Sunday, 11 February 2018

WHERE MONKS WALK

Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Oseira (Galician) or Monastery of Santa Maria de Oseira (Bear in Latin), is one of many National Monuments in Galicia, Spain and imbued with the old Romanesque culture. This medieval Catholic Monastery is located in one of the most beautiful parts of Galicia and known for its historic and artistic value.  Surrounded by the San Martina mountains (Serra da Martina) and nestled on the banks of the Oseira river all add to its beauty and splendor.  It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Queen Sofia awarded it the Europe Nostra prize on the 15th of October 1989.  Situated in the isolated Arenteiro Valley, 22km from Ourense in the municipality of San Cristovo de Cea this Trappist monastery forms part of the very famous and popular Camino de Compostela silver route. 

It was established in 1137 by Alfonso VII and integrated into the Cistercian Order in 1141 when Saint Bernard of France, sent a group of monks to occupy the monastery.  Sadly they had to leave the monastery again in 1835 because it was confiscated under the law (the law of desamortizaciόn) of the Prime Minister, Juan Alvarez Mendizabal.  The monastery was plundered and left abandoned till 1929 when the monks returned and the reconstruction of this impressive building started again with the help of both the French and Spanish monks.

The church, which forms the central part of the monument, together with the ceremonial staircase and the Main Chamber or Palm Tree Room, feature both  Baroque and Gothic styles. The Palm Tree Room is absolutely magnificent with its palm vaulting and twisted columns. The Renaissance influence can be seen in The Sacristy, the Bishops staircase and the courtyards of the Pinnacles while the Baroque style can be seen in the Caballero en Madalones Court Yards.

The Monastery is still home to approximately 11 Monks, each with his own defined profession and function, spending most of their day in chanting prayers and the upkeep of the gardens, the liquor production, and the bakery shop. They produce a lovely Eucalyptus liqueur, Eucaliptine, made of the eucalyptus leaves from the trees in the area.

Daily guided tours are done by the monks themselves, although on my visit during July,  the busiest month of the year, our guide was a Spanish lady and of course a disappointment for the visitors not familiar with Spanish.  The curio shop sells delectable pastries and cookies, wine and liqueur produced by the monks themselves, and souvenirs like bracelets, Rosaries, and chocolates.   

Romanesque and Gothic gems are scattered all over Galicia but  Monasteria de Oseira stands out as a gem of immense value and majestic beauty, where history and religion live in harmony.  

With my chocolates and my bracelets and the chanting prayers in the background, I left the monastery knowing that I will be back.


GALLERY 























Wednesday, 3 January 2018

UN PAN UN CUERPO || ONE BREAD ONE BODY


Cristovo de Cea, a small village best known for its Pan de Cea (rustic artisan bread), is situated in the north-west of the province of Ourense in Galicia, Spain.  Pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela have to pass through this alluring town to reach the capital roughly 60 km away. 

It is in such small towns and villages, off the beaten track, where I usually discover the hidden treasures and unappreciated delicacies unknown to most.  My love for cuisine and its relating culture and people, combined with my wanderlust, have brought me once again to a picturesque and unique travel destination with the added advantage of Galicians having a long bread-making tradition called Pan de Cea.  Spanish carbs are definitely some of my best friends!.

In comparison, this bread differs considerably from most artisan bread found elsewhere.  The recipe for this special bread has been passed down from generation to generation from the 13th century onwards.  The annual Festa Pan de Cea (Festival of the Cea bread) is celebrated in July in typical Galician tradition with music, folk dance and feasts throughout, in honour of this generational gem. 

Pan de Cea is one of only two kinds of bread in Galicia that carries a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union and is made under strict regulations.  Some of the regulations stipulate that the bread is baked in a granite oven and in a fire made with only wood and/or plant-based matter.

The ingredients are simple and deliver a rustic artisan bread with a lovely crust and a dense yet soft inner.  The kneading time, shape, size and weight of the bread are also of utmost importance.  Every little detail counts.  Plus-minus 20 traditional bread ovens are scattered all over Cea and the museum in the center of the town is dedicated to the famous bread and its rich historic importance.  Visitors and pilgrims should, however, be made aware of false imitations that are sold everywhere.  An authentic Pan de Cea is sold in a labeled and numbered bag towards the more than half a million loaves of bread sold annually and loved by thousands. 

Cea also offers many restaurants, cafes, and eateries catering for the variety of travelers that frequent this part of the world.  Tapas and pinchos (small bites) will always be part of the menu as I realized entering one of the local establishments with my host and later accompanied by traditionalists, Soly Luna and his wife. 

Soly is a renowned resident artist and was more than willing to share his work and life's story with us.  His wife is a cook and hostess and although I could not understand a word she said, we had a lovely time.  I was fortunate to have a Galician interpreter at my side to help me make sense of all the food and laughter.  Mrs Luna presented us with a Moon and Sun stone as a token of friendship and having nothing to give in return I took off my African bracelet, blessed it with a little Madiba Magic and handed it to Luna who accepted it with great admiration an appreciation. 

