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Biarritz Biarritz Biarritz

 

Our drive from San Sebastian was easy, not toll free unfortunately but beautiful. the one thing we noticed was how quickly the scenery changes to ‘typical French countryside’ or what I would expect in French movies.. As we drove towards the boast there is no way you could miss the hotel. It has large black gates surrounding its grounds, embellished facades and multiple entrances of the tiniest streets imaginable.

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The Hotel du Palais is an old palace/summer house built in 1855 by Emperor Napolean III for his wife Empress Eugenie who loved to visit Biarritz. Today it is just as large, just as grand and makes every guest feel what it might be like to be a royal, in our case two days worth.

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We parked our ‘grand’ Peugeot and walked to reception passing Aston Martins, Mercedes, Audis and Maseratis. The bell boys quickly ran to us to take our bags. The receptionist who took care of us then escorted us to our room advising us that there were fresh strawberries, mineral water and a small gift for us.

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WOW. The view out of our bedroom was spectacular, blue blue blue as far as the eye can see. 180 degrees worth of ocean. Next door our own ‘walk in robe’ had another view of the sea. The bathroom had so many toiletries including mini Hermes colognes. Spoilt much? Wait there is more. The strawberries sitting on a little table were as red as you could ever wish and tasted like none I have ever had. You cannot get flavour like this in Sydney, no way. We had a personalised note wishing us a great stay and the gift was another Hermes cologne for us. I was in another world for a moment until Chris said to look at the TV. It had on the screen “Welcome Patricia and Chris”. Everything is so personalised, so perfect, so luxurious. room3

Well we knew there was an indoor pool and spa but the weather was fantastic so we quickly changed and hit the outdoor pool overlooking the ocean. We sat down at two deck chairs but were asked to get up for a moment while the pool attendant fitted them with cushions and clean towels for us. Sure, why not! We relaxed and soaked up the suns rays with some drinks in tow. This would have to be one of the most relaxing afternoons we have had. Chris was getting peckish so ordered a Club sandwich. Well we knew this was a very exclusive hotel but as we had pre paid everything we forgot about the prices. So at the Hotel du Palais a club sandwich will set you back 39euros….but then it was served. So we should not have expected anything less. More than enough for two people it was a very tasty club sandwich if I do say so myself after sealing a quarter (to taste).

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A few hours in the sun was enough today. We retired in the room before our Michelin starred dinner at 8:30pm. The dinner was served in the main dining room which was a much better view than the side Michelin dining room. We were happy with this and thought as a weeknight that there may not be enough people to open up that dining room.

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The Menu for the evening was already placed on our table, it looked good. Bread was served and I was happy when two large and warm gluten free bread rolls were placed by my side. Two butters accompanied – salted and carrot (an odd flavour). An appetizer was served for Chris parmesan pastry with jamon wrapped around, I received a plate of jamon, but French jamon which was cut thick and did not have the oiliness that the Spanish style required. We then were both served another appetiser of Ratatouille with bacon cream which we looked at in disbelief as it was white, then we tried it. Spectacular. What a great mix of flavours and light at the same time. Our excitement was growing!

Entrée – Duck foie gras terrine with sangria jelly and poached peaches. Rich, creamy, delectable especially when paired with the jelly. A very large portion however so we tried but had to hold off finishing this one as there were many more courses to come.

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Main – Calf sweetbread fried in half salted butter coated in ginger and coriander and served with vegetables and sesame. An Asian flavour which everyone knows I am not normally a fan of, and sweetbreads, who isn’t scared when that word is on the menu. Surprisingly they were soft and the fat had a sweet creamy flavour which was cut back with the herbs and strong flavours in the sauce. A very enjoyable dish and something I would expect only the best chefs to be able to cook perfectly.

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Now for the cheese trolley. The waiter was explaining the cheeses to us, some I were familiar with, a lot not though, but I did tell him I was adventurous and not scared of smelly. He went for gold and put the most smelly cheeses they had. Chris on the other hand described himself as ‘not as adventurous as her’. So he had some local hard cheeses and a creamy soft style. Well when I said I like smelly what I mean is that I like smelly in Australia, pasteurised, probably flavoursome smelly. Smelly in France is really like “I need to go to the other side of the room” smelly and not just in smell the flavours were unimaginably strong in a not so good way. I was not prepared for that and knew I had to ask more carefully tomorrow.

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To say we had room for dessert would be correct but the dessert was not a flavour we normally like. Apricot.

Dessert – Whole roasted apricot, Madagascar vanilla and almond

Like the strawberries in our room these apricots were like apricot concentrate if there was ever a pure one made. I think our taste buds were done for the night. Strong after strong, rich after rich. I think a plain piece of bread would have cut it for dessert at that point as we just could not handle this much in one go.

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Oh wow look at the time. 11pm and we are the last ones in the restaurant, everyone is now in the bar listening to the live pianist.

We decided to have some tea to help digest and were moved into the bar. Food was not over yet as we still had petit fours to go. How silly of me, missing a course in a French dinner, and before you ask, yes we did have sorbet to cleanse our palettes after cheese.

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I was extremely tired as we had one glass for each course, plus another for some of the appetizers, add that to food coma and my body was telling me I just needed to sleep. The pianist was fantastic buy my body was giving in and I nearly fell asleep at our table. Up to bed we went ready for a nice sleep in tomorrow.

