Friday, 28 January 2011

Spain, Tapas and Bodegas

According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castile, Alfonso the Wise visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty. The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first. This evolved into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. There are alternative stories about the origin of tapas but so far this is my favourite.

We considered staying longer but there remained lots to see so we left after one drink and returned to the walls and this time our intention was to see them from the top rather than the bottom. We paid the €4 fee and received long winded instructions on how to find the four separate entrances to which our tickets entitled us to go and then at the tourist information office climbed the steps to the top of the wall and began a steady walk around the eastern section.

From the top we could see that weather to the north seemed to be improving and there were some tiny slithers of blue sky making slow progress south and as we walked these grew larger and got closer and we began to grow optimistic about the afternoon’s weather. There were good views from the walls looking east towards Segovia and north to Salamanca and from the mountains in the west the pace of improvement in the weather began to gather an increased momentum.

When the city wall walk round out we climbed back down and once again left the protection of the walls and walked around the outside of the western section and as we did so the clouds as if by magic suddenly cleared, there was a blue sky and bright sunshine and the temperature leapt several degrees which led to the hasty removal of jackets and coats.

After about half an hour we re-entered the city at the Puerta de Santa Teresa which led to the Convento de Santa Teresa (Santa Teresa is important in Ávila) and we walked through the twisted narrow streets through the commercial centre and the market place and then deftly bypassed the shops back to the cathedral where we turned down the opportunity to pay and go inside in preference for staying outside in the sunshine.

Not for long however because it was time for alcohol so not being able to find a bar with outside tables we returned to the tiny bodega which was busier now with lunchtime diners but we squeezed into a corner and had local beer and generous plates of tapas. We liked it here and hit upon an idea for evening meal and arranged with the staff to return later where for an inclusive price they would choose the food for us and serve us a local traditional meal. For Sue and Christine this involved an element of risk of course but as we negotiated the price we did take the precaution of stipulating that there should be no fish because we couldn’t take the risk of something slimy from the bottom of the ocean turning up on the table.

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