Hail, Hail The Gang’s All Here!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Yesterday we celebrated an early Thanksgiving due to the fact that on Wednesday we had to Granada for the Hocus Pocus Festival. Since we will not return until after Thanksgiving, before seemed a better option than after. There were fourteen of us around the table and they represented friendships that began anywhere from twenty years ago to two years ago. There were several other invitees who were unable to attend because Saturday was a workday for them.

The meal had all the traditional ingredients and there were a number of things to munch on before we got down to the real business of the day. We enjoyed chopped liver, mixed nuts, olives, and pickles, as well as ajo arriero, a dish made from potatoes and salt cod. There was a cranberry cocktail with a Prosecco base, as well as beer and wine. The meal ended with two homemade pies – pumpkin and pecan – thanks to the talents of Brian Oberle and a round of after dinner liqueurs. So who all was around the table beside Susan and myself?

Going counter-clockwise we start with Emma, Juanjo and Vilma. We met Vilma some five years ago when she was waitressing at a restaurant called El Molinón. Originally from Honduras Vilma had been living here in Valencia for a number of years. She wanted to learn English, so Susan offered her services. A friendship blossomed from those linguistic exchanges. Juanjo came upon the scene a bit later and the two were married in Honduras and celebrated here a month later with an outstanding celebration. Recently Juanjo has realized his lifelong ambition to become a pilot and now works for a firm that specialized in private flights for executives. Emma, the latest addition, turns one year old on December 20.

Next to Vilma is Paquita, Pepe’s mother, who lives in Pedreguer, a small town located in the province of Alicante. We have spent Christmas day with her and her family for the last five years. She prepares a traditional cocido and after that filling meal all the men gather around the TV and enjoy a siesta.

By now, you all must know Pepe. We met almost twenty years ago via an e-mail exchange. Magic was the link. Pepe at the time was very much involved in mentalism and had published a number of articles in very important publications. Our first project that was, in essence, an English translation of one of his effects was published in Genii magazine. I made my first trip to Pedreguer some nineteen summers ago when I was the guest of honor at a weekend session of La Cuchara Mágica. Pepe keeps himself quite busy these days between work, fun and an online Masters Degree that he is working on.

Next to Pepe are Carol and Joana, but you will have to look carefully to see Joana who is mostly blocked by the flowers. Carol is Jordi’s wife. Jordi is missing from the photo because he came late. We met Jordi in 2009 when he gave a class on various rice dishes at the nearby Food and Fun. The following Monday we visited with him at Seu Xerea, where he was working at the time. It was our first experience with cocido, and a memorable one at that. Jordi then went on to his own restaurant, Carosel, where we enjoyed many a fine meal. Carol frequently helped Jordi out at the restaurant and that is how we came to know her. Joana was born some five years ago. I am sure you have seen many photos of Joana and me. Recently they moved to the countryside where they bought a house and Carol, among other things, keeps busy overseeing the education of her daughter.

Next come Miguel and Mari Paz, two of our newer friends. They are Juanjo’s parents and we met them at a surprise party for Vilma a couple of years ago. Miguel is a barber and Mari Paz is a publisher and they are very active in the Falla Plaza Jesus. They were the ones who invited us to become falleros de honor for the 2014 Fallas. It was their first visit to our place and we were pleased to finally have an opportunity to reciprocate for all their kindnesses.

Next to Mari Paz are Klaus and Zahava. Susan met Zahava at High Holiday Services here in Valencia in 2009. Zahava is a practicing homeopath and Klaus is heavily involved in homeopathic research. She and Susan frequently get together for coffee or movies and Zahava has frequently invited us to celebrate Jewish holidays with them.

Brian is next to Zahava. We met Brian at Food and Fun the day that Jordi did his workshop. Brian is currently overseeing the US Consular Agency here in Valencia after having spent many years in the Foreign Service. His wife, Ofelia, is an artist, and unfortunately was a bit under the weather yesterday. The four of us frequently get together dining at home or at a variety of restaurants. Brian and Ofelia have a daughter, Olivia, who currently lives and works in Berlin.

The festivities began at 2:30 and ended close to 7:00. Susan did an amazing job putting everything together and all the elements of our Thanksgiving were absolutely spectacular!

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50 AND COUNTING

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A week has past since Susan and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We decided to do something special and that involved returning to the city and the restaurant where we celebrated our 25th.

In making our plans we discovered that getting to San Sebastian was going to be a difficult task. Connections from Valencia either through Madrid or Barcelona via rail were a bit complicated. Airfares were obscenely expensive. Putting our thinking caps on we came up with a solution that, in the end, worked out well.

