Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Andalusia - Day 4, Historic Town and Roman Ruins

Once again it rained heavily in the night but by morning it had cleared when I went out into the street to check the weather. There were blue skies again and there was a church bell ringing and calling people to service and as I wandered aimlessly about checking the breakfast options a crowd of nuns waddled across San Fernando Square on their way to the cathedral a bit like a flock of penguins.

The only place open was the Plaza so we returned there for the fourth time and had the same breakfast as the previous day except that we ordered too much ham and ended up with far more than we really needed and a bigger bill than we expected. The bad news was that Micky had gone down with a nasty little case of man flu and he wasn’t feeling very good at all. This was the strain that affects the sense of humour and sociability and after breakfast Mick invited us to go out without him. Naturally we said we would do no such thing and then he demanded that we should go out without him and we took the hint.

We were planning to go for another drive out, possibly to the town of Ronda but this didn’t seem fair so the rest of us decided instead to stay and explore Carmona instead. We weren’t sure that there would be enough to do to keep us amused all day so we walked very slowly from the hotel towards the eastern gate of the old town, the Puerto de Córdoba which is of part Roman construction and because Carmona is built on an elevated ridge overlooking the central plain of Andalusia opens to a glorious view of the surrounding countryside. The warmth of the sun was in contrast to the chilly shade of the street and we stayed a while and admired the view and warmed ourselves up before going back through the gate and climbing steadily towards the Alcázar Del Rey Don Pedro, which is an old castle at the top of the town that has been converted to a luxury Parador hotel. We went inside and admired the lounges and the restaurant and the stunning view from the balcony but it didn’t seem that they particularly welcomed non-paying guests so we left and carried on.

We walked around the southern rim of the town and there were more good views over the plain and we sat for a while and soaked up more weak sunshine that was struggling to get up to full late morning temperature. Our route took us now to the Alcázar de la Puerto de Sevilla, which was the western gate protecting the entrance to the old town and then we walked for a little way into the new town because I wanted to take the girls shopping but sadly on account of this being Sunday they were mostly closed and I was disappointed about that as you can probably imagine.
There seemed to be strange goings on in the main town square because it was full of men just standing around and chatting in groups of ten or so and making an enormous din as they competed with each other to be heard about the great issues of the day. This was obviously a Sunday morning ritual and I imagine that it goes something like this:

I’m just popping down to the square for a chat with my mates and I’ll be back in time for dinner, so make sure it's ready on time’
‘Do you have to go there every Sunday?’
‘Yes, we have important matters to discuss’
‘You know, Sometimes I think your mates are more important to you than I am!’

Back at the Puerto de Sevilla there was a sunny pavement with café tables so we stopped for a drink before going back to the hotel to see if there was any sign of Micky. While Christine and Sue looked for him Kim found a small shop that was open and we bought wine at 70c a litre and some cheap beer for later on. Micky wasn’t there but the scruffy dog was and Christine started to play with the thing and this unfortunately encouraged it to then join us as we continued our walk around the town, this time back to the Roman ruins about a kilometre away back in the same direction that we had just returned from.

Much to my annoyance it followed us nearly all the way and even thwarted our several attempts to lose it by going in different directions and even hiding in a shop doorway for a while. We couldn’t get rid of it and this caused a bit of tension between us because Christine rather liked it trotting along beside us. Eventually Kim was successful in shooing it away and we were able to continue our walk without the unwanted canine company.

I have seen Roman ruins advertised before and sometimes they can be quite disappointing so I didn’t have high expectations of those in Carmona but they turned out to be a real surprise. It wasn’t the Colosseum or Pompeii of course but there were extensive excavations and a museum with an informative film about the Romans in Andalusia and the significance of this place. It was principally an ancient Roman burial site or necropolis near the Seville road that was discovered in 1881 and there was also the site of what had been a rather large amphitheatre. The best part of all was that there was free admission and we spent well over an hour to look around the site.

It seemed that we had underestimated Carmona and there was a great deal more to do here than we had originally thought.

We walked back to the fortress gate and to a little bodega that we had picked out earlier for lunch. The Abacería L’Antiqua was full to overflowing and heaving with activity and just as we pondering whether or not to stay a table became available and we made ourselves comfortable. The food looked good and the bar was doing brisk trade so we selected some items from the tapas menu and waited for our food to arrive. All around the bar there were barrels of sherry and this is something else than Andalusia is famous for. Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez on the coast. In Spanish, it is called Vino de Jerez and according to Spanish law, sherry must come from the small triangular area of the province of Cádiz between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. After fermentation is complete, sherry is fortified with brandy and because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol. So now you know!

The food arrived quickly and it was delicious and we enjoyed it so much that we ordered second plates of our favourites and more drinks. The bodega was a vibrant and effervescent place with people of all age groups and whole families enjoying their Sunday lunchtime gathering and we enjoyed the garrulous atmosphere and just being a part of it all.

But we couldn’t stay all afternoon because there were still things to see. The admission charge to the fortress was €2 but the place was closed now so that would have to wait until tomorrow and instead we walked back into the network of tiny streets. I especially wanted to retrace our car journey of the first evening and we found the very narrow street and wondered just how we had managed to negotiate it without adding to the cars dents and scratches. Practically every car in the town had some form of damage either from scraping past walls or from other cars squeezing past and a very high proportion of them had had their wing mirrors ripped off and were now only kept in place with duct tape. This wasn’t the sort of place to live if you are at all fussy about the appearance of your car.

We found Micky in San Fernando Square sitting on a bench in the sunshine with a red nose and flu weary eyes and feeling a bit sorry for himself. The man from Bar Plaza saw us and told us he had prepared paella for this evening but unfortunately for him we were determined to return to the Abacería L’Antiqua and so he had missed his opportunity. It was late afternoon so we made arrangements to meet later and then went to our rooms. We sampled the 70c wine in a cardboard box and although it wasn’t going to win any awards it actually wasn’t too bad.

We went first to the Forum Bar, which was busy and then walked to the Bodega, which was empty. The contrast from the lunchtime bustle made the place almost unrecognisable and although other diners began to drift in the place never achieved the sociable levels of lunchtime. We ordered some repeat dishes and experimented with some different ones and the food was equally as good and we stayed all evening before going back to the hotel for our final night at the San Fernando.

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