Friday, April 29, 2011

The Stately Homes of Tarragona

Tarragona is a delight. Small enough to get a good feel for the town and yet lots of interesting things to see and do. Skip the crowds of tourists in Barcelona and visit Tarragona (an easy day trip).


In addition to the Roman ruins, there are two lovely old homes that are well worth visiting.

Castellarnau House
Castellarnau House was built at the start of the fifteenth century, and it was the home of some of the most influential families in Tarragon for the next 400 years.

The noble floor has elegant rooms for entertaining with ceiling murals and 18th and 19th century furniture. Unlike English stately homes, there are no carpets. Instead, the mosaic designs on the floors imitate the patterns of elaborate carpets.


I was entranced by the kitchen on the ground floor with tiled paintings of saints and a wood stove inside the tiled cabinet with vents for kettles and pans.


There is a lovely inside courtyard with a door leading to a small low-ceilinged room for storing wine barrels.


If you understand Spanish, check out some of the local legends about this house – including a ghost – here.


Canals House
The most distinctive feature of the Canals House is its top-storey terrace with a sweeping view of the bay. A second terrace on the lower level provides a sheltered garden.


The house adjoins the city’s original Roman wall, and it forms part of the framework for the house.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Alicante: Castillo de Santa Barbara and Barrio de Santa Cruz

exploring the layers of history with Turiguias

Alicante has been a major port for thousands of years with layer upon layer of history. The city’s warm, fertile climate and strategic position in the Mediterranean basin (relatively close to Africa) ensured the city’s historic importance.


Nowadays, its airport is one of the largest in Spain, welcoming millions of tourists to the region’s sunny beaches every year.

Mount Benacantil dominates the city’s skyline and is topped by the Castle of Santa Barbara. I learned a great deal about the city’s history from Maria Jose Aparicio, the owner of Turiguias, who gave me a personal tour of the Castle and the old fishermen’s quarter of Santa Cruz.

Maria Jose, Mireia Aldeguer (Mandarinablue Travel Experience) and I started our tour in the town centre. Maria Jose had a wealth of information that added depth to my understanding of the city. For example, the waterfront used to be much further in, but they gradually extended the land surface by dumping waste at the water’s edge.


Castillo de Santa Barbara
A very modern tunnel and elevator provides quick and easy access to the Castle of Santa Barbara. The Roman settlement was located on the plain, slightly behind another hill. It was the Arabs and later the Castilian Christians who built a fortified castle on top of the rock outcropping overlooking the harbour.

The views from the top of the castle are fantastic with an extensive view of the harbour in all directions, which must have provided an invaluable early warning system for maritime invasions.


Maria Jose recounted a tragic story of forbidden love between an Arab princess and her suitor, who both threw themselves off the cliff when the king ordered his daughter to marry another man. You can make out the king’s profile in the face of the rock as he weeps over the loss of his daughter.

Castle Walls
We made our way down from the Castle by following the old fortifications. There are various routes that you can take as well as outlooks and small parks and even a fancy restaurant.


It’s great fun to look down on the church domes and the mishmash of old and modern buildings in Alicante. I was delighted to see someone practising tai chi in a park, and Maria Jose said that many people use this park for tai chi or yoga.

Barrio de Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz neighbourhood is a tangled maze of narrow streets and white stucco houses. The fishermen built their neighbourhood between the castle walls, so it’s very compact – and picturesque. There are lots of stairs from one level to another, and I was amused to learn that the city has just installed a wooden ramp to make it easier for people to pull their grocery carts (bags on wheels) up the hill.


It was a warm evening, and there were lots of children playing in the street and groups of neighbours chatting. There are several local bars where you can enjoy a drink.

Turiguias
When I’m travelling, I try to learn something of the history and culture of the places I visit, usually by reading books and internet sites. But it’s so easy to misunderstand or to miss the quirky anecdotes that bring the place to life.

Maria Jose is a knowledgeable advocate for her city, and I would highly recommend her tours, which are both informative and interesting.

Her company, Turiguias, offers group tours for cruise ships, conventions and other large groups. She also offers small group tours in both English and Spanish for anyone who is interested every Saturday (check the website for schedule changes on holiday weekends).