Day 2.

Well sleep in is exactly what we did. We closed the double windows so there would not be any light but still a little sound of the water crashing. It was such a relaxing sound and perfect to wake up to. Breakfast was the largest buffet we had ever seen. I’m talking cereals, pastries, breads, cheese trolley, small goods, salad, salmon, fresh fruits, eggs, bacon. Too much to enjoy especially after the dinner we had the night before.

After breakfast the sun was not out so we decided to give the indoor pool a try, it would be a sin not to. Empty was a good start, Jacuzzi at the end even better. Isn’t it funny that even though an indoor pool is heated and quite warm you still get cold as the air is normally even warmer. I had to spend most of my time in the Jacuzzi. We then gave the saunas and steam rooms a go. Boys in the Boys rooms but only of an afternoon between 4-6 are woman allowed to mix in that room. Shame it was only the morning.

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Hot and steamy and nice and chloriney we went up to shower and I could not believe that I was hungry. Woot woot we can enjoy lunch outside at the restaurant, why not.

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I had to try the steak tartare, surely at a place like this it should be one of the best. Chris ordered steak as always which was served with béarnaise sauce. Mmmmmmm both were fantastic and we weren’t shy to show it, finishing both plates and most of the chips. I thought I vowed after south America not to eat as much fried food? It’s not my fault everywhere in Spain and France add chips with meals. Chris was certain I wanted dessert and made sure he told the waiter that. This is his favourite trick you see, make the waiter believe I am a fatty and the only one who really wants to order dessert. Well he is the one who enjoyed most of our ice cream bowl. Vanilla, chocolate and coffee with mini meringues.

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Why did we order dessert I am so full, and we have another big dinner in 6 hours. We need a walk! So we walked to the end of the public beach and back, not far but enough to make ourselves feel better then laid by the pool for the rest of the afternoon.

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I was not hungry by the time dinner came round, but knew I had to soldier on and put that little note aside. Well once we saw the menu it was definitely not important. The menu looked incredible and so much better than the previous nights, well once our waiter told us what it said as they forgot to translate into English for us.

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Again Chris had the parmesan pastry with jamon, I got a plate of jamon and rockmelon. Nice but I am not the biggest fan of rockmelon. We were also served the Ratatouille with bacon cream. Ok we finished that but only because it was so good.

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Entrée – Blue Crab with gazpacho of confit tomato and citrus with tomato sorbet and olive oil.

Wow. The. Colours. Speak. For. Themselves. If you got this would you not be impressed? It was one of the most impressive seafood dishes we have had and refreshing was the best way to start the meal as you know you can eat and enjoy more. At this stage I am feeling good!

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Main – Roasted pigeon with eggplant, foie gras pate, reduction of port, oranges and carrots.

I have only ever had pigeon once in a dish like this and it was terrible. What better place to try it than this. Succulent meat, soft and gamey almost with the slightly sticky port sauce. I suppose they have treated the meat almost like venison. I did not have the foie gras pate on my eggplant as it had onions in it so my dish was great and not as rich as what Chris got. Perhaps the one time my intolerance has benefitted me. Luckily the meals were coming out a lot faster this evening so we had less time to get full in between courses, plus we had a lovely sunset beaming into our window. It was like the perfect last night for us.

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So cheesewise I stuck with what I know, goats cheese and my favourite French hard Ossau Iraty. Chris also got more hards and Camembert which we ordered another piece of as it was that good. Being full is for wimps we kept telling ourselves and we battles on.

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Sorbet to cleanse the palate before dessert, of course.

Dessert – Chris had a raspberry cream tart and strawberries while I had the most beautiful dessert of fresh fruits and strawberry sorbet. Again mine was better if only for the sorbet which was out of this world. Lemon juice just adds so much to food.

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So it was only 10:30pm at this stage after we spent time enjoying some more chit chat then we went to the bar, which was deserted, to enjoy the pianist. We requested many songs including Let it Be, Love me Tender and Over the Rainbow to name a few, which the pianist played at the drop of a hat, no prep, it was mesmerizing and a nice relaxing end to a night of extravagance, and with a view.

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As I said to Chris the next morning as I struggled to eat anything at breakfast, “It is so beautiful here and I love it but I could not survive another night of food.” And with that we said goodbye to the Hotel du Palais. Next time we might enjoy the hotel without the gastronomic package and order a la carte, but there will be a next time.

 

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San Sebastian – last city in Spain

We left bright and early from dodgy Granollers to set of on our way across Spain to San Sebastian. For all of you who are thinking “why would you drive across Spain instead of catch fast trains?” it is because all trains go through Madrid and not from Barcelona to San Sebastian. We would actually be adding time if we did it that way rather than attempt to drive the 550+km ourselves. Plus who doesn’t love a road trip?

Well our car which we have names Rufus, a large Peugeot, which is not manual but automatic with tiptronic, took a while to get used to. It also took a while to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road as we were forever veering into the next lane, but also speeds of at least 130km/hr for hour long stretches of straight road. I would say after 3 hours between us as we were both used to the car and the drive. We pushed ahead only stopping an hour out of San Sebastian for lunch in Pamplona. We did not explore the city as we were keen to get to our destination, but it we did enjoy a good burger (not a hamburgesa).

