Sun 27/3/16: Easter Sunday and we decide that we have seen all that we might in Toledo and decide to head eastwards to Cuenca. We actually first thought it was only some 60/70k’s when looking at the road map (really should try and learn how to read them properly) but when we were on the road and programmed Snoopy it came up with some 160k’s which it was. Cuenca is a World heritage site and when we arrived we could completely understand why-it’s like a mini Grand Canyon but with houses built onto the rocks and they call the older ones ‘Hanging Houses’ but a lot of the more recent ones also are hanging as well with some 100/200 feet drops if you open your back veranda doors, but truly amazing. There were no actual campsites there but 3 aires and so we headed for the first one which was actually after seeing the others the best one. It was at the bottom of the ‘Canyon’ and by a beautiful babbling stream which in fact ebbed and flowed throughout the valley. It was an unpaid for stop and therefore had no amenities but we were happy enough as we had ‘emptied’ and filled with water and had gas, plus it was pretty. So after parking up we headed up and up and up into the old town to try and find some lunch. But of course this was still Easter Sunday and there were many tourists in town and so the restaurants outside the cathedral in the very pretty square where busy and it was by now gone 3pm and most have a closing time of 4pm we have noticed outside of the bigger cities. It was at this point that David threw his toys out of his cot in our chosen restaurant in the square. It was busy on the tables outside and there was a queue and so we joined it in the absence of any other choices and time running out.
However, apparently there was a write your name down system which of course we hadn’t realised or been told. So the waiter who to be honest really wasn’t that bothered just shrugged his shoulders when David said in his best English that we had been waiting and no one had told us to out our names down. So off we stormed, that’ll show him, losing our trade. But what were we to do, we did have pasta and pesto option in NiKi but it didn’t really appeal and so we walked through the old town and fronts of the hanging houses, grumbling as we went. Then we saw a menu outside a restaurant (not unusual) but no evidence of the actual eating area and so we marched in expecting to be booted back out as so near closing, but no the well-dressed waiters quickly showed us upstairs into the dining area and I have to say after the food as well as the views it was well worth the David tantrum. This was actually one of the hanging houses and a stunning view and veranda over the canyon. The tables were laid with lovely linen and cutlery etc. and so we were expecting the worse price wise. The menu del dia was €26 and had lovely choices and the mains a la carte in the region of €17 and it was still Easter Sunday after all, plus we had no Easter bunnies to pay out for and so in true GG style we treated ourselves to the loveliest of lunches. Close run on all the dishes as to the pick of the day – I had gilt head bream in a prawn sauce, for a sauce girl there could have been a bit more of the sauce and David had the most wonderful lamb stew. All very nice and followed after by a hike over the stones on the canyon and the amazing views of nearby countryside.
Mon 28/3/16: And so in an effort to offset the ‘expensive’ lunch of yesterday we decided to cook in and after a zumo/coffee and toastada in a local café where the waiter told us on very good authority that the only place to watch the Easter activities was in fact Cuenca, and he should know as he was actually one of the ‘carriers’ that lift and carry the statues around the local streets to the cathedral and very proud quite rightly he was showing us the video of the event just that weekend. After that chicken was shopped for and that evening I made chicken cous cous (recipe courtesy of S.W recipes for simple cooks). It was again a one pot wonder but very tasty with some being left over.
Tues 29/3/16: The weather was slightly better than the greyness of the day before and so we got the bikes down and headed off along the river bed on a cycleroute of some 21k’s. The route mainly along the river and through the valley was absolutely stunning- hardly any traffic and just following the meandering river so not too much of a climb. We had decided to lunch out and the town at the end of the 21k’s was to get our custom come what may or come what restaurant. As we neared the small village we both began to wonder what we might chance upon food wise and in fact could it be a food desert as once
before. There was a hostel as we cycled in that had a lot of cars parked outside and also had a restaurant sign up, no menu on show outside but as it was now 3pm we chained the bikes up and run in. the kitchen was closing we managed to understand but they were serve us if we were quick, so we plonked ourselves down in the restaurant that was full of locals who all found delight in our Spanglish discussion with the waiter over our food choices. David opted for the menu of the day which was not written down but consisted of two choices for first and second course, opting for soup and then pork. I wasn’t that hungry and so opted for river trout locally caught, probably in the waters we had just cycled along as there were fishing signs all along the route. The soup was a real heavy winter warmer packed with lentils and onions and a chorizo sausage and again was a huge plateful that would have done as a main course. Of course I did the decent thing and helped David out with it. The trout was wonderful and is a favourite fish of mine although as norm with fish I don’t really have it that often. It had been butterflied open so saved some of the prep work for me and had just been grilled, it really was a delight. The deal for David included a drink and again a whole jug of local wine was put on the table, but on this occasion we didn’t hum and ah and just drank what we wanted reasoning with the fact that it was only €3.50 anyway. The bill including 2 drinks at the bar and coffee (not included) came to €18 and gave us enough energy to then cycle up the mountain hill to a wonderful stone village where they have likened the rock formation to different things like ships and Tortuga – a famous learning word on Duo Lingo that has now come in useful for me!
