Monthly Archives: October 2010

Spirits Rising

Spirits appear within the pyre

conjured there in Samhain fire.

Mysteries half revealed

and promise of continuance sealed.

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The Horned One in Wild Hunt

sees hoards of hounds and horses

hurtle through the night

where blood, death and darkness runt.

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Howling dogs and crash of hooves

tear through the raging wind

propelling the god to die

by Tylwyth Teg in fairy hills

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Verse copyright Tigerbrite

Venice to Murano

 

We accepted an invitation to see one of the glass making workshops on the island of Murano and boarded a water taxi.  Once out of the 5 mile speed limit we were whisked across the water bouncing on the wake of other traffic in the fast lane and in no time we were seeing the craftsmen at work.  They were making chandeliers.  Each piece is fired and formed by hand and when the glass is pulled from the furnace it looks like a piece of plasticine hanging from a pole.

The hands in the square box on the left are selecting tiny pieces of gold leaf to go in the glass.  When the pieces are finished they are numbered and the chandelier is carefully built for balance.  Everything is made to order, should a customer break any part of his chandelier he can re-order it by quoting the number of the piece.

This example cost in the region of 5,000€ !

My favourite things in the showroom were the collector’s goblets costing around 300€.  The work available was stunning in its diversity.

The tradition of glass making in Venice has always been a family concern, the craftsmen are brought up with the work from childhood.

Here is a blue glass street decoration.

We spent a most enjoyable morning here, there were lots of shops selling glass beads, jewelry and ornaments.  The Glass Museum was interesting and also the beautiful mosaics on the floor of the 14C church.

Text and photographs copyright Tigerbrite

Valencia to Venice

It was a hot, sunny day with great visibility as the aircraft took off from Valencia out over the sea (to reduce take off noise over the city).  The plane made a steep 180 degree turn en route to Madrid giving us a bird’s eye view of the Albufera National Park and the most famous rice-growing area of Spain where the paella was born.

The Albufera is a fresh water lake 6 klms wide and is fed by the Júcar river.  It is separated from the sea by a narrow sand bar which was clearly obvious from above.  We could make out the sluice gates which allow draining of excess water into the sea.  Apart from the round grain rice fields around the lake it supports the fishing tradition of eel.  Another speciality dish of the area is ali y pebre, eel cooked in a hot pepper sauce and served with boiled potatoes.  The lake is a haven for herons, ducks, waders and gulls.

We could clearly see the city  below and the new river bed that was cut after the floods of the late 1950s.  The old river bed which circles the ancient part of town has now been transformed into a pleasure playground.   There is the Paula de la Musica, the surrounding gardens and playing fields and more recently the City of Arts and Sciences.   The new Opera House designed by Calatrava looks like the star ship Enterprise.  

The short flight to Madrid continued to give us superb views over mountains and unpopulated places.  It was such a pleasure to travel with Iberia’s attentive and helpful staff.   In their excellent magazine were featured reproductions of their advertising posters over the years (now collector’s items).  The earliest poster was from 1948 showing a Hermes watched by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

We made our connection for Venice and finished the journey to San Marco by water bus in the setting sun. 

And finally on foot crossing bridges with gondolas below.

Almansa and Alcalá del Júcar

It was a fresh autumn morning for the start of our wine trip, but the day turned into clear blue sky and the sunshine of an Indian summer.

When we reached Almansa and Bodegas Piqueras we saw the grapes arriving from the harvest in tractors that emptied their loads into the awaiting bins and on to a moving belt.

After pressing the wines are fermented and stored in huge stainless steel vats.   The vats are temperature controlled according to the time of harvest.  Those brought in from a night harvest are kept at a much lower temperature for two days.  When the fermentation process is complete the wine goes into the ageing room in barrels made in Rioja from American and French oak.  The temperature here is kept between 16-18C and it is important to regulate humidity or wine can be lost through evaporation causing air to get into the barrels.  When the wine is ready for bottling it is laid to rest and will only be labelled when ready for drinking.  There are different labels for the same wine according to which country it is marketed.  95% of this bodega’s output goes for export.

The young red wine not suitable for ageing is packed into ‘bag in a box’ which keeps good for about a year.  This is good quality wine, but the bag in box is not popular in Spain as it has the reputation of being inferior quality.  However, it does sell well in Northern Europe.

We went to the tasting room for nibbles and samples.  On the wall were photos from the 1960’s.  This family business has been producing wine since 1915.

Later we checked into Hotelblu, http://www.hotelblu.es/index.php?lang=en an innovative modern design within walking distance of the centre and shoe shops offering irresistible bargains. 

We took a walk up to the castle.

During the re-conquest in the mid 13C Almansa Castle was a frontier between the Christian Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and the Muslim Kingdom of Murcia.  The castle was built by the Moors in the 12C and there are some remains from this time in the present structure.  It is one of the best preserved castles in Albacete province.

That evening we enjoyed our reception and dinner in the black and smoked glass, state of the art bar and dining room of the hotel.

Next morning we visited Bodegas Almanseñas where they too were processing the harvest.

They grow mainly Monastrell and Garnacha Tintorera which gives the wine its rich red colour.  Garnacha is supplied to Rioja bodegas to give their wine a deeper colour.

In their tasting room we tried those deep red wines.

From here we moved on to Alcalá del Júcar known for its picturesque countryside and cave houses.  Before exploring we lunched at Casa El Moli.  Here is our chef preparing the BBQ and the view from the garden.

It was a long way up to the church and then the castle but we were rewarded by some good views of the roman bridge and the river.

About half way up we spotted this sign.

We paid our 3€ and mine host with his ‘Dali’ moustache welcomed us into his front room.

He took us through the house and we entered this 50 meter long tunnel which led to huge caves right inside the mountain, one of which featured as a bar should you be thirsty after your climb.

The following day we made our way to Yecla and Bodegas Castaño , 92 hectares of vines on the border of Murcia and Alicante.   At this impressive bodega they concentrate on only the best.

The estate was purchased in 1999 and the very first vintages (2001 to 2003) were produced in the 100 year old building on the site.  In 2004 production was moved to the new building, but work continued through 2004 to 2006 to complete it.

The very best quality grapes are collected in small containers so they don’t bruise and lose their flavour and the wine is matured in French oak barrels costing 800€ each.  The time for maturing the wine in the barrel varies with the vintage.  The barrels are replaced every three years when the hint of chocolate they give the wine has been used.

Our hostess Raquel told us the stony soil here is good for the grape.  The rocks absorb sunshine to keep the vines warm at night and in this area of low rainfall they also keep the ground moist.   We were assured that the 2010 vintage would be the best for many years as the weather conditions for the growing and harvesting of the grapes has been perfect.  Raquel recommended that ‘reservas’ could be laid down for up to 10 years after bottling and the wine should be kept at a constant temperature of no more than 20 degrees C

This superb wine is ‘resting’ before being labelled ready for its customers. 

Please form an orderly queue.

Text and photographs copyright Tigerbrite