In loving memory…………………………

GUGGENHEIM BILBAO

Before the pandemic I had started my own little tradition of taking early morning walks in all the cities where I sleep. I love the peace and the silence at this time of day. Each city has a unique feel when it is empty, and it takes on a different personality. A few weeks ago I went for a long walk through the empty streets of Bilbao. There was hardly a soul on the street and none of the bars or cafeterias were open yet. It was so pleasant that I walked for much longer than I had planned.

Memorial near the Doña Casilda Park

As I walked that morning I was bombarded with different memories from my countless visits to this city. My thoughts included nights out with friends in the Casco Antiguo, walking to the Guggenheim for dinner with my groups, getting a cast put on my leg in the local hospital, drinking Txakoli with colleagues and sharing my love for this part of Spain with so many people.

La Puerta de los Honorables……… in honor of the socialist, Ramón Rubial

I have been blessed to travel with many people who have touched my heart in different ways. Many have repeated tours with me or have come back to visit. We communicate through email and I receive holiday cards from them by snail mail. Several have become close friends and I think of them often. Throughout the pandemic so many of these people went beyond what it means to be caring and generous and it brought me to tears on occasions. I have thought about my guests and prayed that they have were healthy and safe throughout the past two years and I get worried when I don’t hear from them.

Las Sirgueras – dedicated to the women who worked along the Nervión Estuary

In Spring 2016 I had a mini group within one of my groups. During the welcome dinner in Lisbon they came up and asked me to guess which of the six of them were blood related. From that moment on we had a permanent connection. On one of our free nights in Bilbao they invited me to dinner at one of the Michelin star restaurants, Extanobe. Unforgettable doesn’t even begin to describe that evening filled with laughter, friendship, storytelling and amazing food. There are some guests that seem to emotionally adopt you and you are connected for life.

Statue of John Adams, Gran Via de Lopez de Haro

After each tour is over I receive many emails from my guests. This email is from one of those amazing people who I shared dinner with in Bilbao.

Margaret,
None of us will ever forget you. Nancy and I had been to Spain four times to Spain before that trip.  Yet you took a wonderful trip and made it the trip against which we we measure not just trips to spain but all others. So to us, you are unforgettable. We all hope to see you, your husband, and beautiful daughter someday in San Antonio.
Nancy says she gets hungry every time she reads one of your stories.
Con abrazos,Al and Nancy Karam
P.S.  I still remember the first words I said to you, “I already don’t like you because you live in Granada and I don’t!”

Plaza Moyua

On my birthday last week I received a message that Al had passed away. My heart broke in two as I took myself back to the memories of his kind smile, laughter and all of the stories that he shared with me. We had a special connection.

“Margaret, here’s a little thing you may find interesting.  We first arrived in the evening in Granada on our first trip to Spain summer 1994, our 25 anniversary . Since it was our  anniversary, we had a room in the Hotel Alhambra…uh…what was the working class Leb. boy doing in this hotel? Since we were just relaxing we went to the grounds and started walking around for about an hour or so.  There was hardly a soul there.  We later learned that the place was closed and how were we able to sneak in?  No sneaking, just walk into, I think, the Fatima gate. Ah… to be young and unknowing.” Al Karam

I will never forget you dear Al.

In loving memory.

My Group with Al in Bilbao

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet…..

Just when you think that nothing else could possibly happen, it does! At 12:30 pm on Saturday, January 23rd as I was taking a much needed and too short of a nap in between my online English classes, the bed began to rock back and forth. I sat up quickly and realized that it wasn’t just my bed, but the walls also seemed to be moving and then something crashed to the ground somewhere in my apartment. Big earthquake number one for this year, magnitude 4.4. I have lived through many earthquakes here in Granada and I remember each and every one of them. The biggest was in 2010, with a magnitude of 6.3, but I don’t remember feeling it as I have felt the quakes this year. I don’t know how to explain why, but this one felt different to me. I felt it in my core and it left my hands trembling. I taught my next four classes with my feet planted firmly on the ground.

A Peaceful Sierra Nevada, Granada

Earthquakes are no surprise here since Granada is the most seismic area in Spain. This is where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and have formed many faults. According to experts, these two plates are constantly approximating to each other by 4 to 5 millimetres each year.