Maria Jose (left) with Mireia (right)

See Also:
     Mandarinablue Travel Experience
     Shopping in Alicante
     Chocolate and Pirates

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Countryside around Alicante - Part Two: Alguena's Wine Cooperative and Caves

My first stop while touring the Alicante countryside with Mireia Aldeguer of Mandarinablue Travel Experience was the cooperative winery in Alguena, a small village north of Alicante.


My Spanish was immediately put to the test as three key players in the cooperative were on hand to explain their operations and none of them spoke English. Primitivo is one of the cooperative’s most senior winemakers; Paco is its manager; and Manolo makes organic wine, at the cooperative, for personal distribution.

Bodega Cooperativa de Alguena
In 1974, local farmers banded together to form the cooperative in order to purchase modern equipment that they could not afford individually. Cooperative wineries face some real challenges. They need to be able to handle large quantities of grapes, and the quality of an individual wine carries less weight than the success of the cooperative as a whole. For example, farmers may be asked to delay harvesting their grapes until the cooperative is ready to accept them.


When the grapes arrive at the cooperative, they are weighed and special equipment measures and provides a printout of the quality and sugar content of the grapes (a large dipstick that measures the quality at all levels). The crushed grapes then move through an overhead pipe into large metal tanks to begin the fermentation process.

I was surprised to discover that the tanks for preparing and aging the wine are located in open areas with no roof. We wouldn’t see this in Canada, but Spanish wineries are often dealing with huge quantities of wine. You’ll notice bands around many of the tanks where cold water circulates to control the temperature.

In the past, the cooperative stored its wine in cement tanks and in large vats under the floor. These were abandoned a number of years ago as research appeared to indicate that concrete tanks allowed for too much oxidation, and that the high humidity in the room wasn’t good for the wine. Several of the Jumilla wineries that I visited use concrete tanks.

Photo of Mireia and Manolo:


Alguena’s Fondillon
The Bodega Cooperative de Alguena makes white, rose and red wines (both joven – young – and crianza – aged), organic wines, and a dessert wine called Fondonet. They are also extremely proud to be one of only 11 wineries in the world to make Fondillon wine.

John Maher of Wines of Valencia provides the following description of Fondillon in a blog post for Catavino:

“So, what is Fondill√≥n? In a nutshell, it is an unfortified, semi-sweet, Monastrell-based “vino rancio” (a style of wine obtained by means of intentional oxidation, or maderization, generally achieved by prolonged periods of ageing in wood or exposure to heat), made from grapes which are left to overripen on the vine before fermentation, resulting in a sweet wine that is very high in alcohol (the finished product comes in at 16-18% ABV). It is then aged in giant wooden barrels for no less than eight years and often more than twenty. The process slowly oxidizes the wine, adding complexity and refinement. The original brilliant red turns slowly to amber until the result is not unlike its fellow “vinos nobles” of Madeira or Sherry in colour and style, so that it is hard to believe that this wine is not fortified and is made solely from red Monastrell grapes. In the words of the Wine Advocate: “Dark amber/brown in color, it has aromas reminiscent of an Amontillado sherry including almonds, ginger, dates, and assorted dried dark fruits. It finishes sherry-like but without the alcohol and the bite. There is nothing else quite like this uniquely styled dry wine.”

The cooperative ages its Fondillon for extended periods, and their collection includes wine from 1955 and 1980. Fresh wine is added to the barrels every year to compensate for evaporation and to refresh the wine.

Alguena’s Cave Houses
Many years ago, as shepherds led their flocks to and from the mountain pastures, they would stop and rest at the spot now known as Alguena. Over time, the shepherds improved their temporary accommodations by hollowing out caves in the hills. Many of these cave homes still exist, although they have been improved so much that you would not know that they are caves by looking at them from the outside.


One of Manolo’s friends has a beautifully renovated cave home and he showed us around. The temperature is stable all year round (21-22 degrees). The house had an internal chimney/skylight that circulated air and provided extra light. There was also a ladder down to a wine storage area in the basement.


The municipality hopes to develop an abandoned cave and turn it into a museum. We explored the cave, finding everything a self-sufficient family would need – hearth, bread oven, stable for the animals and a bodega to make wine.

Thank You
I am very grateful to all of the people who went out of their way to give me such an interesting and educational look at wine-making and life in the Alicante region.

