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

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I had the mother of all hangovers the next day, unfortunate as I had to be up at 7am to head to the airport. Robin got an extra hour lay in as his plane to Malaga was not until later and he, unlike me does not have to be at the airport ridiculously early.

So while Robin headed off to warmer climes, I head back by cattle truck (I mean Iberia Airlines) to London and the welcoming arms of a special someone at the airport. The first person in my life to meet me who was not carrying a taxi firm sign with my name on it. 

I suspect both Robin and I were both very sanguine about the way our holiday ended.

13th September 2005

The Epilogue

A few hours later I was sitting down to some more seafood in the 30C heat of the Costa del Sol. But that, as they say, is another story.

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The service for our morning Chocolate y Churros was even slower than we had experienced before. A shame really as both were really very good. We left some money on the table and picked up our car for an early start to Bilbao.

The toll road to Bilbao is pretty expensive (about EU15) but worth it alone for the fact you can get there from Burgos in about two hours. Two hours in fact to bring me to the very brink of a nervous breakdown. 

We had planned to return our car to the Hertz office in central Bilbao before heading to our hotel. Simple enough it would seem. But, that is without reckoning on two factors

1) The roads of central Bilbao are less pleasant than the Devil’s armpits. Choked with roadworks and cars and with signposts that were Lilliputian to say the least it was a bugger to take our big old jalopy through the narrow streets where obeying parking laws seemed to be optional. I was grateful for Robin’s navigation skills.

2) After all of this, we arrived at the Hertz office to find it closed. Yep. A Hertz office in a major city closed for a siesta. Well, as one can imagine, I thought that was just peachy keen and expressed my indignation to the world in general and had a right old hissy fit. Once that was over, we decided to head to the airport, return the car there and take a cab back to town

So, a couple of hours later than planned we checked back into the Shirimiri, dumped our bags and headed out for a last wander.

What Brighton is to London, Getxo seems to be to Bilbao. A seaside resort within easy reach of the city. On the one side of the estuary is a charming well to do town with great beaches and excellent bars. On the other side accessible by cable car, is Portugalete, the industrial port.

We took the 20 minute journey out there using the efficient tube service entering through the distinctive entrance (called locally “fosteritos” after Norman Foster their designer) and spent an entirely agreeable couple of hours wandering around the beaches and the town itself with a couple of beers thrown in. A lovely way to wind down.

Taking the subway back to the Old town, we were slightly confused by some of signs on the doors of the trains. One in particular struck us as odd and the best interpretation we could come up with was “ Please do not sit down while men are Greek dancing”.

Back to the hotel and then out for a last evening of pinchos and supper. About six or so bars in an hour or so was not a bad haul and included Victor Montes a famous bar on the Plaza Major and one excellent bar whose name escapes me where we had some fabulous pinchos of foie (this being the Basque country) and the best calamari I think I have ever eaten. [Ed's note:I agree]

Then, once more as if to end our vacation as it began, the heavens opened and the rain fell. Being too weary to do much more, we headed back to our part of the old town and dived into the Asado Lizzaro next to our hotel. We were and remained so for the whole evening the only people in the place, but we didn’t care. The chuleton was good, the wine cheap and we had a large glass of Pacharan to finish, so all seemed well with the world as we headed back for one last night’s sleep.

Some non-food shots


I don't know what it means either

Back to the food

The best Calamares fritos in the world - ever !

Que Rico !

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OK, to save time, let's just assume we both had blinding hangovers when we awoke, took some ibuprofen and some milk thistle (and Hairy Lemon) and staggered out of the hotel for our morning stroll about 10am. A reviving hot drink later, we managed a quick fire tour of the cathedral and headed out towards Burgos.

We took the Autopista Camino de Santiago, which followed almost exactly the route of the pilgrim's trail and we saw many people walking towards Leon en route to Santiago. 

"Burgos is known for its elegance, its courtliness and civility" we were informed by The Footprint Guide.

The people are known to be quite proper and a little up themselves and it has a reactionary air to it. It is, in fact Harrogate ! Despite the fact it is achingly beautiful and the Cathedral was the most interesting of all those we saw, I found relatively little in the city to charm me and there is little wonder in my mind that Franco chose it as his base.

The people, from the moment we arrived to the moment we left, were charmless. Not the amiably gruff attitude of Asturias or Galicia, just downright surly and, at times actively noxious.