3 days pass after that first big quake and the aftershocks continued daily. Some we could feel, some not. Then, on the following Tuesday night I was happily brushing my teeth in our bathroom when I heard my family shriek! I had not felt a thing in our bathroom but when I walked into the hallway I could hear the cracking sounds and see the walls moving once again. We live in on the 7th floor of a 10 story building with 100 apartments in all. It has a big open courtyard in the center which allows for fresh air and easy communication with the neighbors. Since we still have a 10 pm curfew in Granada, all of the neighbors were home and the sound of conversation in the corridors grew and grew. In the next 12 minutes we had 5 more sizeable quakes, ranging from 3.6 to 4.6. Needless to say, these left an uneasy feeling in everyone who felt them! Well, we finally had a reason to forget about COVID for awhile. Two days later an even larger one shook the city and surrounding areas. These were felt as far as the city of Cordoba and even North Africa.

Just in Case you are caught in an Earthquake

There was no major damage in our neighborhood but the towns that are built right on the faults did suffer damage. The Cathedral, the Saint Jerome Monastery and a part of the Alhambra are also being repaired from damage. Many people left their homes and went to second homes near the coast or to stay with family or friends. There have been 1,600 earthquake registered in Granada since January 23rd. We are still trembling a bit and this past week I was woken up on 3 separate mornings with my bed swaying forward and back. However, they are getting smaller. At least for now. And at least until this very second as I write!!! Literally, this very second another earthquake of magnitude 3.5 just shook our apartment once again. It has almost become normal to hear “earthquake” shouted in our home, just in case somebody didn’t feel it. We all felt this one and so did my other friends in Granada since the messages are rolling in.

I am forever thankful to these friends who make it just a bit more relaxing with their contagious sense of humour. We have laughed together through many earthquakes this month! Let us all keep the laughter going throughout whatever this new year holds for us. Peace and calmness from Granada.

Building with Full Moon
Indoor Patio

When you live below one of the marvels of the world….

On November 3rd the city of Granada was closed to any “outsiders” due to the high amount of Covid cases in the city. For one of the largest holiday weekends of the year, All Saints Day, Granada would be sacred only to those of us who live here. I received an email from the Parador of Granada saying that they had a special just for residents of Granada. With all other guests having to cancel, this historic hotel would be empty once again. But, I will save that surprise for another post.

How could I sleep in the Parador de San Francisco and not spend a day at the Alhambra? Not just spend a day in the Alhambra, but an almost empty Alhambra. As I’ve mentioned in other posts the Alhambra used to be free on Sundays when I first moved here. My memories of studying in the gardens of the Generalife for hours on end are ones that I will cherish for my lifetime. I don’t ever remember crowds of people visiting during those years. As time has passed things have changed drastically. It is almost impossible to visit the Alhambra without it being sold out, even in the winter months. However, the other day I had it almost to myself.

Located on top of the Cerro del Sol, or Hill of the Sun, the Generalife was the summer and rural palace of the Emirs during the Nasrid Dynasty in Granada. It is possible that the origin of the word Generalife comes from the Arabic Yannat al Arif, the arquitects garden. It was built during the 13th and 14th century. Just like the entire area of the Alhambra is our oasis from the noisy city, the Generalife was their oasis during the extremely dry and hot summer months. The ever flowing water and lush gardens are calming at anytime of the year. We will also find the most photographed Patio de la Acequia and the Sultans Garden with its famous cypress tree. The legend says that it is under this cypress tree where Boabdil’s wife used to meet up with her lover from the Abencerraje tribe eventually resulting in the death of this entire family.

Two of my favourite parts of the Generalife are those that many visitors may just pass through without much thought. To arrive at the high gardens of the Generalife we take the Escalera del Agua, the water staircase which is one of my favourite places. Broken into three sections, the water from the acequia real (royal channel) flows down on both sides of the staircase. Water is brought to the Alhambra by this water channel from 6 kilometers away. The staircase is also protected by a dome of laurel trees.

Escalera de Agua , Generalife

The Paseo de las Adelfas, The Walk of the Oleanders, is a 19th century walkway that was built in the 19th century as a romantic entrance to the Generalife. The name itself is passionate and picturesque. It connects to the Path of the Cypresses which will lead you back to the palaces. The visitor should not forget to enjoy these simple pleasures of the Alhambra.

