Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sunset Sunday: Views From A Roof Terrace Restaurant

My friends Sara keeping the waitress occupied while her partner and I dart about for the best views

My friends Sara keeping the waitress occupied while her partner and I dart about for the best views

I had dinner with some friends last night at Hotel Carlos V in Toledo, where they recently opened a new roof terrace.

We got there at 9.30pm just as the sun was setting, and the inevitable happened: A photo frenzy ūüôā

Carlos V Roof Terrace SunsetCarlos V Restaurant TerraceCarlos V Roof Terrace ViewCarlos V Roof Terrace Vista

The Old and The New: The Spiny Footbridge

I took these pics a couple of days from my friend Olga’s house. You can just about make out Toledo’s historic town centre in the back, then there’s a much newer part of town (Buenavista) in the middle, and the rather snazzy modern footbridge I have to cross to get to my friend’s place in the foreground.

At the end of that bridge, apart from excellent company, there’s a glorious pool waiting for me, which beats any pot of gold at this time of year ūüôā

Buena Vista Bridge

Buena Vista Bridge

La Noche Toledana: Funky Lightshow At The Mosque Of Cristo De La Luz

Last Saturday, Toledo celebrated its annual Noche Toledana (= Toledanian/Toledanean/Toledan Night, … now if someone would please put me out of my misery and tell me the correct adjective!!!). Historical buildings, museums etc, open up¬† to the general public for the night, entry is free.

Incidentally, the original Noche Toledana featured a ‘celebration’ of quite a different kind. The historical event took place in the year 797, when Toledo, although officially under the rule of the Moors like the rest of Spain, enjoyed the status of an autonomous city. It was jointly governed by the resident Visigoths, Arabs, Hispanic Romans and Jews.

Alhak√©n I, who was the (Moorish) Governor of Spain at the time, didn’t much like this state of affairs. So, he laid on a ceremony to celebrate the appointment of his newly chosen Governor of Toledo, Amr√ļ, inviting 400 guests carefully selected from Toledo’s ruling elite. During the banquet, he had their throats slit and tossed their heads into a mass grave he had ordered to be dug out earlier on.

The Spanish expression “to have/pass a noche Toledana”, which means to spend the entire night in a fraught state of sleeplessness, is still in common use today. It is certainly true that during the town’s annual Noche Toledana, nobody gets much sleep, there’s just too much great stuff to go and see ūüôā

We started our expedition at the Mezquita De Cristo De La Luz (Mosque of the Christ of the Light), two minutes from my house. It is the only mosque that remains from Toledo’s Moorish period, built in 999. It was later turned into a (Christian) church. Virtually all of Toledos’ places of worship have gone through at least one denominational change over the passing centuries.

They lit up the mosque, inside and out, in different colours, and it was all very atmospheric.

Mezquita Blue


My picture editor is missing the ‘remove potbellied man’ button

Mezquita Red

Meqzuita purple

Mezquita interiorMezquita interiorMezquita InteriorMezquita Amarillo

MezquitaMezquita NaranjaMezquita Purply PinkMezquita BlueThere will be more from La Noche Toledana soon…

The Weekly Don Quixote: Heinous Slayer of Storks!

On my recent visit to Alcal√° de Henares, aka Stork Central (see this post from a couple of days ago), I made a rather distressing discovery: Don Q is not in the least bit favourably disposed towards storks.

I present you with the blood-curdling evidence:

DonQ Stork SlayerIrrefutable, isn’t it? That poor bird is toast. I think I need my smelling salts.

A ghastly revelation this may be, but I plead with you to remember that this is the valorous Don Quixote we’re talking about. He needs our help to overcome his stork aversion disorder that blights his otherwise impeccably honourable character.

I suggest we all club together to buy him a lifetime membership for the SSA (Stork Spearers Anonymous).

[To view the complete Weekly Don Quixote series, click here.]

Rise Of The… Oliglot(!?)

A couple of days ago, I got thinking… what do you call people who are more than bilingual but who are not polyglots? (I’m basing this on the arbitrary premise that a polyglot should have a fairly good command of at least five languages.)

That'll give you something to chomp on...

That’ll give you something to chomp on…
I found him outside a shop in Madrid ūüôā

It seems to me that there’s something missing between bilingual and polyglot, a gaping chasm of linguistic ability aching for its own moniker.

Methinks “oliglot” fits the bill.

I googled both “oliglot” and “oligoglot”, and… NOTHING came up. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nix. We simply don’t exist.

The search results hop straight to “polyglot”. I am totally baffled. Nobody’s searched for this before?? I mean, you start typing in “rainbow butterfly”, and “rainbow butt monkey” pops up as the third most searched-for term?

I looked up the spelling/construct rules, and it says if the prefix “oligo-” (which is comes from the Greek word for “few”) is to be followed by a vowel, the final “o” can be omitted. Hence, we have “oligarchs”, not “oligogarchs”.

So, technically, then, it should actually be “oligoglot” and not “oliglot”. However, I think that’s waaay too much of a mouthful, and seeing as I’m pioneering the term, I can darn well apply my own rules.

And yet… I have the unsettling feeling that I’m missing something really obvious… surely, I can’t be the first person in the world to be ruminating over this?!