We arrived at the well appointed Meson El Cid (the most expensive hotel of our stay @ EU125 a night and named for the city’s most famous son who we found out was far from the Charlton Heston-like hero of yore but a mercenary who was as happy to fight for the Moors as he was against them depending on who paid the most)

Elmo the Grouch (I mean the receptionist) illustrated the service style that is obviously promulgated to the people of Burgos by the city fathers. She looked like someone had nailed a dead fish to her lower lip and then offered her poison. I can seldom think of a more unfriendly encounter. Still, the room was lovely and with stunning views over the Cathedral and the town, so we had high hopes.

Hopes soon to be shattered by the slothful service we received if we could be served at all. Now getting served in Spain is an art form. In Madrid one has to be forceful, in the South one has to be patient, in the North one has to be doubly patient. But one does always get served. In Burgos it appears, the service is wilfully glacial. We waited nearly 20 minutes in one bar while the woman (ah, there's the rub, we broke ROBIN'S RULE No 6 - All Spanish bars should be staffed by men in their late 50s wearing ill fitting jackets and bow ties) ignored us, chatted to friends, mopped up a bit etc etc. In the end we flounced out which is not much good if you have not been noticed in the first place.

Finally, we found a cerveceria in the square where we managed to drag a waiter to our table and order some Morcilla de Burgos, some picadillos (small cubes of pork in a rich sauce) and some pimientos. All were fine. No more. 

So, somewhat sated, we headed out for a long stroll around what is admittedly one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. A town with a over 30 hospitals, a castle that was destroyed when it ceded from the town in the 12th century (perhaps they could not get one of the ornery bastards to serve them either) and a charming tree lined river walk. After a couple of hours we were pretty much bushed and wandered back for a siesta.

However, before we both fell asleep, the thought struck Robin that he had another week of holiday to follow this one as he planned to head to Malaga and meet with other members of the family. Me on the other hand had to go home to work. Being the kind compassionate and caring brother he is, this led to the rather puke inducing sight of a middle aged man dancing around the room in ill fitting boxer shorts singing “ I have another week off while you-oo don’t” I HAVE PICTURES TO PROVE IT!!

By the time we awoke at 7pm, the paseo was in full swing and the cathedral square , which had been empty all afternoon, was thronged with the delightful denizens of Burgos swapping stories about how rude they had been to pilgrims and tourists during the day.

We wandered out with a plan in our hands for an evenings convivial fun. A few bars, naturally , a decent meal, of course, and a nightcap, surely. What could be better? Well, think again boys. After a couple of bars we decided to call it quits and head for a ridiculously early supper. Why? Well, primarily because we encountered what I dubbed “ Tapatheid”

Now, we know enough about Spain to know that the regional differences in the bar culture are vast. In some towns a freebie is obligatory with your beer. In others you are expected to order your own pincho. Where we get thoroughly hacked off is when you order a drink, don’t get a freebie while every local in the bar is handed a lovely looking snack free , gratis and for nowt. That Sir, is just bollox and neither Robin nor I were prepared to take it. Let them stuff their patatas bravas up their collective arses. Bastards!

So, we went straight to El Angel, a highly touted restaurant just off the main square and, not unsurprisingly, at that hour we were the sole diners bar one lonely businessman. 

Well, what a turn up for the books. El Angel proved to be a real winner and an oasis of good service amongst the slough of despond outside.

A couple of glasses of house Albarino restored our good spirits and we ordered from an interesting menu that took classical Asador staples and gave them a Nuevo twist. Normally , this would give us the hee bee gee bees, but here the concept was handled rather deftly

We began with some sublime Iberico. I would argue the best I have ever had. Glistening in its oil showed it had been properly kept and sliced perfectly. Heaven on a plate.

With it, yet more croquetta. But these were different. Small, crisp balls of seafood on skewers. Perfectly cooked and melting on the inside. Spot on.

An interim salad course made use of that rather glorious jarred tuna that is so readily available all over Spain and gave us a brief respite while our main course was cooking.

We had ordered a beautiful Ribera, a bottle of Tarsus 1999 Reserva and it went perfectly with the quarto of Cordero that appeared some 15 minutes later. Again, this was some of the best lamb I have ever eaten. Crispy skin, creamy melting flesh and delicious fatty bits. There are few better things in life do not involve handcuffs, cream from a spray can and calling people Mistress. This was one of them.

The postre were better than average, but desserts are really not Spain’s thing. Still the glasses of Pedro Ximinez and Malaga that went with them certainly were. Both excellent.

A nightcap later and a bill of EU150 to the good we left the restaurant by now full to the brim, much happier than when we arrived.

