On Tuesday we spent the day at the campsite, and with no walking or cycling it felt like we were finally going to have a proper day off to relax. Then I discovered there was a mountain of washing to do, that’s hand washing, and so any thoughts of taking a break went out the window! The chemicals in the washing powder must have got to me as I then decided to wash the motorhome. It was getting a bit grubby now we’d clocked up a few miles. Meanwhile Lisa did a great job cleaning inside, nothing to do with the chemicals, she’s just a tidy freak! Those jobs done we could relax for the rest of the afternoon and were able to leave early the following day for our next stop, Ubeda.
AWe were up early Wednesday and got away from the campsite by 9am. The drive to Ubeda was scenic, weaving through the valley on narrow roads before climbing over the mountain and popping out the other side in to the vast rolling hills past Cazorla. This was olive oil country and there were olive trees growing quite literally as far as the eye could see.
We arrived in Ubeda just after 12 and found the garage that sold LPG so we could refill our almost empty gas bottles. The garage located, we did a couple of circuits of the outskirts of town so we could get through the garage without hitting anything and with the gas bottles next to the pump. I’d read stories on the internet about other people having trouble filling gas bottles in Spain as supposedly LPG is only meant for filling up cars etc. So there was a bit of a panic as we struggled with the Spanish adapter, trying to be secretive and quick with filling up the bottles. When the garage attendant noticed we were struggling and came over, we thought we were busted before we’d even got any gas in, but luckily he looked quizzically at our bottles and then proceeded to help us fill up! That job done we drove the short distance to the free aire on the edge of town.
The aire was very clean, almost shiny, and although down a dusty back road it was situated next to a police training centre so we didn’t worry about leaving the motorhome while we explored the town. This was one of the few towns we’d been to that was bustling and lively, which in fairness reflects the size of the population of the previous towns we’d visited. With a population of approximately 33,000 Ubeda felt like a thriving metropolis after our stint in rural France and Spain. There were large supermarkets and some high street shop names we recognised from back home. All good so far and then we turned into the old town – WOW – so this is why Lisa had dragged me here.
The old town is approximately 1 square kilometre and packed with mansions, palaces, churches, civic buildings, plazas, bars and restaurants. The buildings were constructed mainly in the 16th Century and were a stunning example of Renaissance architecture with the odd domed and tiled roof thrown in as a reminder that the Moors had been here too!
At first we decided to wander aimlessly, our neck muscles getting a good workout as we looked up, down and all around; there was something in every direction and around every corner. Even the street lights were interesting!
When we discovered the tourist information centre we went in and were given a map with details of the key buildings and their opening times. We now had a bit more order to our wanderings and went on to discover more beautiful buildings. The southern edge of the town was also beautiful, with its old walls and far-reaching views to the mountains we’d come from and the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada even further away.
It was 2pm, past our lunchtime, although only the start of Spanish lunchtime, and so we found a table outside a small tapas bar, Gastrobar Llámame Lola. We ordered a couple of beers, and ate Cantabrian anchovies served with palm hearts and a creamy blue cheese (sounds odd but was delicious), partridge paté with orange marmalade and 2 chargrilled globe artichokes. We were surprised when the first dish arrived, 2 small paellas. Of course, this was Andalucia and traditionally complimentary tapas comes with every drink ordered. When we ordered our 2nd beer and received mini portions of fish and chips we laughed although wasn’t sure if they were taking the mickey out of us Brits abroad or not. The food was great and we were both full for less than €40 including a tip.
We continued our tour, Lisa pointing out a palace we could go in to for a few euros. As we passed through wondering why we hadn’t had to pay any money I commented that it looked like a town hall. Turned out Lisa’s map reading skills had failed and that it was the town hall; albeit a beautiful building none the less. Tiring from all the walking we headed for the supermarket on the edge of town for cold coffees and water as it was hot and most of the independent shops were shut for lunch. We then debated whether we should go back to the motorhome for a rest, but decided to go back to the old town to see inside the buildings that were opening for the evening.
Some of the buildings were free to enter, others a few euros. The Iglesia de San Pablo was free although we donated the suggested €1 each and we were treated to a personal tour. Our guide spoke no English, and we told him we didn’t speak Spanish, but he rattled on at us anyway, some of which we understood or at least thought we did! The festival of Semana Santa, or Easter as we know it, was a week away and some of the floats were being prepared in the church. If the rest of the floats are anything like this it’ll be some procession. We also got shown an area that wasn’t open to the public and the lights were switched on so we could admire the murals on the ceiling. All for €1, a bargain. We dithered over whether to tip the man but equally didn’t want to cause offence if it wasn’t the done thing. We later learnt that it is customary to tip the person that shows you around any of the buildings you visit. No wonder the man in Iglesia de San Pablo was so helpful – sorry!
