I’d inherited a large old house with everything in it, and a lot of money as well (either in the bank/securities/whatever or in chests in the house). With the house came a man of affairs, a spare dark grumpy person who showed me everything from the attics down. When we got to the ground floor, there was another man of affairs, not as spare, dark or grumpy, and the first one had never heard of him (or vice versa). I left them to fight it out together — they did, with words mightier than the sword — while I tried to find a way to the cellar. I had a barrel full of ping-pong balls and/or golf balls: white, that size, not all the same weight, and overturned it so they would roll and find a way down. Which happened. The last two balls rolled round and round a two-inch-square hole and then tumbled in. Obviously I couldn’t get through that hole, but I did know how to get to the cellar now (perhaps I’d also found the stairs) and went down, only to find a woman of affairs who had never heard of the two men but knew everything about the house, including the worth of each and every object in it, and made it clear to me that I was even richer than I’d already thought.
We went a lot. The evening we arrived we found the nearest church — Basilica de Jesús del Gran Poder — and though the company was congenial with lots of little children, the next church along (with an entrance in the same block), the Iglesia de San Lorenzo, where a very old priest served Mass for a handful of people every weekday morning except Wednesday, fit us better. Gilded baroque angels are a better sight in Easter time than Christ carrying a cross as if it’s Good Friday.
But on both Sundays we got the opportunity to go to our own church: an Orthodox church of our own jurisdiction, the tiny parish of San Serafín de Sarov. I can’t really be coherent about it, only rave in bits and pieces. I’m so glad we found it; I love Roman Catholic services but a steady diet of them doesn’t agree with me, rather like Spanish restaurant food.
There was a very old priest, too old to serve: Archimandrite Pablo, and a younger priest, Padre Victor, who did all the serving. The archimandrite spoke English, and Padre Victor only Spanish, but so clearly that we could understand the sermon, which is more than I can say about any Catholic priest I listened to in Spain.
It felt so like home. One thing that was really different was that there wasn’t a choir so everybody sang, occasionally spurred on by the priest’s cheerful “Todos!” and his singing of the first line, which was uncomfortable for me because though his singing voice sounded deep it was actually high in pitch. The first Sunday there was an alto behind me so I could crib a bit, the second Sunday she was on the other side and I had someone behind me who sang at no discernible pitch at all (but with great conviction). If I lived there, I’d probably try to round up a couple of the better singers and, if not form a choir, at least practice. But perhaps they do that already because there were several people with good voices who knew both the words and the tunes. (I picked up a simple sort-of-first-tone melody for the Beatitudes, and I’d have memorised the first-tone variant used for the Second Antiphon, “Spanish first tone” in my mind, if I hadn’t been distracted by the Beatitudes on the second Sunday.) There were printed booklets, very useful: Spouse said following the service on paper made him much more aware of the structure of the Liturgy — of course I’m used to always having the choir book, but he gets only the linear sequence, and only a small part of it while he’s serving. The second Sunday I was looking up something in the liturgy booklet during the Hours, and the woman reading the Hours promptly came over and gave me an Hours booklet, which (even though she’d jumped to the wrong conclusion) was actually very nice to have because I could read along with the Psalms.
Another thing really different, but I think we, our parish, are the outliers in that: apparently frequent Communion isn’t usual there, so we went to Confession the first Sunday and sort of surprised the old priest the second Sunday when we wanted to go to Communion again. He asked Spouse if he hadn’t hit me in the intervening week, and when Spouse said no, waved us through. (He’d also asked me earlier if everything was all right in our marriage; this man has an obsession. Or bitter experience with his parishioners.)
It’s a very international parish: they have the same habit we have of praying the Lord’s Prayer in all available languages, and we had Romanian, several Slavic languages, one language we not only didn’t understand but didn’t even recognise, and French, as well as Spanish and Church Slavonic. We were asked if we could do it in English the first time, and we said “we can do it in Dutch!” so we did. It was nice to see people smile at that, “a new one!” They also do the forty-times “Lord have mercy” in four languages: three in Spanish, three in Greek, three in Romanian, three in Slavonic, repeat twice, then three in Spanish and one in Greek. I wish we could do that too, but I’ll probably never get Choirmistress to agree.
To catch everything I should perhaps do a Mystery Worshipper-type questionnaire, but let me say only this thing: every part of the service was like being in Heaven.
(Warning: contains some door-and-key geekery because I like little strangenesses.)
We’re still in Sevilla, but the holiday is officially over: Libre Graphics Meeting, which we went to Sevilla for in the first place, started on Thursday night. I did take the morning off to go to a hipermercado, which probably deserves a blog post in its own right or at least a large part of the food post I’m planning. (Let it suffice for now to say that we ate lots of yummy food, some cooked by us, some at restaurants, some even bought ready-made.)
Our apartment is still wonderful. Even the times when we can’t sit in our tiny patio because it’s too warm, or the neighbours pour something stinky down the drain, it’s no penance to be inside. To get inside, we need four different keys. We have two bunches of keys and none of the shapes match, but I’ll describe the ones we use most often.
The green iron gate needs the smallish round key. It was fairly hard to open it from the inside until we found out that it needs to be pulled a bit. It closes by itself, but there’s so little room between it and the front door that you can’t close it until you’re inside. On the other hand, there’s so much room between it and the front door that it’s awkward to try to lock the front door when going out unless it’s still open.
The front door itself has two locks, but we use only the upper one. It closes by itself, sort of, but we’ve been asked to lock it whether we’re in or out, unless we’re only in and out for one moment to fetch something or use the toilet. We usually lock it anyway because it’s become a habit. It needs the intricate safety key.
The white iron gate needs the eight-sided key, and I call it “the Anshen gate” in my head because of that. It announces that it was made in 1855. Closes by itself with a satisfying metallic twang.
The apartment door needs the symmetrical-trapezium key (can’t find the right terminology: it’s like an equilateral triangle with the top lopped off) which fits slightly below where one thinks it fits so it can be hard to unlock the door. We lock the door and leave the key in when we’re in, though there’s probably no danger in leaving it unlocked.
