Oh Solomillo! 15 Days in Spain

Old Nov 15th, 2013, 01:46 PM
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what a great link! Thanks!
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 02:46 PM
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Isn't lomo pork tenderloin?? Sure tastes like it and you are right, tejana YUM!!!
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 05:54 PM
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solomillo is GRILLED pork tenderloin, but I think "lomo," at least as the term is used in Andalucia and in Madrid, is smoked/cured tenderloim or whole loin -- either way it is seriously YUMMMMM.
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 08:23 PM
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Day 5 (Sunday) – on to Granada!

An EARLY wake-up call and we are in a taxi to the airport by 5:30 AM to catch a flight to Granada. Driving through the heart of Barcelona we see many people heading home after their Saturday night adventures – maybe next time we should try just not going to bed. At this incredibly early hour there is no traffic on the road and we make good time, and have enough time at the airport to get coffee and a bocadillo (serrano ham and manchego cheese on a thin baquette) before boarding our plane. The non-stop flight is about 90 minutes long, and we arrive in Granada just after 9 AM.

It is overcast, foggy, drizzling and chilly, and I pull the umbrellas out of the suitcase and change into a sweater before we even leave the airport. I hand the address for the hotel to the taxi driver, and away we go. The hotel is a recommendation from a good friend and is absolutely perfect. Hotel Casa 1800, on calle Benalua, a pedestrian street (really a narrow cobblestone alley) just off of Plaza Nueva -- a converted 17th century palacio practically at the foot of the Alhambra. The room isn’t ready yet, of course, so we drop our bags off and prepare to explore the town for a bit. The front desk clerk is excited to tell us that today is a special festival day in town – the Festival de Nuestra Senora de las Angustias (Festival of Our Lady of Sorrows) is always celebrated the last Sunday in September, and there will be a big procession from the cathedral early this evening, at about 6 PM. The desk clerk mentions his hope that the rain will stop, because the statue of the Virgin Mary might not be carried out for the full procession if it is raining. Researching this later, I found out that this festival is a very big deal and the procession is similar to what you would find here for Holy Week. What a nice surprise, and a lovely way to begin the Andalucia portion of our adventure. Here’s hoping the rain moves on soon.

We start our adventure with a visit to the Alhambra visitors center on the plaza – find the machine and just slip in the credit card that you used to reserve you’re Alhambra tickets and you can print them out in no time flat. We are all set for tomorrow morning. Today is still rainy and we opt for finding a nice cafe on a plaza (with a large canopy) and grab some coffee, a bocadillo to share, and an order of chocolate and churros. Breakfast at a lovely plaza in Granada, enjoying a nice break and watching a soft rain fall. What could be better? (Okay, maybe “no rain” could be better, but it wasn’t bad at all.)

After a LONG interlude we walk around a bit more, exploring the lovely area around the Cathedral (with the carefully maintained souk-ish shopping zone –touristy, but still kinda fun) until the rain subsided. When heading back toward Plaza Mayor, HD found a tour guide center that does guided walking tours of the Albayzin – the old Moorish quarter – and we booked a tour for early afternoon. It was lovely, and quite possibly something that we would not have done on our own (I know there are a million different tour books that tell you how to do it, but that doesn’t mean I would actually get my act together enough to do it on my own). The only down side, I’m sorry to say , was a fellow tour group member from Down Under (NZ, not Oz) who chatted a little TOO amiably throughout the entire tour. Really, really amiably. Still, other than an overabundance of other tour groups lapping us, it is a great couple of hours wandering through a beautiful area of the old town, and the rain doesn’t move back in until the last five or ten minutes of the stroll. We finished up about 4 pm, just in time to head back to the hotel to settle in and unpack a little before exploring the city again and catching up with the processional for the festival. We were told that the processional (and yes, people emphatically told us that it is a processional, not a parade) should start at about 6 PM, but the Cathedral area is definitely abuzz by 5. Lots of groups milling about, getting into position near the Cathedral and on Gran Via, the street that will serve as the main route for the beginning of the processional as it leaves from the Cathedral.