 With good comes the bad and unfortunately, in 2015, Cea made headlines all over Europe, when a heritage-protected Neolithic tomb was mistakenly destroyed by Spanish builders and replaced with a picnic table.  Not their finest moment.  Unfortunately, the builders were under the impression that it was just a pile of old stones with no historic value.  The 'pile of stones' were, in fact, a prehistoric cemetery of the first inhabitants of Cea.  Fortunately, the magnificence of Cristovo de Cea makes you forget all the sorrows and lamentations, in the word of the Spanish author Miguel de Cervats, and can I look forward to a hopeful return to this must-see village. " Todas las penas son menos con pan".  (All sorrows are less with bread).



Interior of Soly Luna restaurant

Interior


Pinchos y Vino
With Soly and his wife



Interior
Cea Bread



The Grave

The picnic table

































Thursday, 12 October 2017

EL VERANO EN VIGO // SUMMER IN VIGO



Galicia, the inimitable multicultural land, with its medieval history and Celtic festivals, its Roman past, ancient cathedrals and centuries-old monasteries, left rock-hard footprints on my heart.  Old-world picturesque villages, where time seems to stand still, are situated on every turn and corner.  Hundreds of archaeological relics and ruins, all tell a story of Galicia’s colorful and sometimes mysterious and dark history.

I was eager to set foot on Spanish soil for the first time and although I was understandably tired after almost 30 hours in transit, nothing perks up a tired body like a hot shower, a glass of this land’s magnificent wine and my first introduction to Galician cuisine.

Vigo, the largest city in Galicia, is situated in the province of Pontevedra in north-west Spain.  Not only is Vigo known as ‘The city of the Olive tree’, the ‘City of Emotions’, or the ‘City of the Sea’ but frequently referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Atlantic’.  This unique city was going to be my fortress for the next month and I was more than ready to explore every corner of it.

The olive tree, which symbolizes Vigo’s powerful and constant growth, together with a cathedral, and the ocean, feature on their Coat of Arms. The oldest olive tree in Vigo is located in Paseo de Alfonso Avenue opposite the beautiful A Fonte square.  Olive trees were once the pride of Vigo, but during the 1400’s the nobles sided with Joanna la Beltraneja, daughter of Henry IV of Castile, during a civil war against Isabella, Henry’s half-sister.  Isabella won the battle and all olive trees had to be cut down as a chastisement to those who supported Joanna. However, her troops were unable to touch the one olive tree that was planted in the church ground and consequently, it became the symbol of pride for the people of Vigo.  

The city's exquisite character comes from a blend of nature and culture. Evergreen urban gardens and plus-minus 77ha of forests, endless beaches and islands with crystal clear waters and powdery white sand, enriched by culture preserved in museums and art galleries.  A visitor has a choice of more than 5000 hotels, 800 restaurants, and lively tapas bars as well as many bustling shopping centers.

The oldest church in Vigo is situated at the Plaza de Pedra. The Santa Maria, a former collegiate, is a neo-classic piece of architecture which dates back to the Middle Ages and was designed by Melchor de Prado.  Although it was damaged and almost destroyed throughout the years, it was rebuilt to its present grandeur in 1836.  Plaza de Pedra is also home to A Pedra Market where you will find a variety of authentic Galician souvenirs (sometimes ‘made in China’), clothes, arts and crafts, an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and of course the ever so popular tapas bars. 

The very famous Rua de Pescaderia or Fish Street is also situated in this historic neighborhood, home to the Ostreiras or women oyster sellers.  A trade that has been part of Galicia for more than 60 years.  According to tradition, it is expected of a first-comer to order a dozen of Vigo’s famous oysters and wash it down with a glass of Albariňo or DO Rias Baixas wine.  Although I love oysters very much, I was more interested in having my first plate of the very popular Pulpo a la Galeca. (Galician octopus) and Pimientos Padron (green peppers).

Rūa dos Cesteiros or Artisans’ street as it is known was one of my favorite attractions in Vigo.  Traditional crafts and art are on display, and meeting the renowned, Antonio Suárez Dávila, a master basket weaver was a highlight of my visit to old town Vigo.  I learned from Antonio that he is the third member of a generation of basket weavers and has devoted his whole life to this craft.

Statues, some of which are very controversial, like Sireno, the half man, half fish, the Swimmer, together with numerous monuments and art galleries will be covered in future blogs.   However, Dinoseto, Vigo’s green dinosaur sculpture at Central Square, looked a bit out of place to me, but it unmistakably provides a lot of entertainment to tourists and selfie -addicts.  It must be a very tedious and time-consuming task to keep this dino-bush trimmed and in shape all year round.