It was such a pleasure to meet and talk with Primitivo, Paco and Manolo from the Bodega Cooperativa de Alguena. Thank you for talking slowly and for answering all my many questions in stumbling Spanish, and for being so generous with your wine.

My thanks to Carmelo and David for showing me the cave houses.

And, last but certainly not least, a huge vote of thanks to Mireia Aldeguer. It was a delight getting to know you, and I hope that Mandarinablue is hugely successful.

Part One: Mandarinablue Travel Experience and Heretat de Cesilia Winery

Friday, April 22, 2011

Semana Santa Processions in Spain

I have now watched four different sets of Semana Santa processions in Spain and, from my very limited perspective, they are a mix of pageantry and community party. There may be a touch of religion, but tradition and ritual are far more important. And the alcohol starts flowing the minute the procession is over.


Everyone, from very young to very old, participates in the parades. I saw mothers carrying youngsters and fathers shaking their heads over kids who no longer wanted to beat their drum.

The parades are super informal. Someone will drop out of the procession to hug a bystander. There are huge gaps between sections of the parade, with family and friends following “their” section.

The processions are very informal. There are a few police officers and cars to clear the streets of traffic, but no barricades. Amateur photographers will stand in front of the procession to get a good photograph.

Jesus proceeded through the streets of Jumilla on a donkey on Palm Sunday, and he stopped for photo opportunities with babies and young children! The Spanish version of photographs with Santa Claus.

There were multiple processions in Valencia this morning. At one point, looking up a side street, I could see three processions all moving in different directions.

The Maundy Thursday procession wended its way through the dark, rainy streets of the fishermen’s quarter of Valencia last evening. The drum beats reverberated in the narrow streets – it was unforgettable.

The slideshow includes photographs from the Palm Sunday procession in Jumilla and the Good Friday procession in the old fishermen’s quarter of Valencia. I hope they convey at least a little of the colour and party atmosphere.

Semana Santa Processions - Jumilla & Valencia

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Countryside around Alicante, Spain: Oranges, Wine, Marble and Caves

Part One: Mandarinablue Travel Experience and Heretat de Cesilia Winery

When I started planning my trip to Spain, I did some internet research and contacted a number of tour companies and individuals who I hoped would be able to offer me a tour or a local perspective on their home region in exchange for me providing them with some coverage on my blog.

Mandarinablue Travel Experience
Mireia Aldeguer of Mandarinblue Travel Experience near Alicante responded immediately and enthusiastically to my request.

I was delighted as she had a really interesting website offering tours of wineries, chocolate factories, mountain valleys and orange groves. As a solo traveller I particularly appreciated the fact that she has set up a special program called Half Mandarina to provide opportunities for solo travellers to meet and make friends with other travellers.

Tour Leader
This is Mandarinablue’s first year of operations, but Mireia has plenty of travel experience. Mireia grew up in Alicante and completed a university program in tourism before moving to Norwich, England, in 2002 where she worked for six years – no wonder she speaks English so well.

Mireia then travelled to Peru where she worked as a tour leader for Gap Adventures for a year. These were extended tours (up to two months) of the whole country. I would imagine that the success of this sort of extended tour relies on the tour leader’s personality to make sure that everyone is having a good time and to help the group weather any rough spots. Mireia has also led tours for Gap Adventures in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and she continues to collaborate with them.

Experiential Travel
Mireia is a passionate advocate for her home province of Alicante, but she doesn’t feel that it has done a good enough job marketing itself. To many northern Europeans who flock to coastal resorts such as Benidorm, Alicante stands for “sol y playa” – sun and beach – and not much else. As a result, the coast has been over-developed and the interior has been neglected.

In addition, Mireia believes that many tourists want more than just a beach vacation. They want to spend at least part of their time exploring the countryside and participating in the life of the local people.

Mandarinablue tours have been organized in conjunction with small, authentic businesses so that tourists can meet local people and gain a greater understanding of the local way of life – and the small businesses gain additional exposure.

A Personal Tour
Mandarinablue won’t start offering tours until May, but Mireia offered to take me on a personalized tour to two wineries in the interior of Alicante. I was delighted because it was an opportunity to go to places that are difficult if not impossible to reach without a car.

It was fun to travel through the small villages, get stuck in the middle of a bicycle race and see part of a parade in Hondon de las Nieves. There is a Sunday market in Alguena so the town centre was very busy.

