Seville Videoshots: The Mercadillo de Belenes

It’s been a while since I’ve focused a Monday snapshot on Seville – I’ve simply had too many other things to write about, and planning a Spanish-American wedding can get consuming. In fact, I was a downright Scrooge about my holidays, as other commitments had me working and not enjoying the Christmas lights downtown or traditional Christmas dinners.

Seville's Nativity Market

A foiled attempt to run a few last errands before the holiday gave me about 20 minutes to explore one of my favorite fixtures to a sevillana Christmas: the mercadillo de Belenes. Belén is the Spanish name of the city where Jesus Christ was born, and the so-named nativity scenes go from basic with just the Holy Family to full-blown towns with running water and animatronics.  

 

While our sorry excuse for a Christmas tree barely has ornaments, let alone a fancy nativity, I’m greatly looking forward to building one, beginning with the Holy Family and the animals.

Have you been to any sweet Christmas markets?

Tapa Thursdays: Seville’s Newest Gastrocultural Offering, the Mercado Lonja del Barranco

Gourmet Markets in Seville

In a city renowned for tapas culture, more and more foodie-friendly offerings are popping up. From wine tasting packages and jamón cutting courses to ethnic bars and even a midday flamenco show, I’d thought I’d seen it all in Seville when it came to merging food and culture (hello, my favorite parts of blogging).

Then ex-bullfighter Fran Rivera (also the ex-son-in-law of the Patrona of Seville, Cayetana de Alba) pumped money into a gourmet food market in a century-old building. While mercados and plazas de abastos are nothing new to la vida cotidiana in Spain, places like La Boquería and Mercado San Miguel are becoming tourist destinations in other cities, and Rivera and business partner Carlos Herrera are jumping on Spain being a foodie haven (and anyway, people have to eat).

Mercado Lonja del Barranco Sevilla

Mercado Lonja del Barranco opened in late November to crowds, to rain, to runaway success. Housed in a glass and wrought iron building that served as a fish market until 40 years ago, the space has 20 different puestos featuring regional goodies, as well as half a dozen free-standing food carts and a Cruzcampo beer station that allows you to sample recently-brewed beer.

Each puesto has a specialty item, like acorn-fed ham, salmorejo or the mythical Spanish omelette, and there are a few cocktail or wine bars. And much like the Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience, several local restaurants have set up shop.

Mercado Lonja del Barrando creative space

Mercado Lonja del Barranco

The result is a chaotic but bright and lofty space with impeccable decoration, though seating is limited indoors and there is not rhyme or reason to the set up – it feels like a maze, even when empty. It’s less market and more fancy schmancy food hall, but the Mercado de Triana is right across the Puente Isabel II should you need fresh vegetables or a craft beer.

seafood markets in Seville

People at a Spanish market

food offerings at mercado lonja del barranco sevilla

The Novio and I met some friends on a Friday night shortly after the market opened. Even with rain clouds threatening, the place was packed to the (iron) gills. We found a table outside and just ordered a few beers, unwilling to sidle up to anywhere but a beer tap. While the food offerings looked incredible, there were far too many people to really enjoy the experience. As I’ve passed by in subsequent days, the market remains busy but the novelty has worn off a bit – perfect for sampling tapas or ordering sushi to go.

If you go: Mercado Lonja del Barranco is open daily from 10am until midnight; open until 2am on Friday and Saturday. Prices are variable, but expect a minimum of 10€ a head. The market plans to open cultural offerings, such as workshops and theatre, in the future. Check their webpage for more.

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I visited the Mercado Lonja del Barranco as part of the Typical Non Spanish project with Caser Expat. The power the experience, I enjoy and write about it in my own words. All opinions are my own.

What’s your favorite gourmet market in Spain?

The Anatomy of a Cesta de Navidad

When my very first cesta de navidad arrived, wrapped up in cellophane and emblazoned with Corte Inglés publicity, I excitedly ripped open the top of the box and dug out the contents of the box.

I was literally a kid on Christmas morning, just three weeks early.

Many companies and organizations give pre-packaged Christmas baskets to their employees during the holiday. They’re also raffled off at bars and hermandades for a few euros, but they all have two things in common: edibles and booze.

cestas de navidad el corte ingles

In my first cesta, I received four bottles of wine, one of whiskey and one of anisette, plus enough cured meat to tide me over until Easter. Baskets also include typical Christmas sweets, cheeses, conservas like bonito or white asparagus and an interesting brick of something called a “Christmas Broth.” Contents are neatly packed up and shipped out to the tune of anywhere from around 20€ and up to 300€! 