There are ROADWORKS. Roadworks are the local hobby, or perhaps passion. All the streets are tarmac, meaning that if you need to dig up a water-pipe or something you need to dig up the whole street. And the stretch of street just around the corner from our alley is getting a new covering, meaning a new maze of pieces of yellow barrier every day. One dog was unlucky:
I was going to say “we did all the tourist things” but we did pointedly not do some of the more obvious tourist things: skipped the bullfight, the flamenco evening, the sightseeing bus, the boat tour. Even though we were so easy to recognise as tourists that bright young women and boat-captain-uniformed men kept trying to press flyers on us. (My father-in-law, who we went to Málaga to meet because he’s staying about 40 minutes by bus from there, did go on a tour of the bullring –when there was no fight on– and told us how badly he saw the bulls being treated, so even if I’d been interested for cultural reasons I wouldn’t have wanted to go. The fake knight tournament in A Coruña in 2015 was much more fun!) As I already thought, carrying a heavy shopping bag full of groceries protected me 100% from tourist touts, even though I was wearing my ordinary clothes (no little dark blue cardigan) and hadn’t dyed my hair black like most Spanish women my age seem to do.
I bought a new purse! A wonderful red leather one with RFID protection inside. Pity I don’t have my new bank cards yet to protect in it. All I have is some money and my St Anthony medallion and today’s bus tickets and a couple of receipts that I’m keeping because they have Castilian, Basque, Catalan and (I think) Galician on the back. I also had a restaurant promo card, but gave it to some LGM people who considered going to that restaurant.
We went back to the Museum of Fine Arts. We were actually planning yet another visit, so Spouse could do some more drawing and I could sit down in front of an artwork and let it inspire me to write, but the afternoon we were keeping for that (Tuesday, after the admin stuff) both of us were too tired and hot and thirsty and lazy to do anything else than sit in the patio drinking anis seco with a lot of ice cubes and reading. Like many museums of fine arts where we’ve been, it must have started as “we have all these things we inherited or collected or accidentally acquired otherwise, let’s show them”. This one’s collection was mostly from the confiscation of monastic property in the nineteenth century. There was a small exhibition of paintings by Murillo, whose Inmaculadas are not at all boring, and some interesting other stuff.
(I have more pictures but they don’t do justice to their originals anyway. Just go there when you get the chance; if you’re not a EU citizen it’s not free, but cheap, something like two euros.)
We went to the cathedral. It cost 9 euros per person, which seemed a lot until we learned that 2/3 is used for the upkeep of the building and its artworks and 1/3 for the poor of the city. It was overwhelmingly big, and full of groups of Japanese and Chinese (separately, not mixed), so very hard to actually see anything. But I did meet the patron saint of the internet:
Apart from several schools and at least one street called after him, there seems to be very little evidence here that he’s important. Not even a medallion in the church-tat shops, though I found my bone St Anthony of Padua medallion while looking for an Isidore. The Orthodox church where we went on Sunday, and will go again tomorrow, has lots of icons for sale but no Isidore either.
We went to Real Alcázar (still not “the”, though that Wikipedia article is of two minds about it). More groups, though mostly French and some English and German rather than Asian. I felt that I was in the way of everybody’s pictures all the time, and I was becoming more and more unhappy until we managed to escape to the gardens. I still don’t know if the whole thing was disappointing — after all, we saw only the public part, not the famous royal apartments — or there were just too many people to feel the mood. I also found I liked the intricate stonework better than the tiling, but that could be a function of preferring (monochrome) quiet to (colourful) noise at that moment.
One question about the tiles: are these lions trying to eat snakes, or snakes trying to bite lions in the tongue?
Publishing this after the fact (though written in stages) because I was completely sure that people would have replied with advice, on the blog, on Mastodon, on Twitter, even if I’d asked explicitly not to do that. Advice from people not on the spot would have made me much too nervous. I had all the help I needed: see the “Good people being good” section at the end.
I was robbed of my purse (wallet, if your dialect has that; the thing I keep my money and cards in, not the thing I keep that thing in) in Barcelona. When we came out of the history museum (with the Roman city underneath) it was raining and we’d both left our umbrella at the hotel, so Spouse went into a tourist shop to buy some, and I stood in the entrance looking at mosaic lizard key rings. (I still want a mosaic lizard key ring! Because LIZARD. Also MOSAIC. I might go and get one when we have half an afternoon in Barcelona on the way back.) Then I felt myself being jostled, turned, and saw a middle-aged American woman (I knew she was American because she apologised to me and I heard her accent) fumbling with her umbrella.
Then we went to eat at the Bishop’s Cafe, and when we were leaving I picked up my bag somewhat clumsily and my phone and pen fell out. Out of the compartment where the purse ought to be as well.
I emptied my whole bag. I searched on the floor, and also on the floor near the seats we’d had before we realised that this was a place where the staff seats you (and saw several sets of people who came in after us being seated before us; we should have stayed where we were). We asked at the cash register. Nothing. “Then you’ve been robbed,” Spouse said, but we went back to the museum, the last place I’d had it, because I remembered putting the euro coin from the locker in it and it in my bag AND ZIPPING UP THE BAG COMPARTMENT. And Spouse also remembered me zipping up the bag compartment. Good thing, because otherwise I’d have blamed myself even more than I already did anyway. Nothing at the museum either.
Spouse remembered that he’d seen a young man who didn’t look Spanish walk (not run) away when he came back from the shop and found me saying “no problem” to the American woman.
