We spent our last two nights in this wonderfully atmospheric town. And while our experience with the cuisine wasn't that great, the town is beautiful.
From what we saw on our walk from the train station......
To the view from our hotel room......
To wandering the side streets......
Walking though the little streets in search of a snack or a meal was fun. everything just seemed to be tourist oriented food; even what was recommended by our hotel as being "really Portuguese".
To be perfectly honest, I kind of knew this. But I wanted the Missus to really enjoy Sintra after all the day-trippers had left, when the town was at its romantic best. Which meant staying in the town. It was a nice little break before our return.
Our dinner the first night was at Tacho Real. It was nice, but really nothing special.
Though walking around Sintra after the tourists are gone was wonderful.
The next morning we awoke and had a hefty breakfast and headed on our way.
Up the hill. Where the avenue became a smaller street......
Which gave way to a gate (where admission is paid), then trails, past an ancient Moorish Castle......
It is one of those places that is vividly unforgettable.
From the colors, to the restored rooms, to the view.
And yet, you never quite get the romantic beauty of it all until you climb up the neighboring hill.
It's quite an easy task....to let your mind wander; imagining the comings and goings, the intrigue, the stories that this structure could tell. Of how Amelia, the last Queen of Portugal, spent her last night before being sent into exile at the Palace.
The views are stunning and there are many trails on the park grounds.
We were glad we visited and stayed. We got to visit the palace and the park grounds before the buses of tour groups arrived.
We spent our last evening in Portugal walking around Sintra, picking out a little Wine Bar/Tapas place off the usual tourist trail.
A couple of glasses of wine, some small bites....it was a nice relaxed way to spend our last night....
After a nice lunch, we were off. The Missus wanted to explore Barri Gòtic and the sun started peeking out as we crossed Via Laietana.
We decided to enjoy the day and bought some water and headed back to Barcelona Cathedral. We had a seat and just watched Barcelona pass us by.
One quick note. In Barcelona, we noticed some distinct differences in pronunciation from Madrid. For instance, they call their fair city "bar-theh-LO-nah". I think some of the differences other than Catalan versus Spanish language thing is explained here.
After a brief respite we were back wandering the back streets of Barri Gotic.
This is where the city of Barcelona was established. We would find all sorts of hidden treasures in the winding back streets of this neighborhood. Everything from Roman ruins to charming plaças (squares) with a ton of history and numerous little shops mixed in. We just got lost in the maze of little streets and really didn't mind at all.
In Roman times, what is now Plaça Sant Jaume was the center of the Roman city of "Barcino". These days it is still an important square. On one side stands the Palau de la Generalitat - the Presidential Palace.
On the other side City Hall.
Since this was once the center of the Roman city, you know there must have be some Roman ruins somewhere. Right down a small side street (Carrer del Paradis). At #10 you'll be at the highest spot in the neighborhood, at the top of Mount Taber! Walking through the doorstep and you'll be quite surprised by the ruins of a Roman Temple. Not huge, just a few remaining columns, once forgotten then rediscovered in the 19th century.
Turning back down a little street you can't help but notice the Carrer del Bisbe Bridge which used to connect the the government building with the presidential palace.
Also along this area is the old Jewish Quarter where over four thousand Jews were forced to live down a tiny alleyway named El Call.
Also in the area is a peaceful little square named Plaça Sant Felip Neri. The little square houses the school of Sant Felip Neri and the church that bears the same name. Gaudi used to attend services at this church.
This pretty little square still shows the scars of the bombs that landed here in 1938 as the Germans at Franco's behest used Barcelona (and also Guernica) as a practice range for their air force. 42 people, mostly children were killed.
Going down the short alleyway back to Carrer del Bisbe we noticed this sculpture. During our visits to the Prado Museum in Madrid, we managed to view Goya's famous work; The Third of May 1808 which depicted the execution of Spanish citizens who opposed Napoleon's occupation of Spain during the Dos de Mayo Uprising. This monument memorializes those who were executed when Barcelona rose against the occupation. Inscribed on the monument is "por dios por la patria y por el rey" - for God, for their Country and King.....
By this time, the clouds were returning. The Missus thought it was time to head back to our apartment....by foot of course. For those who have visited Barcelona, think of it as walking to Sagrada Familia from Barcelona Cathedral.
It was actually a pretty nice walk as we chose streets at random making our way back to Avinguda Diagonal. We'd do a similar walk one more time the following day.