Path of the Oleanders
Path of the Cypresses

When you exit the Alhambra near the Generalife and cross the street you will see a sign that says, Jardines de Alberto. Located in the home of the 19th century painter, Ramón Carazo, you will find a lovely restaurant that specialises in Nasrid cuisine. The home is a Carmen, a typical house in Granada. The word comes from the Arabic word for vine, karm. It has a garden with high walls. Traditionally the garden would have fruit trees and grape vines. In the garden of this Carmen is where the restaurant is located. Sit down and have a drink, a tapa and a great meal. You won’t be deceived. You may be served a homemade croqueta or some marinated and fried monkfish. I highly recommend the menu of the day. If you are lucky you can try the roast pork with a puree of sweet potatoes and squash. For desert you must have the Andalusian cream topped with croutons and sugar cane honey. Is there a better way to end a morning in the Alhambra?

Homemade croqueta tapa, Jardines de Alberto
Fried monkfish
Roast pork with an Autumn Puree
Andalusian Cream

History, memories and fried pork…….

Torreznos de Soria at Bodegas La Mancha, Granada

Lately I have been reading through a couple of my favourite books about culinary history focussed on medieval cuisine. One is about the Islamic World and the other is about Sephardic cuisine. I plan on making some of the recipes that I have been reading about in these amazing books. So, why the heck am I writing about fried pork belly you might ask??

Well, while recording my YouTube video last weekend we decided to include one of my favourite bars in Granada to end on a local gastronomic note. Nothing gourmet. Just a long and true old time taberna near Plaza Nueva called Bodegas La Mancha. I used to live on the street where La Mancha is located, Calle Joaquin Costa. On this street you will also find the historic Hotel Inglaterra designed by local arquitect Angel Casas in the 1920´´’s, the Hotel Anacapri (a Rick Steves hotel) and the Hostal Colonial, my home for many years which deserves its own blog post.

When I lived on this street over twenty years ago we used to frequent La Mancha. Carmen, (may she rest in peace) who ran the Hostal Colonial would send me down the street to grab our dinner on nights that we were feeling too lazy to cook. I would push through the crowds to order our usual. Carmen always wanted a bocadillo with jamón Serrano y roquefort. And I would annoy the men in white shirts and black ties by asking for something ¨”strange” in their eyes. Back then they wouldn’t ever vary off the menu. But, since I lived with Carmen they put up with me and would prepare my bocadillo con queso, tomato y lechuga. Both me and my sandwich were very odd to them back then. We would also get a liter of Jumilla wine to go. I remember paying 115 pesetas for the wine. That was less than a dollar during those years.

Beautiful wooden bar….

For many years now when I go into La Mancha I am always greeted with warmth and good memories. The older gentlemen still remember me and they still remember Carmen, of course. So do many of the fixed customers who spend time drinking Vermouth or a Palo Cortado (a variety of sherry) at the beautiful wooden bar. Everyone knew Carmen from el Hostal Colonial.

Carmen and I in El Hostal Colonial 1997

Nowadays we stop in here when we take a nice walk up into the Albaicín or Sacromonte to have a bocadillo and a wine or vermouth. The old tabernas like La Mancha near Plaza Nueva are the best places to really feel what Granada should feel like regardless of the times we live in now.

Usually we stick to our favourite bocadillo made with thinly sliced grilled beef, roquefort cheese and a couple of guindillas (pickled spicy peppers). But, last weekend since we were filming the video we went out on a limb and got a plate of Torreznos from Soria. Torreznos is not a food that I consume often. I can probably count the amount of times I have eaten them on one hand. The last two times I ate Torreznos before last weekend was with the same friend. Once in Pamplona and once in Madrid right before confinement. I can still hear Paco saying, “Vamos a ese bar dónde el dueño es Segoviano y tiene unos torreznos buenísimos!”

Torreznos in a bar in Chueca, Madrid with delicious empanada behind them!

A torrezno is basically fried pork belly, or sometimes described as fried thick bacon. Torreznos can be cut and prepared differently depending on what part of the country you are visiting. Even the name can change. However, it has been eaten in Spain since the Middle Ages since it is mentioned in certain works of literature such as Lazarillo de Tormes. Author anonymous. It is eaten especially during the time of year of the Matanza when a pig is killed. Every bit of the pig is used for different preparations and delicacies. Matanzas are held all over Spain and Portugal and in other countries. A torrezno should be eaten at room temperature to enjoy its flavour best. You can have it with beer or wine but for me, wine is the only way to wash it down. Practice moderation when consuming torreznos. Remember your heart and your arteries but enjoy every delicious moment!!! And don’t forget to watch my video about the Realejo neighbourhood in Granada where we end at Bodegas La Mancha. Salud!!