It was now 6.30pm and we were getting hungry again, but Spain was not ready for us until 8pm at the earliest, so we found a table in the plaza and ordered a few glasses of wine, just for the tapas, of course. We had spotted a few places that we might want to eat at and decided on Taberna Misa de 12. It had good reveiws, the menu looked interesting, and we could see it from our table so were ready to rush over to bag a seat when it opened.
It didn’t open until 8.30pm, but as we hadn’t booked we reserved a couple of seats outside with our bums 15 minutes beforehand. The menu came in the format of a free newspaper; the best free newspaper I’d read, for sure! There was some blurb about the food that we half understood, but it was of course the menu we were interested in. We ordered a bottle of wine, nothing extravagant, there’s no need we thought, the wine here is so much better quality and value than at home. We didn’t realise we’d get complimentary tapas with the wine. In future we need to remember this to save us from rolling ourselves home! As it happened we ended up with 3 tapas each of smoked tuna, Iberico ham with Oveja cheese and a pork dish, on top of the octopus and suckling pig (not a whole one!) we’d ordered. The food was absolutely fantastic, the service spot on and at €75 including the tip, excellent value. We staggered back through the alleys; tired, full, but very happy.
On Thursday morning we cycled to Baeza. It wasn’t the most pleasant cycle, most of it being beside a busy road and the track being on the limit of what you might want to use a city bike on. It was also a little further than we thought, but we got there in an hour and found somewhere to lock our bikes.
Whilst there was some impressive architecture to view and buildings you could enter it had less of the wow factor than Ubeda. Baeza is definately worth a visit, but we both agreed it would have been appreciated more if we’d been there first.
We thought about having lunch in Baeza, and had a recommendation, but despite being 1pm we weren’t hungry. I suggested we got the cycle ride back out of the way and eat in Ubeda instead. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as we found the better places in Ubeda were closed by the time we got there and so gambled on what was open and had a disappointing ‘lunch’ of below par tapas strung out over a few different bars. At one point we weren’t certain if we were eating chicken, pork, rabbit or veal but it tasted like it had been cooked in a poor man’s version of Heinz tomato soup. It was late afternoon, we were hot, tired, still hungry but didn’t want to waste our time with an afternoon snooze. Eventually we caved in and went back to the motorhome for a few hours rest and ate after 9, like the Spanish do.
We certainly felt better for the rest, if a little groggy. We had 2 places in mind for dinner and after walking to both, pacing around in circles and generally being indecisive, chose our original option, Restaurante Taperia Antique. It was a warm evening so we sat outside and whilst we waited to be served we contemplated the consequences of sitting at a table on a hill. Has nobody invented a table with adjustable legs? The waiter soon arrived and spoke not a word of English. That’s fine, but I don’t think he spoke a word of Spanish either! Okay, he did, we recognised the word Ribeira and quickly nodded. He went off and soon returned with a bottle of Ribeira, although we had no idea how much it was going to cost us! We took some time deliberating over the menu. There were ‘starters’, ‘meat’ and ‘fish’ dishes but all were similar prices. We had no idea how much to order so played it safe and ordered 2 starter dishes to share, deer tataki with bee pollen and cherry tomatoes, and carpaccio of octopus.
The deer arrived first and we weren’t disappointed. Succulent cured meat, a sauce not dissimilar to hoi-sin and a generous sprinkling of bee pollen. It was all first class and the tomatoes were very tender, we reckon slowly poached. With a successful first plate we were confident the octopus would be good too. It soon arrived but was not what we were expecting as it was in a sauce of what looked like creamy Smash. As we struggled to eat with our forks, another waiter soon realised, probably chuckling, and bought us spoons. I’d always expect octopus to be the star of any dish it features in, but here it was the sauce; eggy from the poached quails eggs, creamy and slightly starchy from the potatoes, with the thinly sliced octopus balancing it perfectly, and finished with grated truffle and a drizzle of the local olive oil. Excited by the food so far, possibly still slightly hungry, but mostly being greedy, we ordered one more starter dish to share, a squid ink risotto with cuttlefish and aioli. It took a while to cook, always a good sign, but we were feeling more full with every minute that passed so were quite shocked to have 2 plates of food served to us. They were good portions, and despite recently clocking up a good few hundred miles on foot and on the bikes, neither of us looked anything like malnourished, so figured something must have got lost in translation and we had accidentally ordered a portion each. Oh well, it tasted wonderful and we almost licked our bowls clean. We now had limited time before we’d pass out so asked for the bill. We had no idea what we’d spent, we guessed about €120, and so when it came to just under €65 we were shocked and pleased, tipping generously. And those two portions of risotto that practically finished us off were apparently only one portion, at least that’s all we were charged for.
Once more we successfully navigated the maze of back streets and alleys and were soon sleeping off our over indulgence before our big drive the next day.