Okay, here’s the funny part… We watch the beginning of the processional, along with the throngs of locals that have lined the streets. And then after a while it gets a little …. boring. Maybe a quick stroll through the surrounding streets would be a good pick me up. So we wander around a bit and find what looks like a nice, casual tapas bar… and find EVERY member of the first group from the processional already in there. Yes, apparently this is how you do a serious religious festival day in Granada… you march in the processional a while, and then you find a good bar to have a drink and a tapa before eventually continuing on. We cozy up to the bar and order a couple of glasses of wine. And we are presented with those glasses, plus a delightful little tapa of iberico ham and slices of manchego. Yes, we have found heaven. The tour books are right, people – Granada is the place where tapas are free. This is the spot in Spain where a tapa is considered to be part of your drink order – you don’t know what your little gift is going to be, but it is likely going to be something good. In this case, a glass of wine comes with some jamon iberico. A great little pick-me-up before going back to watch more of the processional.

When we get back to the curb, the procession is definitely still in progress…two lines of pilgrims walking along the road with lit candles, dressed in their Sunday finest. Many of them, I notice, are in bare feet. A gentleman next to me on the curb explains to me that the barefoot participants are those who have made a special request to the Virgin (usually for an illness for themselves or for a family member) and walking the entire route barefoot (remember, there is still a light rain in the area) is the final part of that request. We watch for a bit more, but the rain is back, and it looks like the traditional culmination of the procession – the appearance of the status of the Virgin – might be adversely impacted by the weather. When one of the final groups appears with their crucifix covered in rain gear, it seems obvious that the Lady is (probably) not going to show. We go back to one of the side streets and slip into another tapas bar for another glass of wine. The television in the bar is broadcasting the processional (I told you it was a big deal), and eventually we see an image of the Virgin statue coming out of the cathedral for a grand total of two seconds, then going back inside. Game called on account of rain.

Wandering around after we left the processional we found what I can only describe as a nouveau tapas bar. A cool little place called Bar Los Toneles near the Mercado where, cozying up the bar and ordering a couple of glasses of wine, I looked at the list of tapas and ordered adventurously (not yet entirely realizing that in Granada your first tapa is usually free with your drink). The first bar we went to just automatically presented us with a couple of slices of jamon y queso. This bar has a list full of designer tapas that I can only describe as serious fun, and the bartender/owner makes us two tapas to order of avocado, brie and balsamic honey on slices of grilled, pressed French bread. There is some craft at work here, and we are only charged for 2 glasses of wine. I think I like this town.

Later in the evening we are wandering about, trying to decide what to do for dinner. All of the tapas bars are packed solid with people from the processional. Sunday night on a festival day – it doesn’t get much more crowded than this! The tapas bar recommended by the hotel for a light dinner was too full to even think about getting in. We eventually decided to try a little Moroccan place – Granada is THE place to do Moroccan, or so I’m told. Unfortunately, this particular place was not exactly spectacular. The eggplant and the lamb kabob were both good, but the couscous with mixed meats was NOT good (okay, it was borderline terrible). If we had stopped at the appetizers we would have been fine and would have walked away full – we didn’t need the extra course anyway.

Back to the hotel – still early, I’m sure, by local standards, but we were up at 5 am, and bed by 11 or 11:30 seems reasonable to me. After all, tomorrow we have the Alhambra!
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 10:51 PM
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Hi!I like your interest in Spanish cooking culture.

If you check in Google "despiece cerdo ibérico" you will see the cuts and where they come from.
Lomo and solomillo are just the cuts and they can be cooked or preserved in many ways, mainly the first one. You can find it smoked, air cooked (like jamon) and also preserved in lard or olive oil.
The name of these two cuts are almost always the same in Spain in Spanish.
Try to make a stuffed solomillo, using "pimientos de piquillo".
The video below is in Spanish but you can follow it easily.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDIETSoGiu0
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Old Nov 16th, 2013, 06:15 AM
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Bilbao Berria is a Basque place and the "tapas and skewer" thing was Basque pintxos/pinchos, a distinctive food tradition in this major culinary region of Spain. In the Basque Country the system is usually based on trust alone; you tell at the end how many pintxos you and your group have had. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pincho
http://www.basquecountry-tourism.com/gastronomy.php
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Old Nov 16th, 2013, 07:52 AM
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You are right about Bilbao Berria being a Basque place. I knew just from the different experiences we had in various tapas bars throughout the city that this was a different experience, but I didn't realize until later that this particular place is definitely Basque, and serves their tapas/montaditos/pintxos in the Basque style. The Basque tie-in also explains why we were able to find montaditos topped with gulas - teeny tiny baby eels - here, but did not see them on the menu at other bars in the city. What made it extra great is the fact that such a large percentage of their customers are obviously locals who know the place well. With such a great location on the plaza it could have fallen into a tourist-trap syndrome of mediocre food, but they know what they are doing when it comes to tapas, and their customers love it.
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Old Nov 16th, 2013, 08:38 AM
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Bilbao Berria is one of the better pintxos bars in Barcelona, many are far away from the "real deal". Next time in Barcelona I reccomend you visit Txakolín, also fabulous warm pintxos directly from the kitchen. On the edge of the vibrant El Born area: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html

And people in the Basque Country will be deadly offended if you call it tapas ;-)
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Old Nov 16th, 2013, 11:46 AM
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Like TDudette, I am looking forward to reading about Madrid as I will be there for 3 days/nights in March 2014.