We arrived at our hotel early afternoon and luckily found street parking before we parked in the hotel car park. Our hotel, Astoria7 has a movie theme throughout and each room is assigned a movie star. We had Richard Perkins, the bad guy from Psycho.

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After we dropped our bags then went for a stroll down to the water and through the bustling streets full of bars. Our hotel was a 20 minutes walk from the water, a good thing since we had been enjoying a lot of food and wine each day. The sunset was beautiful and makes me believe all the good things that are said about this town.

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I again looked up our second best friend, Trip Advisor for some restaurant recommendations and found a small place called La Cepa. Every restaurant we passed looked fantastic but we held out and looked for the prized one. We found it and again nabbed the last free table. What is it with us and free tables? After 20 minutes we could not see the bar that is how many people had filled in standing at the bar.

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Our table was odd, like an showcase of nuts and seeds as the table was made of perspex or glass with little pockets full of different varieties.

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Ordering was easy. I wanted something fresh so the crab salad was right up my alley, especially after my stomach rejected the slow roasted lamb the night before. Chris ordered steak again. It turned out to be cooked extremely well, a blessing since the Granollers version of medium was 100% rare.

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We gobbled up everything on our plates then contemplated the mandarin sorbet. Yes. No. Yes. Maybe? No. We gave it a miss and went on to explore the town more. On the way back though I had to stop in for a cone of choc mint.

Day 2 was cool in the morning so we decided not to hit up the beach. If we have learnt anything about Europe so far is that whatever the morning is, forget about it, by midday it will be hot. It was soo hot. That was ok for me as I just took cover in the air-conditioned 4 level Zara, and I might have bought a few things too. It is not my fault Chris that you wanted to wait outside. We then decided to split so Chris could go off and be cool somewhere else, a bar probably. I went back to Zara as there were more floors to hit up. By the time we met back up at 4pm it was sweltering. We considered walking 20 minutes back to our hotel and then back with swimming costumes, but by then it the wind, which has started, would have picked up, so we gave it a miss.

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On the way home we stopped at a grocery store and bought some cheese, jamon iberico, bread and wine and had a picnic whilst watching more world cup (Brazil was playing). As the hotel had a movie theme they did in fact have a movie screen in the dining room which they were projecting games onto. What could be better?

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Up early the next day to drive to Biarritz.

Barcelona – Gaudi Town

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I feel like calling it the City of Angels, maybe because there is so much Gaudi and his spell is cast over the whole city? If there was no Gaudi would as many people visit Barcelona as they do today? It does have nice beaches, great food and an interesting history, but so many European cities do. What makes it so different? Gaudi……this coming from an Architect so maybe I am biased.

We arrived to Barcelona on a hot Summer’s day, our hotel located in the Gothic area and ‘Old Town’ near the port.The hotel seemed luxurious as it had air conditioning, something our friends in Valencia were lacking, and knew a good night sleep was awaiting us that evening. It was still early though, plenty of time to explore. First the roof top bar overlooking Barcelona.

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We could see Gaudi’s mark on the city from way up here. Next walking through the small back streets of this gothic area seemed like a maze. Tall buildings seemed to encompass us with only small flickers of sun making it through the narrow distance between them.

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Hunger hits. Not a problem, there are so many little bars that sell pinxtos small appetizer/tapas foods served on bread. So we stoped and loaded our plates.

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It seems to be a continual occurrence that whatever place we decide to eat at suddenly gets extremely busy after we arrive. Needless to say that paying our bill was a struggle. Others came in, ate and then also waited to pay, I would say 30 minutes is a conservative estimate. We did finally make it out of there during daylight though and decided to walk to the beach. Our map actually cut off before it hit the water so we thought keep walking that way and we should reach it. WRONG. What we reached was an exact copy, or should I say that Darling Harbour is an exact copy of this port. Aquarium, Imax, Shopping mall, Food vendors, little trains. Tourist town to the max. We needed to get out of there quick smart.

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So we did a loop, did not see any beach and walked back to the small alleys to get lost some more before finally making it t the hotel, tired, hot and wanting showers.

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I looked up restaurants for that evening and we decided on a bar called “Bar del Pla”. Remember it. Write it down somewhere and go. Go early or be prepared to wait. We went at around 8pm (on a weeknight) and nabbed the last table available, again. People walked in and then back out the front door disappointed, a good sign that we are in a good place.

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First up are tomato bread and roast chicken croquettes. Ok. BEST CROQUETTES IN SPAIN. You saw it here first. BBQ chicken, roasted, oven, cooked flavours are all here inside creamy, crunchy goodness that is a croquette. No chicken chunks, the whole filling is chicken mixture and the crumb is evenly cooked, not soggy, not falling apart. Perfection. Smiles all round. Tomato bread next. Wow. The vibrant red was not lying when that flavour hit our tongues. This is what a real tomato tastes like, but better as it is mixed with extra virgin olive oil and crusty bread. What could be a better combination. Again, you saw it here. BEST PAN CON TOMATE.

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We are living it up tonight. The next two dishes we had to take recommendations from the helpful staff. Smashed eggs with Chorizo is like fried eggs smashed but they must be cooked over a low heat as they are soft and have no crispy sides at all. The chorizo was super super strong and did need the eggs to balance the flavour hit. Together smeared on bread. Heaven.