While my Christmas shopping usually consists of plane tickets to spend the holidays somewhere with my parents, this year I’ll be flying home for wedding planning. Rather than scramble for gifts amidst other scrambled shoppers, I decided to make a twist on the traditional Christmas basket by bringing my favorite and American-palatte-approved goodies home in ceramics.

What is in a Spanish gift basket

Because, really, what do you get the woman who has it all (as far as Spanish souvenirs go) and is picky? 

My American-Tastes-and-Customs-Friendly-While-Still-Being-Andalusian Cesta de Navidad:

1 50g sachet of saffron – 5€

Cesta de navidad saffron

The same amount of azafrán in the US costs $16, so I was thrilled to find it wrapped up nicely!

1 220g package of Andalusian oranges covered with chocolate and olive oil – 5€

cesta de navidad chocolate covered oranges

Everyone in my family but me are chocoholics, and these oranges are representative of Seville, with the olive oil giving it an appropriate amount of acidity.

1 300g orange marmalade spread – 4,50€

cesta de navidad orange marmelade

Naranjos abound in Seville, and the oranges collected from them are made into bitter orange marmalade. Nuns at the Santa Paula monastery make this particular type, and peddle it out of their turnstiles.

1 250mL tin of Basilippo Arbequina extra virgin olive oil – 8€

cesta de navidad Andalusian olive oil

Basilippo is an award-winning brand of extra virgin olive oil planted, harvested and pressed in nearby El Viso del Alcor.  The arbequina olive it’s made from is known for its suave and balanced taste.

1 package of Ines Rosales Tortas de Aceite with cinnamon and sugar – 2,50€

cesta de navidad Ines Rosales cakes

Tortas de Aceite have been around for ages, and Ines Rosales is an international superstar when it comes to producing them just outside of Seville. Other varieties include savory with rosemary and sea salt, or made with oranges.

Assorted lard-free polverones – 2€

mantecados de estepa

I’m not a fan of these crumbly cookies, which are ubiquitous with Christmas in Spain. The most common version are made from manteca, or pig’s lard, which is a no-no with customs in the US. I found some piggy-free varieties at Ines Rosales.

6 Cola Cao individual packages – 1,43€

cesta de navidad Cola Cao

The bright yellow plastic canisters are a Spanish kitchen staple, and I love the powdery goodness of Cola Cao every Sunday with my churros. Rather than buying the canister, you can get individual packets just like at a bar.

1 package of Suchard turrón with whole almonds – 2,94€

cesta de navidad suchard

Spanish Christmas sweets let me down, but chocolate turrón is practically a gigantic candy bar. The normal stuff is nougat, made only with sugar, egg whites and honey.   

3 individual bottles of Frexienet cava – 3,99€

cesta de navidad champagne

These small bottles of cava are festive and perfect for toasting the new year at midnight on New Year’s Eve. And they’re easy to carry and open!

3 individual tetra bricks of Don Simón red wine – 1,35€

cesta de navidad don simon

I’m the only wine drinker in my family, so these miniature tetras are for novelty more than anything! Plus, customs is getting stricter on how much alcohol you can bring back, and it must be claimed on your customs form.

1 jar of pimientos de piquillo – 1€

cesta de navidad pimientos de piquillo

For whatever reason, I thought that pimientos de piquillo would make a good gift for a dad who loves to experiment with recipes. If all else fails, I don’t think they’ll go bad any time soon!

San Vicente semi-cured cheese – 3,65€

Cesta de navidad hard cheese

Meats are a big no with customs, but hard and semi-hard cheeses are totally fine. My sister loves any sort of stinky cheeses, and this is one gift I’m glad to get in on!

2 bottles of Taïfa beer – 4,40€

cesta de navidad local beer

My family members are big beer drinkers, so I picked up some local Taïfa cervezas from the Mercado de Triana. 

And to put it all together, 1 ceramic bowl – 12€

cesta de navidad ceramics

All that extra weight cost me 50.05€ for each cesta. 

I added little touches of things I’d known would be hits, such as black-and-white old photos of Seville for my parents, a tub of Nutella for my sister (not Spanish, but what everyone equates with European snack food) and a Spanish heavy metal CD for my brother-in-law.

Noticeably absent are the meats, the fish and the olives, but why transport things home that could get me in trouble with customs, or go uneaten?

Are you decking the halls, or are you more of a Scrooge? More on Christmas in Spain: Spanish Christmas Sweets | My Favorite Spanish Christmas TraditionsSnapshots of the Reyes Magos

Three Ways to Stay Healthy on the Road

Ainssss pero te estás quedando en nada!

