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

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The change in the vibe of Salamanca the next morning was palpable. Crowds still but this time heading to work or, as it is a big university town, to college. Among their number, a seemingly huge amount of young Americans who choose this city as the location for their summer schooling. I don't blame them.

We did not dwell too long. Another stroll around Mayor which really does, as the guide books say “ keep drawing you back to be inspired by its unparalleled beauty” and a walk around a very disappointing Mercado central and a quick visit to both cathedrals was enough and we collected our car and headed South towards our next nightly stop at Placencia.

First, however, to

A small town on the way to somewhere else that would scarcely get a look in if it were not for one very important fact. It is the home to most of the major iberico producers in Spain including ( down on your knees in awe knaves ) Joselito.

How could we miss it? We could not and an hour or so after leaving Salamanca we pulled off the misery of the single road and into the dustbowl of the town centre.

It may be a one horse town. In fact, it is so small I think they are still saving up to buy the horse. But, Heaven knows how many pigs it has. There are at least 20 manufacturers there that we counted and every other store in town seems to be selling a vast variety of Iberico products. We, of course, stopped in a couple of small bars to try some of what was on offer the best of which, Bar Pepe saw a new ham being brought out for our enjoyment. That meant we got to see a masterful display as the leg was prepared for action. This was a younger ham. Less deep red than those we had seen before and with a more translucent fat. None the worse for that. It was spectacular and how nice to think how good it is for you. HP seemed in a strange state of altered consciousness and he ate. All I could prise from him were the words “my, how it glistens” but I understood. It was a special moment.

Another bar and another part of the pig saw a huge plate of Lomo placed in front of us which we scarfed down in rapid order before heading back to the car and heading South once more.

Oh, we did stop in one shop to buy a tub of artisnal Iberico porkie scratchings. Well, you’re forced to aren’t you?

And then, on to

By now we were in Extremadura and our first stop, the town of Plasencia which wears its provinciality as a badge of pride. It used to be the major town of the region until losing out to Caceres ( of which more later ) in the 19th Century and now, while retaining much of the charm it must have had when founded in the 12th Century, it is really only a stopping off point to other towns. But, I suspect it would not be a good idea to suggest that to the locals all 35,000 of them ( less than the average attendance at Stamford Bridge)

Our hotel was, at first sight, apparently about twenty miles from the centre of the, er action and we were a little disconsolate as we pulled into the car park of the Hostal Real. However, it transpired that we were, in fact, only about fifteen minutes walk from the small but charming Plaza Mayor and we soon left our bags and headed down for a walk.

There were few others around at this time as it was as hot as Hell. So, we dived into some of the few bars that had remained open and were delighted to find that in true Extramaduran style, each cana came with a freebie, not always the case we find as we travel throughout Spain.

I did not have a hat. I had picked up a rather fetching free one at Madrid airport. It was a sort of fedora made of straw and made me look like Errol Flynn and not a man of whom you could say “ he may not think as quickly but he feels as deeply” I deny that entirely. Unfortunately, I forgot to take it with me that morning, so was leaving my bonce to the cruelty of the elements despite slopping it with factor 30.

We returned to the hotel, me keeping very much very much in the shade and with a couple of stops in bars to fortify our efforts and as slept soundly as two middle aged men filled with pig can do before thinking about heading out for the evening.

After our usual over excitement on the first night when we arrive we now tend to be more self regulating. Increasing age, I guess, but it does make things easier in the morning. We took it very easy that evening. Heading out about 8.30pm we tried a handful ( about ten ) bars all of which offered up a small free bite with our drinks. It sounds like a lot but really isn’t. A cana is about a third of a pint. Wine pours are small and, until you make the mistake of moving on to the spirits where the waiter can recite Newman’s “Lead kindly light” during the time it takes to pour a bathtub size of drink, it is possible to remain very much sober. So, we did. HP tried the local wine, Pitarra. I thought it was disgusting. Like altar wine mixed with Ribena. He liked it but then he is like that, amused by all sorts of rough booze. One great success was a ration of Chulletias de Cabritas, small cutlets of kid which were crisped on the grill and cooked so that the whole could be crunched. The only sour note was a lousy plate of Migas which left a foul taste in our mouths and made us hurry to the next bar for a plate of something to wash the memory away. Quite nasty.

Otherwise, like the town itself, not much to report except a very agreeable evening.

One small word of caution though. It is advisable when trying to take a picture from a high vantage point across a barrio to the town that you do not do it when you can see a group of drug pushers through your view finder. Er, I did which resulted in them running after us. They were only dissuaded from their chase when I pointed to the far hills and squealed “aqui” to show them that I was taking pictures of the view and not of them peddling crack. A close call, but I guess it adds colour to the trip.
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