Now if I hadn’t said when arriving in Barcelona “there’s no need to keep my ID in my phone case any more” I’d still have it. (But Spouse said that if he had an ID card instead of a full passport, he’d keep it in his wallet as well.) The thief was in so much of a hurry that he (I’m assuming it was that young man and not the American woman) didn’t take the phone with much more monetary value, but the purse that was on top, containing only 4 single euro coins, a tenner in the outside pocket (which I completely forgot to mention when I was at the police station; it’s my semi-secret emergency money), some cards that got blocked right away unless he wants to travel by public transport or go to the museum in the Netherlands and disguise himself as a middle-aged woman, and a lot of things with only sentimental value like the lock of strawberry-blonde baby hair that was cut from Prima’s head when she was christened. Another annoying thing is that I finally had the PERFECT purse and I don’t know if I can find another that fits me so well.
We took a taxi back to the hotel — it was much further than I thought — and I called the bank in the taxi. Very, very helpful man on the other side; understanding without being patronising, blocked my ATM cards and not Spouse’s on the joint account, asked when I’d last used either (in the Netherlands), could reassure me that there were no suspicious transactions, and mentioned the account I only keep to automatically pay the swimming pool and which I don’t have a card of. He also advised me to go to the police to report my stolen ID, which was my next concern anyway. (Note to self: see about museum pass, public transport pass, and store loyalty card. Not as much hurry as the rest.)
The hotel receptionist knew where the police station was: quite close. She gave me a printout (A4 sized) of my ID which she’d scanned at registration, and also said that she’d been robbed in town several times as well, it’s just something that happens.
At the police station we were referred to a woman called Marta, petite and wow-grade beautiful, who was at that moment helping a young man who’d lost his public transport pass, in fluent French. With us she spoke fluent English. She filled in all the papers, asking for things I’d never have expected (my father’s and mother’s first names! But as Spouse said, that’s part of your name in Spain) and even calling the embassy for me so I could apply for an emergency passport.
The embassy man was sort of helpful but exasperating because he went far … too …. slow … for me, as if I’d never heard of a web address before. I appreciate it if people who are going to spell something say it before they spell it so I know what to expect! As it was, I’d written half the thing before he got to one-quarter most of the time. It was especially exasperating that he told me to “write along with him” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And even then, I still had some questions, and Spouse thought of a couple more questions afterwards. But what I had to do was to scan or take pictures of all relevant documents, attach them to an email message, and write in the email message exactly where we were going to be and when. That seemed doable.
So I downloaded the forms he’d told me to download and fill in, and ran into the next problem: I had to sign the forms, and couldn’t do so on the laptop that I could fill in the rest of the forms with! I called the embassy again — this time they were already closed and not open until Monday, but I was put through automatically to the consular whatever, exactly what I needed anyway — and I got another person who told me to print the forms and sign them and take photos and attach those. She could also answer my other questions! When I went to the hotel reception desk with the printing problem they gave me an email address (of the reception) to send the forms to so they could print them. Then I noticed that I’d filled in ’20’ instead of ’16’ in the “when was your ID issued” field, because the form took only two-digit year numbers and I’m so used to typing “20xx”. Could amend that in the print, though.
The mail message came back: size too large for server. Eventually I had to split it in four discrete parts with different attachments, but they all got sent.
At one point Spouse noticed the date and said “I’d almost become superstitious!” And yes, it was Friday the 13th.
Then we had dinner at the hotel because we were too knackered to think of anything else, and the nice waiter was nice.
Next problem: we would be travelling on the AVE (high speed) train, with our Interrail pass, and you need ID for that! So we went to the station on Saturday morning to sort that out so we wouldn’t have to do it on Sunday morning and possibly miss the train. The man at the general train information office pointed us to the renfe information office, which was invisible from the station entrance, but there was another very helpful woman (called Carolina according to her badge) there who didn’t speak as much English as Marta but it was enough, and she called someone else in Catalan who knew more than she did, and told me that they were practically sure that I’d be able to use the Interrail card and get on the AVE with the copy of my ID and the police report.
Update: as I wrote in the other post we were just waved through when we showed our Interrail passes.
In Sevilla I got email from a Spaniard at the consulate, in passable English, saying the consul in Sevilla was on holiday but he’d get the things done for me, and did I have a phone number? I was surprised that I’d apparently forgotten the phone number in my first email because I knew they might want to call me, but I gave it and asked if I needed passport photos, and then got another mail immediately, giving me an appointment for Tuesday the 24th at 11:00 and asking me to bring two passport photos, 47,50 € and all the originals of the documents I’d sent pictures of.
While we were exploring a new part of town Spouse spotted a photo booth! So I had a sheet of very bad photos taken (bad as in: doesn’t look much like me, but the quality is adequate and there was a clear explanation of “how to take an official identity photo” so it’s acceptable). It’s a good thing because we didn’t see any shops advertising passport photography like in our home town. There were a few shops selling cameras, and one specialising in photos of weddings and First Communions, so I’d probably have asked there otherwise.
Tuesday the 24th rolled along (yesterday as of writing this part) and though I knew it couldn’t really go wrong I was still nervous. The weather didn’t help: nastily muggy even at 8 in the morning. But we found the consulate, and being twenty minutes early we walked around in the neighbourhood for a bit: little streets with fabric shops, notions shops, wool shops, flamenco-dress shops, flamenco-notions shops, ecclesiastical-fabric shops, ecclesiastical-gear shops and antique shops. At one of the antique shops I found a bone medal of St Anthony of Padua for 2 euros! That lifted my spirit considerably. Then it was 10:55, the properly Dutch time to be just too early.
The consulate is on the first floor of a house full of offices and residences, with a wonderful courtyard (that I didn’t take a picture of, because there were people living there). We were greeted in the courtyard by a short stocky middle-aged Spaniard called José who I somehow thought was the consul’s secretary, but he is in fact the honorary consul himself (I’m glad I found that out right now, not before I went, because it would have made me even more nervous while dealing with him). The consul’s secretary, who sent me the mail, is called Julio.
I filled in a form with the things that go on a passport (name, date and place of birth, that kind of thing) and got another form to fill in but I could hand over the one I’d done in Barcelona instead. I signed with a special indelible pen and parted with two of the awful pictures. I now have a blue laissez-passer, and José told me he’d special-cased me because I wasn’t only using it to leave the country immediately by plane, but to travel via Barcelona and Paris over land. In fact what I’ve got now is a passport that’s valid until the end of May, and I need to go to the town hall and apply for a new ID before then. Easy: I’ve got all of May to do it in. Only it’s another annoying expense, of course. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll get better pictures taken or just use another of the awful ones.