Wed 30/3/16: After 3 days we decided we best move from our unpaid site, generally 2 days is the allowed time on these sites and we headed upwards into the mountains on what we hoped would
be a short drive to make the most of the last day of decent weather, but as ever with mountain roads and stopping to look at various viewpoints it was late afternoon before we found our site. It was just outside a tiny village called Peralejos de las Truchas high in the mountains and on the edge on another small mountain stream. There was only one other small campervan parked up and it really seemed like it was closed but then a lovely lady popped out and got us checked in. On the way through the mountains we did out daily debate about when where and what to have for food and not wanting to waste food we decided on the left over cous cous, which David wasn’t keen on cold. So on route we stopped again in a tiny village to have a coffee break and find out where the locals shopped as there had been no Lidl’s or Superdia’s for miles, days in fact. The village really was a one horse town with no one about but we saw a sign for a store which had the doors firmly shut, boldly we threw them open and there was a very ‘Open all Hours’ shop. Following on with another meal idea from another supercook friend of using left over rice and stuffing peppers I had decided to use the cous cous in the same way and peppers are in abundance here. Though of course what was needed was 2 fat peppers not tiny things that would out master my stuffing skills. The long thin red peppers were spotted at the back of the store in the fruit and veg ‘section’ but unusually for here there was a sign saying not to touch. Eventually Mrs Arkwright realised that we weren’t looking for holiday souvenirs ambled over. Dos peppers, grande I boldly stated along with pointing at them. Simple in my world, but not hers.She looked blankly- so I repeated the request a bit louder- Dos peppers, grande to stuff I added after all aren’t all Spanish ladies excellent cooks she would understand stuffed. Nothing was forthcoming least of all the peppers and we all looked at each other in turn blankly. Arroz I shouted knowing that of course she would understand that word and then I opted to do a bit more charades and decided to point to my belly making stuffed gestures. No response and so in the usual if they don’t understand speak louder- Arroz stuffed in the peppers again making hand gestures over my belly to indicate stuffed being fat around my mid drift. No, she really did look confused and keep looking at me and my stomach and shaking her head and looking at the pharmacy section. Eventually we gave up and David just grabbed the 2 biggest fat peppers he could see and shoved them at her. We paid meekly at the counter and it was only afterwards when we walked out I realised that she probably thought I was trying to tell her I was pregnant and given the way she was looking at the pharmacy department that I might have been after a pregnancy test kit! Which being a bit like the man on the bridge moment really would have caused her some disbelief. Not to be outdone still and in an attempt to cover my embarrassment plus uphold my cookery skills I opted for google translate for stuffed peppers and marched back into the shop phone in hand and pushed the phone under her nose for her to read. “cosas con arroz” is the expression should you ever be in this position and don’t won’t people to think you’re pregnant however unlikely……… Upshot of this was that Mrs Arkwright was still unimpressed and it certainly wasn’t a light bulb moment on her part, but also that the stuffed peppers were absolutely wonderful and delicious and a first for me.
Thurs 31/3/16: What a difference a day makes- T shirts yesterday and today 1 degree with heavy rain that turned to sleet and the predicted low over middle of Spain now really in place. Although the mountains and the area are stunning there isn’t much else to do other than walk and that certainly wasn’t an option. So the internet came into in own and we saw that Valenciahad sun and again that’s when a motorhome certainly comes into its
own. NiKi was quickly packed up and we headed very slowly back down the twisty/icy mountain roads and onto the motorway to Valencia. So in a matter of 3 to 4 hours from 1 degree of awful weather to 20 degrees and sun. We opted for a small pay for aire just north of the city that was close to a metro (argh… just like work!) and after a meander into the nearby suburb opted to eat in the small on site bar/restaurant. Everywhere in Valencia is about the rice, how to and how not to cook it, what to have it with, what not to have it with and the bar offered a paella option, but I preferred to wait until I have beach and sea to go with my paella and so we just had a few tapa’s. David’s favourite being his beloved black pudding cooked with caramelised onions. Croquettes are a big thing here as a tapa and come in many forms and I do think we might have missed a trick with them in the UK, as they really aren’t that popular or certainly not in my circle. Here they are a very popular part of Spain tapa culture and these ones where chicken flavour and the centres on them are always different and for these they were slightly runnier than norm but I really did enjoy them. So all I would say is don’t be a croquette snob, let’s get them back into fashion at home.
Fri 01/04/16: Aprils Fool day and another month gone. Whilst doing a few household chores I decided not to waste the time and cooked a sausage cassoulet using smokey Spanish sausages and the ‘everywhere, every variety’ local beans ready for that evening and when we got back after our first explore into Valencia city. Good move because as ever even though just wandering it was 8pm before we got back and so the stew was just reheated and had with some left over crusty bread. Again a simple dish with garlic, onions, non-pregnant peppers and the flavoursome sausages and with a lovely deep bottle of red to set it off.
Sat 02/04/16: Another lovely sunny day, some slight cloud but nothing too worrying and we heading off again to Valencia this time to take in a couple of museums and have lunch in town. Of course the usual late start for no reason and a visit to the Museum de Bellas Artes which is a tremendous free art gallery featuring local artist Sorolla and also very famous Spanish artist Velaquez. By this time it was gone 2 and so we needed to get to our restaurant of choice which was across town, but after a few moments of rereading the guide book we opted for another one closer which was headed fusion Spanish and hoping for a bit of spice mix we headed there. The place was called Mattilda and when we arrived even though Spanish eating time there was no one in there, so we did our usual thing and dithered a bit outside the door, but as time was getting on we needed to get our bums on chairs and so we marched in. There was a menu of the day and after a bit of Spanglish between us and the young waitress and attempting to choose our first course we then realised that the first course was a medley of all 3 options unusally, so you got a very nice Russian salad, capriccio of pork and a seafood gazpacho –well that was what the last seemed to be but all 3 were very good. I then opted for arroz with psecado and again we weren’t sure what fish it might be but it was wonderfully presented and sat on my rice and looked like a sardine or mackerel that texture, but it certainly wasn’t sardine. The rice was flavoured wonderfully and for the first time here came with the ever popular in the UK sweet potato, very nice indeed. A homemade cheesecake followed and by that time it was gone 4 and we really weren’t up for another museum, so we wandered around the old part of town enjoyed the sunshine and people watching
Does the Valencia paella live up to it’s high standards read on next week for the exciting answer……..