A Tragedy of Betrayal

Despite his best efforts to get over this foul referendum in the UK and concentrate on the ‘whimsical side of life’ as his blog proclaims, DonQui is still feeling pretty depressed.

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And oh what a tale of betrayal it has been — worthy of the best (or worst) Shakespearian tragedy.

cameron

Cameron betrays the British people to call a referendum to sort out an internal party dispute.

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Boris and Gove betray Cameron to further their own political ambitions. They campaign for the other side and pedal a bunch of lies — no doubt hoping to not actually win;

Gove Boris 2

Gove betrays Boris and leaves him to swing in the wind;

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Corbyn betrays Labour by not vigorously campaigning to give the positive reasons to vote for staying in the  EU.

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The Parliamentary Labour party betrays Corbyn to end any possibility of effective opposition.

DonQui is not sure if there is anyone left in the country who has not been betrayed yet.

2 day of the first session of newly elected EU Parliament

… oh yes… him.

donkeys

A herd of Donkeys would manage things better!

DonQui wonders if a Lib Dem – SNP coalition wouldn’t be the best way forward.

coalitionAt least they are united on the use of colour as well as our place in Europe!

The Earth’s Bounty

It would be no exaggeration to say that DonQui has been feeling utterly depressed and dejected since the results of the UK’s referendum to leave the EU. He knows he must pick himself up, dust himself off and get on with the business of living in the present even if he worries for the future.

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The earth carries on producing without regard to politics so DonQui goes up to the allotment to do a bit of weeding to get his mind off the referendum and to sort things out after his week away in Spain.

allotment

He is amazed at the progress. The curly kale is ready for cropping and the strawberries are producing more fruit than ever before.

strawberry crop

DonQui only picks the ripest strawberries but the crop is overwhelming. There are as many or more which will be just as fully ripe tomorrow and the day after.

After a week in central Spain, about as far as it is possible to be away from the sea in that country, DonQui feels like having some fish for dinner. He also wants to use some of his maturing kale and decides that Salmon would go best.

salmon

He is rather proud of the result — Salmon baked with tarragon from the allotment (the tarragon that is, not the salmon) lemon, olive oil and white wine. This was simply put in the oven at 180º, covered with tin foil and baked for 20 minutes. The kale from his allotment was boiled for about 4 minutes and then drained and stirred with butter. Being young and tender the leaves did not need more than this. Later in the year the kale will need cooking longer. Other accompaniments were cherry tomatoes (also baked in the oven) and fine green beens.

strawberry desert

As for the strawberries they were for desert with lashings of cream and DonQui will have some of the rest for breakfast.

The English soil is still producing excellent results even if the electorate are not.

DonQui Hopes

DonQui hopes that on Thursday we vote to stay in the EU.

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He likes the fact that as a European citizen he can live and work anywhere in Europe.

He thinks we solve problems better by working together with others

He believes the EU improves living standards, provides jobs and protects rights

He would like us to help steer the future direction of the EU

He is not afraid of immigrants.

He wants Britain to remain Great — outward looking, tolerant, prosperous and cooperative.

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DonQui also hopes that if you share some of these views then you make sure to vote on Thursday.

The Old Spanish Capital

Well that was Toledo’s status until the upstart village of Madrid down the road began to take on airs and pretensions. It was the Visigothic capital of Spain and remained so until the Arab conquest. As a result it is packed full of old stuff and, as readers will already know, DonQui is particularly fond of old stuff.

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Toledo may not be a bustling hive of modern activity so those seeking exciting nightlife and cutting edge fashion should probably go elsewhere. DonQui, however, is in his element trotting up and down the narrow, winding, cobbled, medieval streets. Around every corner there is another church, monastery, convent, synagogue or some other edifice which had been around since the time when most Anglo-Saxons were living in mud huts.

San Roman

Best of all is the Museum of Visigothic Culture set in the old Church of San Roman which had been a church, then a mosque and then a church again. The walls are covered with 13th century paintings which remind DonQui that at one time all medieval churches were painted like this.

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The Visigoths have not left much from their 300 year reign but DonQui is obsessed enough to get quite excited by the smattering of inscribed columns, coins and other artefacts. The explanations are in Spanish only but the setting is worth the trip alone and the normal €1 entry is waived.

cathedral

Not so at the main cathedral where entry is €8. DonQui hesitates for a moment. The helpful lady explains that this includes an audio-guide which produces a barely disguised look of disgust as DonQui cannot abide audio-guides. DonQui digs deep into his pockets, produces the required cash and trots inside. It is, of course, quite magnificent and the cathedral is held up as the epitome of the Spanish Gothic style (which has nothing to do with the Visigoths). In layout and decoration it is very much like the cathedral in Seville — designed to be an awe inspiring demonstration of church and state.

carving

The battle scenes carved on the backs of the wooden choir chairs are a not so subtle reminder of the connection between temporal and spiritual power. Depicting the reconquest of Spain by the Christians they show towns being besieged, Muslim defenders falling from the battlements and their leaders kneeling in capitulation.