Thursday at 10:30 we boarded a train bound for Barcelona. When we arrived we took a cab to the Ayre Gran Vía Hotel and checked in. Since we had a 3:00 PM reservation at a nearby restaurant we left our bags with the front desk and had a taxi take us to a fusion restaurant called Pacífico y Sur that combines Peruvian cuisine with Asian influences. It was one of ten restaurants featured in an article that appeared in the newspaper ABC.

The space itself is rather spare with very few wall decorations. It is in an older building as evidenced by a toiler that has the flush tank suspended from above. The quality of the food and its presentation is in stark contrast to the plainness of the restaurant. The restaurant is owned by Paco Toledo who is originally from Chile, but has lived in Spain for a number of years.

We had our choice of the menu of the day or a tasting menu and we opted for the 20 Euro tasting menu. We started with a croqueta, that was followed by a causa Nikkei (a base of cold mashed potatoes with a center well filled with raw tuna and avocado), ensalada de escabeche Nikkei (a lettuce salad with small pieces of pickled fish), ceviche, a Japanese style beef and noodle dish and a small wedge of lemon pie for dessert. We opted to have coffee elsewhere and left very satisfied with our new discovery.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Barcelona’s bullfighting ring that has been converted into a mall. It has four different levels and includes a multiplex cinema, the usual suspects that one finds at a mall and a number of restaurants. Architecturally it is quite interesting, but since I am not a great fan of malls I just enjoyed the architecture.

When we returned to the hotel we rested for a while and in the early evening we went for a walk. Along the way we stopped for a tapa or two and were back at the hotel by 9:30. Since we needed to get up early the next day to catch the 7:30 train to San Sebastián we made an early night of it.

On Friday we arrived at the train station in time to have a quick cup of coffee. We boarded the train and five and a half hours later we arrived. There were no taxis outside the station and we had to wait a good twenty minutes before we got one. It took some fifteen minutes to get to our hotel, the Codina, and after finishing the details of registration we headed up to our room.

As part of our planning for this weekend I had written the hotel far in advance and had asked them for the best room in the house. I was not disappointed when I walked into the room. We were on the top floor in a triangular shaped room that had a raised sitting area and an enormous terrace that offered vistas of both the mountains and the sea. There were floor to ceiling windows and that made the room light and airy. Anniversary weekend was off to a good start.

That evening we caught up with two friends from Valencia who are now living in San Sebastián and will be opening their new restaurant in some four to six weeks. Arif and Alex were the former owners of Basílico in Valencia and were two of the pioneer restaurateurs in the Ruzafa neighborhood. They took us to one of their favorite bars where we found an outdoor table. We ate, drank and chatted for a good three hours and rather than walk back to the hotel we flagged down a cab.

We slept in on Saturday and after a light breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to get showered and dressed for our anniversary meal. The forecast was for rain, however it was only overcast when we headed out. As many of you know we had celebrated our 25th anniversary at Akelare and had an unforgettable dinner replete with wine and champagne. In the intervening 25 years it has become a three star Michelin restaurant and it features tasting menus.

A reservation at Akelare in August is almost impossible unless you have reserved in advance. We had and, as expected, the restaurant was full. Susan and I chose different tasting menus. There is a scan of the menus among the pictures. In honor of our celebration we ordered a bottle of a 2005 Remelluri Gran Reserva. We finished of our meal with champagne and chocolate. We spent a memorable four hours at the restaurant and before we left we had a chance to chat with the owner chef, Pedro Subijana.

The rain held off until 10:00 that night at which time all hell broke loose. It was a spectacular storm with thunder and lightning and from out vantage point in the hotel we got to witness the storm close-up and personal. We went to bed a little after midnight hoping that the weather forecast for morning rain would be wrong. It was.

Sunday was a brilliantly sunny day with temperatures in the low 80’s. We decided to walk the length of the beach and that took a good half hour. We stopped off at one of the bars in the old part of town and enjoyed a number of tapas. That turned out to be our lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking leisurely back to the hotel.

In the evening we visited Bar Pepe that was a short distance from the hotel. We had a few tapas and a glass of wine or two. We then returned to the hotel to pack our bags and to get ready for another early morning with a 7:30 train.

The train ride from San Sebastián to Barcelona was close to six hours and after a quick lunch we boarded the 3:00 PM train to Valencia. We unpacked and collapsed having enjoyed a spectacular 50th anniversary four-day weekend.

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Andalusian Travels

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

We made it back home last night around 9:00 after a seven-day road trip to the south of Spain. We divided our time evenly between Seville and Granada and in the process did some touristy activities, caught up with old friends and attended a couple of concerts. The average temperature for those seven days was 104 degrees and I, who has a tendency to sweat when it is merely warm, constantly felt like I had taken a shower with my clothes on.

