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

Wednesday, September 06, 2006



And so it began. The one thing that had kept both of us going all year. Our annual Dos Hermanos road trip to Spain.

No longer just a snatched weekend in Madrid here or a few days in Valencia there. Now it was time to get serious.

After last year’s roaring success up North where we had eaten more pulpo than any man should, we had decided to explore Jamon country. The southern reaches of Castilla Y Leon and a chunk of Extremadura.

HP had worked himself into a right old tizzy with the planning. Well of course he had. I am, quite frankly crap at this sort of thing and would, left to my own devices, just arrive, get in the car and point it in any direction I fancied. No such thing for HP. He put in more hours of preparation than all of the generals involved in D-Day. Maps, guide books and web research took months and I got regular updates. What I also got was an itinerary that was enough to excite even my jaded soul.

So, by 7am on Saturday, we had fought our way through security at Heathrow and had a cup of tea and arrived at Madrid airport two hours later in full expectation of downing some ham within about fifty minutes of our arrival. But, not so fast, tubbo’s. The Spanish may have spent about EU2 billion on that fabulous airport but they had not legislated for the pathological ineptitude of their staff. After an interminable wait for our bags, someone suddenly announced that that BA had “forgotten to put them on your flight” and that we had to go and make a claim at the Iberia desk which was already mobbed five deep. BA had, of course, done no such thing and our bags turned up forty minutes later but with no explanation.

I love Spain with all my heart and have no doubt that I shall end my days here. But, this does give you some insight into the frustrations of day to day living in a country where public service is considered of little importance.

What is considered of huge importance, however, is Jamon. So, I guess they have got their priorities right and we wanted some and we wanted some soon. So, Avila, here we come.

A small town about 50kms North West of Madrid, Avila ( pronounced A-bi-la ) is remarkable for the state of preservation of its city walls which remain intact and form a stunning backdrop to what is one of the most lovely cities I have ever visited in Spain. What made it more lovely was that we arrived on the weekend that the city was hosting its annual Medieval fair and the entire town had been transformed with the streets lined with straw and, seemingly, the entire population in fancy dress.

It made parking, er interesting, but we were soon settled and had deposited our bags and the clean and comfortable Hosteria Bracamonte right in the heart of the town.

Five minutes after checking in, we were on our first beer and managed to catch at least six or so bars before they began to close for the afternoon’s siesta. I can think of few things more civilised than a few cana with a few tapa followed by a nice long sleep. So that’s exactly what we did.

By 8.30pm we were ready to fight the good fight once more and headed out to find that all 52,000 of the townsfolk had the same idea. The place was a heaving mass of good humour. The bars were packed and we had to use all of our wiles to fight our way to the front and order. Great fun.

Our hotel was really a restaurant with rooms and the menu looked enticing, so at 10pm we found our way back there and sat down to our first meal of the day, excellent croquettes and veal empanada followed by roast lamb ( a speciality of the region ) and small, deeply sweet cutlets of lechel lamb washed down with a bottle of Ribera del Duero. Desserts were, as they tend always to be in Spain, really vile. Particularly the Yebas, a small cake made from the egg yolks donated to convents by the wine industry who used the whites to fine their wines.

Instead, we walked back up to the Plaza Mayor and treated ourselves to a very passable helado which we enjoyed while watching the people of Avila having a damn good time. And, do you know what? Despite the best efforts of the baggage handlers of Madrid Airport, so did we.
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