We were shaky and needed coffee, but all in all it had only taken twenty minutes.
(And then I found the perfect purse as well, which I’ll show in a post that’s about the holiday, not about the trouble. Possibly even better than the old one except that it doesn’t have my keepsakes in it, apart from the new San Antonio medal.)
Good people being good
The hotel receptionists and waiter. The man at the bank customer service. Marta at the police station. The woman I called at the embassy (and also the man, because he was doing his best, and I acknowledge that at least 80% of people he deals with on a daily basis would have been in more of a panic and/or wouldn’t know how to use the internet). Carolina at the rail information office. José the consul. And Spouse, of course, who was the main reason that I wasn’t in as much of a panic as I might have been. (I’m usually very cool when other people are in trouble; he probably has the same skill and it rubbed off.) All these people deserve a special place in Heaven.
My head is full of stuff.
We’re so glad we’ve got this apartment: we have a teeny tiny courtyard that’s perfect to sit in and eat and drink delicious things and do nothing (or read, or blog, or talk; we might roleplay but haven’t got round to that yet). Yesterday we found our bearings in the city, today we actually went to things.
Food: still good, except the supermarket sausages that looked okay but turned out to consist mostly of fat and floury filler. The supermarket chicken-and-egg croquettes, and fish croquettes, were much tastier, and we now also have albondigas (meatballs) from the deli department in the fridge for tonight. (update: the packaged meatballs from the small supermarket were actually better; these were quite loose-structured and not so spicy. Both of us can do better than each of these but we don’t have all our resources here.)
We haven’t found the covered market yet though we know it exists, quite close to where we are [ETA: found a covered market, at least, not the one we were looking for. But it was closed, it being miercoles. Wednesday is the Spanish Monday.], but the little supermarket right round the corner and the huge supermarket at less than 10 minutes walk provide amply for our needs. The past couple of days we’ve been going to early Mass, yesterday after breakfast because we were aiming for the one starting at 9:30 but turned out we were catching the end of the 9:00 one in the adjacent other church, which was much nicer both in time and in atmosphere. The church that we found on Sunday night was quite full, children and all, but it’s the Jesus de Gran Poder church, and the Gran Poder is expressed by a huge statue of Christ, dressed in purple, carrying a cross, as if it’s Good Friday. It reminded me of the Passionist church we went to in A Coruña: interesting for one service but I wouldn’t want to go there always. Today we arrived neatly at St. Lawrence’s church at 8:55 (with laundry done!) and had breakfast at a corner cafe.
Wanted to go to Alcazar (not the Alcazar, al- is already “the”, it’s from Arabicاَلْقَصْر al-qaṣr, “the castle” or “the palace”) but there was a queue that looked like it would take hours. (Spouse found out that parts of Game of Thrones were filmed there so apparently lots of people want to see it who otherwise might not be interested.) I’d already tried to book online but they didn’t have any tickets for any of the days we’ll be here, but Spouse tried it without the royal apartments because he thought that might cause the lack of tickets and succeeded in buying two.
After seeing that the cathedral queue was shorter we spent about a quarter of an hour in it without it moving. I lent my pen to a Dutchwoman behind me, but when she was done with it we escaped (to the shadow) and tried to buy tickets online for that and failed because the mobile site is crap. At home on the laptop it did work, but it needed lots of information like Spouse’s passport number! And we need to print the tickets, so have to find an Internet shop tomorrow.
We’d seen something interesting on the way to Alcazar and the cathedral, so we went there instead: the palace of a countess. Splendid! I’d have liked to spend much more time on the upper floor than the guide let us have (also, she pointed out all the “important” things, and there were many more interesting things!). The countess was a great collector, and her house is full of antiquities and fragments of antiquities and restored Roman mosaic floors — she was actually one of the first people to restore mosaics by modern methods. And she wasn’t afraid to have her house altered to accommodate her finds, so there’s an eight-sided room in the middle of the house because she had a huge eight-sided Roman mosaic.
(And somewhat further on we found another casa palacio! That’s only open on Mondays, though, so I took a picture of the sign and it’s easy to find because it’s right opposite the museum)
We had a bocadillo (sandwich bun) with chorizo for lunch, but I misjudged where my plate was because of the intersection of the reading and middle-distance parts of my glasses, and put a half-full glass of wine on the edge of my plate so it fell over and broke. Oops! Pity about the wine, it was excellent, and I don’t know if I dare show my face there again though the food was also excellent.
The Museum of Fine Arts is free for EU citizens! And one of the guards spoke to us in Dutch — his Dutch sounded about as good as our Spanish. We got a bit tired of one Virgen Inmaculada after another, and of yet another St Francis or other male monastic saint having visions or doing penitence, but some of the things were very good indeed: woodcut half-reliefs, some of the paintings even from centuries I don’t usually like the output of (like the nineteenth), Saint Luís looking with disgust at the little dragon rising from his cup, a Virgin and Child where I could see that the Virgin had had the same model as one of the saints in another picture by that painter and the child looked so much like her that the model must have been her own child. We might go again (hey, it’s free! and quiet enough except that you’re likely to be trampled by school parties if you don’t look out) to see just the things we want to see, and take pictures, because we had to put even our small shoulder bags in the locker and forgot to take phone and camera out.
Coming out of the museum we were so thirsty that we sat down in the first place that had shadow and had a large cold beer, and then went to the supermarket and home. So tired that Spouse took an actual siesta on the bed, and I lay down on the couch and must have slept (because I dreamed, and I got up a bit disoriented) but very lightly (because I remember my surroundings, too).