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Last savory dish the scallops with green sauce and pine nuts. Scallops are just a hard ingredient to work with. They over cook at the blink of an eye, cool down rapidly and can taste bland if not cooked well. These chefs know how to cook up some scallop. These gigantic mummas were soft as butter and melted in our mouths. The dill sauce just enhanced the creaminess of the scallops, which were hot I might add.

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Ahhhh with perfection comes food comas, naturally. Did I mention we had ‘a refreshing salad’ too? It didn’t matter as Chris HAD to order dessert. I just HAD to eat some too. Gelato. Simplest dish of the night. Chocolate, vanilla and Lemon and mint sorbet. They were all incredible but the lemon mint was so interesting and like a cocktail in our gelato. Refreshing in more ways than one and when mixed with vanilla brought back childhood memories of summertime spiders.

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Chris can we come back tomorrow? He said yes. It was like a marriage that should last forever. Us and Bar del Pla.

Day 2 started off with a walking tour of Gaudi. The first building we visited was Casa Batllo in the ‘ritzy’ part of town. No teeny tiny alleys but instead wide roads where light is only hidden by trees and shops galore, especially the further away from the Port you get. Near Casa Batllo the road is boasting the likes of Zegna, Burberry and Jimmy Choo.

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The beauty and uniqueness of this monument adds colour and breaks up the rigidity and repetition that the street possesses. Gaudi was the first to embrace the natural forms in more than just a handrail and ornaments.

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The detail inside and leaves me in awe and wanting to replicate these mosaics in my house, but no time to dwell on that we are ushered onto the next building, Casa Mila. Unfortunately this one was under repair and the whole façade was boarded up. Finally, the last building on our tour, the grand Sagrada Familia.

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What a structure it was. Unfortunately it is also under heavy construction which is forecast to be finished in approximately 15 years. We were so glad that we had a local guide to tell us all about the differing facades. Firstly the façade that was finished just after Gaudi’s death and one that only he had designed. It is the passion façade which is dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph from the Angels telling Mary of her pregnancy to the birth of Jesus in many different scenes. The sculptures are all very organic with flowers and leaves an integral part of every scene. The reason for this is that in the time of Gaudi people thought that with the fast paced life post WWII that people will loose nature and forget what it was like, and this is why it was integrated into the architecture to remind us what it was like.

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The second façade is the passion façade and symbolizing lead up and death of Jesus from soliders coming to arrest him, then Jesus carrying the crucifix to him being crucified. Although Gaudi did leave detailed information of what each scene should have, it was the interpretation of a new sculptor who had the job to finish this façade. The sculptures are much more rigid with their hard edges and are lacking life. Although it is very cold it is also beautiful.

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We decided to save the interior tour to another day when our stomachs weren’t commanding so much from us. Off we went walking the few kilometers back to the old town and to the food markets. After Madrid we were inspired to try as many in Spain as possible. The Mercado de Santa Caterina was a very different experience to that in Spain. Although it is a building I have studied in Architecture classes, seen many photos of due to its interesting roof, it is not what we expected. A market for the people is the best was I can put it. Fresh seafood, meat, vegetables and fruit. No cafes, tables, bars to get some take away food or sit down at for a glass of wine. There was one or two nice restaurants on the edge of the markets but not cheap options at all. We ended up at a simple café just out of the markets for a sandwich and salad. Lunch and the afternoon were quite non eventful other than some shopping and more wine at a wine bar.

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Day 3 was the day we had booked in a wedding photo shoot through the streets of Barcelona and also another of Gaudi’s amazing site, Park Guell. Our morning was simple hitting up our local coffee joint which is probably the only boutique roaster in Barcelona and was like finding gold. No longer did we have to worry about having bad coffee every day, now we could go and order our Americano and Cortado (long black and piccolo) and enjoy…We then stood in line to see the Picasso Museum which thankfully is in the Gothic area so we did not need to walk far. If you go please do me a favour and get the Audio Tour, you learn so much more about Picasso and also his artworks which adds to the appreciation of the tour. Lunch was a simple sandwhich and salad again, we were saving room for a nice dinner at Bar Mut.

So while I got hair and make up done for the shoot Chris went off for some beer, wine, CROQUETTES at Bar Del Pla and a Vodka, but he came back empty handed with nothing for me.

The photo shoot was great, hot but great. Our photographer, Gabby from Enroute Photography was helpful and told us exactly what to do, and what not to do! After nearly two hours in the gothic area we headed up to Park Guell where ‘the shot’ I wanted was waiting. Park Guell reminds me of Gaudi meets Willi Wonka as the park looks like it has edible gingerbread houses and candy everywhere. People had started to clear out as we were there right before it closed, waiting for that sunset shot. Well here are some of the shots we got. Worth it? I think so.

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

After the shoot we got back to the hotel and stripped just to cool down, but not for long, redress in more comfortable clothes for dinner. Bar Mut is not a restaurant you can find a lot of information on, its website only has a weird 25 minute long video which is more about the characters and their stories than the food. We got there and were sat up at the bar.

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The menu was a board which were hard to decipher as it was in Catalan and not Castellano, which is more familiar to Chris and I. We were told some specials but just let the waiter recommend as we really did not know where to start. First came out croquettes which we were sure were to be pulpo but actually tasted plain. Definitely not pulpo in there, just crispy goodness and creamy filling. Well enjoyable nonetheless but nowhere near Bar del Pla.