DonQui actually much prefers his military to ecclesiastic history so he is delighted to learn that the old Alcazar — the great citadel — has been transformed into a most excellent military museum covering the entirety of Spanish military history from the Roman conquest through to modern Afghanistan.

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Very well laid out over several floors with good explanations in both Spanish and English it keeps DonQui enthralled for a good couple of hours.

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There is even a whole exhibition devoted to the history of toy soldiers with some magnificent dioramas and displays. Those who know DonQui well will understand how much he enjoyed this.

night

There is not much going on in the evenings. With dinner starting no earlier than 9pm, and most locals arriving after that, there are worse ways to pass an evening than sipping on a drink or two and sampling the tapas — the latter coming in larger than normal portions. El Trebol and El Embrujo are DonQui’s favourites.

stones tributeOne evening as he makes his way back from dinner DonQui comes across a local Rolling Stones tribute band playing in the cathedral square. The setting is incongruous and the band not very good but DonQui finds it delightfully entertaining none the less.

streets

DonQui is in Toledo for 3 days. Much of his enjoyment in a new place comes from simply wandering around the streets and seeing what he can find. He never takes guided tours, preferring to sacrifice efficiency for exploration and quiet contemplation.

DonQui

He is quite surprised, therefore to see that the tourist board seems to have set up a number of signs to help him find his way around.

cervantes

These lead eventually to a statue of Miguel de Cervantes — author of the story about DonQui Oaty’s namesake. This is La Mancha after all.

Practicalities

For those less obsessed with old stuff than DonQui a day or two would probably suffice.

Toledo is easily reached by the fast efficient train from Madrid Atocha station which takes 33 minutes when the Spanish railway workers are not on strike. Every time DonQui has been in Spain there has been a strike but fortunately on the days he travelled his journeys were not disrupted. A car would be worse than useless as Toledo is a medieval city far more suited to Donkeys than automobiles.

DonQui secured a wonderful apartment in the heart of the old city through Airbnb. This is now his first port of call when looking for a place to stay as for less than the price of a hotel room he can have more space, greater privacy and the advice of a local to recommend good places to eat and drink.

As in most parts of Spain there are plenty of cafés and restaurants but the number of places to sit outside and watch the world go by are unusually limited. Most stick to traditional opening hours with lunch between 2-4pm and dinner after 9pm.

DonQui found it quite difficult to find a place to sit down for a drink in the late afternoon or early evening. Breakfast options were even more problematic with no bakeries close by nor any cafés offering anything suitable. DonQui had to make do with bread he bought the night before. His was grateful that his apartment was suitably equipped for making coffee.

First Taste of Toledo

On his first evening in Toledo, DonQui trots down towards the Plaza de Zocodover which he is led to understand in a hive of local activity.

zocodover

His heart sinks when he sees the place dominated by McDonalds and Burger King. Although Toledo was the capital of Visigothic Spain, DonQui takes strength in the certain knowledge that the Spanish could not wholly succumb to such barbaric invaders so he wanders on.

El TrebolThere, just around a corner and tucked into a most inviting courtyard, he stumbles upon the delightful Cerveceria El Trebol. He has enough grasp of the Spanish language to feel certain that a cerveceria would serve beer and that is exactly what he wants.

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Not only do they have beer but they have a rather nice local brew. It may not quite stack up to a Southwold Adnams but it is far better than your average industrial lager. Encouraged, DonQui decides to stay a while and have a bite to eat as well.

He goes for a plate of grilled Iberico pork with potatoes and tomatoes. Coming from a special breed of acorn fed pigs, the pork is dark, rich, tender and utterly delicious. DonQui is not normally a great fan of potatoes but any he has sampled in Spain are much more to his taste that those he has at home in England. He does not know if it is the variety, the soil or the climate but they are firmer and nuttier in flavour. The tomatoes too are deep red with none of the insipidness of those picked green and transported from many miles away.

Iberico porkBetter than your average tapas, it is a simple and flavoursome dish which leaves DonQui feeling utterly satisfied. And at €7 it is a bargain.

He rather expects that he may be paying a return visit.

Madrid in 24 hours

DonQui is in Madrid for a day. Well two half-days to be precise but precision never was one of his strong points. He has not been to Madrid before and the fact that there is so much to see poses a bit of a quandary. There are basically two options for a first time visitor to a great city with only 24 hours to explore.

Refugees welcomeThe first is to read up in advance; make lists, notes and careful plans; print off maps; dog-ear travel guides; and pre-book as much as you can. This will help to maximise every precious minute and make it possible to cram in all sorts of incredibly interesting things.