It is not easy to get to Granada from Valencia. There is one direct train a day and it leaves late at night and gets to Granada at 6:00 AM. It is a sleeper train and if you can sleep in a smallish couchette all the more power to you. The alternative is to find a cheap flight to either Malaga or Seville and to continue on from there. Wednesday afternoon we flew to Seville and from the airport we made our way to the NH Plaza de Armas Hotel that, according to descriptions, was close to all major tourist attractions.

The hotel was a plain vanilla hotel that was comfortable and quiet. It was a good fifteen-minute walk away from the Cathedral and the Giralda and normally that wouldn’t be an issue. However in 104-degree weather it is. We unpacked and then went in search of lunch. We ate at a restaurant called El Cairo and had an enjoyable meal. I thought it was rather expensive for what it was and I find prices, in general, to be higher in Seville in comparison with other cities it size. Seville is a tourist destination and I think that probable explains its higher prices.

On Thursday we caught up with ex-colleagues Andrew Handelsman and Melanie Boswell Handelsman. I taught Melanie my first year at Westridge. She was a 7th grader back then and our paths have always crossed since then. Andrew taught Spanish at Westridge for a number of years before heading off to Woodberry Forest twelve years ago. He is the director of the Woodberry in Spain program and the group was half way through their Seville experience.

We ate at a Moroccan restaurant called Al Medina. While we worked our way through an excellent meal we caught up with the goings on in our respective lives. Andrew and Melanie invited us to join them later that evening on the rooftop terrace of their hotel, the Doña María. We split up around 5:00 and at 10:00 we joined them on the terrace.

The Giralda is so close to the hotel that you feel that you could reach out and touch it. Susan took a number of photos and we then sat down for a round of drinks and some more conversation. I normally catch up with Andrew and his kids in Valencia. For the past few years we have arranged a dinner and magic show for him and his kids. They reach Valencia the 8th and that is the very same day when we head back to the States. As fate would have it, we managed to connect in Seville. Around midnight we headed back to our hotel, having agreed to meet for lunch the next day.

Susan and I visited La Casa de las Indias on Thursday morning. It houses all the original documents related to the discovery and the conquest of the New World. We received a guided tour of the current exposition and learned quite a bit about the life and times of one Antonio Ulloa. It was a morning well spent. Around 1:30 we took a cab and had it leave us on the doorstep of a very popular restaurant called Eslava.

When we arrived we discovered that all the outdoor tables and the indoor tables were filled and the bar area was jam-packed. We put our name on the waiting list for a table and found an empty corner of the bar. We had a drink while we waited for Andrew and Melanie to arrive.

We tried a variety of tapas many of which are unique to this space. One of them is called el cigarro para Bécquer and the other dish was a plate of honey coated pork spare ribs. It is a dish that took third place in a nationwide tapas contest a few years ago and is one of the seven finalists in a rib competition that is being held in Asia.

We made our way back to the hotel after lunch and basically vegged out for the rest of the day. We did mange to get out for a while and have some ice cream and when we returned we packed our bags in preparation for our Saturday trip to Granada.

The train trip to Granada is currently complicated by the fact that they are working on the tracks between Antequera and Granada getting them ready for the fast train, the AVE. They are supposed to finish by the end of the December. That means that in 2016 it will be easier to get to Granada from Valencia. For the moment it means that the train takes you as far as Antequera. You then got off the train and get on the bus that takes you to the Granada train station. The trip lasts about an hour and a quarter and the scenery along the way is quite pleasant. From the train station it was a short trip to our hotel, the Vincci Albaycín.

Since it was a little bit after 3:30 we looked for a place where we could have some tapas and call that lunch. We found a spot near the hotel called Platos and we had a little bit of this and that. We left filled, but secure in the knowledge that it was not worth a return visit. When we returned to the hotel we unpacked and rested up a bit for our evening excursion.

Granada has hosted an international festival of music and dance for 64 years. Most of the events take place on the grounds of the Alhambra. There is a theater located in the lower gardens of the Genralife that accommodates larger audiences and the patio of the Palacio de Carlos V is also a performance space. Here is a link that will help you visualize the space http://granadafestival.org/fileadmin/360/generalife/flash/visita%20virtual_GENERALIFE.html

Saturday night we saw the National Ballet of Norway in their performance of the ballet version of Carmen. They debuted the ballet in March of 2015 and this was its second performance. It was a privilege to be seated in such a historical space watching a moving performance on a stage that was surrounded by trees that dated back centuries. The performance began at 10:30 and ended a little after 1:00. Getting back to the hotel was a challenge. Taxis were few and far between. One would think that there would be an abundance of taxis at the end of the event knowing that hundreds of people needed transportation. We did finally manage to get one, but it was a little after 2:00 when we returned to the hotel.