But in the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying your travels through the rest of Spain and finding inspiration therein.
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Old Nov 20th, 2013, 12:39 PM
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Great report, and eye-opening on the language differences.
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Old Nov 20th, 2013, 02:43 PM
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Day 6 (Monday) – Granada, Day 2

This morning we are off to see the Alhambra. On the advice of friends (and every travel guide ever written on the subject) I reserved timed tickets for the Nazaries palace as far in advance as possible (about 90 days out). With timed tickets for the palace for 11:30, it worked out well to catch the bus from Gran Via at about 9:30 and use the Justice Gate entrance to save the long walk from the main entrance. If you haven’t printed out your tickets in advance you still have to go to the main gate to retrieve them, so remember to print your tickets out no later than the day before (you can do it at the tourist office near Plaza Nueva very easily).

It is still very overcast today but the rain seems to have (mostly) stopped. After going through the Justice Gate we had plenty of time to visit the fort and Charles V’s palace before it was time to queue up for the palace visit. The Nazaries palace is breathtaking, as expected (and a bit crowded, as expected, but it is possible to position yourself between the throngs of guided tour groups and enjoy the rooms in relative quiet and at your own pace). Don’t forget to visit the little “secrets room” with the great acoustics.

I’m not sure I would recommend our next decision to everyone, but it worked out really well for us. After spending 90 minutes in the palace, it is after 1 PM and we are getting hungry. We know we should go ahead and power through and visit the Generalife Gardens and the summer palace, but we also know that will probably take another hour and a half to two hours. Did I mention we were hungry? We decided we didn’t want to eat on the grounds and didn’t want to wait another 2-3 hours before having lunch, so instead of visiting the Generalife Gardens and the summer palace now, we decided to break it up and get a separate ticket to do just visit those sights tomorrow. It turned out to be a great plan for us because the weather was even better the next day and it made for a very pleasant visit to the gardens.

So we grabbed the shuttle back down the hill and made our way to Chikito’s, famous for their 8th century recipes, for a long, leisurely lunch. It was perfect. Granada salad (cod, oranges and olives), fava beans and jamon, and then monkfish in a very complicated cream sauce with mushrooms, and a nice bottle of wine. We split each course between the two of us and were definitely full! Back to the hotel for a siesta.

This evening we went back to the “creative” tapas bar we found the night before (Bar Los Toneles) and had a great time chatting with the bartender/owner (my Spanish is definitely getting a little bit better) and trying out various tapas concoctions before wandering over to the Pescaderia square to seek out Oliver’s – recommended by our hotel for their seafood. We are still planning to try a paella or arroz negro in every city on the trip, so tonight seems like a good night to try Granada’s version. They don’t have arroz negro, so we “settle” for their delightful paella de mariscos. Very good. Very, very good.

After dinner we head back toward Plaza Nueva to have a nightcap at Diamante – a great tapas bar that was recommended to us for a light dinner last night but was WAAYYY too crowded to get in. Tonight is a little bit better – just crowded enough, but with an empty chair or two. We order a couple of glasses of red wine and are surprised with a tapa of one of my all-time favorite things – a plate full of teeny tiny almehas (clams), none of them bigger than a fingernail, in garlic and olive oil. Seriously good.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2013, 06:14 AM
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Day 7 (Tuesday) – Granada, Day 3

Sorry for the delays in posting, everyone… I hate it when reality interferes with good intentions!

