Tonight (18.09.13)I am in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a city at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, staying in the Hotel Los Helechos in Plaza Madre de Dios. We went into the leisure centre of the town and, after a couple of false starts, found our way onto the broad paseo which leads down to the river. We stopped twice, once for a glass of wine (me red, Mary white) and a tapa of stewed red peppers with canned mackerel, and once just for two glasses of wine; we would have had tapas but the kitchen had closed. We then walked back up into town where we had the good fortune to chance on the Bar Casa Balbino, with an unbelievable range of mainly seafood dishes. I ordered cangrejo (spider crab) for us to share and a couple of glasses of manzanilla, the signature wine of the city. We followed this up with stuffed mussels before heading back to our hotel for a nightcap cup of coffee. I like this city!
19.09.13 This morning, a typically Spanish breakfast; freshly squeezed orange juice, pan con tomate, and cafe americano. Afterwards, we walked first to the Tourist Office on Calzada Duquesa Isabel, picked up a town map (which is how I know the name of the boulevard) and then carried on down to the shore and along the paseo until we reached La Fábrica de Hielo, which houses an exhibition centre and the office where we booked a Doñana trip on Saturday afternoon. Stopped for refreshment on the way back, and then on into the shopping area where we looked much but bought nothing, and so got to lunchtime. Lunch was taken at Bar El Cura; tapas of shrimp omelette for Mary and monkfish albondigas for me. Lazed away the afternoon in our hotel room (technical term, siesta).
This evening we looked in on the shop at Bodega La Gitana. Some interesting sherries, but we were on our way out for an evening 'tapeando', so will return tomorrow.
20.09.13 Caught the bus to Puerto Real de Santa María about half an hour away. Not the most successful of days. First of all, the shop at La Gitana doesn't open until 10.30, so we continued on down to the bus station to catch the 10.15 bus, except the timetable has changed at some stage, so it is now the 11.15 bus. The bus station in Puerto Real is by the bull ring, so we had a quick look round that and then set off for the river. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong road, so we walked for ever before finally arriving at the wrong part of the river. Walked along the road parallel to the river for quite some time until we found a bus stop with a town plan from which we could see the road we should have come down. Instead we walked up it back to the bull ring - about ten minutes! - and had a beer and a montadito in a nearby bar and then caught the bus back to Sanlúcar.
The evening was more successful; bought six bottles from La Gitana and took them back to the hotel before setting out (later than the two previous evenings) for a round of tapas. We now discovered that bars which we had thought were closing early, were actually not opening until later. It was a typical Friday evening in a Spanish city - crowds everywhere, all ages including babies in pushchairs, and a general buzz of chatter around crowded tables outdoors with waiters whizzing around with plates and glasses.
21.09.13 Disappointing day so far (4.30pm). After a leisurely catch up on emails, FB, and the online edition of The Independent, we strolled across the road to the bodega virtually next door to the hotel for their 12 noon guided tour in English, to be told by a lady with very little English, that she was there on her own and their would not be a tour today - on Monday for sure will be visit. On Monday for sure we will get in our car to begin the journey back to Frigiliana. So we went to have a look around the church opposite which is not a parish church but part of a convent for a closed order of nuns, so no joy there either. Up a steep hill past the market to find another locked church and some gardens which can be visited by prior appointment (book at the town hall). The ducal palace of Medina Sidonia wasn't open either, but we did manage to get a coffee at the Castle of Santiago, where they were busy setting up for a wedding later in the day. You can buy tickets to go round the castle, but the ticket office was closed because the person who should have been manning it was taking people on a guided tour; it would open again when said person got back, but no indication when that might be.
So we set off down the hill again and across town to the river where we got a light lunch while waiting to head for the ferry at 14.45 to take us across to the other bank where landrovers were waiting to take us on a 60km, 3hr tour of the various ecosystems of the Doñana Natural Park, a World Heritage Site. And that is where my wife is as I write this. Me? I'm back at the hotel. You will recall I had a little trouble recently from which I was delighted to have made a speedy and complete recovery. Not quite so, it turns out, and my bowels chose today to wobble. As it happens I'm fine. They have settled down again, but waiting to get on the ferry I could not be confident, so bowed out rather than bounce across rough country worried about possible embarrassments. Ah well, we'll have to see what this evening brings.
Well, it turns out that I was needlessly apprehensive. Mary, on her return, had mixed feelings about her afternoon. The topography was impressive, but the wild life tended to be some distance away, and the commentary was totally in Spanish - not surprising I suppose given that she was the only non-Spaniard. At the far end of the park, towards Huelva, is the town of Matalascañas (literally, kill the sugar canes) which some friends of ours rate highly. It is on the beach as well, so we may take a trip there next time.
This evening we sat outside Bar Doñana, ate some patas aliñas con melva (potato salad with canned mackerel) and sipped our way through a couple of glasses of wine whilst people-watching. Then round the corner to Puerta de la Victoria for a nightcap and another tapa - avocado and prawns for Mary, well-aged goats' cheese for me.
22.09.13 Having a lazy start to the day right now (11.15) sitting outside our room up on the roof terrace. At some stage we will venture out to find coffee, but otherwise we have nothing planned for the day.
Midday and we went out for coffee. Today is hot. It has been hot the whole time that we have been here with daytime temperatures back up in the low thirties, which makes me wonder what is the Spanish for an Indian summer. Anyway, as I say it's hot today, so after a leisurely coffee in the shade we went in search of a bench in shade to sit and watch the comings and goings. Then, when that palled, strolled on the shady side of the street until we found a suitable bar for a light lunch. A likely candidate offered a special of arroz campero (country rice), but not until two o'clock. So we sat and had a beer and a pincho - Mary's of pork, mine black pudding - while waiting for the rice, with which we had another small beer each. The bill presented us with yet another demonstration of why you can live so comfortably out here on a pension. The total cost of lunch came to 15.90€, the equivalent of £13.30.
On a hot day like today there is only one thing that can follow lunch - a siesta. So that was the afternoon taken care of.
This evening was another matter. In the Plaza La Cabilda is the bar, Casa Balbino, an absolutely amazing seafood tapas bar. It works on a self-service basis; go, look, decide, request, take back to your table. Tonight I did three trips, each time one glass of white wine and one of red. Trip one, bouquerones en vinagre (anchovies in vinegar) and red peppers stuffed with tuna, potato and mayonnaise. Trip two, tuna salad and stuffed mussels. Trip three, spider crab. Total cost, 37€. Then stopped off for coffee and an ice cream on the way back to the hotel. Another perfect night.