Archive for ‘Spain’

August 7, 2011

Back To Spain, San Sebastian

by Johnny

Not so fast, Spain.  You’re not getting rid of us that easy.  After hanging at Goose’s place in Lisbon for a couple days researching our next maneuver, we found an overnight train from Lisbon to San Sebastian, Spain and a super cheap flight from Bilboa (right next to San Sebastian) to Italy, where we have a couple things lined up in the coming weeks.  Done deal.  We were heading back to Spain.

A €0.75 box of wine can really work wonders on an overnight train

San Sebastian was one of my favorite stops on “Jimmy and Johnny’s European Adventure 2004,” and this time around it was even better than I remembered.  A couple days earlier Anna and I were talking about how we’d like to see more sunrises, so we were stoked when our train arrived right when the sun was coming up.  Even though our room was a good hour away on foot, we were too taken with the beauty of the place (and cheap!) not to make the walk all the way there.  It was really surreal to see the place so calm and peaceful when just a few hours later it would be packed with vacationers.

Rolling my bag through the empty streets Sun’s coming up
Early morning in San Sebastian

Given that the Basque country is considered the culinary mecca of Spain, if not the world, Anna and I were pumped to try all the pintxos we could get our hands on.  My brother Jay trained as a chef in San Sebastian for a year, and he gave us some great recs of places to go and things to try.  This was a huge help because I would have been lost trying to order food from the Eusko menus.  Seriously, every word looks like “tzküzktkükzz.”  Anna’s friend Marta, who works at the Quiksilver office in Biarritz and lives in San Sebastian, also gave us some recs of places to go, so we were armed and ready.

Our first night we headed to Goiz Argi, one of Marta’s spots, which is famous for their brocheta de gambas (grilled prawns on toast).  It seemed liked everybody in the bar was ordering them, and for good reason.  They were friggin’ amazing.  I would have stayed there all night and had about a hundred if it weren’t for us being in the true pintxo spirit of trying a couple dishes and then moving on to the next bar.  After Goiz Argi we made our way to A Fuego Negro, one of Jay’s recs.  English menu, phew!  We had a small grilled veggie salad, a couple of kobe beef sliders and some risotto and went home stuffed and happy.

Mouth-watering brocheta de gambas at Goiz Argi
Kobe sliders and banana chips at A Fuego Negro Risotto at A Fuego Negro

On night two we were given strict instructions by Jay to go to his favorite pintxos bar La Cuchara de San Telmo and try the fois dish and the risotto.  Done and done.  Actually, they were so good that we abandoned any thoughts of bar hopping and ordered about six or seven more dishes.  Some highlights were the pork rib in balsamic vinegar, the baked goat cheese with grilled veggies and the bacon-wrapped scallop.

Howdy Jay…thanks for the recs!

Night three ruled!  We met up with Anna’s friend Jen, a Quiksilver alum, and her husband Juan Pablo for drinks and more gambas at Goiz Argi.  Jen and Juan Pablo quit their jobs and traveled the globe for about eight months before settling in Madrid, and they just so happened to be in San Sebastian for the weekend (check out their travel blog).  It was great to chat them up about their travel experiences and get some first-hand do’s and don’ts and must see places.  The only problem is I’m now trying to figure out ways to add all of Africa and South America to our itinerary (please PayPal money to johnny@ciao-for-now).  Remembering what it was like to be on a tight budget for so long, Jen and Juan Pablo picked up our tab at dinner.  Say what?!  Amazing, and greatly appreciated!  We hope to pay it forward someday.

After dinner we headed across the street for some more drinks and listened to Juan Pablo tell awesome travel story after awesome travel story.  He’s like the most interesting man in the world, and once he started talking about how much he loves REI, my man crush was in full swing.  Before we knew it, it was 3:00am, which wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t need to wake up at 4:30am to catch our bus to Bilbao.  We had a great time with Jen and Juan Pablo…they’re avid travelers so hopefully we’ll see them on the road someday.

