A day on the town.

May 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

My aunt and I spent the day out on the town.  We went into the city with the objective of buying a couple of necessities, mailing some postcards, and checking out the local market.  We ended up spending the whole day wandering in and out of boutiques and clothing stores, window shopping, and hunting for scarves.  When we got to the city, we found parking in an underground garage in the center of the city.  One thing that I’ve noticed while I’ve been here is that parking spaces are really very tiny in comparison to what we typically have in the US.  Cars also tend to be smaller, although there are a few people who still insist on driving big monster SUVs and so on; it’s much less common, however, and even more of a statement because of it.  A far greater percentage of cars than in the US have scratches along their sides near the wheel wells; I’m quite certain that this is because they must squeeze into these minuscule parking spaces all the time.  I’m sure that I’d crumple a fender and/or trade paint with another vehicle within about 20 seconds of getting behind the wheel.  Additionally, the streets are all much, much narrower than I’m accustomed to (for city streets anyway, not little dirt roads in the boonies).  There are times when I’m quite certain two cars can’t possibly pass each other, and I think the only way they succeed is through magic or a warp in the space-time continuum.  I am repeatedly and increasingly glad I don’t have to drive while I’m here.  Many of the streets are impressively steep as well, and my aunt and uncle both drive standard transmission vehicles.  Their ability not to roll backward for miles every time they stop and start is really remarkable to me, as I used to go an out-of-the-way back route into town to avoid the one possible hill stop that I might have to make… and we’re talking in a little town in northern New Hampshire, not in a city.  My aunt has mentioned that driving and parking in the states is luxurious and very easy.  She’s completely right.

We stopped first at the post office, where I discovered that I had forgotten to address one of the postcards.  Duh?  Oh well.  I mailed the others and bought a stamp for that one so I can mail it later.  Then we wandered into the local market, where I should have taken pictures but didn’t (and perhaps it would have been obnoxious for the American tourist to be snapping photos of everyone who was just trying to buy some groceries, no?).  There were a number of butcher stalls with various sausages hanging from the ceiling and any number of cuts of meat in cases.  There were also a few fish stalls with their wares laid out on ice staring glassily at me with their mouths wide in an eternal expression of shock and violation.  Food chain, fishies, food chain… but it is a pretty undignified way to spend your postmortem days, and for that I’m sorry.  That’s why I’m a fan of cremation, but really that’s a subject for another time.

The market also included a number of wonderful produce booths, bakery stalls, and dairy purveyors, all much more appealing than those mentioned above… and really, the smell of cheeses and freshly baked breads and pastries is far more appetizing than the salty smell of raw fish, I’m sure you’ll agree.  We bought a loaf of bread that I was told is wonderful; I believe it’s made up in the mountains and the seller only gets in on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so we timed it perfectly (there were only two loaves left).  I’ve had my fair share of delicious, homemade, crusty bread since I’ve been here, but I was happy to try another.  I had some with dinner: exquisite, a blend of rye and wheat.  Bread, one of the simplest and most basic elements of civilization, is really quite delightful when done well.

Mmmmmmmmm

We then bought a couple of things a supermarket and began wandering around looking into shops.  I had expressed an interest in finding myself a scarf as a souvenir, so we were hunting for pretty scarves.  We found many, many beautiful scarves over the course of the early afternoon, although not much that I was particularly interested in.  Eventually, we wandered our way into Cimadevilla again and had lunch at a little restaurant that I remember seeing last time we were in that neighborhood.  We had another meal involving typical Asturian dishes (I see no fault in doing this repeatedly while here – although Boston has lots of cuisines to offer, Asturian food is not among them!), beginning with mussels in wine sauce (just like the clams we had a few days ago and similar to the mussels in sidra sauce that we had recently, too).

Mussels in wine sauce.

Next I tried a dish of beans with clams.  The beans, fabes, are traditionally used to make fabada, which is a dish in which the beans are cooked with various bits of meat (usually different varieties of pork and maybe a bit of chicken).  This dish is a very traditional, very old dish of the region intended to feed lots of people with few ingredients.  It was common for most families to raise one pig each year and live off the meat from that pig all year round until the next one was slaughtered.  For this reason, traditional fabada was made with just a small piece of chorizo, ham, bacon, etc. (one piece each, usually), and maybe a piece of chicken.  The fabes were cooked with the little bits of meat to give them flavor, and the pieces of meat were divided among the diners.  Today, people are much more generous with meat, and they’ll make a batch of fabada with a whole pile of meat involved, but the idea behind the dish is the same.  What I ate today (fabes con almejas) is not the traditional version, but it gave me some idea of what it might be like.

What remained of my fabes con almejas. Evidence that I don't just photograph the food... I eat it, too.

After the fabes, I had a plate of various kinds of fish.  Have you gathered that I enjoy seafood?  No, really, I can’t stand the stuff.  This was followed by another version of arroz con leche, this time without the layer of sugar on top.  It’s delicious this way, too, just in case you were worried.

Arroz con leche, this time without the sugar on top.

I feel it somewhat necessary to explain that while we eat pretty extravagant and big meals for lunch, our typical dinner is a pile of steamed veggies and breakfast is fruit and maybe a handful of nuts… so, don’t judge too harshly. :)

After lunch, we continued to shop, hitting nearly all of the stores that sell women’s clothing and the shops with accessories and trinkets.  Just as we were preparing to head back to the car completely scarf-less, my aunt spotted one last shop with a number of pretty scarves in the window.  I went inside and took a look around, and there were dozens of scarves I liked.  They lacked price tags, however, so I was a bit wary to pick one out (especially because we’d just been in a store with €30 scarves, which is roughly $43).  As it turned out, they were the genius price of  €2,50.  Obviously I bought two.

My new scarves! Now, to wear them...

This evening has been fun, as I got to video chat with my mom, sister, nephew, and niece for the first time since I’ve been on this trip.  It was great to see those adorable kids, and it was also fun to get to talk to everyone.  Skyping is pretty awkward, though, because a) I find seeing myself distracting and b) the lag time makes conversation very halting.  Still, it’s very cool to be able to see people in real time we are on different continents. :)  All in all, a great day!

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