Rosa seems to think I’m getting skinnier, but even as I’m preparing for my wedding next summer and taking a bit better care of my body (read: no Doritos for breakfast).

“Come back after Christmas and you’ll see what two weeks of vacation does to me!” I quipped.

German food collage

Last year we were gorging on beer and brats in Austria (case in point above). The year before, I fell for catalán pastries. And now that I’ll be in America for nearly three weeks and likely stress eating, there’s no telling.

It might be in vain, but whatever the reason, many people choose to go on a diet before travelling. But on arrival at the destination, regimes tend to fall apart. Thanks to the temporary nature of vacations, scarfing three slices of French toast and honey at breakfast (or endless pastries because, Paris) suddenly seems okay. But there are ways to stay fit and healthy while on the hoof. 

I should take my own advice.

Use the facilities

If your hotel has the facilities, it might be time to break a sweat in that gleaming, state of the art gymnasium, or attempt a few laps in the pool. You’ll feel invigorated for the day ahead, and what’s more, when you get to the buffet breakfast, the choices you make will be smarter than simply loading up on carbs.

Image by Health Gauge at Creative Commons

I used to marvel at a traveling recruiter who always managed to stay so thin, even when on the road. She told me her secret was in buying day-long gym passes or simply booking a hotel with the right facilities. Duly noted – my tennis shoes are packed for my Christmas trip!

Incorporate exercise into your sightseeing

Take the opportunity to do something amazing on your bucket list that will also work wonders for your fitness. It might be getting up at 5am, taking the Metro across Budapest and enjoying a swim in the thermal baths. You could sign up for a scuba diving course in Egypt, or book a horseback expedition in Cyprus. There’s also the joy of exploring a location on foot – some cities, like Seville, are worth ditching the taxi fare for strolling around.

Going Hiking in Spain

I’ve got the perfect excuse this Christmas – I’ll be snowboarding Summit County Colorado for nine days!

Eat right

Just as it is back home, local food can make you fit or flabby – it all depends on what you choose to eat. Yes, it’s tempting to indulge in foods like crepes or deep dish pizza, but doing this on every day of your vacation will make you feel sluggish. You need fuel for sightseeing, not fat.

eating a thalis in India

Make sure to sample some of the healthy local produce or cook in your rental if you’re able. Sampling local cuisine is literally at the top of my list each trip, but remember you want to broaden your horizons, not your waistline.

While I’m committed to making these holidays my least gluttonous yet, there is one thing I can never help when it comes to being healthy at Christmas – KIDDIE GERMS! Fingers crossed my body holds up for the next week as I tackle exams and cross-Atlantic flights!

How do you stay healthy when you’re traveling?

Reflections in Valladolid (or, the Weird Sensation of Returning to Your Study Abroad City)

Alejandro didn’t even need to tell me where to turn. As soon as I’d passed the Valladolid city limits, I went into autopilot and followed the roads I used to walk as a study abroad student in the capital of Castilla y León. Easing into third, I made my way past the bullring and Campo Grande, along the Rosaleda and the Pisuerga river to Plaza San Pablo, smack in the middle of the historic city. Alejandro was shocked that, nearly a decade after I studied there, I knew Valladolid better than he did.

He also found it hilarious that I remembered my first glimpse of the former Spanish capital – a boy peeing on a tree. A sign of the things to come, I guess. We had a good laugh as I navigated the wide avenues of Pucela.

I parked off of Avenida de Palencia in a square I’d pass through on our my to the university every morning, handing him his bags and giving the standard dos besos as I wished him well. He suggested having a beer, and I was only a few blocks from my host family’s new apartment, but I needed some time to soak up the city where it all started.

the historic center of valladolid

I walked from Avenida de Palencia past the National Sculpture Museum at Plaza San Pablo. Stood next to La Antigua and  in the shadow of the cathedral as the sun inched high into the sky. I was hoping to have a glass of wine in a bar I’d once nipped into, but the blustery November day meant that most things were closed. It was like a metaphor for everything I’d heard about pucelanos before I lived there – closed off and shuttered.

My feet led me back towards Plaza Mayor and its stately buildings and beautiful town hall; my stomach led me to Los Zagales, where my ears were treated to castellano. Just as I was paying and putting on my jacket, a hail storm erupted and the bartender smiled as he gave me another dos dedos of wine. Closed off? Maybe, but stingy the locals are not.

The hail suddenly slowed and then stopped, and I whirled around looking for what I knew would come next: a rainbow, stretched just behind the statue of the sacred heart. 

Plaza Mayor of Valladolid

Aurora’s whatsapp came just as I walked in front of Sotobanco, our favorite bar. She asked how the driving had gone and if I’d like to meet her and her mother to pick up Lucía, Aurora’s eight-year-old daughter. Again, my feet traced the city streets, slick with rain.