I sort of want to buy a fan, and a purse (they do gorgeous leatherwork here and I need a new one), but not from any of the tourist shops, so I’m keeping my eyes open but I don’t know where to go. Perhaps the online acquaintance I haven’t told yet that I’m here (he knows, anyway) will know a good place.
Added some signs to my collection and posted them on Mastodon, but otherwise saving them for a signage post like the one I made after the previous trip to Spain.
The last evening in Barcelona we met friends for dinner: in their neighbourhood, first with a beer in their social club, and then in their favourite restaurant. It’s amazing that people (three youngish guys: two in the kitchen and one waiting tables) can have a restaurant where they do nothing at all to the interior, except keep it scrupulously clean (no decoration at all!) and cook SO EXTREMELY WELL. Okay, the main dishes were just ordinarily very good, but the starters and desserts were quite extraordinarily good. Fish balls again (but much better), tiny artichokes tossed in spiced flour and deep-fried, octopus on very garlicky mashed potato, and flatbread topped with [whatever], which seems to be a Catalan staple. Then we had various meats and fishes, and finally I had mel i mata, which is a fresh cheese more solid than quark and more hanging-together than cottage cheese and firmer than ricotta, with honey and hard twice-baked biscuits that our friend says are what the Italians stole cantuccini from. I wish I’d thought of buying a whole bag of those while I was still in Barcelona!
Then, in the morning, we didn’t have time to go to Mass again because we needed to take a 10:00 train. So we took a taxi at 8:15 and had time for breakfast at the station, and I even went to the station souvenir shop to see if I could get a mosaic lizard (which I didn’t buy in the town centre, though I really wanted one). They had only flat lizards with a mosaic pattern printed on: never mind, then. They did have awesome plush dragons, green and red, but I had only 10 euros in my pocket and they cost 17,99 so I left them. Perhaps on the way back!
The AVE (high speed train) pretends it’s a plane, only on the ground: it has baggage check in a huge machine, but there was only one bored-looking woman looking at a screen and waving us through. Then we had to check in at a desk, where a man first told us to come back 20 minutes before the train would leave, and then waved us through after a cursory glance at our Interrail passes too. We’d been led to expect that they’d want ID, but nobody asked for it, neither in Barcelona nor in Madrid.
From Barcelona to Madrid we had such a smooth train! It was only when it achieved a speed of over 300 km/h that our ears started protesting. Not even in the numerous small tunnels as the train went right through hills and mountains. The South Catalan Plain has more silly-looking small round hills than is seemly for something called a “plain”. Also, the south end of Catalonia and the north end of Aragon are so desolate that one might as well be on the moon: occasional bushes, but most of it arid and empty sandy/rocky landscape. I didn’t see nearly enough people and animals anyway until we were well south of Madrid: north of Madrid Spouse saw 4 black sheep, and I saw one fox (which didn’t look red enough but it was absolutely the right shape) and two large black cows or bulls and a clutch of either geese or swans in a meadow, large and white and far away. Oh, and one man walking a dog, a man on a bicycle, and when we were almost in Madrid some people working on their allotments.
Announcements were in Castilian, Catalan and English, and I wondered whether they’d stop doing it in Catalan after we left Catalonia but they kept it up right until Madrid.
The train arrived in Madrid ten minutes early, so we had 40 minutes to change there, and we needed 33 of those! Because the station of Madrid really thinks it’s an airport, with separate arrival and departure terminals and a moving pedestrian belt. Fortunately the person at the baggage-security machine didn’t even look at her screen, and the one at passenger check-in waved us through even quicker than in Barcelona (though she did type a number wrong and her terminal said ERROR in angry red).
The next train must have been of the oldest generation of TGVs: the interior was a bit dilapidated and it shook a lot, like German trains. There was a woman in my reserved seat, and after some back-and-forth we worked out that she wanted to face forward, and I slightly prefer facing backward, so we swapped and were both happy! (Me, pointing: La dirección? She: happy nod and smile. Later I heard her speaking Italian to her travel companion so my Spanish, though correct and to the point, was probably the wrong thing.)
From Madrid to well into Andalusia we had very samey landscape. Olive orchards, and little hills, and little hills with olive trees on them, and olive trees, and hills, and did I mention olive trees? It was actually exciting to see a flock of assorted sheep (and I mean assorted: white and brown and black, young and old, big and small) among the olive trees. And to see cork oaks among the olive trees occasionally. Then we started seeing orange orchards! And orchards that were obviously going to bear other fruit that we couldn’t determine from the flowers.
We were about twenty minutes late in Sevilla, but at least we were in Sevilla! The taxi took us to the corner of the street that our apartment was on because it’s too narrow for cars. We found the house but nobody was there to let us in, so we tried calling; and again; and someone told Spouse to go to No.1 and the street doesn’t seem to have a No.1 at all, but he’d meant press the #1 bell of the house we’d already found.
We got it sorted out. The man who let us in is the father of the actual landlord, and doesn’t speak anything but Spanish, so we got to exercise ours (and use Google Translate on the phone when words failed us). We got instruction in the use of the keys; now I can use them but Spouse can’t yet, but I think he’ll learn. Two doors and two gates to open and close (and some to lock)!
This apartment is SO GOOD. We have everything — well, except a sharp kitchen knife, but we’ll remedy that tomorrow. We got a whole tray of delicacies and a bottle of very okay wine as welcome present. There’s a slightly larger than small supermarket right around the corner. We’ve already found a church near enough to just pop in, though the morning service is very late (9:30; we’d have preferred 8 but this one best fits our principle to go to the nearest church). We’ve cooked in the kitchen (asparagus and supermarket ready-made meatballs that only needed some extra smoked paprika in the sauce). We’re SO HAPPY! And we’ve got this for another two weeks.
Sleeping under only a sheet did the trick. We didn’t need to get up so early as yesterday anyway, because on Saturday there’s no Catalan service at 8, only a Castilian service at 9. When we were walking to the church we passed a cafe and I said “if Café Mono is closed we can go here after Mass!” And yes, Café Mono was closed. Things tend to be closed on awkward days all the time.