One of the main tourist attractions in Vigo is, of course, the O Castro, a prehistoric Celtic village, home to the first settlers of Vigo, some 2,000 years ago. Situated on a hill, in the center of Vigo, it provides a panoramic view of this cosmopolitan city with its ancient history.  Magnificent gardens, the remains of the walled city and the replicated Celtic houses on the slopes of the hills are truly a sight to behold. The fortress of the Castro was built in 1665 to protect the city from continuous attacks coming from the British navy allies of Portugal.

As the first day of adventure drew to an end, we started chasing a perfect sunset and head for the ever so popular and beautiful Albatros Terraza & Bar, located in the cruise terminal of the Port of Vigo.  It has the most spectacular view overlooking the bay.  With the soothing music of the ocean, waves intertwining, a breathtaking sunset, and a glass of Ribeiro, I, most certainly, ended the day with gratitude.

Late night wanderings in the crowded streets of O Calvario brings back fond memories.  With its old-world charm, street musicians and pedestrian-friendly pathways, families, dogs, lovers, and loners, all find comfort after a hot summer's day.

July and August are fiesta (festival) time in Galicia!  Gastronomic festivals, whether it be the humble farmers’ bread, the empanada, a slippery sardine or the aphrodisiac oyster, vinos (wines) and Port, or the ever so famous pink pulpo (octopus), every city and town celebrate food in one way or the other.   Singing accompanied by Celtic bagpipers, flowers, and fireworks, traditional dress, and processions all form part of the festivities in Galicia.  The majority of the festivals have a strong Roman influence, but medieval and Viking festivals are just as popular and it is expected of every citizen to take part and/or attend.  Many of the festivals are in commemoration of one of the many saints.

Galicia is a rainy region but with its hot summers and mild winters Vigo has become a popular holiday destination not only for Galicians but Europeans discovered this hidden jewel too.  The coastline is absolutely spectacular and a sun-and-surf paradise.  Although the water of the Atlantic is cold it does not deter any holidaymaker or Vigues to make use of the sun and the powdery white sand.

Driving and parking your car in Vigo is an adventure on its own.  Parking spaces are limited and streets are narrow.  The locals have a saying that cars kiss each other, as most of the cars in Vigo has a dent caused by a “kiss-in-the-parking-lot.” I can honestly say that I would rather take my chances to walk with an African lion than drive and park in Vigo.

It was extremely hard for me to depart from Galicia and in particular Vigo, the city, perfect to live in and a must to visit.  Galicia’s bucolic lifestyle and astounding character make one believe in a higher power.

Vigo, I salute you!! 

GALLERY

Aerial view of Vigo

O Castro

O Castro


Replicated Celtic house



Replicated Celtic houses

The Olive Tree




The Olive Tree



Antonio Suárez Dávila



The famous Dinoseto



One of many beaches in Vigo

Selling pulpo

A room with a view

O Calvario
Vigo by night

Gardens at O Castro



Gardens at O Castro


O Castro



A Galician witch

Artisan's Street

One of many street musicians

Samil Beach

Sand art on the beach


View from Albatros Terraza & Bar


Pleasure boats in the harbour


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

PULPO FOR TWO

Enjoying food and wine with friends and family is a fundamental part of the Galician culture.   Sharing a plate of Pulpo a la Gallega or Pimientos de Padron is as appealing to the senses as it is nurturing to the soul. The simplicity of this dish is what makes it so unique.  Octopus is boiled till very soft, sprinkled with paprika, salt, and olive oil and served with pieces of rustic bread to soak up the delicious sauces. 

Galician cuisine differs considerably from the rest of Europe but the variety and abundance of seafood complimented by the excellent selection of meats from the lush and fertile valleys have lured many a gastronomist, food historian, award winning chef and food-loving tourist to the shores of Galicia. During my recent visit to Galicia, I was fortunate to have a food guru/historian/art connoisseur at my side.  I was introduced to all the delicacies of the region and was, like most visitors to the region, impressed and duly satisfied. The quality of food is excellent and always prepared in such a way as to enhance the natural flavors of the product. 

Fishing, in particular, is one of Galicia’s main trade industries and annual sales estimate at about 1 billion euros.  An average of five thousand vessels harvest approximately two hundred thousand tons of seafood and shellfish annually and their mussel estuaries set them as one of the largest competitors in scale and quality in Europe and abroad. Galicia’s fresh produce is strictly regulated by the European Union for its value and geographical origin.

Galicia also boasts a fertile, green, rainy region known as “The Land of the 1,000 Rivers”, which is this country’s most aberrant region.  It is situated in the northern corner of Spain and borders Portugal on the east with the surf of the Atlantic Ocean embracing its coastline. This region is known for its inland grid of waterways or “rivers”, pasture and mountainous terrain, granite houses with slate-tiled roofs and historical fishermen’s villages which all contribute to this scenic delight.

