day 14 :
saturday, 24 september
Saturday is market day in the bustling city of Tolosa, so based on recommendations from Carolin at The Harvest Vine, we made a point of stopping here for a few things on our way to our next destination: Laguardia. While the market was great fun to walk around (and we were probably the only tourists in the place), the best part of the visit was going to the family-run chocolate shop called Gorrotxategi. We wanted to buy one of everything, but held back and "only" bought some fruit-filled chocolates, chocolates with cava (Eric's favorite), with sidre, and with txakolí. In retrospect, we should have bought one of everything! Their chocolates are some of the most interesting we've ever tried - for example, the ones infused with cava (Spanish sparkling wine) start off tasting a little earthy, then fruity, then slightly effervescent. Please, please, please bring us some more if you happen to live in Seattle and are traveling near Tolosa! (Or, if you know of a U.S. source, that would be just as good.)
Lunch was at Botarri, a Basque cider-house that had huge casks of cider built into the walls. Our server was really enthusiastic, making recommendations for what we should eat and making sure we had a good time there. Everywhere we went on this trip, we seemed to run across incredibly friendly, helpful people who had no problem dealing with our limited Spanish vocabulary. We've already vowed to take more Spanish classes before we go next time, so that we'll be able to chat just a bit more with everyone we meet.
Dawn took us on the scenic route to the Rioja wine region of Spain, up-and-over a big mountain that proved to be a haven for all sorts of animals wandering free of fences and into the road: horses, ponies, donkeys, sheep, and cows.
We arrived in the beautiful walled-fortress city of Laguardia in early evening, only to find that our hotel did not have our reservation on record and was booked full. Thankfully, Dawn had us print out all of our confirmation emails, so we were able to show them that yes, indeed, we had reserved a room months ago, and confirmed the reservation recently. After a bit of hand-wringing and a very noticeable language barrier (we didn't know enough vocabulary to deal very well with this situation), we finally got things straightened out and somehow checked into a room.
We relaxed by taking a walk on the promenade around the perimeter of town, and marveled that in every direction you looked, you saw the vineyards of Rioja Alavesa with bodegas sprinkled everywhere. The grapes aren't just planted in huge, flat acres, either; every nook and cranny, craggy rocky outcropping, and angular bit of land was filled with vines. Laguardia itself is also very interesting: no cars are allowed inside the fortress walls, and the whole town is only 4 or 5 streets wide. As you walk around, you feel like you've truly been transported to the middle ages, what with the stone streets and all-adjacent houses, wooden beams, and huge wooden doors leading into every building.