A walk through Granada, El Realejo

Ultreia!

Finding your way through Navarra

My life and my heart have been tightly intertwined with the Camino de Santiago for 25 years. I did my first pilgrimage, the French Way, 25 years ago. Innocent and alone. After that month on the Way I knew that I would never be the same again. 10 years later I did my second pilgrimage, the Northern Way, with quite a bit more knowledge and more money in my pocket. The Camino didn’t fail to change me once again. Since then I have repeated the pilgrimage with many groups of students and adults. Each time has been it’s own precious experience. It has become one of the most sacred pieces of myself.

A “footprint’ near Pamplona

Today, July 25th, we celebrate the Day of St.James, the Apostle Santiago, James the Great. The Patron Saint of Spain. Every person can choose their own interpretation of the history and legends regarding the pilgrimage and Santiago himself. That is what makes it the Camino magical.

Follow me and I will take you to Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims uplift and encourage each other saying, “Ultreia” translated as further..beyond…come now…come on!! The original saying was “E ultreia, e suseia, deus adjuva nos”. Simply translated as, let’s keep going further with God’s help. You can also just say, “Buen Camino!”

Camino Nascente, Portugal

We passed through a bit of two paths that run through Portugal on the way to Santiago in the past few days. I could feel my heart pulling my back to the Camino, back to Santiago de Compostela. My city of stars. A big part of my heart is always there and has been there especially for the past few months. See you soon Santiago, see you soon old friend!

Always on the Way

Hermano Peregrino……dedicated to Ismael Izquierdo.

Places in my heart……Burgos

elegance and quality on the Camino……..

things you find on the “camino”

Best Beach Tapas!

“Food Tastes Better with Sand Between Your Toes”. Anthony Bourdain

I was raised between Chicago and Arizona so beach was not really a part of my life growing up unless you count shivering with blue lips in Lake Michigan or tubing down the Salt River. So, when I first moved to Granada (25 years ago) and was able to be on the Mediterranean in 45 minutes I found a whole new world. Not like I had not been to a beach before, I had been to many. But, the coast of Granada is a big swimming pool. Most beaches are pebbly or rocky for that matter but in three steps you can no longer stand and are free to swim for as long and as far as your body will take you. I’m pretty sure the only reason I ever got out of the water my first year in Granada was that I realized I could have a cold beer and a free tapa and jump back in. And then repeat. Thank you to whoever opened that first beach bar in Sitges, Catalonia. The Chringuito is a way of life in Spain. The word comes from Cuba, a place where people who worked on the sugar plantations would rest in the shade to have their café.

Fresh, local shrimp on the coast of Granada

I remember thinking to myself how absolutely delicious every tapa tasted to me with my feet buried in the sand, my hair and skin salty from the sea. I couldn’t imagine enjoying food more than at a Chiringuito. Tired from swimming and looking out at the sea. As a student, I could easily survive on the tapas. Fresh shrimp or some fried fish. It was all perfect, and still is.

Mussels with Pipirrana

Every once in a while you might get a tapa of ham or cheese or russian potato salad. But, for the most part the tapas go with the atmosphere. Clams lightly sauteed in a parsley sauce or mussels fresh from the sea. Sometimes they serve the mussels with pipiranna which is a light salad of tomato, onion, cucumber and bell pepper. We also eat a lot of fried fish in Southern Spain. It was never common for people to have ovens in their homes so frying was an easy and quick way to prepare certain proteins and vegetables. Some might even say it is healthy! In Granada, fried fish is commonly served with a raw cabbage salad marinated with olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Anchovies are one of the best fried fish you can find!

Fried anchovies with cabbage salad

The Phoenicians founded the city of Cádíz in 1104 BC and established small towns such as Almuñecar along the Mediterranean coast of Spain. They elaborated Mojama, a salt dried tuna. Although the name comes from Arabic, the process began under the Phoenicians. Mojama is still prepared and consumed all along the Atlantic Coast of Spain as well as along the Mediterranean Coast. This tecnique is also used in Portugal, Morocco and Italy. Mojama is served like a slice of ham; alone, on a piece of toast, in a salad or to flavor other dishes.

A simple tapa of Mojama, salt cured tuna.

The coast of Granada is full of surprises and history. These are just the “tapas” which will open your palate for the rest of a wonderful meal on the coast. Buen Provecho!!