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Next was carpaccio of egg or a very runny yolky thin omelette with prawns and crispy noodles. YUM. We were instructed to mix it all together so it would be a plate full of crunchy, creamy seafood goodness. There was no point plating it up between us, I ate straight off the plate.

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Fullness was kicking in right here, mind you I did eat the majority of that egg dish. I just love eggs! We had a break before our whole fish was displayed to us, cooked in a copper dish, prior to being filleted. It was enormous. The fish was emitting aromas of white wine, butter, herbs and garlic and those potatoes might just looked like cooked potatoes but they had soaked up all of those delicious juices.We ate and ate and ate until we could ‘ate’ no more. This was one of those times where you have used up your dessert stomach for mains and therefore dessert was not an option.

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We found it incredible that large tables were coming in to dine at 11:30pm, but in Europe this is so normal. I will admit that when their main came out, the Chateaubriand we had serious food envy as we had not had a good steak in quite a while and wish we had ordered the meat. C’est la vie. We were full, satisfied and ready for a nice long sleep.

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Day 4 we went for a long long walk. This walk started with us looking for breakfast, since we slept in and missed the hotel buffet. I remembered seeing a nice bakery but when we walked and walked and walked and still could not find it we gave in and just sat down at any regular bar for ‘brunch’ as it was now midday. I watched the waiter make us coffee. My long black was over extracted then the button was pressed for another extraction on with the same coffee. I was cringing everytime I glanced that way and wished we were back at the boutique roaster. To my complete surprise it was not bitter and it was drinkable but probably knowing how it was done made me not enjoy it.

We decided to find the beach so at least we could say we saw it. If we thought it was hot on our wedding shoot this was another level of heat. We walked and walked trying to hide in the shade of trees, which in the central gardens were not plenty.

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We also could not exit the gardens how we had hoped as the Zoo blocked us out so we walked around the zoo then the Parliament blocked us out and geez look where we ended up, right back where we entered, wasting time and energy. So we walked AROUND the gardens now and looked out for public transport to the beach. Nothing, so we walked a bit further. We were ecstatic when we saw the light rail as the light rail in Valencia took us right to the beach so we hoped for a similar situation. Nope. It would take us 200m down the road to the final stop. We ended up walking the rest of the way to the beach. It was a beautiful beach with real sand and not pebbles.

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We were kicking ourselves we did not bring our costumes with us. When we set out in the morning we did not know where we would end up. The heat made us think silly things like ‘let’s go in the water in our clothes’. Easy for Chris who had already stripped his shirt off and could easily jump in in his shorts. We walked along the beach back towards the centre until I realized I was getting a shorts tan. AHHH isn’t that something men only get? I had to get in the shade asap. Now we were done with the beach and on our way back but were on the look out for a 95 bus which would go near our hotel. Many buses past us and when the 95 did we ran to the next bus stop only for the bus to leave 3 seconds to early. Nooooooo. We walked back stopping for lunch and coffee then collapsed in our air conditioned hotel room for a quick rest then were up again to go to see the insides of Sagrada Familia which we were booked in for at 5pm. The plan was to do the church then go get dinner and watch the Spain vs Holland game.

Sagrada Familia is an incredible church not only for the sheer size of it but Gaudi’s mind and creation is just brilliance. Every single piece of glass, every column has a meaning and a need. I cannot even try to explain why things were done but here are a few photos which will try to show you the generous that is Gaudi.

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When considering where to watch the game that evening we needed a large screen and dinner so we could get a good spot early on in the night in front of the screen. The place I went a few nights before was okay, not great but worth a try. We were definitely early as it was not terribly busy yet. We ordered our meals, both hungry for hamburgers after walking for miles earlier that day. Our hamberguesas came out and were not what we expected. A hamburger patty with two fried eggs and hot chips. Well not quite what we expected but we were hungry and devoured the plates. Well the bar did get packed and then we were glad we did not go to the Irish pub up the road as you could hardly see the screen there were that many people. We were comfortable at our table enjoying wine right in front of the screen.

There is nothing to say except Spain are terrible and the locals were walking out of the Bar at half time. Not quite the experience we wanted watching Spain play in Spain.

Our last night was a let down but we weren’t finishes with Barcelona quite yet.

The next day we went to pick up our hire car we would have for the next 10 days. Today we were driving it to Granollers, only half an hour outside of Barcelona to watch the Moto GP.

Picking up the car was ok, although it was not the car we had booked, it was much larger and also not manual like requested but automatic with the stop start at the traffic lights. The integrated GPS was a bit delayed when in a busy city so it took us at least half an hour to get out of Barcelona city and onto a highway. Once we did the GPS was fine and directing us like it should. Well. Granollers is not a sight for sore eyes. A small town which gets busy once or twice a year for the Moto GP and maybe the F1 too. Our hotel would have been close to the race track but a lot of roads had been closed so that traffic was directed in and out of the race track on only a few roads. We raced to see the qualifiers but as we were walking in after parking we could hear the crown go wild as it had just finished. If roads had not been closed and our GPS not so confused we would have made it. What can you do. We watched the Moto3 qualifiers then walked around to see the merchandise.

