This tapas bar is shaped like a wedge of cheese.
It’s sandwiched in between two streets, somewhere in the old city in Sevilla. There are people pushing their way in through the door in its nose and jostling for a spot at the bar. From somewhere behind the bar plates of tapas are appearing. They’re passed from hand to hand overhead until they somehow find their tables. We’re crammed around a round table. Whilst Dad’s tries to coordinate his legs and jacket with the wobbly bar stool, Mum, P and I are all trying to catch the eye of the waiter.
When one of us finally does make eye contact, a bunch of things will happen, in roughly this order. Mum will freak out and become mute because she’ll suddenly remember she doesn’t speak any Spanish. She might try some French, just in case. Pia will say “Soy vegetariano” – her best phrase – and the waiter will whistle, inhale sharply or grimace. And if Dad has managed to find balance on his stool, he will look up and say “Tienes pan sin gluten?” at which point the waiter might ask what planet we come from. I wouldn’t know though, I don’t know the Spanish word for planet.
When not searching for, eating or recovering from languid, boozy lunches, Mum is searching for shoe shops that stock size 42, Dad is compiling a list of the finest gluten free establishments and vinyl record shops in Spain and P and I are searching for the next best castle or cottage to stay in.
Google maps takes us through strange back roads and national parks and we basically hop from one medieval town to the next, eating, drinking and — on stretches of freeway — bleeping our way through duo-lingo. Instead of learning Spanish, Mum has perfected her left-hand driving skills. After some hairy episodes with anticlockwise roundabouts and close calls with 13th century walled cities, she’s even become bolshy behind the wheel.
In the Extremadura, we don’t drive more than an hour without spying the walls of some ancient citadel clinging to the side of a hill or escarpment. Rows and rows of olive trees stretch out on either side of the highway in all directions – they look like green cornrows on brown scalps. In every town, there’s another variation of Iberian jamón to sample and an amazing story of Moorish or Christian conquest. One village we passed through claimed to have filmed an episode of Game of Thrones in their bull ring.
So we’ve done a full circle, Madrid – Madrid and are now sitting in yet another tapas bar, this time in some pokey alley in El Born, Barcelona. We’re all clutching a glass of our new favourite drink – iced vermouth – and contemplating our onward journey to Milan. Dad’s got a backpack full of gluten free bread to take as carry-on luggage, and we hear the Italians do vegetarian better than the Spanish, so P is in good spirits. Mum’s given up the hunt for shoes, and has instead filled her small suitcase with jamón, olives, Spanish honey and duty-free liquor.
In addition to not liking being a passenger in Spanish taxis, Mum also does not like hanging out at the top of cathedrals. I’ll leave you with a series of photographs of her thoroughly enjoying the view from the top of the Sagrada Familia.