Vejer was absolutely nothing like what I expected. For starters, in my initial "research" I somehow missed that it was a Pueblo Blanco (ehhhm, "White Town"). My personal tour guide told me at some point, probably over our first exhausted/triumphant/"We Survived Africa" dinner, that Vejer and Ronda were consistently voted (here, for example) two of the most beauuuuuutiful pueblos blancos in Andalucia.
And indeed it was beauuuuuutiful. But having spent several days in Ronda by now as well, I have to say that Vejer itself left me a bit (ahahahahaha) cold. Whereas Ronda feels alive, like a real city with a pulse (I imagine this has to do with its size, 40,000 people or so), Vejer was just too small and well-preserved, kind of like a giant hotel.
Although I must say, I did not see a whole hell of a lot of the city. Vejer would be the second city in a row where I immediately and forlornly realized that my navigation plans had not at all considered altitude. Our asses and feet were already more than a little sore after a couple of multi-hour walks in Tangier, and Vejer's hills were really playing on an entirely different level. It seemed to be (illogically) all uphill, and just when you thought, ok, I really need 30 seconds of level ground, there'd be a hill so steep that it featured stone stairs instead of an incline.
And it was still really fucking hot outside, 42C/108F. My trusty tour guide had secured accommodations that featured a bathtub on the roof (fyi this was not the only bathtub), and this helped some, but you kind of had to wait until dark to use it. Or at least I thought that that seemed like the right time to schedule my own baths, you know, for the neighbors' sake.
All the rest of these photos are taken from the extremely pimpish roof terrace of the aribnb, it was a great place to stay.
This was an impro that turned out remarkably like what I had in my head. +++
szechuan tofu or chicken and cucumber something.
1 block of tofu or 1 chicken breast
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 tsp five spice
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp ketjap manis
2 tbsp shao hsing
1 or 2 tbsp Szechuan chile paste/oil (with peanuts and Szechuan pepercorns)
1 or 2 tbsp ginger syrup
2 tbsp rice or light apple vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Interior designers of the world: your attention please. Sometimes it's OK to keep part of the decor "traditionally functional". The above faucet, yes, in this picture, looks fantastic. In reality, once you were able to turn it on, the "waterfall" either shot out over the far rim of the sink, soaking the belly and waist area of whatever you were wearing, or spluttered/gushed downward onto the ledge where the toothpaste is standing, immediately ricocheting/overflowing onto the floor and just generally making a mess.
And then, the toilet. Let's say for example a couple is going on one of their first romantic getaways together, off into the Spanish countryside to overnight at a totally pimped-out farmhouse. I know it's Europe, but is this really what the bathroom door should look like?
My shoes didn't make it. Structurally weakened by long walks on the +100°F streets of Seville, the hills of Tangier delivered another deadly blow, and the ridiculous stairs of Vejer finished them off. I was just hoping to not have to tape them together for the flight home.
Welllllllllll....where to start? Unromantic as it is, I'll start here: I just got an email from trusty cohort Papa J-Kim which said, among other things, something to the effect of it looking like I "spent a fortune on lush snackies" in Spain. Aside from the fact that "I" was not doing most of the spending, this is one of the amazing things about Spain: if you're eating tapas, you really have to exert yourself if you want to spend a fortune on food. OR (as we'll see), you have to make a bad Plan B after your Plan A is closed that day under mysterious circumstances, a scenario which seems to be the most likely reason by far that you would either eat badly or expensively or both.
Some examples: I think our favorite meal of the week was a lunch at Bodeguita Romero in Sevilla. In addition to wonderfully polite and efficient service, we had: a plate of homemade potato salad with vinegar and scallions; two bocadillos (just a little sandwich, ideally on toasted, crunchy bread) one with a good stinky roquefort and one with their celebrated pringa (blood sausage and pulled pork), €1.50 each; a plate of cumin-y stewed chickpeas and spinach; albondigas de choco (ehhh, cuttlefish meatballs, the Spanish sounds quite a bit better, no?). And four glasses of really good tinto de verano (red wine and lemon soda over ice). Total bill: €23.70. In Amsterdam you'd pay that much for the four drinks.
The "nicest" meal we had was probably at La Brunilda in Sevilla (an excellent Plan B, after La Azotea was mysteriously closed and our feet were totally destroyed so we were desperate for something close by), receipt pictured above, meal pictured below. A slightly-too-giant piece of burrata with a very smart and delicious salad of homemade pesto, oven-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and arugula cost €5.50. I'm sure that in most cities you would be hard-pressed to find a giant piece of burrata for that price in the grocery store, much less at a "nice" restaurant. A lovely bowl of Idiazabal and wild mushroom risotto for €4.70. I had a delicious fucking (difficult to attractively photograph) langostino burger for €3.70, you can barely find a falafel for that price in Amsterdam. I'm just saying: it no make no sense.
And in the Department of Cultural Stereotypes: I have fewer complaints about the Spanish than I do about almost anywhere else I've ever been. Fun, polite, passionate nightowls who enjoy a good nap and don't live to work.