Other than stuff our faces with pintxos, we basically just admired the beauty of San Sebastian.  Our room was in the Antigua area on the far west of the city (coincidentally right around the corner from where Jay lived), so we would make the walk along Concha beach to the old town multiple times a day, all the while taking in the sights.  I told Anna probably ten times that if I were a sailor or explorer back in the day and stumbled upon San Sebastian, I would have said, “OK…I think I’ll hang here for a while.”  We hit the beach, got lost in the old town and hiked up to the Jesus statue…a very successful, though too brief, reunion with Spain.  Check out some pics…

The view during our walk to San Sebastian’s old town
The old town’s crowded streets Peppers at Goiz Argi (which I dubbed “Spanish edamame”)
Jesus watching over San Sebastian He’s got the best view in the house
San Sebastian’s old town
Goodnight and Adios, San Sebastian
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July 21, 2011

Top 3 Tapas

by Anna

My mom always pokes fun at me because whenever I come back from anywhere, the first thing I talk about is what I ate…..and usually something that I ate was “one of the best things I EVER ate!” It’s true. I love food, and luckily Johnny loves it as much as I do…if not more:) With that said, I wanted to be sure to record our top three tapas restaurants that we ate at in Spain, in case any of you happen to be in the same place at some point and want a delicious meal. You never know; it might end up being the best thing you ever ate!
**Eslava and Alaljibe both had more expensive restaurants attached, so we made sure to ask for the tapas only menu. All three of these had the most inventive flavors and prettiest presentations of the places we went to while still being really well-priced.

Traga Tapas, Ronda
Favorite tapas: Grilled asparagus with shredded Manchego cheese and marmalade, Patatas Bravas, Curried chicken skewers

Eslava, Sevilla
Favorite tapas: Smoked salmon on toast (with some delicious secret sauce!), Grilled chili relleno stuffed with white fish, “Solomillo” pork in some delicious sauce with roasted potatoes

Alaljibe, Sevilla
Favorite tapas: Salmon ceviche with ginger, Tuna tataki with grilled vegetables, Curry shrimp with basamati rice and coconut milk
**We also had our favorite Sangria here!

July 21, 2011

Seven Days In The South Of Spain

by Johnny

Sevilla is stereotypical Spain, in a good way.  It’s overflowing with Flamenco, bullfighting, art, history, spontaneous festivals, colorful churches, noisy plazas, tapas bars and sangria.  It’s exactly how I pictured Spain in my head…only 30° hotter.  We’re lucky the apartment we rented for a week had air conditioning, because the city is pretty unbearable from about 3:00pm until 9:00pm this time of year (ah, so this is why I got the low season rate).  Not to be deterred, Anna and I took full advantage of the cooler mornings to see the tourist sites and the evenings to casually wander the city.

Our air conditioned apartment Orange trees line every street and plaza
We stumbled onto many random celebrations Colorful Sevilla

We checked out Sevilla’s most famous attraction, its cathedral, which is the third largest church in Europe and the largest Gothic church anywhere.  It’s got some pretty interesting things going on inside, including Christopher Columbus’ tomb and the golden Retalbo Mayor, but Anna and I thought it was more impressive from the outside, especially at night.  We also liked the cathedral’s courtyard filled with orange trees and its tower with one long, continuous ramp going up so that horses could climb it.

Outside of the cathedral Christopher Columbus’ tomb
Lots of gold in the cathedral View of the bullring from the cathedral’s Giralda tower

As far as Sevilla’s tourist sites go, the Alcázar takes the cake.  It is probably the most impressive building we’ve seen so far on our trip.  It was built in the 10th century while Sevilla was under Muslim control, so the Moorish style architecture and elaborate tilework were unlike anything we had seen in France.  The entire place was a maze of hallways, rooms, patios and gardens, each more elaborately decorated than the next.

A courtyard in the Alcázar
Alcázar ceiling Doorways in the Alcázar
Ancient baths under the Alcázar gardens Alcázar architecture
One of the incredible gardens at the Alcázar

Obligatory tourist attractions aside, Sevilla is a great city just to wander around and lose yourself in.  Its Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish Quarter, is a maze of tiny streets, dubbed “kissing lanes” because they were built so close to each other to maximize shade.  There seem to be hidden plazas around every corner, each lined with orange trees (again to maximize shade, as they keep their green leaves all year long).  And don’t even get Anna started on all the colorful tiles all over the city.  They’re everywhere…park benches, floors, ceilings, doorways and even on the underside of balconies.  As a recent effort to “green up” the city, Sevilla has made itself much more bicycle friendly.  Anna and I took full advantage of Sevici, the city’s community bicycle program where you basically grab a bike at one of over 200 kiosks located throughout Sevilla and drop it off at another.  This let us see some areas of the city we wouldn’t have otherwise, and it saved us from long walks home in the mid-day heat.

Sevilla is probably best seen at night.  It was easy to lose track of time with so many people out and about.  Plazas that looked like ghost towns at 3:00pm were packed at 2:00am with parents eating while their kids played soccer.  Most nights Anna and I would grab a late dinner before sitting on a bench in the shadow of the cathedral listening to Flamenco guitar players for hours on end.  The city even smells like oranges at night…it’s really amazing.  One night we even caught an actual Flamenco show at La Carbonería, which is basically a sangria beer garden.  It was a free show, and most Flamenco enthusiasts will tell you it isn’t the real deal, but I think you’d have a hard time finding a dancer more passionate than ours.  It was serious business.

