Last year, on our car trip over to Spain through Bilbao, on our return journey we chose to stop overnight at Miranda de Ebro. Our chosen hotel was a converted convent or monastery (too many bottles of wine ago) and was within easy walking distance of the main downtown area. After checking in and freshening up, we wandered down in the evening in search of food. Echoing around our heads was a phrase from a neighbour along the lines of, wherever you are in Spain, you can find a decent local establishment selling nosh. It was about 19:00.
We set off and soon crossed the Ebro river into the main town area. We found a pedestrian street, the way I imagine Las Ramblas in Barcelona to be (I’ve not actually been there), where there were lots of other local people promenading. We found several bars with outside tables selling drinks, glasses of wine were typically 1€ each. We lashed out and indulged. What we did not notice were any restaurants of any description. We indulged again.
Wandering further we continued not to find anything resembling a restaurant. Time wore on and after 20:30-ish we began getting concerned – dinner began to appear to be an impossibility. Eventually, noticing a supermarket still trading, we went on a raid and bought a bagful of supplies that could serve as a picnic in our hotel room.
We were at a loss. Mranda de Ebro was a sizable, lively town; there were many people on the streets. There were surely eating establishments here but could we find one? No.
Now, here we were in Alcazar de San Juan. Having been cheapskates on our first evening here, so as to make an evening visit to a windmill installation possible, for our second evening, we thought we’d push the boat out on a proper restaurant meal. The town centre was only about a kilometre away so the three of us set off on foot in search of a likely looking restaurant.
We hit town at about 19:30. Our first area was quiet but we did notice some sort of establishment … firmly closed. Nothing else being obvious, Jim resorted once again to 3G technology. We followed directions and ended up in what was clearly the main town square. Spotting the supposed restaurant we had been seeking proved difficult. One establishment looked like more of a wine bar full of bright young things, another looked like a real restaurant but was, yes, closed. Further exploration revealed little. We decided to head further out of the centre to a restaurant which Jim had found earlier and which had good reviews.
We passed another apparent restaurant (shut) and, after 15 minutes or so, found the 3G establishment. It was by now 20:30. This establishment appeared to be shut but a man was carrying seats out from the building to the pavement area. We questioned him as to whether it was open. “At 21:00”, was his jaunty reply. Actually, at first he said 22:00 but amended it to 21:00. Either he had made a genuine mistake or he saw a desperate look on our faces and took pity on us, changing his response to 21:00.
Either way, “Screw this”, we thought, collectively.
First of all, we’d have to kill another 30 minutes with no bar in sight. Then, once the place had deigned to open, we wouldn’t be ordering until almost 21:30. By the time we’d finished eating it’d be pressing 23:00 and then we’d have a 20-30 minute walk back to our hotel. We’d be collapsing into bed at 23:30-ish.
We couldn’t be arsed. We jointly decided to return to our trusty, excellent value hotel for another 9.50€ three course meal with wine and coffee included. At least it wasn’t just us; now we’d more or less repeated our Miranda de Ebro experience with someone who lives full time in Spain. Gracias a 3G, we may now have known more, though.
Here, in Alcazar de San Juan, was a restaurant just beginning to show signs of life at almost 21:00. Maybe in Miranda de Ebro last year, Francine and I had simply been looking for signs of restaurant life too early. I know the Spanish have a reputation for eating late but in Jalón, restaurants do at least open their doors for business earlier than that. Both Miranda de Ebro and Alcazar de San Juan, though, are real back-roads Spain, not towns filled with expats from other European countries. Here, they do things the Spanish way. The fact is, though, that we simply don’t want to be starting to eat as late as 22:00. 22:00 is my bed time. 😀
How different the world is. Many years ago, in New England, Francine and I had just managed to get into an American restaurant that was looking to lock its doors to any further customers at 19:30. That surprised us, too.
No wonder I like eating at home in the evening.