Abacería La Oficina was the first restaurant I found during my Vejer research, and wellllllll it turned out to be the restaurant directly below our airbnb. Like at dinner we sat beneath our bedroom window:
But due to a mix of hunger, timing, and logistics, we didn't manage to eat there until our last night in town. It was really quite great, and quite a (oh how I cringe at using this word) "special" little place: apparently they're only open two months a year, July and August. The cook is from Seville and the waiter is from Bilbao, and they only come down to Vejer in the summertime. The cook is also a painter who teaches art in Seville and the place is full of his work, pretty nice stuff I thought.
Anyway, so we were lucky to be there while they were open, and the food and service were both great. Below: one of the week's better salmorejo; tuna and potato empanadillas with soy and green beans, the empanada dough was pretty perfect.
The next thing was described to us twice, but all we could figure out was that it was "something with the head of the tuna". Looking at their menu online, I think it was "morrillo de atún", which is, how you say, "ze forehead of ze tuna", served with very buttery mashed potatoes and again, soy sauce. Then risoto de veduras, really good, and then kind of the highlight, tarte de la abuela (which was tarta de galletas plus a cinnamon-y custard called natillas plus milk chocolate).
Tarta de galletas is a "cookie cake", traditionally made in summertime because you don't have to turn the oven on, and the whole assembled thing was awwwwwwwesome. It was made even awwwwwwwesomer by the glasses of vino de naranja we had with it, a kind of sweet but not too sweet orange wine made only in Vejer.
You can probably choose whether to be charmed or infuriated by the unpredictability of Spanish opening hours in the heat of the summer. At least I feel like I was able to choose, and I chose "charmed". In 1.5 days in Sevilla, our first attempt at Bodeguita Romero found them closed, though that's probably more TripAdvisor's fault than anything, or my fault for believing TripAdvisor.
The next day we kind of based our afternoon's long, meandering path through the 42ºC/106ºF city around ending up at Dulcería Manu Jara in the early evening since they were "open all day Saturday". We got there by 19:00, feet complaining a bit; unfortunately the sign in the window said they'd closed at 15:00.
OK, OK. Only slightly dejected, we limped sweatily back over the bridge from Triana to the city center for dinner at La Azotea, a bit later than we expected, 20:45 or so, hopefully they wouldn't be too crowded. Ummmmm, no, they weren't crowded at all, because their doors weren't open and the lights weren't on.
So a couple of days later on Wednesday when we went to Zahara de los Atunes and found El Refugio (above), our chosen lunch spot, to be "closed Wednesdays", we just said oh ha ha ha Spain and went down the beach to a random beach restaurant called Cerro Currita. It was 41ºC/105ºF, really too hot for a Death Mope.
Cerro Currita is one of those beachside restaurants that's overpriced but not really bad in any way. Luckily, "overpriced" in southern Spain is still underpriced everywhere else. Plus their English menu was funnier than average, I really meant to take pictures or notes but forgot both. Below: "tomato salad", very vegetarian friendly except for the pile of tuna in the center; boquerones, fried fresh anchovies; atún de la zona, "Tuna from The Zone". It was all good in the way eating fresh local seafood by the sea is good, but yeah the cooking was not especially inspired. .
And after that, the Zahara beach itself was one of the best beaches for swimming I've ever been to, with pleasantly unpredictable, threatening-but-manageable waves, a flat sandy sea floor, and water that was nearly swimming pool turquoise. Remind me to tell you about the American tourist.
Eight days of tapas is, well, a lot, especially if you've already lived in Spain for seven years like some people on this trip. So by Day/night 6, La Piccolina, run by a Spanish/Italian couple, ended up being a pretty swell idea. Below: great grilled vegetables with balsamic and basil, and a salmorejo that was unfortunately mostly a good example of the difference between an OK version and the couple of great ones we'd had so far, this one needed at least some salt and olive oil; yes that's spaghetti with tomato and basil in the background, very competently done and comforting, but the gnocchetti with cream, chives and parsley in the foreground were perfect. Then a dreamy chocolate souffle with vanilla ice cream and a side of Pedro Ximénez. Bonk.
Sunday night's Ramadan festivities went on at least until 2:30am when I fell asleep. The music sounded great, very percussion-heavy and festive, and I was really tempted to see what everything looked like by that point, but going outside again would've meant putting my shoes back on, and my feet were not interested in that concept at all.
We got up around 9am and went up to the roof for breakfast (above): two very different semolina breads, harcha and baghrir; cold fresh watermelon; small bowls of honey, fresh butter, apricot preserves, and sharp feta; orange juice and there in the center some kind of not-too-exciting coffee cake. Plus coffee. Pretty realistic-seeming and totally tasty.
Then we went out to try and find the Kasbah, and maybe see the old palace.
Nothing was open, and no one was on the streets, except for a couple of "guides", who seemed to be able to read our minds: just when we'd say, "Oooh, let's go look at the sea," someone would immediately slink into sight and say in a weaselly voice, "Good morning, there's a lovely sea view just over here, I'd be happy to show it to you."
So we just stopped thinking of things and wandered vaguely towards the direction we thought the Kasbah might be in.
The nice thing about being nearly alone on the streets was that you could semi-unselfconsciously stop and document some of the crazy amount of ancient, artistic detail that was just everywhere (and when I say "you", I mean Nelson, who took most of these photos).
This is an often-NSFW, mostly gluten-free kitchen notebook that also occasionally threatens to turn into something else and fails, thus remaining its same old cryptic and superficial self. These posts begin to fail to explain (start at the bottom).