We took a break at a non-descript coffee shop where the Missus saw "Horchata" on the menu and was excited. No, this is not the rice and cinnamon drink we're used to here in San Diego. Rather, Spanish Horchata is made from tiger nuts, a tuber which has a nutty flavor. I stuck with an expresso.
Close to Avinguda Diagonal, which actually splits Barcelona in half diagonally on Passeig de Sant Joan we saw this beautiful church.
It wasn't marked on our map, which we had gotten from a booth since the only person that met us at the apartment was the building manager, so we were on our own when finding maps, directions and such. looking at the board in front of the church we learned this is Església de les Saleses - Church of the Salesians. It is the work of architect Joan Martorell i Montells who was one of Gaudi's teachers and introduced him to Eusebi Güell (remember Park Güell ?).
We made our way back to the apartment. We showered, freshened up, and decided to stay in the neighborhood for dinner. Not in the mood for a typical restaurant we headed to an interesting shop named Típic i Català. Located a couple of blocks down and one street over on Carrer de Sicilia, this little shop sold wine, cheese, craft beer (!), and other food products from Catalan.
The shop also serves up charcurterie. local cheeses, matched with wine, along with other chalkboard items.
It's more of a wine shop with some tables, then a tapas/wine bar.
This sounded great so we ordered the cheese and wine and the charcuterie and wine....which did take a while, but the gentleman working on this day, who is Belgian, it is his wife who is from Catalan, was very nice.
He really didn't explain much, but perhaps we should have asked more questions. Overall, this was fine but nothing special. Still, he was very nice and it was a good, light meal.
Tipic i Catala Carrer de Sicilia 290 Barcelona, Spain
Taking a walk around the area, we came across this shop.
We decided a bit of Jamon would be a nice snack.
The woman working here was really, really friendly and nice. We didn't see any bellota pata negra, so got their highest grade jamon.
The flavor was nice, perhaps a bit too salty. It was just cut way to thick for us, taking away from the texture.
Charcutería Simón Carrer de València 392 Barcelona, Spain
At the end of the evening we resumed the usual routine, I was relaxing in the living room, going through photos. While the Missus had started planning for the next day. We had reservations for the Picasso Museum, but after that; well it was all to the Missus....
As the Missus predicted after dinner at Disfrutar, I needed to get my rest because we did quite a bit of walking on this day. The Missus wanted our first stop to be Park Guell. Most of the instructions I'd read on getting to Park Guell was to either take a taxi, bus and taxi, or metro and taxi. But you know the Missus, there would be no shortcuts, we'd be walking up that hill to Park Guell. The morning was nice and cool, so the 30 minute walk didn't seem too bad; even the hill.
An interesting thing we quickly noticed were that many street corners in Barcelona are chamfered, these 45 degree cuts at the corners make the space seem larger as the streets widen at intersections. We loved the feel; though it would never fly in the states since the crosswalks are moved off the corners. I can just imagine folks here grumbling about having to walk the extra 10 feet.
Park Guell will undoubtedly elicit a response. Like it or not, you never forget the place. From your first look at the "Main Entrance", actually the exit on this day......
The park is something to see....whimsical, fanciful, .....whatever the colorful (hey there's another one) adjective you'd like to associate with the place, it is without a doubt unforgettable.
From the Grand Stairway with the Dragon Fountain; the Dragon is one of the symbols of Barcelona, though this one looks more like an iguana to me. Which leads to the Hall of Columns and the back story of the park. You see, Antoni Gaudi, backed by Eusebi Güell, the park's namesake who purchased the land, designed this to be an upscale housing development. The area with the pillars was to be a market to cater to the 60 planned mansions.
The plan was not a success since folks didn't want to move all the way to this "remote" (at the time) location.
It is said that Gaudi took much of his inspiration from nature. Walking through the "Portico of the Washerwoman" really emphasized that for me. The columns are not uniform, but somehow create an irregular harmony that is pleasing to the eye.
Visiting here early in the morning is recommended. Much like Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, you'll have a better experience and time to contemplate, and appreciate this unique park.
There is an entrance fee for this area called the "Monumental Zone", but it is well worth it.
The highlight is without a doubt the Terrace and the view of Barcelona. On a overcast morning like this with rain in the forecast, there was a Tim Burtonesque - Walt Disneyfied - Dr Seussificated, fairytale feel to the whole place. You may be inspired to flights of fancy, like Mr Selfie-Stick in the photo on the right. The Missus worked hard to get a discreet shot of the guy, who was obviously "inspired" by the sheer comfort of the multi-colored, ergonomically designed bench which wraps around the terrace. After all, what else could move a seemingly normal adult to act like this?
