good when it comes to tapas bars. And at around 2pm, this place was hopping. We snaked our way through the throngs and managed to squeeze out a little spot along the bar for a stand up meal. Out came a platter of migas (Spanish fried breadcrumbs, which are actually very tasty), quickly followed by selection of jamon, cheeses, and pates. We weren´t even halfway through it when small sampler plates of paella arrived, on the house.

Spain: scme for the sights, stay for the food, but don´t ever expect to lose any weight on this vacation.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Snow in Spain

...falls mainly around the plain. We woke up in Segovia on May 4th to the sight of white flakes swirling on the other side of the windows. Who would have imagined it, but so far our May tour in Spain has been colder than our April tour in Belgium and the Netherlands. On the ride to El Escorial, a light dusting of snow coated the rocks and trees along the highway, and while El Escorial itself was free from snow, a fierce wind whipped around corners and down alleyways, making any time spent outside a fight against the elements. The fingertips of my left hand prickled with numbness.

Fortunately, the sun was shining despite the nearly frigid temperatures, and in Spain all it takes is a nice, leisurely meal in a warm cafe to put things right. Some of the group, including the guide and I, took advantage of the menu del dia at a local restaurant. This Spanish specialty provides patrons with the option to choose a three course lunch with wine for one very reasonable price, in this case twelve Euros. For a mere twelve Euros, I enjoyed Russian salad, fish, and pudding for dessert, along with a full bottle of red wine to share. If you want to follow the recommended advice to fill up with a large meal at midday and enjoy only a light repast (tapas, antyone?) in the evening, the menu del dia is the way to go. In Seattle, you´d pay the same amount per person just to split a bottle of wine.

Finally warm again, I´m glad to be in Madrid tonight, where the weather isn´t quite so chilly. Still full from lunch, I wonder if I´ll even bother with dinner tonight. In the meantime, a walking tour around the Puerto del Sol should get the blood moving again, and I can honestly say it´s a beautiful day on the plains of Spain.