So if we thought that getting out of Barcelona was bad, getting out of the race track was probably 20x worse. We were not moving. Our hotel was a 10 minute drive away. It took us an hour to just get on the highway, then another 5 to the hotel. By this time we were hungry so drove straight into the town for dinner. It was 6:30pm at this stage. We went to the main square, found a restaurant and sat down. Unfortunately we were told that dinner does not start until 8pm so we only had the small bar menu to order off. It didn’t look to appetizing when I went up to have a look a the options. I ordered a few things including chorizo, potatoes and tortilla. Chorizo was served in a pool of oil, the potatoes were ok but the tortilla was still raw. We nibbled then went to the bar next door for a wine. The bar also happened to have a tv and world cup games on, so we stayed there all night and had simple snacks to get us by. Not a gastronomic experience at all.

Race day we were up early to get a good park and watch warm ups. We were also worried about the traffic getting there. No problem, it took 10 minutes and we got a good park as the car park was not full yet. The effects of this wouldn’t hit us until later in the afternoon.

moto1The Moto3 and Moto2 races were a bit boring as one or two people were leading for the whole time, there were no interesting fights for first.

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The Moto GP however was full of excitement. Valentino Rossi lead for the first half then Marquez came to first and Pedrosa in second. After this is was like musical chairs and they kept changing but the local Marc Marquez won in his home town and the crown went wild. We did not stay to listen to the interviews post race as we did not want to be in a long line driving home.

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Well I think it was inevitable. We were at the back of the car park and actually did not even leave the car park for at least an hour. In hindsight we should have done the shifty like everyone else and push in on the side. The whole drive took us an hour and a half to get out and into town. A lot of people were driving back to Barcelona so we were happy we were going back into the small town.

We were experienced today so went for a pre dinner drink and waited until a nice restaurant opened at 8:30pm. Finally we had a proper dinner of steak and slow cooked lamb and we enjoyed every bite. Unfortunately my stomach did not appreciate the sudden change to super rich food and I was not feeling too well that night!

Thankfully the next morning I was better ahead of our 5hr drive to Saint Sebastian……but that is another story.

Valencia – home to the best Paella

Valencia was hot when we arrived, hot at night and hot when we left, perfect weather for beaching and post dinner strolls. We got off the Train from Madrid, map in tow, and walked up this corner, around that one. Stop. Where are we? Back to that corner. Wow half an hour has passed in this heat. Oh we are there! Ok this is the street. I can see the hotel! Finalllllly. Of course we arrived hungry so after dropping our bags we went on the search for food. We really did not want to walk further than a block, lucky it was a big block, and after walking around ¾ of it we found a bakery. It had a huge selection of pastries, emapanadas, sandwiches, pizzas, sweets and Coffee! We had a jamon y queso sandwich each and suddenly felt so satisfied. Simple and delicious. Now that we could think we had to plan for dinner. So back to the hotel to do a little research and not long after I found what I thought would be the perfect restaurant. It looked funky, new and ‘gastronomic’ but not pretentious and posh. Dressed up and starving again we set off with the help of our dear friend, google maps. It was not a leisurely walk as one might think. When I am hungry I am on a mission and basically power walked my way to that restaurant, poor Chris trailing behind. I blame my Dad when we were little kids. Can you imagine a 6’4” man with two little kids holding his hand, each as tall as his knee, running just to keep up with him. As I grew my pace slowed but now I have developed a comfortable and fast power walk in addition to a pet hate of slow walkers in the street who block my path. So. Vuelve Carolina. If this restaurant was in Sydney it would have a very good chance of actually staying open. Great central location. Tick. Fresh décor consisting of light timbers, Mini plant wall and contemporary lighting. Tick tick. Bookable. Ding ding ding. Winner. Did I mention the interesting dishware?

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The menu is set out to share so we chose 4 dishes to start with so we could suss out the food descriptions. Papeles – Papel & steak. Worth a try……WOW served ON newspaper, paper thin steak with what tasted like a hamburger on top, just deconstructed. Memories of cheeseburgers as a child flooded back without feeling guilty about going to McDonalds. If this is the first dish we are onto a winner!

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Next Huevo a baja temperature (eggs cooked over low temperature) that secretly hid roasted shrooms, although you did not need to see that, the flavour permeated through the whole dish, even with the creamy yolk blended through. Ravioli gyoza? Not quite.

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A layer of what I could only guess is solidified beef stock was the ‘pastry’ above a ‘san choy bow’ with prawns. Again we were left licking the plate wanting more. We could not leave without trying the Mini Burger Carolina served with fried and wrapped in newspaper. Mini is correct, small enough to fit in even my big mouth, no. How do I attack this?

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Like Chris I suppose, open as wide as possible and shove it in. mmmmmmmmmmmmm Juicy meat, pickles, sauce, soft bun. Do we have another burger? We could still eat more but thought we had better try something new. Our one mistake. We did order the sesame chicken cooked in paper, thinking there might be a dipping sauce. No the skewers of chicken were cooked in paper so nice and smokey in flavour but the sesame part was quite boring, not like our journey so far. Sigh.

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Hopefully dessert would pick us up. White chocolate cream, mango and passion fruit looked promising and fresh. It was exactly what it sounded like, white chocolate cream in a passionfruit soup with noodles of mango sorbet.

