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

The long road home….

I’ve heard some people comment about being bored these days as we are on lock down. I believe in Spain we are now on the 16th day. As my doctor ordered, I can’t even leave the front door of my apartment for the allowed reasons so I look out onto the street from my balcony and windows. I can see the Sierra Nevada Mountains freshly covered in snow. The road up to the Alhambra is now completely still except for a public bus every few hours and the streets are silent except a random masked and gloved neighbor coming home with groceries. Police cars patrolling and a random dog walker. However, I have not been bored even for a second. I cook and write and do exercise and give some online yoga classes and enjoy other great classes along with concerts and virtual visits to many places. I was trying to remember the last time I was actually bored I couldn’t come up with anything really.

And then I remembered being in the town of Manzanares in Castilla La Mancha last August. I wouldn’t call it boring, but definitely peaceful. We spent a glorious 15 days in the Basque Country, both France and Spain. We never want to leave so we push it as much as we can and end up driving at full speed home before vacation ends. Manzanares is a bit over 2 hours from home and as we were getting close we decided we just couldn’t drive anymore. It was hot as hell and we were exhausted.

There is a Parador in Manzanares that by a miracle has not been closed down regardless of its location with a view of the main highway. Paradors for me, mean home. As my friends who work at the Parador in Santiago de Compostela tell me, I’m no longer a “friend” of the Paradors, I’m a sister. Paradors are a chain of hotels in Spain opened in mostly historical or important buildings. You can look on the internet at parador.es and discover more. The page also has a blog where you can find different bits of history and art work and routes through Spain. A couple of weeks ago they closed down all of the paradors and donated all of the food from their restaurants and bathroom amenities to help with the corona crisis.

The Parador in Manzanares was one of the first, opening in 1932. It opened originally as an “albergue” to give truck drivers a place to sleep and eat on this long, empty road. It survived the Civil War and the dicataorship. It is said that in the 1940’s when tourism began the restaurant served lunch to so many tourists that some would have to wait in busses while the others were being served. In 1979 the original albergue closed, reopening in 1980 as a “Parador de Turismo”. The Parador has fought to remain open through financial crisis and more. At first glance this Parador might not seem to be anything special. However, our short stay here was perfect. Our room looked out on the swimming pool and garden and everyone was incredibly friendly, from the front desk to the bar and restaurant. We decided to have a light dinner in the hotel due to the blazing heat and to avoid the walk into town. We are also big fans of all Parador dining. The Maitre D in the restaurant was so lovely. He made us feel like the only people in the restaurant. He invited us to a glass of sparkling wine from the local wine producing area to accompany our tapa of partridge paté and chips.

One of my all time favorite dishes from Castilla La Mancha is Pisto Manchego. My very favorite is at a place called La Venta de Quijote in the sleepy town of Consuegra. I have been stopping there for years with groups and their pisto along with the one here at the Parador are both outstanding. Pisto is a mixture of sauteed vegetables which can vary depending on the area and the chef. The original recipe is made with tomatoes, green peppers and zucchini chopped and without the seeds. Sauteed with a good amount of olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. It can be used to accompany fish or meat or on its own served with a fried egg or two on top.

If you ever find yourself in Manzanares in the dead of August when most bars are closed and the heat is unbearable please go to the Queso Manchego Museum. Manchego is one of the most well known cheese’s worldwide. Not be confused with Mexican Manchego cheese which is similar to a Monterey Jack, true Manchego must be prepared with whole Manchego sheep’s milk and aged for at least 60 days in one of the designated provinces of Castilla La Mancha. You can find four different types of Manchego: fresh, semi-cured, cured and aged. There are 26 Protected Designation of Origen (DOP) producing different types of cheese in Spain. We have an incredible variety to work your way through in this lifetime. However, Manchego is usually the one that most visitors know about before arriving in Spain thanks to our dear friends, Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quijote.

The museum is run by friendly, young people from Manzanares. You can visit for free or pay between 1 to 2,50 euros for a tasting of cheese and wine. The museum walks you through the history of Manchego Cheese dating back to the Bronze Age. It has informative plaques that explain how the cheese making has changed throughout history and also how it forms such an important part of Castilla La Mancha and the cuisine in this area.

Manchego Cheese is sliced in triangles and served as a perfect tapa with bread and wine. Add some local olives to complete your appetizer. Many times you will find it served with a quince paste that pairs perfectly with the nutty flavor of the cheese.

Another part of the museum is dedicated to temporary and permanent art exhibitions. It is like a little added surprise after you walk through the area about the manchego cheese. The temporary exhibition that we saw was a beautiful tribute to the Spanish Poet, Federico García Lorca and the Bullfighter, Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Lorca was from a town close to Granada, Fuentevaqueros, and was assassinated in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. He was a renowned poet, playwright and theatre director. Mejías, a bullfighter from Sevilla and friend to poets and poetry, died after being gorged by a bull in his comeback bullfight in 1934. He had slept and eaten his last dinner the night before at what is now the Parador de Manzanares. He was remembered by many poets in their works but probably the most well known is by Lorca, Weeping for the Death of Ignacio Sánchez Mejías.

The entire temporary exhibition was absolutely beautiful. A wonderful tribute to many different Spanish poets as well. After we finished our tasting of cheese and wine we went for a hot walk and had lunch at one of the few open restaurants before driving home to Granada. We found this beautiful hotel which is now closed. It was all more than worth the stop!! A great break in our long drive home.