We did some sightseeing Sunday morning and had a rather noisy lunch at Restaurante Carmela. The food was excellent, but since it is a rather small space the noise level was close to unbearable and with all the waiters scurrying past to deliver the food it was difficult to focus on the food. We had eaten there before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but it was in November and it was not the height of the tourist season.

Sunday night we had the pleasure of seeing Vicente Amigo, a flamenco guitarist, in concert in the patio of the Palacio de Carlos V. Rather than pure flamenco, I would say that he is clearly part of the flamenco fusion movement. In addition to himself, his group consisted of a percussionist, a bass player, a singer and another guitar player. The group played for two hours without a break. They also played two encores, much to the delight of the audience. Getting back to the hotel we experienced the same problem as Saturday night.

Drained from the heat we decided that Monday we would take things easy. We found a nearby Galician restaurant for lunch and were satisfied with a bowl of salmorejo, a heartier version of gazpacho and a seafood platter featuring octopus, mussels, and clams.

At 4:00 we caught up with an old friend of mine, Amador Javier García Piñeiro. We met sometime in the 90’s in Madrid, but neither of us can remember the exact date. I think we first made contact via e-mail and then we caught up with each other in Madrid. He now lives in Valencia and in addition to his work with computers he is a co-founder of a non-profit that is building schools in Ghana and Uganda. He needed to be at work at 5:00, but we had a good long chat about a variety of things.

The impetus for visiting Granada was the fact that a good friend and fellow magician, Miguel Puga, was going to debut a new work entitled El Brujo Amor which is a rewording of Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo. The title is appropriate since it is a tour of de Falla’s life using music and magic. There are seven projection screens used in the telling of the story and six musicians interpret the score. While rehearsing earlier in June, Miguel suffered a fracture to his right leg and as a result had to cancel all his appearances for two months. Since there was no performance Monday night we thought this would be the perfect time to visit with Miguel and Ana and at 8:15 that evening we rang their bell.

We spent a little more than four hours together talking about his new production and magic in general. We had a lengthy discussion about magic as an art form. It was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. We were back at the hotel at 12:30 and we did a little packing in preparation for our return to Valencia.

It took a bus, a train a plane and three taxis to get us back home. We left the hotel at 10:30 and we were back in our house at 9:00 PM. It is Thursday as I write this section and Susan’s brother, Saul, and family will arrive at 7:00 tonight to spend four days with us before they head south. Next Wednesday we board a plane for the States to help my niece celebrate her 50th birthday.

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Where You Going? Barcelona!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ALL PHOTOS COPYRIGHT SUSAN V KAPLAN 2014

Last Thursday at this time we were boarding a train for Barcelona to spend a few days there. In spite of the fact that we returned Sunday, we managed to accomplish all that we had set out to do.

The main objective was to afford Susan the opportunity to update her photos of the Sagrada Familia. It is a project that she began in 1974 and has continued to the present day. 1974 was the date of our first visit to Spain and way back then there was no intention of there being a photo project. However, repeated visits to Barcelona turned it into a project.

We reached our hotel, the Ayre Caspe, a little before 3:00. After unpacking we went in search of a Chinese restaurant that is highly recommended by Trip Advisor. It is called Chen Ji and was a quick ten-minute walk from the hotel. The restaurant itself is rather non-descript. The décor is minimal and the tables and chairs serve their intended purpose.

The menu is rather extensive and we chose four items from the menu – bao, steamed dumplings, hot and sour soup, and a shrimp dish. When our dishes arrived we were surprised by the quantity of bao and dumplings that covered their respective plate. There was a dozen of each. Both dishes were very tasty and, I am pleased to say, authentic in taste. Finding a Chinese restaurant in Valencia is a herculean effort because most of the restaurants tend to dumb down their food to appeal to the Spanish palate. The Spanish palate does not tolerate spicy very well.

The hot and sour soup needed the addition of a little vinegar and the shrimp dish was quite good. The only surprise and disappointment was the white rice, which was rather soggy and clumpy. Our lunch cost less than 20 Euros and that included a beer and a bottle of water.

Thursday evening we walked to the Sagrada Familia from our hotel hoping that they were illuminating the building at night. That turned out not to be the case. Susan, however, was able to get a few night shots and we were happy to discover that the chapel was open and there was a mass going on. After the shoot, we headed back to the hotel for a nightcap.

Susan was at the entrance of the Sagrada Familia at 9:00 with the entrance we had purchased on line in hand. She shot interiors and took the elevator up to one of the towers for some interiors and exteriors. I caught up with her at 11:30 and we headed over to Calle Córcega to catch up with two friends from Valencia, Vik and Carlos.