The Castilian priest was old and not nearly as quiet and unassuming as the Catalan one; also a very different crowd of people (mostly women ten or more years older than me, with a sprinkling of old men). I could understand about twice as much as of the Catalan service: that is, slightly less than half, more from the parts that I know by heart anyway, and almost all of the first reading because that was a bit that I’ve read myself several times, the beginning of Acts 6 about appointing Stephen, Philip etcetera to do the practical work so the Apostles could concentrate on prayer and ministry. (Women readers of the world, unite!) And there was singing. I picked up the Alleluia and the Gloria right away, and the thing that was sung at the end I knew, in Latin but that made hardly any difference. Both the priest and the reader-cum-acolyte had low singing voices so it was all in my range.
Various public transport
We had breakfast at the other cafe, after greeting several women from the church in the street when we recognised each other. The coffee tasted okay but it did something funny to my stomach and I didn’t want another cup right then, so we went to the station to handle a transport problem [also redacted, belongs to the thing I’ll elaborate on when fully resolved]. I had strawberry lemonade at the station cafe, which settled me (or it was the relief at having handled the problem, but anyway it was nice).
There are far too many buildings in Barcelona that look like railway stations! Not only St Anthony’s market, but there’s also a hotel that looks like a railway station and a social services office that looks like a railway station, both of which we passed on our way to the actual railway station. It doesn’t help that Barcelona Sants station is set back from the road a bit, with a huge square in front of it. It does help that that square is a typical in-front-of-a-station square.
While we were sorting out metro lines — I wanted to find out how easy it is to go to the station by metro tomorrow; probably very easy — we decided to take a metro and the funicular and the cable car (the funicular goes on the same metro ticket, the cable car is somewhat expensive but great fun) up to Montjuïc to the castle.
The funicular itself looks like a sort of slopy metro when you get in, but it rights itself once it’s underway — then it’s the track that slopes. The Catalan parts of the large sign read to me as “Kissing on the road is forbidden” and “Don’t appropriate something and eat it” but they really do say what the English does.
Castle, and back
It was raining when we arrived at the castle. It rained incessantly until — well, until the time I’m writing this, about half past three. The first person outside the cable car station was an umbrella seller but we brandished the ones we had. Not really weather to climb a flight of stairs to the battlements, and the tour that goes to the really medieval part of the castle (guard rooms, dungeons and cisterns) was at 11 which it had already been, and 4 which was later than we wanted to wait for. Ah well. Really impressive pieces of artillery. View over the foggy Mediterranean where several big container ships lay anchored which a smaller container ship moved out between, and a HUGE container ship came in around. Gulls hanging against the wind and crying “Eow” every so often (like “meow” but with only vowels). And rain.
Inside the castle it was at least dry, but when we wanted something to eat it turned out that the rooms marked on the plan with a fork and spoon were closed, and the room that had a steaming coffee-cup on the sign had only vending machines. There was a rather interesting small exhibition of Barcelona under the Nazis, with a young Dutchman mansplaining WWII and the trial of Nuremberg to his girlfriend; I’m glad most people take us for English before we open our mouths, and sometimes even after we do. The other (part of the, I suppose) exhibition was about the Catalan president shot in 1940 for being the president, but we looked at each other and decided we didn’t need another two rooms of pictures and text about a bit of history we weren’t really planning on being informed about.
And rain. Back on the cable car, back on the funicular, and then we were so hungry that we decided to go and find somewhere to eat right there outside the metro station. Where we ended up looked so dingy that we wondered whether to stay, but we did, and got a “medium” beer that turned out to be half a liter, and some surprisingly good tapas, and decent coffee. And it was still raining.
What we wanted was to find a taxi and make it take us to the Museum of Catalan Art because taxis are dirt cheap here (only slightly more than two metro tickets) and we didn’t feel like trudging up another hill in the rain, but first it was quite a walk to find a working ATM (the fourth, I think, yielded money instead of “out of order” messages) and then we saw lots and lots of taxis, all occupied. There were free taxis on the other side of the road so we crossed, but none would stop for us until we’d walked even more, getting wetter and wetter. By that time even my socks were wet: water had crept into my shoe from the soaked hem of my skirt. All we wanted now was to go back to the hotel, change into something dry and spend the afternoon in the lobby with the laptop, going back into town in the evening to have dinner with friends.
Then we saw a place where people were getting out of taxis! And, unfortunately before we’d reached it, other people were getting into those taxis. But I stood on the corner and waved at the next free taxi and it stopped and picked us up. Lesson learned and put into practice: when in doubt, pronounce ‘b’ as ‘v’ and vice versa. Especially vice versa! We’re in Hotel Vilamarí and I can now make taxi drivers understand that.
Have a funny sign from the ATM:
Which shows that “money” is plural in Catalan (and singular in Castilian, and undecided in English). I’d say “rob the cash point”, not “steal the cash point”: it would have been hard if not impossible to make off with the whole thing! Nice false friends too: intent and intento don’t mean “intention” but the actual attempt. And the splendid qualsevol “whatever one wants”.
We wanted to go by train all the way, and already had the tickets! Then SNCF decided to strike two out of every five days, and one of those days was the first day that our Interrail ticket was valid and because it was a special bargain price we couldn’t change it. Travelling later, skipping all of Barcelona except one night in transit and arriving at our apartment in Sevilla a day late was no option, so we went to Barcelona a day earlier, by plane. The difference between a Thursday and a Friday flight paid for the extra night at the hotel, and the refund for the Schiphol-Paris and Paris-Barcelona parts of the journey that we weren’t using almost paid for the flight! But I still want to send the bill for the plane ticket to SNCF because, confound it, it’s completely their fault that we had an uncomfortable first lap of the journey.
Spouse doesn’t like flying at all, and I hate security theatre. Though I’d taken care to dress conservatively, they had to pat me down because “my skirt swished around my legs” and found something suspicious in my hand baggage which turned out to be the tiny handbag I’d stuffed in my rucksack because I didn’t want to pay for an extra piece of cabin baggage. It has large copper rings, that was probably why.