Only Park Guell.......
Groups of visitors had started arriving, so we knew it was time to leave. We exited, walked down the hill, and headed west. Somehow we got onto Passeig de Gracia in the Gracia neighborhood and headed down the street, which was a small street that became a multi-laned deal. It was pretty much by accident that we came to Avinguda Diagonal, which we became more familiar with later, running straight into Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, a study in Modernisme, designed by who else? Well Gaudi of course.
I'm not sure if you noticed something about the name Gaudi. Doesn't it sound a lot like "gaudy"? And I don't think it would be much of a stretch to think of his works as being somewhat gaudy. I was told that Gaudi's name was indeed used as the source for that word. But after returning home I did a bit of research and found it's an urban legend as the word was used before Gaudi was even born. It would make a heck of a good story though, huh?
Where Passeig de Gracia ends, Barcelona's Old Town begins; at Placa de Cataluñya.
Of course beyond the wide open space and the fountains, we found the "Pigeon Lady" the most fascinating feature......
Las Ramblas, one of the most popular streets, actually a series of streets starts right off Placa de Cataluñya. The center of the street is a pedestrian only zone with cars that pass on either side.
It is without a doubt the most tourist dense area we saw in Barcelona....full of all the folks who make money off tourists, souvenir hawkers, street performers, and pick pockets. It was a bit too crowded and full of tourists for us. The buildings crowding each side didn't help. It was not our favorite part of Barcelona. While we found Puerta del Sol in Madrid lively, though crowded, Las Ramblas just seemed packed and lacking in atmosphere....in a Waikiki kind of way. We did return later when the weather was better, but still felt the same way.
Still, I wanted to check out La Boqueria Market, which turned out to be quite a nice collection of (rather pricey) food stands as well as functioning as a food hall.
Catering to tourists and locals alike.
After a nice walk around the market we headed back out. We'd had enough of Las Ramblas for now and decided to duck out. We took a side street and ended up at Placa Reial, then moving onward into the Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, ending up at Barcelona Cathedral.
And past Barri Gòtic, the area known as El Born, with atmospheric narrow streets, buildings with laundry hanging off lines on pulleys from windows. You'd enter a small street and end up in a quaint square or an alleyway full of bars and restaurants.
I realize that this is currently one of the hippest, up-and-coming areas within Barcelona, and tourists flock here in droves to visit the Picasso Museum (which we would do the next day), but the place still seemed to have the feel of a local, residential neighborhood. Which really charmed us.
There was a place in the area, basically right across the street from the Picasso Museum...well more like across the street and down the alley; just look for the "Udon" sign; really.....
The name of the place is Bar del Pla located right off Moncata in the opposite direction of the Picasso Museum.
I love the atmosphere......though getting a "real" table pretty much takes a reservation, the phone is ringing off the hook for bookings. The seating in the bar area does just fine and is first come, first served. We loved the "flying pig" hanging over the bar.
I started with a beer, the Missus a "tinto" and we proceeded to order. One of Catalonia's signature food items is "pan con tomate", tomato bread. So we had to order it here. This was delicious, the best version we had during the entire trip. The bread was decent, though not outstanding, but the tomato tasted like the essence of summer sunshine.
How something so simple, can be so satisfying when done right is amazing.....
The Missus wasn't sure about me ordering the "Smoked Sardines Coca" (8.3 €).
She needn't have worried. This was a nice combination of flavors. A "coca" refers to a Catalan style flatbread and this crisp piece of bread was topped with some very moist and tasty lightly smoked sardines, pine nuts (which they love here), mango, and red peppers. It was such a nice combination of flavors and textures.
The Tripe Stew was passable, well prepared and tender, though we'd have better later on.
The dish named "Mr Pork Trotters" was divine, though listed under "Granny's Cuisine" on the menu, I'm fairly certain the wonderful flavor and even texture was due to sous vide.
The texture was so evenly tender; on the edge of falling apart, but still able to keep form. The rich flavor so prevalent...more pine nuts! Personally, I love all that connective tissue, but this was so velvety, so smooth, so nice for a place with a simple "tapas" sign outside.
Having had two beers, I needed to end the meal with an espresso. After all, we still had a whole lot of walking to do.
Bar del Pla Carrer de Montcada 2 Barcelona, Spain
I'll leave with this sign......of Gaudi's "Dragon" being defeated by a piranha. It always makes me smile.