And as the waterways come together in celebration so do Galician festivals. Fiestas, like siestas, are part of the Galician culture and are celebrated throughout the year.  The majority of the festivals have a strong Celtic influence where bagpipes, dancing, fireworks, and food form part of the array of activities.  Although most of the festivals have its origin in religion, food festivals are just as popular. Throughout the centuries food was seen as a symbol of celebration during difficult times.  In as much as I enjoyed the vibrancy of fiestas though, some of my most memorable moments were spent at a table for two in a tapas bar, a street cafe, an up-market restaurant, a posh tea room, or simply by devouring a midnight snack at the kitchen table with my compadre. 

Olive oil, wine, and bread form the basis of the Galician diet and it undeniably originates from medieval times. Spanish olive oil and olives are of the best in the world and are exported worldwide, even to South Africa, for which I am very grateful. Drinking Vermouth or Vermu as it is known in Spain, in century old buildings or rubbing shoulders with tourists from all over Europe in noisy tapas bars in Santiago at midnight are all mysterious and magical moments to me.

The very famous Pimientos de Padron is a lovely small green pepper with a very distinct taste. Again, the cooking process is easy and simple.  Shallow or deep fried in olive oil and served with coarse salt.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Most of the peppers have a mild taste, but from time to time, the odd one will find its heated way to your palate. 

Empanadas, Spanish tortillas, sardines, mussels, scallops, gazpacho, pâtés, and several local cheese varieties were all known to me before I started my journey, but sharing it with special people made it taste just so much better.

I must confess, I am not much of a meat-eater, but I enjoyed the selection of cured ham which is very popular in Galicia. ‘Galician caviar’ as my host refers to it.  Making pambolis, (bread with oil) just before midnight, ignites my soul and arises my passions.  Lamb, however, is not very popular and veal is preferred to beef.  Spanish chorizos (sausages) differ significantly from the Mexican chorizos and are very popular on sandwiches, bocadillos (artisan bread), in stews and served as tapas.  Galician fruit and vegetables are also of a very high standard and I could not resist the abundance of figs, mangos, rambutans, plantains, and laughs that accompanied every titillating bite.

The most interesting part of the Galician daily food consumption tradition for me, was, of course, the lack of an early breakfast.  In my home country breakfast plays a very important role and is it eaten in most households.  Spaniards of course rather enjoy something sweet in the morning washed down with bottomless cups of very strong coffee.  My first introduction to the very famous and popular churros was not very impressive.  It was too oily and not sweet enough to my taste. I was however told that the correct way of eating the churro was to dunk it in a cup of thick hot chocolate.  This was indeed true and an improvement on the taste, but having it for breakfast did not sit well with a woman who loves her Boerebreakfast.  (farmers breakfast)

Tea is a rarity in Galicia, but to my surprise, I was offered Rooibos on many occasions, as if my arrival was welcomed.  Rooibos is well known for its many health benefits and is made from a herbal plant that only grows in South Africa. During my stay in Santiago, I was introduced to the very traditional Torta de Santiago and various sweet pastries mainly with an almond base and made of puff pastries.

Last but not least was, of course, the lovely wines of Galicia.  The local Albarino and Ribeiro both are popular choices to accompany any meal.  My personal favorite was, of course, the Ribeiro.  A lovely light white wine that goes well with all tapas as well as more formal meals.  Galicia predominantly produces wine that is white, light and fruity. Drinking wine from a porcelain cup or cunca, as it is known in Spain, forms part of a very old tradition and is still in use in many tapas bars and eateries all across Galicia. Ending a night with a glass of Port and a tin of 12 Uvas del a Suerte (12 grapes of luck) or Mirabeles en Almibar (plums in syrup) guarantees memories last a lifetime. The '12 Grapes' are traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve when the clock strikes twelve and symbolizes twelve lucky months to come.  This centuries old Spanish tradition dates back to the 1800's and eating a grape at each bell strike will, according to old witches' tales, keep all evil away from you.  As of late, it is a gesture of welcoming the New Year and exchanging good wishes.  

The Romans and Greeks believed that wine, food, and art was a way of enhancing life.  Food brings people together and sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory as Dr. Zeus said.





Pulpo a la Gallega
Vermouth and Spanish olives



Fresh produce market 

Fresh food and vegetables on display

Cured ham

Sipping wine from a cunca

Sardines and fruity white wine in a cunca

Padron peppers and Pamboli

Freshest of fresh mussels


Tetilla Cheese (breast shape cheese)


Tapas deluxe


Empanadas on display 

The twelve grapes

Gazpacho

Pinchos


Pastries - Tarta de Santiago - the ones with the cross.


Variety of pinchos

Ribeiro wine 

Spanish paella

Chorizos in Cider

Churros and hot chocolate






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