Tomatoes, Fish Mongers, and a Country House

Trip Start Apr 25, 2007
Trip End Oct 03, 2007

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Friday, June 8, 2007

We were looking forward to Murcia, where Cunera had said there were many South American residents and restaurants. Every once in a while in Spain I start longing for food other than jamon, tapas, and more jamon. It is rare to find a good selection of sushi, Thai, Mexican, or Vietenamese food all in one city in Spain (except perhaps Barcelona), and for the most part that's ok. But tonight we were hoping for something other than the usual.
After parking the car and wandering around the city center unsuccessfully in search of a hostel (having arrived, as usual, during siesta, when the tourist offices are all closed), we finally resorted to driving the car around for an hour with the laptop open until we found a wi-fi signal. Within five minutes we had booked a hotel on-line and thankfully checked in. Unfortunately, we only received a friendly smile when I asked the hotel receptionist where the best South American restuarant in Murcia was, and she sent us to "the best" typically Murcian restaurant. Under normal circumstances, we would have been grateful, but not today. Luckily there was an Italian restaurant next door, and besides, we hadn't had pizza in a really long time.....
Murcia was another pleasant suprise as Almeria had been. Not too many tourists, a nice river, and a great central market. The market in any city is usually the place we head for first, mainly because Dan is a chef, but I find there is no better place than a market to get to know a city or town, what people eat, what they grow, and it just makes for great people watching. Plus, who doesn't love food?? So, the next morning after our usual tostadas (toasted sandwiches) and cortados (espressos with shots of steamed milk), we found the market. We were heading out of town to rent a house in the hills for a couple of nights and needed provisions, i.e. plenty of grub and good, cheap Spanish wine. At the market, which had two levels, we were finally able to buy heaps of the tomatoes we had seen growing around Almeria, wonderful lopsided, multi-colored tomatoes that let you know they're real and have flavor, unlike their perfectly round, pale, watery American grocery store cousins. Dan perused the fish mongers (always attractive, well-coiffed and made-up women in Spain, to his delight) and found the one selling the deepest red, fresh tuna we had seen in a long time. From her we also bought prawns and small clams. Armed with our duffle bag full of fresh cauliflower, ginger, zucchini, tomoatoes, garlic, onions, and bread, we asked the nice fish monger lady (who was obviously smitten with Dan) for a bag filled with ice for our seafood, and headed for the car.
Travelling is always better when you are able to get to know some locals. Luckily this happened when we rented our next place, a country house, away from the coast in a little town called Monforte del Cid. Having found it on (a whole house for 40 euros), we got lost in Elche and ended up late for our rendezvous with the owner. She was gracious enough not to mind (this was Spain, afer all), and we followed her to the house with curiosity and anticipation.
We drove up the long cypress-lined driveway to the house which was protected behind a gate and surrounded by vineyards. Lola, the owner, was a bubbly and friendly woman in her 30s who had written her dissertation on Sherman Alexei, a Native American writer and filmmaker from our neck of the woods, Washington State, and so spoke fluent English. The house was still under renovation, but we took to it immediately. Lola was one of those people I would like to spend time with and get to know as a friend. She was interesting, and so was her house.
After Lola left us, we unpacked and lit the barbeque. That night we ate the goodies we had bought at the market in Murcia: grilled red prawns, steamed clams and raw tuna salad. We were then pleasantly surprised by Lola's brother who lived next door and who had officially gotten married that morning. He and his partner invited us over for a celebratory bottle of Cidra (hard cider), and I spent the next two hours talking to them and translating for Dan. They were great fun, and a wealth of information as to what we should see and where else we should go on our road trip.
The next day we took a long trip to the coast (Benidorm looked like Hong Kong), and then up through the mountains to a village called Guadalest. This was basically a castle perched on a razor thin piece of rock, with mountains all around it and a reservoir below it. It was one of the most beautiful valleys I had seen yet, and worth the long, serpentine drive.
In the morning we packed up again, and headed for Benissa, to another country house we had found on-line, and we hoped it could live up to what we had found in Monforte del Cid. Oh, how our hopes were soon to be dashed............
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