Any insights from the ‘proper’ linguists out there? Or from anyone else who’d care to venture an opinion??

Worth starting my own movement…?

Meet Alcal√° De Henares’s Most Famous Inhabitants

Like many of you, I grew up with stories about the Klapperstorch, which is what the White Stork is called in German. The German name, which translates as “clattering stork”, refers to the characteristic noise the bird makes with its beak during the mating season.

Now here’s an interesting factoid for you: storks are mute. The clattering sound is the only type of noise they can produce, as they don’t have a syrinx (voice box), which is what ‘normal’ birds use to trill and chirp you out of bed in the morning when you could really do with another couple of hours of shuteye. So, no annoying squawking, crowing or screeching out those stilt-legged creatures, which only adds to their serene mystique.

Apart from the beak rattling habit, storks are famous for their brightly coloured red legs, for blocking up chimneys with their armchair-sized nests, and, of course, for delivering babies. My friend Maria told me that in Spain, storks don’t just pick them up from any old place, oh no, they fly them in fresh from Paris. So, all Spaniards are, in fact, French. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

Although I’d heard a lot about storks, I’d never actually seen one in the flesh until I got to Spain. We have some in Toledo, but they are hard to find, you’ve got know where to look. Not so in Alcal√° de Henares, the town Maria and I visited earlier this week. Those winged giants are everywhere, perched on rooftops, church spires, arches, trees…¬† Alcal√° is famous for harbouring more storks than any other Spanish town, owing to its conservation work which has greatly increased the number of breeding pairs.Storks







There’s a stork vs. crane joke in there somewhere…


Storks for sale

Storks for sale in a local shop ūüôā

If any of you have any stork-related lore to tell, maybe something that’s particular to your culture/country, I’d sure love to hear it ūüôā




Pomegranates In The Making

I’ve decided that pomegranate trees are my most favourite fruit tree ever. They look alluring at any time of the year, even in the abject depths of the central Mediterranean winter, as you can see in one of my previous posts.

Here are a couple of close-up shots of pomegranate flowers and developing fruit, taken a a few days ago. They didn’t come out quite as crisp as I had hoped, but I nevertheless love that beguiling shade of scarlet red against the dark green foliage.

Pomegranate flower

Pomegranate flower and fruit

Bad Cake Karma In Alcal√° de Henares

Those of you who read my Weekly Don Quixote post a couple of days ago will know that I absconded with my friend Maria to Alcal√° de Henares earlier this week, a town located ca. 35km northeast of Madrid. Like Toledo, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not quite as scenic and arresting as Toledo or Segovia, but still fairly respectable.

Maria and I had a really good time, but one thing that will forever be etched into my memory about this visit is a rather unsatisfactory cake experience.

After a morning’s wandering about and taking photos, we treated ourselves to a tasty sushi lunch. However, as is so often the case in Asian restaurants, the dessert choices left much to be desired, and so we decided to go elsewhere for coffee and cake.

This should be easy enough… unless you’re in Spain. They do have nice cakes, but these tend to be sold in bakeries/patisseries not equipped with coffee machines or tables, and are strictly take-home only. It was no different in Alcal√°, where we’d been ogling sumptuous pastry creations in bakery windows all morning.

Eventually, we spotted a place that seemed to offer the whole package: delectable cakes and a coffee frother inside, as well as tables and chairs outside.  But, would you believe it, they were closed for lunch! (Many shops still follow traditional business hours, and this means a siesta-conducive marathon lunch break lasting from 2pm to 5pm).

Maybe, just maybe, this is not the absolute smartest strategy if you’re in the business of selling coffee and cake, but seeing as there was no suggestion box, the owners may never cotton on to the revolutionary concept of giving people what they want when they are most likely to want it. Sigh.

We tried the restaurant next door, asking if we could have a coffee and a dessert, but we were promptly told no. They were serving either a full lunch or nothing! Paradoxically, the place was flippin’ empty, and it was 3.30pm, which is the tail end of Spanish luncheon time. What famished last-minute hordes were they expecting to pile through the doors at this hour?!

I’m constantly being told that “customer service is a lot worse in the South”. To be honest, I cannot imagine that. Nor do I want to.

In the end, we settled for a place on the main street where they were happy to give us a table outside in the sunshine. Unfortunately, although the coffee was top notch, the cake, a gooey choc brownie concoction, was crap. It sure looked promising enough on the plate, but it turned out to be afflicted by that characteristic aftertaste of having been deep-frozen ūüė¶

I shall leave you with some pics of the town…

The Cathedral

Part of an ancient Roman residential area

There was a large Roman settlement before Alcal√° came into being. These remains were once part of a residential area.

Roman Mosaic

Floor mosaic in a school for posh Roman boys. Like an ancient Etonian outpost…

Front of the University Building

Front of the University Building

University interior courtyard

University interior courtyard

Maria in university doorway

Maria in university doorway

Alcal√°'s main street

Alcal√°’s main street

A handsome pair of gargoyles

A handsome pair of gargoyles
There's a whole nest of them...

There’s a whole nest of them…

Cathedral towerIf you examine the Cathedral tower closely, you’ll see something that Alcal√° is very famous for… more about that in my next post.