Then we had mediocre food after security (when I order a chicken burger, I expect a burger, not a piece of a grilled bird which might have been an old laying hen or a turkey, put on a soft soggy bun with icky sauce and limp lettuce!) and our flight was delayed 25 minutes until we could board and another 10 on the runway, landing us in the middle of a queue of five planes at one point. It was a good idea to pay extra for front-row seats so we could at least put our legs somewhere, but it was the narrowest plane seat ever so we arrived stiff and grumpy. Fortunately the taxi was fast and less expensive than we’d been led to expect, and the people at the hotel wonderfully nice and helpful.
We walked through the neighbourhood for a bit and sat down at a small cafe for a beer.
Moritz Epidor! Spouse had the ordinary Moritz and that was already pleasantly bitter, but this had more depth and definition. (We’ve since found the Moritz shop, but didn’t go in because we were on our way somewhere else; if we find it again we might buy some to take home.) Also homemade croquettes, four different ones, chestnut and spinach and cheese and (quite tasty) mystery meat, and anchovies, and complimentary fried potatoes.
And in the evening we went to eat at Gat Blau. The hotel receptionist could make the reservation, which was a good thing, because she did it in rapid-fire Catalan that we caught about one word in fifty of. Catalan is a great language, I like it a lot better than Castilian because it has more sharp edges, but it’s hard to understand and it keeps making me try to speak Galician, Portuguese or even Italian instead (I said “obrigada” to someone who held a door open for me, and the only thing I could think of to say to the priest after Mass was “sono ortodossa” — good thing I didn’t get to speak to him).
Food, wonderful food!
For a starter, Spouse had artichokes on artichoke puree with seaweed butter and crispy seaweed foam. “Completely uncompromising,” he said, “if you don’t love artichokes you won’t like this!” I’d considered this as well but I fell for the candied leek topped with Gamoneo cheese (which is what the Catalans use for Parmesan, I think, dry and salty and full of cheesy goodness). I tasted an artichoke (mmm!) but Spouse doesn’t eat leeks so I couldn’t reciprocate, but it was LEEK HEAVEN and I’ll certainly try to reconstruct it a home.
Then we had red mullet with assorted vegetables (him) and chicken dumplings on creamed parsnip (me). OH WOW. That made up for the ambiguous bird parts at Schiphol. This came from what had been a well-fed farmyard chicken in life, done right by in the kitchen, stuffed lovingly into four large dumplings. Exactly the right number: I’d have been satisfied with three, five would have been too much, now it was “oh yes, I’ll eat this last little bit as well”. And the creamed parsnip complemented it perfectly. The fish, too, was perfect, with a sauce probably made of a broth from all the parts of the fish that weren’t on the plate, reduced to their essence.
No fries or steamed vegetables like you get in Dutch restaurants — but we’d both had an all-vegetable starter and that definitely made up for it.
Wine from the “rosado profundo” category of the wine list (the categories are probably their own invention, but worked better for us than just having the wines listed by region and/or price).
La Hija de la Dolores. Got interested because of the name first, then because of the description, and we thought it would fit with everything we might consider eating. And it did! Especially with the artichokes it was amazing. It was quite dark pink, almost a light red, and it reminded us of the pale-red wine we had in Greece once and could never find again, not even at the same restaurant. It had the bitter  high note of a good Albariño. I can’t find any reference to it! Searching only gives it as the name of a play, which it may have been called after.
 Which sparked a nice discussion about what things can be called “bitter”, leading us to conclude that it’s about the same thing as deciding what colour is “blue” — that is, different people have different perception. I think artichokes are bitter, and asparagus for that matter, but for Spouse both lie outside that category. I may be a supertaster, but I’ve always heard that supertasters don’t like bitter and I do! (Not everything, but bitter vegetables, and most beer, and wines with a bitter note, sure)
Then dessert! Apparently it’s quite normal for people to share a dessert at Gat Blau, because we ordered only one dessert and got a spoon each, and across the aisle a mother and daughter were sharing a plate of hazelnut mousse and caramel ice cream. But this dessert was for me, and it was also amazing. Sheep cheese, apple, fennel, almond crisp, with smoked sheep yogurt (how?!). The only things that made it sweet at all were the apple and the moderate amount of sugar in the almond crisp. I had a glass of sweet wine with it that the waiter said was the most interesting on the list (after I’d said I liked PX and asked about the things I didn’t know): made of nothing but grapes but it absolutely tasted like cherries. And Spouse had a glass of Gewürztraminer “in the Hungarian way” that tried with some success to be Tokay: it smelt very interesting but tasted like ordinary pleasant sweet wine.
After this, coffee would have been an anticlimax, so we went back to the hotel and bought a bottle of brandy at the all-night store on the way. We already had some ham from the covered market — not the covered market we really wanted to see, but a different one; and we didn’t taste the ham until the next day, when it turned out to be vile and we threw it out.
The bed was okay but I slept somewhat haphazardly: still stiff from the plane and an unaccustomed amount of walking, and alternately too warm (threw the cover off) and too cold (crawled under the cover again). We can remedy that last by sleeping without the blanket or the coverlet or both, but the unaccustomed walking isn’t any different today.
Church, market, museum
The Salesian church — nearest church, and we’ll be on a train on Sunday — had a Catalan mass at 8 am. So that’s where we went!
A quiet, unassuming, matter-of-fact priest who still had complete reverence. But we could only follow the Mass because we knew what to expect: Catalan is really beyond us at the moment. Glad that we went, anyway. Then we had breakfast at Café Mono (monkey), great coffee and nice bread rolls so we might go there again tomorrow. Into the city for more adventure: St. Anthony’s covered market, which is greatly under reconstruction, but we stumbled on its temporary barracks-like location yesterday. Fish, glorious fish! And shellfish! And meat and sausages! And vegetables! And fruit! We couldn’t resist the temptation to buy some strawberries *eats a strawberry*: ripe, not really sweet but they absolutely taste like strawberries, not like nothing at all as strawberries do in the Netherlands so early in the season. We’re looking forward to having a kitchen in Seville, and hoping Seville has a good market too, or else it’s likely that we’ll find a big supermarket with a nice selection of meat and fish and produce.