Vik was a waitress at Carosel for several years. Carlos cooked at a number of places that we frequent here in Valencia. He worked at Seu-Xerea, Carosel and La Comisaría to name a few. He and Vik moved to Valencia when he was offered a contract at Granados 83. Granados 83 is a hotel that belongs to the Derby Chain and features a restaurant with the same name. Vik was finishing up a one-year contract at the Barceló Hotel that is located on the beach. She was tending bar there.

We had a lovely visit and as we left we told Vik that we would visit her at her hotel that night in hopes of taking some roof shots of the city at night. We told Carlos that we would see him tomorrow at his restaurant where we were going to have lunch.

The nighttime shots of Barcelona did not materialize. We had hoped that Vik would be able to find an empty room on the top floor that would afford Susan the opportunity to take some pictures. That was not to happen. We had a drink at the bar and then we headed back home.

Saturday morning saw Susan in line at the Sagrada Familia at 9:00 to take a few more interior shots and to explore the second tower. When she returned to the hotel we headed to the old quarter of Barcelona with the intent of visiting the oldest magic store in Barcelona, El Rey de la Magia. We found the shop rather easily. It gets a lot of tourist traffic and, in this day and age, that determines the type of product that it carries. I was looking for a couple of things, neither of which they had. The owner explained to me that these days their focus was on the theater that own and operate. The theater features local and visiting magicians.

At 2:30 we met up with Jaime Monfort who is studying at a circus school in Barcelona. The restaurant has a lovely outdoor terrace and Carlos had reserved a table for us. No sooner had we sat down than he emerged from the kitchen to greet us and to help us decide what to have for lunch. Our menu consisted of cod croquets, gourmet Iberian ham and cheese, a salad and a wild mushroom dish. Jaime and Susan ordered the fish of the day, which was corvine and I opted for the tuna tataki. Of course dessert was a necessity and it was outstanding. We took our coffee on the roof terrace and thoroughly sated we left the restaurant around 5:00.

That evening we attended a guitar concert at the Palau de Música, an Art Nouveau building that is a favorite of visitors to Barcelona. We heard a very engaging concert performed by the Barcelona Guitar Trio. There were works by Piazolla, Albéniz, de Falla and Chick Corea. We ended our evening at the hotel bar and afterwards we packed our bags in preparation for an early morning departure having accomplished our mission.

 

 Torre 2014 Stained Glass 2014 Stained Glass 2014 -2 Stained Glass - 2014 Nacimiento 2014 Nacimiento 1982 Men at work 2009 Men at work 2009 -2 Interior window 2014 Interior window 2009 Interior 2014 Interior 2014 -3 Interior 1974 Interior 1974 -2 Gaudi Face 2014 Exterior 2014 Exterior 2014-3 Exterior 2014 -2 Exterior 2009 exterior 1974 Cross - Fachada del Nacimiento - 2014 Cristo 2014 Column of Light 2014 City View from Nacimiento - 2014 Black figure - 2014 Altar 2014 Altar 1974

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Where Have You Been Marty Boy, Marty Boy?

Sunday. September 14, 2014

The heat is still making its presence known here in Valencia. Temperatures are staying in the high 90’s with an occasional foray into three-digit territory. The humidity has been high and that makes it a special treat for those of us who tend to sweat excessively in those climatic conditions. The good news is that there is no lack of people who call to your attention the fact that you are sweating profusely. As if the puddles at my feet weren’t notice enough.

For the most part summer has been uneventful. We did make it to Cáceres in June for the Spanish National Magic Convention and we managed to sneak in a visit to Mérida and Trujillo. The convention was enjoyable, as was the city itself. Unfortunately all the ups and downs occasioned by stairs and hilly cities did in my right knee. I am still in the recovery stage and that has limited my daily activities. The heat is certainly not conducive to long walks and I manage to get to those places where I either want to or need to be. The doctor says another month of not overdoing physical activity should return things to normal. The good news is that I have made great progress since the original diagnosis.

On a sad note, my friend in magic, Jerito, passed away in late August. He was 94 years old and one of the founding fathers of magic here in Valencia. He was a professor of economics by profession, but he also dedicated a great deal of his time and effort to performing and writing about magic. A group of us would meet at his house every Thursday to talk about tricks and magic history. The group will continue to meet and so his memory will continue to be part of our lives.

As some of you already know, Rachel moved from Boulder to Seattle almost a month ago. She found herself a small apartment that is close to the University of Washington. The neighborhood is ideal for her with lots of shops and cafes within easy walking distance. Susan joined her on August 27 to help her with the unpacking process. After ten days Susan headed to San Francisco to spend some time with her brothers and arrived back in Valencia on September 10.

I took advantage of my two weeks of bachelorhood to finish up my proofreading of a magic book by Miguel Gómez that is being prepared for publication this fall. I also had an opportunity to work on some of my effects and to do a performance at the local Ronald McDonald House with my partner in crime, Juan Gurrea.

