June 15, 2012
We spent yesterday having a complete slob day, resting and doing laundry. Today we headed off to Algeciras and the ferry to Morocco! Before we started planning this trip, we had no idea just how close Africa is to Spain: 8.9 miles at the Straits of Gibraltar! You can clearly see Africa from the ferry terminal. We took a fast ferry from Algeciras to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa (northern coast of Africa is just like the southern coast of Spain: conquer and re-conquer. The actual Rock of Gibraltar: still British territory.), about a 1/2 hour trip. We arrived in Ceuta in the afternoon and wandered around the old fort for a bit, getting some great pics of Gibraltar in the distance. We were hot and the hotel pool looked too inviting, so after a rejuvenating beverage that’s where we headed. The water was cold but it felt good! We ventured out later for dinner and had walked quite a ways without finding a suitable place to eat when we stumbled upon a nice-looking Italian restaurant. Yes, an Italian restaurant in a Spanish city on the north coast of Africa. Having clearly not learned our lesson in Seville, we tried it anyway and were very pleasantly surprised [although Teresa’s mixed salad was topped with (wait for it…) tuna]. In fact, Sterling and Eric pronounced it “very fine” and even thought about eating there again on the way home. Wine on the balcony of the hotel looking out over the Mediterranean topped off the day.
Food note: being on the Mediterranean coast, both Andalucía and Ceuta take full advantage of plentiful seafood, and tuna in particular is a popular item. Tuna on your green mixed salad? Check. Potato salad? Check. Gazpacho soup? Check. Hot tuna croquettes? Check. Pizza? But of course! The flaked cold tuna on salads & soup can be very nice, but was usually a surprise as it’s not mentioned on the menu. Fried eggs are the same way: they are often not mentioned and show up in many places that Americans wouldn’t expect them, most notably on top of a pile of fries. Ham and cheese (jamón y queso) is ubiquitous, breakfast, lunch & dinner. Although I have to say, Andalucía is known for its particularly tasty ham (free-range pigs fattened on acorns) and it is incredibly tasty. Slightly salty and sliced wafer thin, it makes for mighty fine munching on hot slices of bread with olive oil. Chorizo and too many other sausages to remember are also thinly sliced and served with bread and cheese. Olives are put out as appetizers nearly everywhere, and are fantastic. Wine is everywhere, with sangria and tinto de verano (literally, the red wine of summer. Isn’t that lovely?) as more casual alternatives. We never did quite adjust to the Spanish meal schedule though: they eat their main meal of the day between roughly 2 and 3:30, just before siesta. Siesta is generally a couple of hours (although this is “more like a guideline really” and tends to get longer in the heat of summer). The evening meal is generally light and is eaten late (8:30 is the “early-bird” special and 9:30-11:00 is prime time). The Spanish come alive at night, and plazas and sidewalk cafes are full of people, children and dogs. Most people don’t have yards & porches, so the plazas are common outdoor space, leading to socializing on a scale unfamiliar to most Americans. Kind of like having the whole block hanging out in your front yard every night. And while beer is available everywhere, selection was not. In most places when you ordered a cerveza, you weren’t asked what kind you wanted, because the establishment stocked only one brand. The exception seemed to be in larger cities where you could find a cervecería, or restaurant that specialized in beer rather than wine.