The magnificient Cathedral at Burgos (you have to pay to get in but you get a nice little booklet which gives you a tour of the place)

some perfunctory tapas

_good_ jamon

lovely little croquettas

salady tuna thing before...

...the main event

Majumdar attacking on all fronts

I love you - you're my bestest brother no, really, you are...

I think our piccies got mixed up with someone's holiday snaps from Ayia Napa

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True to form, as we were about to leave Santiago, the skies cleared and the rains stopped. This gave us one more chance to take a walk and see a tiny bit of what this city obviously has to offer when it is not raining (for reference, The Footprint Guide says, not entirely tongue in cheek, that the next sunny day is scheduled for sometime in 2009)

We had time for one more coffee at El Marte before picking up our car and heading out of town. 

All in all a disappointment of a visit. What we did see of the town was attractive but thronged with tour groups and, the meals apart, there was little to make me want to return in a hurry. 

When, some years from now, I do walk the entire length of the pilgrim trail, I only hope God treats me better than the poor sodden saps who sploshed into town while we were there. The very definition of anti-climax.

Still, onwards and upwards and out of Galicia and to Castilla y Leon.

Although neither is the state capital, Leon and Burgos are the two most visited towns of this autonomous community. Both are very different. Leon represents the more liberal end of the community, more free spirited and with no great love for the Castillian towns with which they were merged. This spirit is ably represented in their offering of a pincho with every drink and the amiable nature of everyone you meet.

It was another long old drive, around three hours. But, with the aid of a toll road, we arrived in Leon a little after 2pm and found our way easily to the next hotel on the route. A mainstay of Leon and a real gem called Hotel Paris Leon. Slap bang on the main pedestrian drag of the old town.

And, what a town. For once the new town was not a range of mountainous breeze block constructions but, was quite elegant with horse chestnut tree lined boulevards and wide roads. There was an air of gentility about the place that was pervasive.

The cathedral was closed when we arrived in the early afternoon so we took a stroll around the old town and a number of the bars in the Barrio Humedo (literally, The Wet Barrio) named after the many bars in the area. Leon has as Robin put it "a well evolved bar culture" and we managed about six of them before heading back for a siesta. All were very good and in most cases our beer came with a little freebie even though we were deep into the injury time of the lunch break.

SIDE NOTE - however many different names there are for a small beer in Spain; Cana, Zorito or, here in Leon, Cortos one thing remains constant, the Spaniards inability (wilful, one could argue) to understand what you are trying to order. At different times during the trip and after giving it our "best Spanish shit" we were offered Coca Cola, coffee, Albarino and various other drinks all of which were not the small beer we craved. Amusing if annoying. At one point a man looked at me so horrified when I ordered I wondered if I had inadvertently asked to see pictures of his grandmother pleasuring herself with a sweet potato while Franco looked on.

After a much needed siesta, we were ready to hit the town. Before we toured the barrio again, we did a short stroll taking in both a new area for tapas near the Symphony auditorium and some of the small unassuming bars in the residential districts where a couple of Cortos or whatever the hell they were called cost as little as EU1.

We slowly worked our way back via two of the more celebrated bars one of which was a deli specialising in wine and food from the region where, along with our Jamon we tried a glass of red made with the local Mencia grape. Nothing to it as far as we could tell. Not unpleasant, but hardly challenging.

Then on to a bar which specialised in offal. While I went to point Percy at the porcelain, Robin managed to shoulder his way through the crowded bar and order two drinks with a plate of callos in a rich sauce. Very good indeed.

As we bar crawled, other highlights included some Morcilla de leon, very different from its Burgos colleague of the same name. This was, basically, Black Pudding in liquid form spread on toast. Robin declared it "black puddingy" and preferred if to the rice stuffed version. It was a little bit too sludgy for my tastes, I have to admit.

We also had a plate of Mollejas at another bar where the waiter, being officially the campest man in Northern Spain took great delight in giving us lessons in how to pronounce the word for sweetbreads. 

I made the fatal mistake of finishing off the night with a large pour of Gran Duque d'Alba caliente (rich dark brandy served in a warmed glass covered to keep in the delicious fumes) fun at the time, but they don't half come back to haunt you in the morning. Robin was much more sensible with a Pacharan on ice. 

And so, to bed.

The mighty cathedral at Leon

Sort of like a meal at El Bulli but with more jamon and a lot more beer (and less foam).

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The next morning saw the town smothered in threatening cloud and punctuated with the rain/stop/rain/stop rythmn that seems to be the soundtrack to Galicia.

After a quick stop for coffee, we left the city and its rain and headed out West.