I also had a chance to meet and talk with local residents and winery owners. I think they were pleased that I had gone to the trouble of moving off the traditional tourist route to explore some areas that are often neglected. And I was delighted to have a glimpse of their lives.

Landscape
The coastal areas around Alicante receive lots of sun and warmth as well as a fair bit of moisture, so you’ll see lots and lots of fruit trees. Citrus fruits, particularly all varieties of oranges, are the most abundant. At higher altitudes, particularly as I made my way to Jumilla, there is far less rain and cooler, less moderate climates. As a result, there are less fruit trees and more vineyards, almond and olive trees.

I saw two varieties of grapes. There were tall, trellised vineyards. In many cases, these are table grapes and they may be irrigated.

The most common wine grape in this region of Spain is Monastrell, which is ideally suited for this dry area with large extremes of temperature. It’s a bush grape and is pruned very close to the ground before sending up fresh shoots each year. The vineyards are not irrigated and the vines are planted quite far apart. The vineyards still look quite bare as the vines were just beginning to send forth shoots and leaves.

The Alicante region produces a tremendous amount of marble, which explains the marble sidewalks and building facades in many of the cities I visited. You’ll see the quarries as you travel through this area. There’s a very large one in Alguena.

Heretat de Cesilia Winery
We spent the afternoon at the Casa Sicilia winery in Novelda. This is a fairly small winery with a single owner and reminded me of wineries I’ve visited in Canada.

Casa Sicilia estate was founded in 1707 and originally produced fruit and oil. The original kitchen and dining room have been restored, and it’s interesting to reflect on an earlier way of life. The estate is now being used to grow grapes and to make wine.

The winery is centered around a large restaurant area highlighting the relationship between food and drink. I had a lovely lunch and enjoyed a different wine with each course.

The winery has been using organic production methods since 2009 to produce a wide variety of red and white wines. They have just introduced a new white wine, and I found the rose very refreshing with good fruity flavour. I also really enjoyed their Mistela de Moscatel (sweet, white dessert wine) at the end of my meal.

I was entranced by the sight of a modernist cathedral in the distance overlooking Heretat de Cesilia. The Santuario de Santa Maria Magdalena was designed in part by Jose Sala Sala and bears a striking resemblance to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Thank You
I am very grateful to all of the people who went out of their way to give me such an interesting and educational look at wine-making and life in the Alicante region.

My sincere thanks to Laura at Heretat de Cesilia for an excellent lunch, tour and gift of wine.

See also: Part Two: Alguena’s Wine Cooperative and Caves

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Start of Semana Santa - Tamborada Infantil

Spain appears to love religious festivals and parades, and the celebration of Semana Santa, the Holy Week preceding Easter, are huge events in almost every community.


I'm going to do some research because I really don't know anything about this, but I did witness one of the very first parades yesterday from my hotel window.

The children were so tiny, and they were surrounded by adults guiding them and taking their photos - very cute! According to Sue Walker of Jumilla Journal who took photos of a similar parade in Jumilla, this is the Tamborada Infantil.

Check out the little guy whose eyes are covered by his hat!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Shopping in Alicante, Spain

Mercado Central
Markets in Spain are all very centrally located in the downtown core, and the one in Alicante is HUGE! Upstairs is meat (plus cheese and eggs), while downstairs one wing is devoted to fish while another wing is devoted to fruit and vegetables. Flowers are outside on the main patio.


I was particularly impressed by the booths selling heaps of eggs of different kinds and sizes.


The fruit and vegetable displays are all artistically arranged with overflowing piles of so many different varieties.


I loved the purple-and-white-striped eggplant, the knobbly green-and-red Raff tomatoes and itched to try some of the many different kinds of mushrooms and fresh cheeses.


Bakeries
No wonder I like Spain – the Spanish obviously love sweets just as much as I do. And of course croissants don’t have calories if you’re on holidays! Mireia, from MandarinaBlue Travel Experiences, recommended two bakeries that were close to my hotel.


The tiny Croissanteria on Calle Poeta Quintana (cross street – Segura) had vegetarian pizza slices – no cheese, just lots of flavourful roasted onion, pepper and eggplant.