So what do you get after the defacto "Best Restaurant in the World" (could there really be such a thing?) closes and three of the Chefs de Cuisine (Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas), with over 45 years in the hallowed kitchens of the restaurant decide to collectively open up their own place in Barcelona?
You get Disfrutar, which opened at the end of 2014. When planning for this trip, I decided on three upscale dinners and Disfrutar was one of them. We took the metro to the Hospital Clínic stop which is just a few blocks from the restaurant.
The restaurant looks fairly small from the outside but the dining area is actually quite large. We had arrived at about 8pm, pretty early in Spain, but were relieved to see at least two parties had arrived before us. Being led to our seats, the Missus had a stroke of genius....She asked if we could sit at the bar instead, which is actually the dessert prep area. We were cheerfully accommodated. Like Suzunari and Wakuriya, sitting at the bar watching the food being prepped with precision and skill is a treat.
Also a treat was the service, which we found unpretentious, relaxed, gracious, well paced, knowledgeable, and very pleasant. We enjoyed the service at Disfrutar the most of all the high end places we visited on this trip, which says quite a lot. All questions are answered with enthusiasm and recommendations are made as to the best way to enjoy each dish.
There are two tasting menus each evening; the Menu Disfrutar (68 Euros) about 19 dishes and the Menu Festival, which is 25 (98 Euros). You know which one we chose, right? The serving style is perfect for us; almost family style. The Sommelier, understanding our taste in wine, made some great recommendations, which paired well with our meal.
Enough you say....where's the food? Anyway, here's the deal. I don't want this to be bedtime reading, so I'll try to keep it pretty straight, short, and sweet from here on. I'll highlite our favorites and those we didn't care for as much.
Things started with a foamy Melon Caipirinha, Liquid was poured into a cup of ice, yielding something that frothed up and was nice, with the jellied melon-mint-salt cubes rejuvenating your tastebuds.
Our first bottle of wine.
Our Server brought us what looked like a bowl of black rice. He shook the bowl and up rose "The Beet That Goes Out of the Land".
The balls were light and crisp, the flavor of intense beets coming through. The Missus, who has several times told me; "I hate molecular gastronomy" was sold! This is what I call soulful transformation. We were actually shown how this was made. A beet meringue was created, then dehydrated.
Crispy Bow with Iberican Bacon.
Crisp strand of what was like chicharron with a sticky, thin, slice of jamon on it.
Another flavor explosion; Caramel coated hazelnuts with elderberry.
Another great dish for us; Tomato Polvoron and Arbequina Caviaroli.
A polvoron is basically a shortbread cookie; the texture was similar to that, but with a wonderful deep tomato flavor; a "cookie that spreads edible sunshine", the olive oil caviar, a product of spherification added the fantastic grassy-peppery flavor of good Arbequina Olive Oil.
What I was told is a classic El Bulli dish - Transparent Pesto Ravioli.
Made from oblate film, the stuff folks use to help them swallow meds, is used as a wrapper for pine nuts and basil. It is dipped into a parmesan jus, the wrapper starts melting and basically melts away in your mouth. Nice flavors of pine nuts and parmesan.
Another favorite of ours; from what I was told later another classic El Bulli item; Disfruta de la Aceituna.
Spherification at work again. Two cocoa coated "olives", one contains a concentrated olive flavored liquid, the other a blood orange concoction. Amazing and intense flavors that just explodes upon breaking the cocoa butter crust.
Smoked Idiazabal Cheese Bisquit with Apple.
Looking all the world like a simple cookie with frosting; the creamy unpasteurized goat cheese, with a nice smoke flavor was a surprise. The tart cider aperitif helped balance things out.
Next up, an amazing dish; Crispy Egg Yolk with Mushroom Gelatin.
Think egg yolk tempura; crisp and light on the outside, soft and oozy when you bite into it. It's a fabulous bite. The eggshell holds a mushroom gelee that was full of savory mushroom flavor.
Seafood and Avocado Merengue sandwich.
This was a bit fishy and rich, the Missus could only finish half of this tiny flautas.
For some reason we didn't take to the overly salty and fishy anchovy part of Anchovy and Almond Mato with Truffle, Fir Tree Honey, and Pine Nuts.
Too many strong flavors and textures. This just didn't seem to go together real well.
The Missus was really worried about the Marinated Oily Fish with Cauliflower Tabbouleh and Mushrooms. First, She's not a big fan of mackerel and also not fond of strong parsley flavor.