With the arrival of September the pace of the city has returned to its normal state. Monday night I attended a meeting of the CIVAC where eight candidates audition for membership in the organization and all were successful. The level of magic of the candidates was most impressive.

We had a lovely lunch on Friday in the company of Yuen and Jim Butler. Jim is a professor at the University of Kansas and spent a few months here recently as a guest lecturer at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia. He and Yuen are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a mini-tour of Europe. Carosel seemed like the best place to get together and, as usual, we had a spectacular meal.

Yesterday was the first concert of the season of Los Amigos de la Guitarra. The artist was Kokichi Akasaka and, to be honest, this was not one of our favorite concerts. The music last night seemed to lack soul. Maybe it was the heat or maybe it was jet lag. I guess we will never know.

There was a vacant seat next to Susan and it was occupied by a woman named Linda. She did mention her last name, but that seems to have gone with the wind. Linda is currently visiting Europe and having sent some time in Madrid is here in Valencia until November. She currently lives in St Kitts, but is thinking of moving in the near future.

After the concert we ended up at Macellum http://restaurantemacellum.com/ and we opted for a selection of shared appetizers. We were supposed to get 5 and dessert, but somehow we ended up with 7 and dessert. The appetizers ranged from the traditional to the exotic and all were delightful.

At the moment there is nothing on today’s agenda, but life here is always filled with surprises. I imagine we will give some thought to packing for Vitoria.

 

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Cáceres

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

 

We are back in Valencia after a six-day stay in Extremadura. We were in Cáceres for four of those days attending the Spanish National Magic Convention and after the event we spent two more days doing some sightseeing in the towns of Trujillo and Mérida. It was our first visit to this part of Spain and we were glad on many counts to have spent almost a week there.

We started our journey of Wednesday, June 18th. The easy part of the trip was the Valencia – Madrid link on the AVE. It took us less than ninety minutes to reach the Atocha Station. From there we took a cab to the Chamartín Station where we boarded the Intercity train that would take us to Cáceres. Unfortunately, when I made the reservations I did not notice that the first stop on this train was the Atocha Station. Lesson learned. The trip lasted four hours and by the time we got to the hotel it was a little after 8:00. We unpacked and then went in search of a bite to eat. We discovered a tapería across the street from the hotel and we headed there.

As we approached we spotted an old friend of ours, MagoMigue, at a table with a number of friends of his. They invited us to join them and we did. We shared a number of plates, all of which were delicious. Another old friend of ours, Ramón Ríos, joined us towards the end of the meal. It was good to catch up with old friends.

The convention started on Thursday with a couple of lectures in the morning that dealt with close-up card magic. We opted to make our way to the Palacio de Congresos where most of the other events were to take place and to pick up our credentials. We saw a number of old friends and then decided to walk to the site where the lectures were being held. A few blocks away we stopped at a bar called Al Andalus and sat down for some liquid refreshment. We discovered that this bar takes the idea of a free tapa with your drink to the extreme. Shortly after our drinks were delivered we were presented with an enormous plate filled with French fries and steak tips. Our bill came to 4 Euros. We then understood why this place was so popular with the locals and the visiting magicians.

Feeling energized and well nourished we made our way to the Complejo Cultural San Francisco where the lectures were taking place. In spite of being told that it was close by the Palacio it wasn’t and that was one of the reasons that we walked closed to 8 miles on that day. The lectures were just about over and so we decided to take a look at the historic building that had been turned into a cultural complex. The building was originally a monastery and the architecture was fascinating. It was also our first opportunity to see many of the stork nests that abound in Extremadura.

We took a cab back to the Palacio so that we could join our friends, Ramón and Carlos for lunch. We ended up at Al Andalus again and lunch was a series of free tapas and the one dish we actually ordered. After lunch we decided to head back to the hotel to rest up a bit before the evening’s gala began.

Our hotel was the Hotel Extremadura, a four star hotel that was about a fifteen minute walk away from the epicenter of magical activity. Our 75 Euro per day hotel room included a very generous breakfast buffet. The hotel itself is a bit tired and monochromatic with excessive amounts of wood paneling. That being said, the beds were comfortable, the AC worked and the shower provided copious amounts of hot water. The hotel’s personnel were all very attentive.

We left the hotel in time to walk to the Palacio for the first evening gala that began at 10:00. It featured a duo born in Spain who currently live in Belgium. Doble Mandoble has won a number of awards for comedy magic and comedy magic was indeed part of their 90-minute presentation. There were many elements of acrobatics and mime in their act. A rubber chicken had a prominent part in the show and was used as a running gag. I could have done with less chicken and more magic. After the show we had a light snack with our friends, Carmen and Antonio, and we did some magic for the staff and that was greatly appreciated.