I had a gooey pastry circle filled with jam from Panaderia Dorita at Calle Bazan, 36. I loved the way they twisted a sheet of paper to form a bag. However, Spaniards are certainly not trying to reduce the number of plastic bags they use. Everything comes in at least one, if not two, plastic bags.

ChocolaThe
Tea and chocolate is a wonderful combination, so I was delighted to discover ChocolaThe, a tiny store that is dedicated to both (Calle Medico Pascual Perez, 17).


The owner and I agreed that Ding Dong oolong is one of our favourites, and she gave me a tea bag in a cute little individual package(Original First Tea from England) to try. I’m always moved by unexpected kindness and generosity, particularly as a solo traveller in a foreign country.

Buttons
I don’t sew and I don’t knit, but I do love button stores. So when I spied a tiny store whose walls were lined with drawer upon drawer of buttons, I couldn’t resist. I spent far too much money (gold dust would have been cheaper!), but I had such fun, and the women working in the store were very pleasant.


The Mercaderia Turia is located on Calle Poeta Quintana very close to the Mercado (possible cross street is Capitan Segarro).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Alicante, Spain: The Palm Groves of Elche

In most cities, trees are few and far between. But not in Elche. Step out of the train station, and you are immediately greeted by avenues lined with palm trees and by parks, fields and squares full of palm trees of all shapes and sizes.

Palmeral
The Palmeral of Elche is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its palm tree plantation is the largest in Europe covering 3.5 square kilometres, 1.5 of which are within the city limits.

There are 200,000 to 300,000 palm trees, some of which are 300 years old. (Palm trees are extremely slow growers. It takes them 100 years to grow to 10 metres in height.)

The Phoenicians brought palm trees to Spain in the first century BC and cultivated the dates as food for their long sea journeys. When the Arabs arrived in Spain, they added extensive irrigation systems and landscaping.

The City of Elche continues to protect and develop its palmeral, and it’s a delight to walk in the shady parks that are filled with trees and flowers.

El Huerto del Cura
The Huerto del Cura is a small, privately-owned garden. Paths curve around ponds and clusters of palm trees from all over the world. A cactus garden contains an extraordinary variety of cactus plants, and there are peacocks and ducks as well as some modern sculptures.

I hope that the slideshow provides at least a glimpse of this garden’s beauty. Unfortunately, I was photographing the garden in the midday sun, never ideal.

The Town of Elche
Elche is a compact town with narrow winding streets and an abundance of interesting-looking women’s fashion stores. I think it would be a delightful place to stay, rather than simply visiting it on a day trip. There are even several better-quality hotels located in the palm tree plantations.

Elche is 20 minutes by train from Alicante and there are trains at least every hour.

Barra Sabors
I had an excellent lunch at Taperia Barra Sabors (C/Mare de Deu del Carme, 14) - also on Facebook. The waiter and cook went out of their way to suggest or modify vegetarian dishes.

The spinach salad with pine nuts, spicy pesto dressing, grated cheese (sharp and dry – maybe Manchego?) and lightly-mixed and cooked scrambled eggs was wonderful.

This was followed by baby artichokes that had been thinly-sliced, floured and fried, ready to be dipped in an oil and vinegar sauce.

And dessert was layers of bittersweet chocolate mousse and digestive biscuits that had absorbed the moisture from the mousse – oh, my! It was very good.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Alicante, Spain: Chocolate, Pirates and Tours

I took the tram (a small, modern train) out from Alicante towards Benidorm. A narrow strip along the coast has been highly developed with high rises and residential estates to house tourists and ex pats who flock to the beach and the sun.

But there is much more to Alicante than “sol y playa,” and my destination was Villajoyosa, a former fishing village that in the late 1800s was home to over 30 chocolate factories. Two of the chocolate factories, third and fourth generation family businesses, are still in operation today.

Chocolates Perez
Chocolates Perez is a fourth-generation family business. The Perez family were already selling chocolate in 1874. They would take a load of chocolate by horse-drawn cart to a neighbouring village and then unload it into sacks to sell door to door.

Their small business includes a chocolate museum, and Perez family members are still on hand to show visitors the primitive machinery that they used to use to mill the chocolate.

Valor Chocolates
Valor Chocolates is named after Valeriano Lopez who opened the business in 1881. It is now Spain’s premier brand of chocolate. They have a large, very modern plant just a few blocks away from Chocolates Perez.