The under-construction market, meanwhile, intrigued me: how can something that’s clearly a temple of Mizran look so much like a temple of Anshen?
(Spouse’s back on the left.) Or a nineteenth-century railway station, come to think of it. Not that Barcelona has any lack of eight-sided towers: the cathedral alone has at least three.
We’d seen, through a building with some Roman remains, a patio with tables and chairs were people were drinking coffee, and when we’d found it by turning a couple of corners ordered some coffee. The coffee was excellent! And very cheap: it turned out to be the local seniors’ social club. Well, we’re almost senior enough. (I said at the museum ticket desk: “I’m 60 years old! Do I get a discount?” But no, it was from 65.)
Then to the historical museum. Which turned out to have a lower floor set in the year -12, namely part of the Roman town of Barcino which was excavated and made accessible.
(That red is 2000-year-old wine residue! This is the wine-making workshop.)
This filled up our brains so much that we only glossed over the medieval section of the museum and went to have lunch at the Bishop’s Cafe: the set menu was cheap and edible (aubergine filled with minced meat and vegetables, like the bare essence of moussaka, followed by fried fish balls and a decent salad) and the flan caramel was as good as the one I had in Coimbra (Portugal).
We’d planned to have just bread and cheese and sausage in our room, but were so exhausted [circumstances redacted; will elaborate when resolved because it involves several good people being good and I want to credit and remember them] that we went to eat in the hotel’s restaurant. Where we inadvertently completely confused the waiter: Spouse ordered a steak and red wine, I ordered a hamburger and draft beer. First he registered only the drinks and wondered if we wanted anything to eat, then when we’d ordered food he’d forgotten what we wanted to drink. After a while he appeared with wine and Coca-Cola, which I promptly said I hadn’t ordered. Finally I did get beer, but he put it in front of Spouse even though (1) I had ordered the beer, twice over even! and (2) he already had a glass of wine in front of him. Apparently he was convinced that beer is a man’s drink. We also got food, and the hamburger was EXCELLENT, as good as Spouse makes, the meat juicy and only barely done, with onions and real cheese. (The steak was also okay, I hear; and there were fried green peppers with it.)
We didn’t want any dessert, only a glass of white wine; and the waiter brought us cava and truffles “as a present” because we’d told him about being exhausted (and perhaps also because he’d fumbled with the drinks earlier).
Another bad restaurant dream (decide for yourself which noun “bad” belongs with). Spouse and I were in The Hague with a male friend (don’t know which friend it was, though it was one who exists in waking life as well) looking for a place to eat. Many places were closed, whether because it was a feast day or the wrong day of the week or the wrong season didn’t become clear, but eventually we found a rather posh-looking restaurant. The chef there appeared to know me and gave me his rolling pin to try. It was some special brand or model, unlike the simple wooden rolling pin in my kitchen drawer. This one was made of wood too, but it had detachable handles and I think it came apart in the middle as well. But in the dream I had one of those myself, too, and was in fact carrying it.
We sat down at a table and tried to get something to eat. As a starter, I got a big ball of dough, a wooden board, a pot of boiling water and a chafing dish to cook my own food! Also a variant of the rolling pin, one end a small roller, the other a wooden spoon. I put the whole lot of dough in the chafing dish and poked it with the spoon, not knowing that I was supposed to make my own fresh pasta with the dough and cook it in the boiling water! Then the chef came and demonstrated it, but the other two had finished their starters already (I think Spouse had a small meat pasty) so a waiter took all my stuff away. While he was doing it I said, “I didn’t have any starter and I don’t think I got the chance to order a main course, either!” but when I looked at the menu again there was literally nothing on it that I wanted.
Meanwhile Spouse had cornered the waiter or a different waiter and was so angry with him that it almost came to blows. I said, “please don’t do that, let’s go away” and we did, and I woke up shaken and hungry.
It was only 3:30, though, so I went back to sleep and dreamed something that might be a sequel because the same people were in it, though not the same surroundings: a library or bookshop where I was looking for the works of someone called A—– F—– (no nineteenth-century obfuscation but honest ignorance) who had written books about both philosophy and childcare. (Not in the same book, but several of each). I had some kind of glittery dust that I could spread to lead others to those books, but I didn’t find any except one very abstruse philosophy book.
When I woke again it was 6:45 and I was still hungry, so I got up and made tea and ate kulich with pascha.
Time: 0:25 Total: 3:25 Grand total: 17:40
Congregation: about 30, including several people who hadn’t been able to come in the night and some stray people from the local running event
Crew: Altar: Fr T and both hypodiakons Choir: everybody, even one alto’s student daughter who sings soprano when she happens to be here
This is the “we don’t want to stop celebrating” service, but we did have to stop celebrating at the end, at least in this particular church. Fr T did mention the Easter service on Saturday in Kollumerpomp (note: the church on that page isn’t the Orthodox church! There are actually TWO churches in this tiny village!) in the middle of nowhere in Frisia. If I wasn’t going to be in Barcelona on Saturday I’d try to get a ride from someone (it’s very hard to reach in time by public transport, even on a non-Sunday) and go. And join in the singing if the local choirmistress wanted me to. (I don’t think they’ve got three people who can sing the “The Angel Cried” trio, for one thing; I can sing the second or the third part, and theoretically the first but it’s usually beyond my range)
My godson’s mother gave me a bunch of very pretty tulips, which I promised to put in the church when I go away on Thursday morning. The godson in question is now almost 16 and finally growing tall: she said that until recently he never stopped being a little shrimp, even after he was 2 1/2 and I took care of him one day a week when she was in school. I got him a library pass and read him picture books, and gave him the Roman Soldier’s Handbook for his ninth or tenth birthday.