Last day in Granada. The only other thing on my list of must-see sights is the Royal Chapel, with the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. The chapel is beautiful, the tombs are beautiful (and yes, notice that Isabella’s head is making a deeper indentation into her stone pillow than her hubby – supposedly a nod to the fact that she has the bigger brain), and the adjoining treasury with artifacts, including robes and her silver crown, was WAAAAAY cool. After the chapel visit we spend some time wandering through the shopping district (the real shopping streets as well as the Alcaiceria), then have a light early lunch before spending the afternoon back up at the Alhambra to visit the gardens and the summer palace, taking in the views of the city and the countryside on what is finally a clear, sunny day. Back to the hotel for a siesta and a relaxing tea-time in the hotel’s beautiful central courtyard (where we met a mother and daughter that had just arrived in Granada after 30 days of walking the entire Camino de Santiago), then, eventually, back into town for our last night of tapas-hopping and dinner back at Oliver’s for some amazing seafood (clams, grilled sea bass and monkfish in a saffron sauce, for anyone interested). A great night. Tomorrow, Sevilla.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2013, 09:35 AM
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Day 8 (Wednesday) – Sevilla, Day 1

Taxi ride to the tiny Granada train station – one of those stations where you actually just walk ACROSS the track to get to the correct platform for your oncoming train. We had a hard time deciding between taking the train and taking the bus from Granada to Sevilla. Since there is no high speed train option, both methods are listed as taking about 3 hours. At least with the train there is no danger of traffic problems and (I assume) you have a better chance of staying on schedule, so we decided on the train. I never knew a three hour train ride could be so long. Uneventful, not unpleasant, but long.

When we finally arrive in Sevilla, it is a quick taxi ride to our hotel – Hotel Dona Maria, in a pedestrian zone just off of the square in front of the Cathedral. I’ve stayed here before and it is darling, with a rooftop pool and open air bar that has a stunning view of the Cathedral. Our room isn’t ready yet, so we drop bags and start exploring, getting lost in the beautiful little streets and hidden plazas. Other than an overabundance of tour groups, it is a great stroll.

Back to the hotel to check in, and the desk clerk asks if we want to reserve tickets for a flamenco show while we are in town. Of course – this is the place for flamenco. Not having done much research (I know, I know, but you can learn from my mistakes, right?) we took the desk clerk’s recommendation of booking tickets for El Patio Sevillano because, as he put it, “it’s happier” than the Tablao El Arenal. More on that later.

For now, we ask for a recommendation for a place to get a good arroz negro for lunch. In our initial exploration of the Barrio Santa Cruz we have already seen several restaurants advertising both paella and arroz negro, but they were all in very touristed squares and seemed to be catering to tour groups. I want something good. The clerk recommends two or three restaurants in walking distance that he circles on our little map. They were all busts – I’m sure they have good food, but even the ones that had several paellas listed on their menus do not list an arroz negro. It is the heart of lunch time (about 2 or 2:30 pm), and all of the sidewalk seating for every restaurant and tapas bar in the barrio seems to be full, and we can’t make up our minds what we want. Fortunately, we walk across the Avenida de la Constitucion into the Arenal neighborhood between the Cathedral and the river and find a restaurant that has outdoor tables all along a little hidden alley – La Isla Sevilla (Calle Arfe 23). Just one look in the window of the restaurant tells you that this is a good place, as they are proudly displaying the fresh fish of the day. After sitting down we look at the menu and discover a long list of seafood selections, but the only paella listed is a “normal” paella de mariscos. I asked the waiter if it was possible to get an arroz negro. His eyes lit up, and he assured us it was possible. Arroz negro for two, please! It turns out that we had stumbled on one of the best seafood restaurants in the city.

A half hour later, we are presented with a magnificent paella pan of inky goodness – rice with sepia ink and an abundance of seafood, including tiny clams, squid, monkfish, dorado and octopus. My heart still beats a little faster whenever I think about it. Without a doubt the best arroz negro I have ever had.

As we are digging into our treasure, a table of six Japanese tourists takes a table behind us and looks at the menu, and then looks at our table, then back at the menu and back at our table. It is obvious they are trying to figure out what we ordered. One member of the group speaks Spanish and is taking responsibility for ordering for the table, and we can hear his conversation with the waiter as the waiter is explaining our arroz negro to him. They end up ordering two paellas for the table – one classic seafood paella and one black rice, just like we have. I’m afraid we started an off-menu trend that afternoon.

After the amazing lunch we walked down toward the water and walked along the river, enjoying the beautiful sunny afternoon, the palm trees, the view of the Torre del Oro, and the water. I love cities with a river running through the middle of them because how the residents use the river gives you a great insight into the personality of the city itself. Lots of people are enjoying the riverside path – some obviously getting in a good run, some having a picnic, some just taking the time to have a good conversation with a friend, and some others kayaking on the river. One thing I remember from my first visit to Sevilla years ago is the kayak basketball game that the kayak club plays in the river here. I’ve never seen it anywhere else. There is no game this afternoon but there is a kayak practice going on, and we can watch kayakers practicing their hoop shots. I dare anyone to watch kayak basketball and not smile.

