"It's not much but it's ours"

Friday, April 28, 2006



In January, I was suffering the post Christmas blues. I had yet another cold, work was proving sysiphean and my very dear Magda and me had decided, amicably but painfully, to go our separate ways.

When such circumstances arrive, there is only one word that can really serve to cheer me up and that word is “Spain”. So, I e-mailed Hermano Primero and said simply “serious Spain jones” That was enough for him and he mailed back “ Valencia or Seville?”

Both sounded enticing, but I had never been to Valencia and without much more ado we booked two flights on Easy Jet ( about £80 each ) and a couple of hotel rooms ( about €190 for three nights each ) and I had something to look forward to.

There is no more perfect companion for a trip to Spain than HP. He just gets it and, like me, is perfectly happy to predicate his trip on food and drink which other companions have not been so keen to do, citing things like museums and galleries as alternative forms of distraction. Don’t get me wrong, we do fit in the odd bit of sightseeing, but are in total agreement that it should never come in between us and some small deep fried baby animals. Heaven forefend.

On top of which, HP is the organiser supreme. Where as I would just arrive in a town and go and wander, HP has things planned to the Nth degree. He knows which bars are serving the best pincho, which areas of town offer the widest selection of bars and restaurants and, perhaps most importantly, which places to keep clear of if you want to avoid hordes of British stag parties ( increasingly a problem in Madrid though, thankfully much less so in Valencia )

So, on Thursday, we were up early and headed towards Gatwick for our Midday flight. Or rather, we would have been had the trains been running properly. A cancellation and a diversion saw us taking nearly 2 hours to do the thirty minute journey to Gatwick and arriving with barely enough time to enjoy the free nuts in the business lounge before having to fight our way on to the plane.

Still, Easy Jet is nowhere near as disgusting as Ryan Air and with a crappy novel in front of me and a couple of G&T’s inside me, I was in an unusually relaxed mood. A mood which was ruined as soon as we landed as I became more and more agitated waiting for my bag which, of course, came out on to the carousel last. At some point in my travelling past, I have offended the gods to such an extent that I am punished by having my bag mistreated by baggage handlers all over the world. It does not matter when I check in, what “priority” tags are placed on the luggage or where I am going. They always, but always come out last. I am convinced that someone watches until I get to the point that I am about to burst into a flaming rage and go and scream at some poor innocent at the lost luggage desk and then they send the bag out looking like they have given it a good kicking for good luck just in case there is anything fragile in there.

Anway, I digress. Once I had my bag, we were soon in a taxi and at our hotel, The Venecia right in the main square Plaza Ayuntamiento. The location was ideal in one way because it was so central to everything that we would want to see. However, the fact that it was next to the Town Hall soon came back to haunt us as the bells in thw tower rang out regular reminders of the time throughout the night. We did not know this yet and checked into our clean and functional rooms and headed straight out to hit a few bars.

SIDE NOTE: When ordering a cana in Spain, it does not matter how you pronounce it, you will be wrong and the barman will either look at you blankly or repeat back to you something entirely different while giving you exactly what you ordered. At the next bar, you try again using the pronounciation you just heard only to have the barman repeat it to you in the very first way you tried. And so it goes. Fun, but ever so slightly wearing.

We spent the afternoon and the evening wandering from the centre of town East to the Turia ( the 10kms of gardens and walkways built on the bed of the Turia river which was diverted after a massive flood in the 1950’s and from there to the beach region

During the walk we visited

BAR ASCOT – this was right next to the hotel and we stopped in there more than once for a cana or a pacheran by way of night cap

BAR MONISTROL – just a cana

BAR MICALET – on the Plaza Del Virgien. We sat and ordered some an excellent OrXarta, the creamy drink made out of crushed Tiger nuts that, I believe originated in this area.

BAR NODO – for a cana and some grim croquettes

BAR LOS AMIGOS - the best surprise of this walk. A small bar in a grim neighbourhood where we we given some breathtakingliy fresh prawns as a pincho

Valencia itself is not on the coast, but a short journey away is the beach region of Malvarossa and the area of Cabanal where most of Valencia seems to spend the weekend. It is a stunning area. Beautiful beaches that stretch for miles and narrow streets that still retain most of their original charm despite the construction that is going on around them as the area is becoming more developed for tourism.

By late afternoon, we had spend a good three or four hours wandering around and were ready for a serious evening and being in Cabanal was the perfect way to begin.

CASA MONTANA -Situated in the centre of the district, this bar and restaurant has a vast wine list and some of the best tapas I have ever tried. We had a number of their wines by the glass including some from the Valencia region and nibbled contentedly on some croquetta da bacalau, sardines a la plancha, Luganzio ( sausage) a montadito of morcilla de Burgos and, of course, some Jamon Iberico. A very very good start to the evening.

By this time, the meatiness of it all was getting good to us, so we decided to see if we could do a walk in at one of Valencia’s many asadors. Hermano Primero had, naturally, drawn up a list of the top tem meat places in Valencia and, slightly more alarmingly, marked their positions on a map of the city with the word “meat” written next to them. Top of the list was Asador Aurora. We headed there by cab and were taken straight to a table. It was still only 10pm, so the place was almost empty although it filled up nicely as we ate and, before we left at Midnight, it was just about full with tough men in suits ordering serious bottles of wine.

Asadors mean one thing to us. Lechal Lamb. So, that’s what we ordered. Proceeded by a couple of beers, some more Iberico and morcilla. What came was served was a perfect example of the art. A quarto of young lamb, roasted with nothing but a sprinkling of water and salt until the skin is crispy and the flesh falls of the bone. That’s it. No side dishes, no vegetables nothing. But, who needs that stuff when you have lamb this good? With it a bottle of Chivite 2003 Reserva from Navarre for €24.

To follow, some of those entirely pointless desserts that the Spanish specialise in and two large glugs of Orujo, something much more worthwhile they specialise in. With a tea and a café solo, the bill came, as it always seems to in Spain, to around €100. Very very good value indeed.

By Midnight, I was the shape of a pumpkin if not turning into one and was more than ready for bed. So, a short cab journey back to the hotel saw me retire happy and with my Spain jones sated and with the thought that there were three days still to go.

It’s good to be me
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