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Needless to say we were fighting spoons for the rest of the course trying to get as much as possible. I think being in constant need of walks after dinner will be how we spend our whole honeymoon. Our eyes are bigger than our stomach and the food is too good to say no to. So walk we did tonight through the main square up to the fake Colosseum to watch a random 16km Marathon being held at 11pm on a Saturday night in Valencia.

running There were hoards of people lined up the streets cheering on friends and a batucada group drumming away to motivate the runners, some of whom really needed it.We watched for half an hour until the group of runners died down then went back to our hotel and attempt to sleep in the heat.

Our second day in Valencia we were determined to hit up the beach since we had not been seaside for quite some time. Valencia is known for its long and large beaches so it was definitely something we had to tick off the list. A metro and light rail ride later we were there. The beach spanned as far as we could see down the coast and was at least 50m deep till we reached sea from the pavement. Huge is probably an understatement.

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We found a spot and tanned for a few hours until our stomach were telling us to stop. All along the beach there were cafes with Menus of the Day. We walked up and down and found one of the cheaper menus to try. Well probably an indication of what was to come, slow service, not so great food. To cheer us up we walked up the beach to find ice cream but settled for a calippo, probably a better option too. To be honest I did buy a maxibon first but after a few bites of the cheap creamy ice cream I had to throw it out and enjoy icey cool lemoney calippo.

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We continued walking along and after too much sun went back to shower off . Dinner we decided to wing it and walk around the town to find a little bar. We found a bar in a back street that was full and with not too many English speakers around so we thought it was worth a try. No. Crap croquettes, mini frozen prawns attempting to be garlic prawns and a not so fresh salad. Today was not a good food day, let’s just leave it at that.

The next day we went had booked in to go to the Aquarium which is part of the Culture Park of Valencia. It has a number of buildings and bridges designed by the world famous architect Calatrava. They were magnificent and just incredible to admire.

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The scale, the geometry and just concepts were not like anything I have seen before in person. The aquarium had so many little ‘worlds’ including tropical, Mediterranean, Artic, Antartic, Shark, wetlands and a dolphin show. It kicks the Sydney aquarium in the butt.

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On the walk back I decided to try and find a hairdresser to get my hair done, try being the key word since it was siesta time. It was not easy as many were closing at 4pm for the afternoon. I feel that Valencia is a lot more relaxed than Madrid and adhere to siesta times. I had told Chris that I would be back by 6pm at the latest. Well I found a hairdresser, waited for an hour, then it took 2hrs for her to do my roots, I was one of 3 clients in the salon. I must admit it was probably the best colour I have had but the fact that I confirmed it would be LESS than 50 euros before I started, then we enjoyed some chit chat where the hairdresser learnt that I was Australian and a little about me gave her the right to charge me 52.50 euros for a simple roots dye. In Sydney I pay $30 for this, so basically she ripped me off, but what can you do? I was not going to start arguing in the little Spanish I know about 20 euros. At least we got a good restaurant recommendation for that evening! Marisqueria los tres Mares. The restaurant specialised in seafood and it was time to try what we had come to Spain to try, paella. A dear friend of mine Panayiota has always told me that she had the best ever lobster paella in Spain, although it was from Barcelona I thought it was worth a try in Valencia. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though entrée first. Garlic prawns? Surely anything could have been better than last night’s attempt. Well the giant king prawns served in a fresh garlic oil with potatoes was 1000% better.

pall1 We gulped it up quick smart. Amateur mistake. Had we even noticed the size of the paellas? We were not expecting what came out. A HUGE 50cm diameter paella dish at least with two half shells of lobster resting on top. This was for two. Um how was I supposed to finish that? Simple. It tasted so good with the little squid, prawn, octopus and other seafood pieces, saffron rice and of course crunchy crust that we just had to force ourselves to finish it as it would be a crime to leave any on the plate.

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We did try but just could not eat any more. The equivalent of how full we were can be likened to the fullness you have after your grandmother keeps telling you that you have not eaten anything then puts another plate of food in front of you that you feel bad not to eat. That full. Not wanting to disrespect full. Well almost that full, there was room for lemon sorbet to help digestion. That 52.50 euro hairdye just paid for itself with the satisfaction we both had. Needless to say we did a long walk back to the hotel. The next morning we packed up our things ready to catch the train to Barcelona. We had come to know the streets of Valencia much better than when we had arrived. Luckily we did not get lost on the way to the station as we boarded our train as soon as we arrived. Sit down, relax, it’s 3hrs till we reach Barcelona.

Madrid – an affair to remember

Ah Spain, how lovely our first meeting was. I loved so much arriving in sunny Madrid to a nice hotel, H10 in the centre of town with big large windows overlooking the old style apartments across the street.

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I was so hungry after getting off the plane though that we needed to feed me straight away. Lucky you had a plethora of bars along our street that we were able to enjoy some tapas and a bottle of wine at 4pm, and OMG what great tapas they were. If the flavours from this first manchego and jamon iberico plate is anything to go by, we will do just fine together.

…..and it was sooo fine!

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The rest of our first day we spent walking through the large central park, contemplating whether to hire a row boat in the middle of the lake (although it was now so balmy and almost uncomfortable in the sun).