Older Aurora grabbed my hand and led me towards Plaza de la Universidad, literally tracing back the steps we’d taken when she first picked me up from the bus when we were assigned host mothers on that day back in May 2005. Back then, she seemed aloof, soft-spoken and overly Catholic. In these nine years, she’s become more than the woman who washed my clothes and made me tortilla.

When we arrived at Plaza de la Universidad to meet Lucía’s school bus, I reminded old Aurora of when I’d been on the bus, the last student to be chosen by a host mother. Be it luck or destiny, she smiled and clasped my hand tightly. “Sí, Cati, lo recuerdo.” The rain began again, a site I’d not seen in Valladolid ever – not when I studied abroad, nor on my subsequent visits.

Reflections of Study Abroad in Spain

The following morning, Aurora and I took Lucía to a children’s workshop in the newly inaugurated Auditorio Miguel Delibes, near the Real Valladolid Stadium. Sitting high above the Parquesol subdivision and a hill that slopes down gently towards the river, I contemplated the cold, gray day, and the nine yeas that had passed since my first moments in Spain.

The city of Valladolid itself didn’t seem to have changed since 2005, save the weather. Back then, we’d spend our afternoons next to the manmade beach, eating ice cream and drinking beer on the argument that it was cheaper than water (viva España).

Now, as I buried my nose in my scarf, I had to breathe a sigh of relief that this place, so emblazoned in my heart and my head and my first digital camera’s memory card, has remained largely the same. The hue of Plaza Mayor was the same fiery red, the naked statue in front of the post office still made me giggle, and the dollar store where we’d meet every morning to walk to class together called Los Gatos was open, despite slowing business in La Rondilla.

ayuntamiento de Valladolid

Returning to Valladolid is always a strange swarm of memories – the euphoria of discovering a new culture and language coupled with the then-debilitating homesickness and language barriers, namely – but Younger Aurora wields a bottle of local wine and two glasses.

A tí, Cati,” she says, pouring me a hefty glass, “and to this Spanish American life you’ve created.” Little does she know just how important she was to making it so. I hand her a Save the Day card and her eyes glaze over, but we toast and gulp down the wine, catching up on the changes our lives have seen in these few years.

Did you study abroad? Have you been back to visit since? If so, what were your impressions?

Visiting Munich’s Christmas Markets

Exploring Munich's Christmas Markets

I’d long been hoping to visit Germany during Christmas time. After five trips to Deutschland during the coldest months of the year, I finally made it to Oktoberfest, an absolute dream for beer lovers.

But shortly after my trip to the Weis’n, my parents decided to spend Christmas on the Danube River aboard a river boat, leaving from Munich. Glühwein for all!

Christkindlemarkt Munich

After a chaotic trimester, I tacked on a Friday and Saturday onto a weeklong cruise to eat my way around the Bavarian capital. Flight delays dropped me into the city near midnight, and after fumbling around my hostel dorm room to try to change into pajamas, I woke up still fully clothed and running late to meet my cousin, Christyn.

The hostel workers pointed me towards the city center and circled no fewer than ten markets around town, most of which were clumped around Marienplatz. Even before 10am, the streets smelled of seared meat and sweet, candied nuts, but my sensors detected something else: the GLÜHWEIN. 

The delicious gluhwein

But in all seriousness, is there anything so delightful?

I chose a booth right in front of the statue that gives Marienplatz its name, and it seems she had the same idea: as soon as I’d wrapped my paws around the steaming cup, she’d sidled up next to me and ordered one, too.

The oldest Munich Christmas market, then called Nicholausmarkt, dates back to the 14th century, and  the city now has themed stalls all around town, from traditional to children’s to even a medieval markets that sells pelts and wooden swords. We began at Marienplatz, which has traditional offerings like Christmas decorations and food – and slowly worked our way around the periphery markets.

Visit the Munich Christmarkets

Munich Christmas Cookies

Christmas time in the Munich markets

peacocks in Munich

 

Eating brats in Munich

Christmas Time in Europe

Christmas markets and ornaments

How delicious is Gluhwein!

In the end, my money went not to whimsical dolls or ornaments for my fake Christmas tree, but to food and drink to keep me warm! I’d see more markets in Passau, Vienna and Salzburg on that trip, but Munich’s is more magical – even for a Scrooge like me!

Interested in reading more about Munich? Check out my posts on Oktoberfest, on my thoughts on Neuschwanstein and the surprising village of Passau.

Have you ever been to Munich or any Christmas markets?

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