“Kissing lane” in Barrio Santa Cruz
Colorful plaza Biking across the bridge into Triana
Tiles And more tiles
If this was our last stop, Anna would have filled her suitcase with as many of these as she could
No shortage of tapas in Sevilla Plaza in Triana
The scene in Alameda de Hercules at 1:00am
Cathedral at night Flamenco!

The highlight of our week, and probably the biggest unexpected surprise of our trip so far, was an overnight trip to Ronda, one of Andalucía’s largest white hill towns.   Anna and I knew nothing about Ronda before we went (I think I just googled “day trips from Sevilla” or something), but we were both blown away by the beauty and history of the place.  For starters, the physical setting is unreal.  Ronda’s old town and new town straddle a massive gorge connected by a bridge that will make you say, “How the heck did humans build something like this?”  Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls was inspired by the tiny prison cell in the center of the bridge, where prisoners would be sentenced to death by jumping into the ravine below.  And while Sevilla carries on the tradition of bullfighting today, the sport (or art form, as the Spanish like to call it), was invented in Ronda.  It was an incredible place, and Anna and I both agreed we’d love to go back one day.  Unfortunately I got a little antsy uploading our pictures and instead deleted them all (oops!), but we still got some good ones on Anna’s camera.

Ronda’s Puente Nuevo
View from one of Ronda’s parks Valley below Ronda
Houses built to the edge of the ravine
Our B&B in Ronda Adios Spain…Olá Portugal!
July 14, 2011

Love At First Tapas

by Anna

After an incredible month-and-a-half in France, topped off by a week of music, sea and sunshine in Sete, Johnny and I bid “au revoir” to France and hopped our train to Spain! We were both excited to tackle a new country, and I was especially excited since it was my first time to Spain. After a pick-pocketing run-in that was a little too close for comfort on the metro (ie: Johnny catching a girl’s hand down his pocket, and another guy half unzipping my bag), we arrived – with all of our worldly possessions in tact – in Barcelona at our cool little spot, Solyk Guesthouse, in the Gothic quarter. Any reservations from our subway experience immediately evaporated once we hit the bustling streets around our hostel. After exploring the winding streets, beautiful palm tree-lined squares, some amazing cathedrals and the action-packed Las Ramblas, we headed to a local tapas spot to get our first taste of pinchos, or tapas speared with toothpicks which are then counted at the end of your meal to determine how many you ate and what you owe…AKA: Johnny and I in heaven. We probably spent a good few hours at the tapas bar, loading up our plates with different types of pinchos, sipping red wine and talking with others at the bar. We met a really nice Australian guy from Perth, living in NYC, who was in town speaking at a veterinary conference. Did you know that one can specialize in hard and soft palette mouth surgery on animals? Well, we learned all about it and made a new friend.

Tapas! The first of many pinchos…

The next morning we decided to test Johnny’s Spanish language skills at the famous Boqueria Market. We thought we had seen some amazing markets in France, but this one really topped them all. Aisle after aisle of stands overflowing with ripe fruits and vegetables, glistening piles of shellfish and giant whole fish with jagged teeth positioned artfully in seas of ice, hanging ‘jamon’ dripping fat in plastic cones, all sorts of unidentifiable animal parts, mountains of spices, freshly made pastas, and everything in between were interspersed with small tapas counters featuring the surrounding ingredients. One of the main attractions of the market were the colorful arrays of fruit platters and blended fruit drinks to go. From green, violet, orange and crimson, cups lined the stalls in mounds of crushed ice. We couldn’t resist the mango-coconut and strawberry-coconut chilled juices and the bowls of kiwi, papaya and dragon fruit….a delicious treat that we hadn’t seen since our drive to Hana on our honeymoon.

We spent the rest of the day checking out some of the major sites in Barcelona, like Antonio Gaudi’s fairytale-like Park Guell and unbelievable Sagrada Familia, which was really unlike anything I have ever seen. And what better way to end a great day of sight seeing than with another night of tapas! This time we took our own “tapas tour,” starting with a cool Cerverceria with an awesome beer selection (making Johnny very happy) and ending with double scoops of icecream and an impromptu thunder storm.

Entrance to Park Guell Picnic in the park
What is more impressive? Sagrada Familia or Johnny’s beard? Sagrada Familia
Looking left from our room’s balcony Looking right from our room’s balcony

We made the most of our two days in this gorgeous, lively city, and are looking forward to another week in Sevilla in the Andalusia region of Spain!

The airport didn’t stop us from more tapas!