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We decided to find shelter in the streets near our hotel which, I was so happy to discover, were full of shops. No shopping yet I was told. Another thing we discovered was a gluten free bakery. A WHOLE BAKERY dedicated to the gluten intolerant. It was called Celicioso – Like Delicioso and Coeliac (well Spanish spelling). Closed now but definitely a place we were to return the next day.

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We rested in the afternoon and ended up napping for 3 hrs due to the jet lag flying from Peru to Spain and the 7hr time difference we had to make up. Dinner was just there to cure our cravings of meat since we had not had much ‘steak’ in Peru. So it was a boring steak place, but we promised ourselves we would be m ore authentic going forward.
What did surprise us though was that Madrid was always buzzing. When we left the restaurant at midnight people were still walking the street, eating, drinking, walking their dogs. It is almost a city that does not sleep. I was falling in love already. I kind of imagine this to be a mini New York if you add lots and lots of European culture and super old buildings, Maybe???

Our first/and last full day in Madrid (we only had a short 2 nights together) we decided to hit up the gluten free bakery first to have coffee and I had a nutella alfajore (shortbread normally with dulce de leche inside but instead nutella). AMAZING, does not crumble at the slightest touch + coffee = a happy Trish. Not wanting to spoil my appetite for the food markets I restrained myself and we left. We walked the streets towards the food markets and as Chris pulled me along I was writing a mental list of shops I wanted to visit.

The food markets are called Mercado de San Miguel and are near the central Plaza. On the way there we stopped at the Museo de Jamon “Museum of Ham”. Wow red red red everywhere. Jamons hanging left, right and centre. The bar in the centre had queues lining up just of people wanting to have a small tapas plate or a jamon bocadillo “sandwich” from this institution.

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We kept walking remembering the prize at the markets, a much larger selection of foods and highly recommended by my food mentor Andrew, so if Andrew said it was good, it was GOOD. He did not disappoint. MY eyes were like I was seeing 100 shooting stars. I could not control where I was looking as there was too much to see, too much to smell, where do I start????

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This was mainly for the tourists due to the expensive prices but also sold fresh seafood, meat and vegetables for the locals who wanted to spend a little bit more. It reminds me of what David Jones food hall is but much more interactive with the people and just better (full stop).

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We settled on more jamon iberico, aged manchego, wine and chicken croquettes. The jamon was strong and oily full of flavour rich fat; the manchego brittle, dark and nutty; the croquettes creamy, crunchy and ‘taste like chicken’. Sad but true we were full from jam and cheese, again, but still have weeks left to discover more dishes, plus I had just spotted mini ice cream cones that I found room for, and a flavour I had never seen before lemon sorbet with shards of chocolate through it. Someone in Sydney should be making this as it is perfect for all those people who feel like chocolate but need something refreshing instead and cannot decide.

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We then walked through the city, past the parliament, main church and back to the hotel with a little bit of shopping included. Well rested we set off to another recommendation “El Tempranillo” a little bar close to the food markets on the other side of the main plaza. We walked through peak hour of people on the streets and after a few wrong turns, dress ups and seeing a naked man on a hotel balcony, we made it to El Tempranillo lucky to nab the last table. All of a sudden groups arrived wanting tables with none available for a while and we thanked our lucky stars we had timed it right.

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The service was interesting as the waiter did not seem to care if we were sitting there or not. After a while we got some chunky cured chorizo as an appetiser. The globules of fat burst in your mouth and woke our tastebuds which were screaming for more….well more would have to wait a bit as the waiter had not even come back to take our order. So we ordered 5 different tapas with the waiter’s recommendations and after some more waiting, they arrived. Maybe us two Sydneyciders are just impatient people but the Spanish seem content everywhere we go, this must show the restaurateurs that fast service does not matter if you have a quality product. It is probably the same theory used when people wait in lines for long periods of time to buy bread, gelato or a pork roll sandwich. Well let me tell you we were not complaining once we took our first bites. We ordered:
– Fried egg, asparagus and chives;
– Grilled vegetables, goats cheese and olive oil;
– Smeared tomato and jamon iberico;
– Foie gras and pear;
– And we forgot the last one but it was just as good as the rest.

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All simple flavours but just done so well. We did not know how to order and probably should have had some larger dishes, but we were so content after this, and 1.5 bottles of wine, no more food was required.
Looking around you could not see the bar any more as it was packed in here like sardines. We decided to leave and give someone else a table, but our dear friend the waiter did not care that we wanted to pay. I must admit for the amount of people in there perhaps more than one waiter should have been on. Well it worked for them, they were turning people away and the crowd was happy so I suppose it probably does not matter to them.

Walking the streets we could not help ourselves when we stumbled upon a churreria “churros house”. Like amateurs we ordered 2 hot chocolates and churros but our neighbours were sharing the one hot chocolate between them. Smart, very smart. We probably had 1/5 of the hot chocolate each as it was the richest little cup of warm chocolate ganache I had ever tasted. Unlike Peru’s first picarones disaster our first churros were not a disaster at all. So so crunchy and with the slight salty flavour it paired so well with our cup of brown glop (I’m sorry chocoholics but it was just that rich I nearly could not have it).

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And this my friends brought Madrid to a halting end, but the “meet-cute” we shared would be the start of my desire to return, and to enjoy a nice affair with one day.