Back to the hotel for a LONG nap, and then we are ready for the first evening stroll in Sevilla. Sevilla is made for strolling at night, visiting one tapas bar after another. All of the traditional tapas bars in the neighborhood are packed to the rafters and beyond, with happy patrons spilling out into the streets. We sidle up to a bar for a couple of glasses of wine and start trying to figure out the tapas rules for this region. The main rule is to know what you want and be quick in your ordering! The bartender is working too hard to spend time talking you through it. We visit a couple of bars then walk through the winding streets, shopping our way through the Santa Cruz district and finally stopping for a few tapas at a sidewalk table on one of the main streets. We’re reading the chalkboard list of today’s tapas, and the word “solomillo” keeps coming up. Solomillo al whisky? Solomillo gorgonzola? Solomillo al quatro quesos? What is this “solomillo?” My handy iTranslate app translates the word as “sirloin.” We order a solomillo al whisky, some jamon croquets and a tapa-sized platter of manchego and settle in for a bit to watch the world go by. If this were the only solomillo I had on the trip I would be underwhelmed. When it is listed as a tapa at a tapas bar, your solomillo is likely a thin pork cutlet with a heavy covering of sauce. Tasty, but nothing spectacular.

Back at the hotel we take advantage of the beautiful night and the rooftop bar. It is a week night (and still only about midnight, so early by local standards), so there are only a few other people around, but a glass of red wine, under the stars, looking and the beautifully-lit Cathedral makes for a delightfully peaceful end to the day.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2013, 10:05 AM
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Really enjoying this. Thank you for posting, and in such glorious detail. I am so looking forward to exploring more of Spain, and I am already making notes of your bar and restaurant discoveries. Arroz Negro, I shall be tracking you down!
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Old Nov 23rd, 2013, 02:08 PM
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This is great Tejana. Taking notes as next summer we are returning to Spain and hopefully hit some of the restaurants.and bars you recommend.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2013, 11:07 PM
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Taking notes for Seville. Thanks, Tejana.
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Old Nov 24th, 2013, 01:04 AM
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Such a great report. The detail is amazing and I am taking lots of notes. You make us feel as if we are there. More!
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Old Nov 25th, 2013, 03:28 AM
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Thanks for the words of encouragement! I'll try to get more of the report out soon. And for anyone wondering why arroz negro isn't just called paella negra, I THINK the reason is that it is usually made without saffron, and paella MUST have saffron or, well, it isn't paella.
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Old Nov 25th, 2013, 06:53 AM
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Super TR and good advice for Granada goers. Do you think the Japanese tourists thought you were locals?

DH and I found ourselves waterside in a Venice bar and many tourists were clicking away from their gondola rides. "We've been immortalized in someone's scrapbook!"

More, please.
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Old Nov 25th, 2013, 07:46 PM
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Day 9 (Thursday) – Sevilla, Day 2

This morning is all about the Cathedral. I visited here years ago, but this is DH’s first time. As you probably know, there are two big “must” sights in the Seville Cathedral – the Columbus tomb and the amazing High Alter. The tomb is still there in all its glory but, unfortunately, the high alter is completely closed for restoration. I mean completely. And the worst part is they have installed a life-sized PICTURE of the alter in its place. Seriously? I’m feeling a little gypped. How would you feel if you visited the Louvre and waited forever for your chance to see the Mona Lisa, and they had a photograph of the painting hanging on the wall instead of the painting itself? Not good. Not good at all. The visit to the terrific treasury makes me feel a little better, but it is still a disappointing morning.

We spend the afternoon doing a little shopping at a local market (we love visiting local markets when we’re travelling, don’t you?) . We are mainly looking for large tins of the famous Pimenton de la Vera – the wood smoked paprika – and for good saffron. No luck finding good saffron, but DH does pick up a couple of tins of his favorite de la Vera, and we also find a lovely selection of Riojas and a butcher that is slicing delicious shavings of jamon de iberico bellota (the good stuff) to order. A nice little to go bag of wine and jamon and we head back toward the room to have our own happy hour, then out a little later to tapas-hop once more. Tonight we find a little bar that has half-racion platters of my favorite baby squidlets. Lightly fried whole baby squid. In Barcelona they are called chiperones fritas, but here chiperones means slightly larger calamari (should we call them teenagers?), and the word for baby squid is puntillitas. Whatever you call them, they are delicious.
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