Sunday, March 16, 2014

Road Trip with our guide Ivan

Ivan's post on our trip, provides much better local knowledge than mine of course. 

If you have time or interest, go to Google Maps, Get Directions. Put in: Seville, Santiponce, Cazalla de la Sierra, Constantina, Seville and you'll get a map of our road trip.

We drove about nine kilometers to Italica at Santiponce. It is the site of Roman ruins of a complete city and is absolutely beautiful! School children were guided around by people dressed in Roman costume and some of the kids were in costume also. What a wonderful way to learn history! 
Statue in the city, yes, part of his face is gone but looks good artistically I think.

This site is almost unknown to tourists which is a shame really, it rivals the ruins in Rome, although I’ve never been. Ivan said Sevilla doesn’t promote tourism very well and I would agree. 

Perhaps they want to keep the special areas for themselves? I don't think so really, it's just that the City attractions, so often touted, are easy to walk to for tourists who are in a hurry to soak up what Sevilla has to offer in the often small amount of time they've allotted to be there. We've done the same. I had read about the ruins and looked into getting a bus to them. The bus website is not a good one for non-Spanish readers. The Tourism Department of Sevilla could do more, I'll leave it at that.

Tiers or seats in the Amphitheater, I think I would need some sort of cushion!

There was no entry fee and we were given a brochure with map of the area. Made me think they should have at least charged enough to cover the cost of printing it, maybe because it’s off season.

We walked up the hill to the top of the city, difficult day for Bruce walking but Ivan, as always, was very considerate and pointed out a bench where Bruce could rest. Wonderful views of the mountains where we are headed next and the river valley. 

There were mosaics in the floors of what were private homes. We saw the complex piping system for water distribution, Romans were well ahead of other civilizations in their engineering. They used the topography of the land to advantage. The Amphitheater was impressively large where men fought lions. It seats about 25,000 people, larger than the population of the City at the time because they would host visitors from neighbouring towns.

Ivan's Amphitheatre with Bruce in the shadow

If in Sevilla you will want to visit this site. It's so full of history. If interested here is the website for a description I wanted to put the actual website here but it's entirely in Spanish with no noticeable English option.

We then drove to Cazalla de la Sierra,  within Sierra Norte (North) park and had a tapa of sweetbreads wonderfully flavoured with garlic, onion, and tomato. I’ve never been a fan of sweetbreads but this was so good. Restaurant is called Manolo and thank goodness Ivan collects business cards for me! 

I have tasted so many things here that I wouldn't normally, "when in Rome". However if Ivan recommends I'll try it, because I know it’s going to be prepared well. He is a self proclaimed “picky” eater so will order what he knows is tasty and cooked properly. Certainly has broadened my horizons in the food department.

The drive there and back was through ever changing countryside due to going into the mountains and elevation levels. Different crops grown due to climate, as always, but the changes were very obvious and frequent. In the more mountainous area the only things that could be grown were olive, orange trees and animals, cattle, sheep, horses, goats and pigs. Beautiful countryside with mountain ridges, valleys and all with the special light that is part of this area. There were streams that feed longer rivers and camping areas under the trees that must be so cool in the heat of the Sevilla summer. Ivan showed us a river that he often has ridden on his motorbike to and waded in. 

A pic of a pic  of a pic, you get the idea from Ivan

On the lower levels it was kilometers of oat crop. With the amount of really good bread eaten here it’s no wonder.

The pigs feed on acorn nuts from oak trees that make the very special ham called Jamon Iberica. Whole other story on that but it is carved very carefully and skillfully from large leg hawks hanging in most bodegas. Bruce has been eating a lot of it! Here is a website if you want more information.

We saw many bulls, raised for five to six years and then collected to go to bull rings across Spain to be killed by a bullfighter or Matador. One must be careful to keep your opinion to yourself on that long time custom when in Spain. Ivan said he does not really like the “sport”, but he respects the tradition. The bulls are treated like royalty their entire lives prior to the deadly trip and that is the rationale Spaniards use when questioned. Matadors are only given the coveted prize if it is a clean kill, and even seasoned attenders are put off with one that isn’t. It takes many years of training for bullfighters to become a Matador. While Ivan’s brother does not want to become one he practises the skills on young bulls that are not killed or maimed. We may get a chance to see that practise and get an understanding of what it takes if his brother has another meet before we leave.

Went into Constantina and had lunch at Bar Alameda, 46 in the Alameda square. It was fungi or mushrooms and fried aubergine or eggplant. Small bodega once again, great quality food and another local’s place. Town buildings in this part of Spain are all painted white and have the Moorish influence of light blue outline on the windows, it’s to keep them cool as possible in the heat of summer.

Then a real treat, visit to La Violetera, a place that combines and distills anise and cherries to make a wonderful tasting liqueur. La Violetera means woman selling violets.

Ivan's picture of the owner in front of store door with logo.

Not planned ahead by Ivan but his cousin knew we were in Constantina and set it up for us. Another reason to use a guide that knows people who can enhance the experience! The lady on the label is the famous actress Sara Montiel, originally from Spain, moved to the States for her career. The owner wrote her to get permission to use her image on his label. 

The label on boxes ready to ship

We walked in and the smell was fantastic!  The proprietor, Jaime Garcia Avila, showed us through the warehouse, explained in great detail the process which is part chemistry and part intuition and knowledge. The mixture gets heated and cooled in a large vat by burning oak tree wood and is a complex one. 

The vat with temperature control by oak tree wood fire under it. Ivan's picture.

We were able to taste the cherries – wow! The flavour was fantastic and very strong.

Owner stirring the cherries with large wooden paddle to distribute the flavours

Then were given a tasting of the liqueur. This is something you would drink after a large meal to settle the stomach, anise is good for that, has an almost liquorice smell and taste but with the distilling process it looses much of that taste and blends well with the cherries.  Anise is also used at the end of a curry meal in Canada in a good restaurant. 

They also make gin, one for ladies and one for gents, not quite sure what that is about, perhaps the ladies isn’t as strong? 

As with all our tours with Ivan, he gave us much more information than I have written so will update this post with his when he has finished his.

Long day for us and Ivan has a class to teach and another meeting after. He’s the most engaging guide, although it had been a few years since he’d been to the area he took us to so he enjoyed coming back to it as well. With Ivan it’s a win/win all around, we hire him, he shows us areas and things of interest and bodegas only known to people who live here with wonderful and different food we wouldn’t order not knowing it's available. Restaurants have daily specials that are either written on a board or you have to ask about. Often they seem to be the best of the best offering. 

Seeing ancient ruins, a road trip through beautiful scenery and a surprise tour of a liquor distillery, hmm, can't get much better than that! Thank you Ivan once again!

P.S. Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving from 1862 are his writings on a long stay in Spain and his observations and feelings of it. Recommended by Ivan. I’m not finished it yet but agree whole heartedly with some passages and not so with others, Spain of course has changed since the 1800’s. He writes about the romance of Spain and it is very well written. It is a free ebook and you can download it on almost any format if interested. I suggest you Google it rather than send you a link, most common format is .pdf which can be used on most machines.

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