Valor bills its chocolate as “un placer adulto” (an adult pleasure) and the video that is shown at the beginning of each tour includes a number of very amusing ads illustrating this theme (off limits to under-age teenagers, etc.).

Valor also has a museum, but what I particularly enjoyed was the tour of the factory itself. We were taken around a corridor that overlooked the factory floor and were able to watch the chocolate being poured into moulds and then wrapped as well as individual chocolates being put into boxes that were then sealed.

They have a mouth-watering shop with lots and lots of chocolate samples. I really enjoyed the chocolate cup made with balsamic vinegar as well as another one with olive oil and some tomato.

Visits
I recommend visiting both factories. Perez Chocolates feels like a more personal, family operation, while there is more to see and do at Valor. Both are free.

The chocolate factories are located within easy walking distance of the Villajoyosa tram station so can easily be reached from either Alicante or Benidorm. (I'm included detailed directions as I got lost using Google Maps.)

To find Valor, walk beside the tracks and over the bridge. Turn left when you reach Calle Pianista Gonzalo Soriano. The factory will be on your left, and it’s hard to miss as it’s very large. Tours are on the hour; check the website for details.

To reach Chocolates Perez, cross the street at Valor and proceed down the street past the Centro de Salud. At the first corner, turn left. You’ll almost immediately turn right (there’s a road sign for Finestat). The chocolate factory will be one block down this street and facing you. This isn’t a structured tour; check the website for their hours.

Alternatively, Mandarinablue Travel Experience offers a tour of Villajoyosa’s fish market and the Perez Chocolates factory (including a visit to the actual production facility that isn’t available to individual tourists).

I highly recommend this tour company after spending a day and a half with the owner, Mireia Aldeguer. Check Mandarinablue’s website for details of the various tours that are on offer.

Pirates
An interesting side note is the small round watch towers made of stone that can be seen at intervals along the coast. Apparently, in centuries past, there were a great many British and Berber pirates who attacked the coast, and locals kept a lookout from the towers so that they could warn residents of imminent invasions.

Note: The group of people around the cart is a photograph of a photograph in the Perez Chocolate museum and should not be reproduced elsewhere.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Impressions of Alicante, Spain

Yesterday I took the train south from Tarragona to Alicante. Both cities border the Mediterranean, but what a difference! Tarragona was relatively small and homogenous. It was bilingual, with Catalan the predominant language and I was grateful for Spanish translations on the menu.


Alicante is the second-largest city in the province of Valencia with over 300,000 inhabitants and it has a very large tourist population (Benidorm, a huge tourist resort town is just along the coast) so the second language is English (far too many restaurants have picture menus).


The weather is really warm so you could barely see the beach for the bodies – a frightening sight for someone like me who vastly prefers art galleries and museums to beach resorts. However, the beach is just one tiny corner of Alicante. The seafront promenade is lined with palm trees and flowering bushes (hibiscus, sweet pea, roses) and I discovered a small gallery with two contemporary art exhibits in the former fish market. There were some lovely children’s playgrounds and hundreds of outdoor restaurants.


There are parks and squares with fountains and centuries-old fig trees. I found the locals on a series of pedestrian streets with all sorts of interesting-looking stores. And there are some wonderful old buildings. I’m looking forward to visiting Castillo Santa Barbara which towers over the city on a white crag.


I know I’ve reached the south because I had two eggplant dishes yesterday. I had a beer at the marina and ordered a plate of thin, tempura-coated eggplant slices served with a light honey-molasses topping. It was a little sweet for my taste, but it is a traditional Spanish dish.


I had dinner at a lovely little vegetarian restaurant just near my hotel called Tabule (Calle Benito Perez Galto, 52). They serve a set menu with three courses, salad, appetizer, wine and bread for 18 euros, about $27. It was extremely good with innovative dishes that would definitely fascinate those of you who are chefs.

The first course was a puff pastry biscuit with corn relish and aioli alongside a small serving of red cabbage. The main course was a thick breaded slice of eggplant served on a bed of cheese sauce and sweet, slightly spicy tomato relish and topped with sliced tomatoes and cheese. Dessert was homemade strawberry ice cream with a dark chocolate sauce. Delicious!