Friday morning we decided to visit the casco antiguo of Cáceres. We made our way to the Plaza Mayor and did a bit of exploration. We had a charming lunch at an asador in the plaza and when we finished we made our way to the Palacio for the second half of the stage magic competition. As is true with most competitions the quality of magic that we saw was quite variable. We were there to see on of Valencia’s magicians, G Alexander, compete. He has a new manipulation act and, to be perfectly honest, it knocked my socks off. Unfortunately the judges did not agree with me and although he was awarded third place I think he deserved a better fate.

The gala Friday night was dedicated to close-up magic and there was a large projection screen in place so that all of us who were seated in the theater could have a close-up view of the proceedings. The magic was outstanding, but the format left something to desire. Close-up magic, as its name implies, is meant to be done close up. No matter how close the camera comes, it is the camera that is close up and not the spectator. Nonetheless, we saw some incredible card magic performed by Miguel Ajo, José Que Soy Yo, Miguel Gómez and Dani DaOrtiz. There was a show and lecture by Juan Tamariz at midnight, but to be perfectly honest, although my spirit wanted to be present my body had other thoughts. I gave into my body’s demands and went back to the hotel and went to bed.

On Saturday we made it to the Palacio in time for Jeff McBride’s lecture. Jeff has been an important part of magic for the last 30 years. I have seen him perform a number of times in a number of different venues and he always entertains his audience. He has his own club in Las Vegas called the Wunderground and he frequently invites other magicians to perform there. His lecture was quite informative and I learned a number of valuable things from his presentation.

We had a lovely lunch at Eustaquio Blanco and then made our way back to the Palacio to see a presentation by our good friend, Juan Gurrea. Juan is an award-winning magician who has appeared in every venue where magic can be presented, including the circus. He received a standing ovation from his audience and, as always, it was well deserved.

Before we knew it, it was time for the evening gala. It featured Amelie who did an acrobatic act. It seemed out of place and perhaps would have been more enjoyable had it been placed between the magic of Yunque and Jeff McBride. Yunque had just returned from a two-month tour of Chine and he is probably the magician with the highest energy level I have ever seen. He manufactures his own magic and his ideas are amazing. Jeff McBride closed the show and he killed. There was some of everything in his presentation and he received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.

After the gala we all enjoyed a non-stop parade of appetizers and drinks that were the preamble to the dinner. There was an abundance of jamón ibérico, chorizo, salchichón, cheeses, and foie. I think we were almost sated when we made our way upstairs for the remainder of the dinner. The Spaniards at our table were able to finish everything that was set before us. Susan and I were only able to finish half of the main course. The dinner was followed by the award ceremony and by the time that ceremony ended it was 2:30 in the morning.

We slept in Sunday morning and then made our way to the bus station for a forty-five minute ride to the town of Trujillo, the home of Francisco Pizarro. Like many small towns in Spain the Plaza Mayor is the hub of activity and that is indeed the case for Trujillo. A number of Trujillo’s children had had their first communion that Sunday and there were celebratory groups at the many restaurants the bordered the plaza. We sat down at one of the terraces and had a drink and then proceeded to board the little tourist train that took us up the hill to the castle that dominates the town. We made our way down on foot and got to appreciate several other historical features of the town.

Monday we were at the train station in time for the 12:15 train to Mérida. Mérida was where Roman legionnaires went to retire and it abounds with remains of the Roman occupation. The jewel in the crown is the Roman amphitheater that accommodated 16,000 spectators. Next to it is the theater that hosts a summer drama festival. After visiting the complex we hopped on yet another tourist train to get an idea of the other treasures that Mérida housed including the remnants of an aqueduct. Lunch followed our train trip.

After lunch we headed down the hill and saw the Temple of Diana and several other Roman ruins. Susan observed correctly that rather than being confined to just one area of the city the vestiges of Rome are found throughout the city. We caught the 6:00 o’clock train back to Cáceres. We had a light supper and then went back to our room to pack our bags.

Our Tuesday train trip was uneventful. We got off the train at Atocha and it was a mere five-minute walk to the area where the AVE trains depart. We had a quick bite and then boarded the train to Valencia. We were back home a little before 4:00. It certainly was an event-filled week and we are glad that we decided to attend the convention and explore a bit.

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Czech This Out!

Monday, May 26, 2014

We are back in Valencia. We arrived Saturday around 6:00. Our routing was Prague to Munich and Munich to Valencia. Both flights were uneventful and, to my surprise, Lufthansa offered free snacks, sandwiches and beverages including wine and beer. Additionally, at the gates in Munich there were a number of coffee machines that offered a variety of choices including hot chocolate. That was also a free service.

