I believe that sharing travel stories, be they good or bad, entertain and at times, serve as teaching opportunities. Allow me to share a true tale which was surely served as a learning experience to me.
I along with hundreds of students from Quebec Canada spent summers in a small town of Cuenca in Spain. The aim was for us to deepen our Spanish language skills while infusing some much-needed money in the town. I met a young man who became my long distance boyfriend of three years. Luis was from a family of many children who were raised mostly by their mother.
In an effort to get closer to his family, I invited my boyfriend and his older brother to one of the town’s most renowned restaurant for lunch. I have to admit I also wanted to impress Luis’ brother in order to gain his approval of our relationship. It was the first time that my invited guests set foot in the restaurant. I wanted to truly connect with his older brother who held the patriarch role of the family. This was the first serious step in my quest to get closer to Luis’ family.
Once we were seated at a table overlooking the nearby river Huecar, one of the best views in the city, our waiter came by and shared the history of the restaurant. Located in one of the iconic “casas colgadas” (hanging houses), the restaurant and adjoining buildings are featured in multiple postcards of the city.
The restaurant that is now closed was often the chosen meal location for many high society tourists visiting the adjoining Spanish Museum of Abstract Spanish Art, the first museum of its kind in Spain. Established in 1966 this museum played an important part in the world’s art scene. Needless to say, for a young Canadian, dining in this establishment was a costly experience but it was important for me to make a good first impression with Luis’ oldest sibling.
A few weeks prior to our lunch, I had been at a bar where the local liqueur made of coffee and cinnamon called resoli was served in very tiny porrón. The porróns is a traditionally used to serve wine and requires skill to properly drink from it. The porrón is a cross between a wine bottle and a watering can. It is still used to share wine amongst many. The skill is to drink directly from the porrón without the vessel touching one’s lips; a skill we developed with much practice.
Once we ordered our meals, our waiter brought over two little porróns, one with a clear liquid and the other with a golden liquid that I assumed was 43, another liqueur that was very popular at the time. Although we were in Spain to study, we certainly learned a lot about wine and liqueurs while frequenting the local discos and bars.
Wanting to give the appearance of being a well-traveled person, I reached out for the clear liqueur and proceeded to lift the porrón and aim the liquid to my opened mouth. At that very moment, the waiter and my two guests looked at me with huge eyes and a look of total shock. I thought to myself that this was a look of surprise that I was such a worldly person and knew of their customs.
As the liquid hit my mouth, I immediately felt the harsh taste burning my lips and tongue as I took the first swallow and realized that what I thought was liqueur turned out to be vinegar! This wasn’t meant to be drunk, but along with the olive oil of the other porrón to be added to our salad.
I quickly tipped back the vessel, eyes watering and throat burning. My guests and other patrons close by looked at me in complete dismay and amazement. Not wanting to admit my faux pas, I tried to act as nonchalant as could be while hoping I could hold back my cough and my welling tears. I tried to compose myself and think of something witty to say, but not finding anything smart, I simply nodded and stated that I wanted to taste the vinegar before adding it to my salad.
I am sure that the waiter rushed to the kitchen to share the story of this crazy Canadian woman who drank straight vinegar! I can tell you that it likely cast a strange doubt on Luis’ older brother as to my particular ways. I was too embarrassed to admit my mistake to Luis and for years he thought I had a stomach of steel.
After my first walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I visited Cuenca again and met up with Luis and his grown sons. Wouldn’t you know, this was one of the stories he shared during our meeting. I learned a valuable lesson not to assume things and from that day on, I always asked if I wasn’t sure of what was served.
Have you had any unique adventures while trying to impress? Please share so that I can know that I am not the only one who had such moments!
Photo credit – Oil and Vinegar porrón from La Tienda a fabulous source of fine products from across Spain, located in the state of Virginia, USA.