The second option is to find a pleasant outdoor café, then settle in for a bit. After a few hours of soaking up the atmosphere one should contemplate seeking out a suitable establishment for a leisurely lunch. A brief nap in the afternoon will help to restore after the morning’s exertions and to prepare for an evening walk followed by a few drinks and then supper. Readers will probably not be surprised to learn that DonQui is most assuredly following the second option.

hotel Santa Barbera.jpgHe is rather pleased with his hotel Petit Palace Santa Barbara which is located on the eponymous plaza in the city centre. It is built around an inner courtyard which also serves as a bar. The rooms are very modern even providing laptop computers (firmly secured to the desk!).

IMG_7572a.jpgThe Plaza Santa Bárbara is strewn with chairs and tables so DonQui thinks it should be quite easy to find a spot to settle in. Not so! Every table is already full by 7pm. Watching the natives he surmises that the trick is to circle around like a vulture over a dying animal and then swoop as soon as someone gets up. His first attempt at this fails. He is too polite and waits for the previous patrons to completely move away. This gives an opening for a more aggressive vulture to swoop in first. His second attempt is much more successful. Table secured, DonQui remains glued to it sipping his beer, reading a book and watching the world go by.

IMG_7565By 9pm the restaurants are opening so DonQui goes off exploring for a likely place. Just around the corner by Alonso Martinez Metro station is the Sagasta28 Bistro & Gourmet.

IMG_7566‘This will do very nicely,’ DonQui thinks so he trots down the steps and settles himself. The atmosphere is laid back and friendly — the food is quite excellent.

IMG_7568A lovely meal of rosemary lamp chops and fried potatoes washed down by a glass of red wine and accompanied by rustic bread and a sample of various olive oils really hits the spot.

So does DonQui actually do any touristy stuff in Madrid? Apart from strolling around a bit he does spend an hour or so at the excellent Archeological Museum. He particularly likes old stuff, especially Roman old stuff.

IMG_7635The museum has a very good collection, including exhibits from the Visigoths which are of particular interest to DonQui as his alter ego, Simon MacDowall, is writing a book about them.

Food and Farming

So… DonQui is in a bit of an agricultural mood at the moment. Having whipped his allotment into shape he is in need of a few more things to plant. He is thinking of beans – they always seem to do well and the surplus can be easily frozen. A few more herbs might be in order too. He already has thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, coriander and chives but some basil would be nice and Duchess has her heart set on some mint. The latter is a problem since mint runs roots all over the place and could soon take over everything. Never mind, he will deal with that in due course. In the meantime he needs to decide where to go to pick up some more plants.

What’s this?

Darsham Nursuries

According to The Guardian newspaper the Darsham Nurseries,  just down the road, is on the list of the 100 best places to eat in England.

A nursery café one of the best places to eat in England? Normally all DonQui might expect in such a place is a stale piece of cake and some instant coffee – not for him!

Yet this information comes from a most trusted source so he decides to give it a try. After all he does need to buy some plants.

And what a delightful surprise it is!

cocktail

Duchess is delighted with her ‘English Garden’ cocktail. Such things are not to DonQui’s taste but he can appreciate the fresh minty aroma while he sips on a good glass of Beaujolais.

menu

The menu offers a tapas-style selection of modern European sharing plates in larger than expected portions.

chop

DonQui particularly enjoys the seasonal grilled local asparagus with romesco and almonds. Romesco is a Catalan pepper based sauce from Tarragona and although DonQui did not sample this when he was in Tarragona he finds it quite delicious. The locally sourced  Blythburgh pork chop with apricots was simply divine although DonQui struggles to see it as a ‘small dish.’

curds

Duchess’ favorite was the ‘garden greens’ (Swiss chard) with burnt lemon and goat’s cheese curd. It was slightly better presented that the picture above indicates but by the time DonQui got around to taking it Duchess had already tucked in!

One side dish DonQui had to order was radishes with butter and salt – a very simple French classic. As a very young colt DonQui remembers his grandfather raving about radis au beurre. He had fought at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War and radis au beurre was something he had acquired a taste for in the cafés behind the lines when he was away from the action. He even insisted that the French word for butter was aubeurre and no amount of DonQui’s primary school knowledge could convince him that the ‘au’ was not an integral part of the word. “I was in France and I know,” was his emphatic reply and that was that.

The meal was utterly delicious, finished off with a heavenly concoction of creamy cheese over fine phyllo pastry with honey and nuts. It was billed as a ‘cheese cake’ but the name did not do it justice. DonQui is not a great fan of traditional cheese cake and this was anything but.

mint

And yes DonQui did pick up some mint which is now awaiting re-planting. The nursery did not have any beans but in light of the most delicious lunch he really does not mind.