Finesterre (literally " The end of the earth") was named so by The Romans stationed there as they thought that was indeed the last bit of land before you fell off the edge of the world. It is a fair old drive, but the roads were good and the small towns we passed through were interesting. 

Galicia is one of the poorest states in Spain and the recipient of much EU money which all seems to be put to good use as construction was much in evidence. Bizarrely, the major retail outlets all appeared to be car dealerships. Less bizarrely, the second most common sight were parrilladas all offering varying types of grilled meats. We didn't have time to stop at any of them, to our great disappointment, and had to press on to the coast. [Ed's note: this was the nadir of the holiday for me]

There is not much to see in all honesty. A car park, a lighthouse and, er that's about it. But the coastline on the way was beautiful and the towns charming, so it was a worthwhile diversion

After a few obligatory photographs of each other looking out to see trying to be windswept and interesting but in reality looking a bit simple, we began the long drive along the Rias Baixas towards Santiago de Compostela. 

The coastline of the Rias Baixas has to be among the most extraordinary I have ever seen. Pristine beaches, small seaside towns and roads that wind up and down and around at tight angles. There was much sign of damage from the recent fires caused by the scorching Summer. But, of course, the Robin Factor came into play and it poured down our whole way to the City of Pilgrims.

After a short stop at Naia(sp?) for a ludicrously large plate of assorted cheeses and meats, we arrived at Santiago just as the heavens truly opened and let their contents flood out. 

I would like to argue that it was in some way mystical to enter the city as it was washed clean by rains from Heaven, but in truth neither Robin or I can think of any prayer that begins with the words "for fuck's sake" so I won't even try.

In fact, I have to say it ruined the whole experience for me. I had been looking forward to visiting the end of the Pilgrim's trail for years and I still plan to walk the entire length of one of its caminos before I shuffle off this mortal coil. However, in this downpour we were barely able to sprint from shelter to shelter without getting soaked and we both ended up miserable and damp and mud spattered. [Ed's note: I was relatively dry apart from a touch of trenchfoot whereas Simon insisted his little Pacamac would be up to the job with predictable consequences]

In between soakings, we did manage to enter the cathedral and I queued to place my hands on the, er, column of Maestro Mateo whose statue lies in supplication to those who enter, a moving if bedraggled moment.

A quick drink later, we retired to our hotel, the delightful San Clemente and pondered on the tricky proposition of eating without drowning. Again, The Footprint Guide came to our rescue. Recommending a local bar and a seafood restaurant a quick wade from our hotel. 

Bar El Marte was, to all intents and purposes, Santiago's equivalent of a Krispy Creme store. Not because it sold creamy comestibles, but because it was full of cops being opposite the local station. 

Robin's Rule No 15 applies "Whither Pigs Goest, Goest I" 

So we did. what a great choice. A packed bar, prompt (and pleasingly grumpy) service, plates of freebies and great raciones. 

We indulged ourselves with a pre-supper treat of Pimientos de Padron and some chipiriones and availed ourselves of the free tortilla and the pincho of jamon atop some bread and then ran the short hop to supper.

The Restaurant San Clemente came highly recommended by the guide and again with great reason. We were pretty full with fried stuff by the time we arrived and we chose to sit out in the bar area of the restaurant where locals were chowing down on tapas rather than in the formal and entirely empty restaurant area. We and one other couple of tourista were the only ones having full meals, but who cares?

A hefty starter plate of lacon with potatoes was joined by an innordinate number of rich croquettas di mariscos (seafood) and, while we ploughed our way through them, I was beginning to think we should have gone for the lighter tapa option. However, by the time our main courses arrived, I was just about ready for some loin girdage and the next hurdle. Robin had two thick slices of turbot served with some unecessary potaoes and some horribly grim looking vegetables. The turbot itself was, as all fish tends to be in Spain ,very good indeed, simply grilled.

I followed with a Zarzuela (a rich tomatoey fish stew) which came stuffed to the gunwhales with shellfish and chunks of hake, turbot and cod. A very good way to fortify against the remonstrations of God outside. Particularly when joined by a bottle of Laxas, by far the nicest of the Albarinos we tried on the trip.

Some unmemorable postre and a couple of comped nightcaps later we headed back to the hotel to dry off in more ways than one.

Don't worry there's light at the end of the tunnel (or is it a train....?)

I am led to believe that this is the Galician's equivalent of a night at The Cottesloe

That meat plate in full

Some culture

We made sure to keep up with our greens

Croquettas - what an invention, it's what seperates us from mere beasts you know

Yes the veg were really grim

Would el senor care for a small libation ?

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