Yesterday was a very nice day weather-wise and so we decided to explore the Parque de la Cabecera that is at one end of the Turia. The Valencian zoo, Bioparc, is a bit beyond the park, but we did not get that far. The park features an artificial lake where one can rent a boat and there are a number of green spaces were groups of people were enjoying a Sunday picnic. We stopped at the cafeteria that overlooks the lake and had several tapas. We got there and back home via the metro. The park is two stops and a ten-minute walk away.

Our visit to Prague was even more than we hoped it would be. All of our friends had told us that Prague was a must visit and they were right. We were fortunate to have good weather for most of our stay. When we arrived last Monday it was raining quite energetically, but it stopped by the time we had picked up our suitcases and exited the terminal. There are two cab companies located within the airport that offer transportation to town. They are both authorized by the local government and the charge a fair price for the journey. The same companies offer a 20% discount on the return fare.

We stayed at the Sheraton that is located in Charles Square. It is a modern hotel with all the amenities that one has come to expect from Sheraton. We were upgraded to a junior suite that was located between the second and third floor. There was a second suite next door and both suited were well separated from the rooms on the second and third floors. That meant that we heard almost no noise during our stay at the hotel. All personnel in the hotel spoke English, so communication was never a problem. English is widely spoken in Prague and there were only one or two occasions, when we were lost and looking for directions that we ran into people who did not speak English.

Charles Square was a good choice because it was equidistant between the old town and the river. It took a good twenty-minute walk to get to either and it meant that we would get in good mileage during our stay. All told we logged forty-two miles during our stay. In addition to exploring the city on foot, we took a city tour in an open car. Susan and I were the only passengers and, in addition to a tour of old town we also made it to Prague Castle. We also took a forty-five minute trip on one of the many boats that ply the river. We basically toured the inner basin of the river and that was fine with us.

The food options in Prague are diverse. In additional to traditional Czech cuisine there are no lack of Italian, French and Asian restaurants. Pizza is everywhere and at one point I would have sworn that there were more Italian restaurants in Prague than in Rome. We saw one or two burrito places, but no Mexican restaurants per se. There are no Spanish restaurants, although we did discover a store that featured Spanish products. There is a Bodeguita en Medio in Prague that specializes in Cuban food. There is a branch in Puerto Vallarta, as well as the original in Havana. America is well represented in terms of numbers rather than quality of cuisine. Many of the chains are there – McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Hooters. Finding good wine is not problematic in upscale dining sites and the beer is legendary. Espresso is ever-present and that was good news especially in the morning.

Tourism was booming last week and we saw droves of people who came from all over. There were a number of Asian tour groups, and a goodly number of visitors from English speaking and Spanish speaking countries. I heard very little French in the spaces we frequented. There were a lot of college students. Old Town Square attracts multitudes that wish to see the Astronomical Clock and its tower that offers a 360-degree view of the city. The Jewish Quarter is relatively close by. There is a cluster of synagogues and museums that start with the New Old Synagogue and the other buildings are literally steps away. The Spanish Synagogue is about ten minutes away from the others and the Jerusalem Synagogue was in the opposite direction of where we were and we saved that visit for another day.

Prague’s Jewish population today numbers some seven thousand. Sixty thousand Jews died at the hands of the Nazis in concentration camps. Here is a link that will provide you with more information. http://www.kennesaw.edu/holocaustmemorials/terezin.shtml It should be noted that on the back of the ticket that admits you to the Jewish sites there are a number of icons that prohibit a number of things like pets, food, flash photography and those icons appear on the back of tickets to other tourist sites. However, there is one icon that appears only on the ticket of admission to the Jewish sites and that icon is NO GUNS. In some ways things have not changed very much.

The Charles Bridge sees thousands of tourists every day and the river way offers a number of places where one can rent a boat, take a cruise or simply dine and watch the world float by. The bridge and the river were perfect setting for photography and Susan took many daytime and nighttime shots. You will get to see some of them at the end of this post, as well as on Facebook.

The economy of Prague appears to be booming. As already noted, tourists abound. There is a great deal of construction going on both private and governmental. The public transportation system is excellent and is always crowded. There is a metro, as well as trams or streetcars, as I call them. One has to be wary of taxis because there are a number of gypsy cabs that charge exorbitant prices and you have no recourse except to pay those exorbitant prices. The good news is that there are other cabs that are regulated by the city and metered. We used AAA Taxis all of the time.

There is no lack of places to shop especially if you want a souvenir or Bavarian crystal. What impressed me were the number of bookstores including one called The Palace of Books that was two stories high and seemed to go on forever. Prague is a modern city that has everything today’s traveler might need. It is a city that will accommodate most any budget and one can spend as much or as little as he or she cares to. Prague is definitely on our return visit list, but the return visit will have to wait until we make it to some of the other cities on our list.

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