As the sunlight fades earlier with every passing week and the smell of coconut tanning lotion slowly dissipates, summer draws its last breath.
Okay, not quite as dramatic. Temperatures are still dancing around 30 degrees, but the daze of summer has been replaced with a get-up-and-go buzz. Schools have started, meetings have been had, races reserved, matches confirmed and class hours scheduled.
This was a full summer. Filled with family and friends and fond memories. I had the privilege of having my parents visit us this year. The last time they saw our daughters was in 2013, more than four years ago, so it was a much-anticipated visit. My sister came to visit as well and Wil got to reunite with an old school friend who was travelling through Europe with his family. At one stage, we were ten people in the house and it reminded me of a typical December holiday back in South Africa.
The school summer holidays in Spain are a week shy of three months. The girls have gotten so used to sleeping late and swimming all day, I wish the teacher all the luck in jolting their brain back to Math and Science.
We ended the holiday with a road trip. Seeing that we arrived here less than three years ago, we are still very much the tourist in this amazing country, with lots to explore.
This time we visited Toledo, which, once upon a time, was the capital of Spain. Toledo is a beautiful city, also known as the City of Three Cultures, due to the tolerant coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Situated on top of a hill, enclosed by a wall which has survived up to this day, this city is medieval from top to bottom. I was just waiting for Tyrion or Khaleesi to make their appearance. Any other GoT character would have ruined our trip.
Current fiction aside, the area surrounding the city of Toledo is the setting for the famous adventures of Don Quixote, the character brought to life by Miguel de Cervantes, originally published in 1615. The hulking windmills, clearly visible on the neighbouring hills, almost seemed out of place in the dry landscape and I could see how it was mistaken for giants all those years ago.
Toledo is probably most famous for its damascene jewelry, which we found around every corner, along with the most beautiful handcrafted knives and swords.
Our next stop was La Rioja, we stayed in Logroño, the capital of La Rioja. There is a street in the city, Calle Laurel, which came up as a must see. I asked the first person I saw, what this street is famous for and her reply was, for wine and food. That’s it. And that was all we needed. We immediately made our way over there. Calle Laurel is more of an alley, cars aren’t allowed and there are crowds of people standing around drinking wine, beer and eating delicious tapas. Standing at the top of the street, we took the leap, swam our way through the sea of people, lifted ourselves on some bar stools and gasped in a glass of Rioja accompanied by mouth-watering tapas.
While in La Rioja, we managed to visit two wine farms, which was a pleasant surprise, we didn’t think it would be possible with the girls. We even did an hour and a half tour through Marques de Riscal winery just outside the small town of El Ciego.
Emerging from the vineyards the avant-garde Marques de Riscal hotel, designed by Canadian born architect Frank Gehry, is nothing but striking. As the different colours and curves of the titanium layered roof dazzled in the sun, it made for an exquisite site while approaching the winery.
Although notably commercial, Marques de Riscal, have maintained the integrity of their traditional methods and have not compromised on quality. We saw wines from 1862. Apparently, every now and again, one of these 155-year-old bottles is opened and rumour has it, that some of them have been palatable. Pity the winemaker isn’t around anymore to take credit.
We also visited a small town, Laguardia, from where we enjoyed a beautiful view over the whole of La Rioja. The next morning, before leaving for Zaragoza, we stopped by Marques de Murietta, which sits just outside of Logroño.
Their Rioja is superb!
So after our early morning wine tasting, we enjoyed a solid breakfast and headed off to Zaragoza.
Zaragoza was so much more than we expected! The majestic Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar was the first thing we saw while walking to our apartment and it was breathtaking.
Whilst there, we learnt that Zaragoza is famous for chocolate and Garnacha wine. We also discovered Parque Grande, officially named El Parque Grande José Antonio Labordeta de Zaragoza. Inaugurated in 1929 and covering an area of 270.466 square meters, including twenty-two cultural monuments, eight fountains, a botanic garden, restaurants, a swimming pool and play parks for children, this is an enormous park and a great getaway from the city hustle and bustle.
We had the good fortune of finding El Ciclón while looking for a dinner spot. El Ciclón is a dandy restaurant that had just opened in June and the service, food, vibe, people and decor was a splendid treat. The restaurant used to be a toy factory, that a chef and a team of experienced waiters converted into a restaurant and in so doing, made their dream come true. The owner is the chef and the food bears testimony to the fact.
Although it was a jam-packed summer, Wil managed to get some work done on our piece of land. It isn’t big and more like a playing field for Wil to get his hands dirty. We’ve had it for just over a year now and progress has been slow, but so far, we have gooseberries (for Gran), passionfruit, dragon fruit and a vegetable patch. While on our trip, Wil was undoubtedly worried about the plants, the watering system on the land is still manual and it’s August in Spain. Good news is, everything survived, the better news is, some of the dragon fruit plants have flower buds. And a flower means a fruit! We are stoked.
Dragon fruit is probably one of the most beautiful fruit I’ve ever seen. There are white flesh, pink, red and magenta flesh varieties. The taste is something between a kiwi and a melon, but not as sweet. The subtle flavour is similar to a blueberry. The fruit resembles a dragon egg, or at least how one would imagine a dragon egg to look like.
Another possibility for the name could be that the shape of the robust leaves reminded people of a dragon’s back.
What we do know, is that dragon fruit or pitaya (not to be confused with Stenocereus spp.) are native to Central and South America. There are three species of dragon fruit in Genus Hylocereus of which the most popular varieties are Hylocereus polyrhizus (red flesh dragon fruit), Hylocereus guatemalensis (magenta flesh dragon fruit, commercially known as America Beauty) and Hylocereus undatus (white flesh dragon fruit).
Dragon fruit is slowly gaining popularity in the west for the anti-oxidant properties and high phytonutrient content.
The flowers open in the evening, ready for hand pollination and by morning it wilts. Exciting evenings lay ahead of us!
Dragon fruit season is in the summer through the first weeks of autumn.
Dragon fruit can be eaten by simply cutting it into quarters and peeling. The leatherlike peel is easily removed from the fruit flesh. Dragon fruit can be used as a garnish to brighten up a salad, added to smoothies or cocktails for extra colour and nutrition. It can also be used to make a showy sorbet. The options are endless.
At the moment dragon fruit can be found in selected fruit markets. They are not yet commercial to the point where you can buy it at your local supermarket. Unfortunately.
This will change in the next few years!