So this was a wonderful surprise for Her, the fish rich, not too fishy, tender, the oil negated by the acid and the savory mushroom jus. The tabbouleh was delicious, the cauliflower seemed the perfect foil for the parsley. This was delicious.
In turn we weren't wow'd by the Macaroni Carbonara.
Gelatin based noodles, parmesan and pancetta were combined with a parmesan-truffle foam, which became the sauce. The "noodles" didn't break down quick enough and the texture was like eating plastic.
The Vegetable Sashimi served as sort of an intermezzo, we loved the pure flavors of the vegetables combined with the sauces/seasonings each one was graced with. Those tomatoes were amazing and the combination of cucumber with mint just worked right.
The Scallop Marrow with Osetra Caviar was fine....this really reminded me of swordfish bone marrow, which I actually prefer to this. I thought it needed less salt and a bit more citrus or acid.
Mussels with Peas in Salsa Verde.
Asparagus in Fennel Meunière with Trout Eggs.
The trout eggs added the zing to a rather mild dish. For some reason we didn't enjoy the flavor of white asparagus with fennel.
Deep Fried Monkfish "Ssam", I'm guessing from the Korean Bossam as this came in the lettuce cup.
Loved the fry job on the monkfish, the flavor came through, it was moist, a perfect piece of fried fish.
We both thought the Unilateral Langostine was a bit overcooked for our taste.
But man, the Perigueux Beef was amazing.
You wrapped the slices of beef around a little crouton and foie gras and had the perfect bite(s).
Nice meal, eh?
But it wasn't over yet.
You know I'm not a dessert kind of guy; but man, some of this stuff was plain amazing. The photo above is of the "Tangerine", a frozen tangerine rind which bears a granite, rose jelly, and a parfait.
Chocolate Cheesecake Cornet
That's Catalan Cream Bread, which came with Blood Orange Couscous.
We saw one of the Chefs placing what looked like chili peppers on a plate. We had no idea what it was. It turned out to be my favorite dessert item; Chocolate Peppers, olive oil, and salt. Man, what a combination! The sea salt really brought everything together. Like I said, I'm not a dessert guy, but this was really, really good. This was the perfect whimsical, fun, but delicious dessert.
As for our after dinner coffee? Well it came in the form of Coffee Profiteroles. A nice way to finish dinner. And though it seems to be a lot of food, we weren't stuffed to the gills, which I think is a tribute to the pacing of dishes.
As we finished up our dinner, our wonderful Server told us to follow him and took us on a short impromptu tour of the kitchen. The place was packed with customers greeting their dishes with wide eyed anticipation.
When I quickly mentioned the skill it takes to make these dishes, his answer came quickly; he pointed to his heart and said, "we are always reminded, it must come from here." Ah, a perfect end to an epic and wonderful meal. One of a trio of unforgettable experiences. We will not forget you Disfrutar, as you are unforgettable. Might be the best 250 Euros I've ever spent.
Disfrutar Calle Villarroel 163 Barcelona, Spain
Heading back to our apartment, we decided to take a walk around Sagrada Familia, which looked quite beautiful without the swarms of tourists around.
The Missus turned to me and said, "ok, we've had a great dinner. Now we're burning it off tomorrow!"
The AVE High Speed Rail took us to Barcelona in a bit over 3 hours from Madrid. Strangely, it seemed a bit longer than that. For some reason, the Shinkansen in Japan felt more comfortable and faster. Regardless, we ended up at Barcelona Sants Station and with no trouble were able to get a T10 mulit-person metro card, which was great because we could both use the card for fares and also saved us a bit.
In one of my Madrid posts, I mentioned how the dogs in that city seemed quite rambunctious. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, the dogs seemed more relaxed. We saw several, like this one, riding the metro with no problem.
As much as I had read, or heard, nothing prepared me for the first time I set eyes on the place. We exited the metro station and headed off in the direction of the apartment we were staying at. I turned around and was just awestruck at the sight of Sagrada Familia. The Missus was busy heading up the street when I told Her, "turn around......turn around." Her eyes got quite large, jaw agape, all She could mutter was "oh my god......" As we just stood and stared for a few moments.
Such is the effect of Sagrada Familia. Love it or hate it, I doubt you'll ever see anything quite like it.
We had a bit of time before checking in and were getting hungry. We had "big" dinner plans so finding something simple and unpretentious like this little shop fit the bill. It was quiet, an older gentleman reading the paper having lunch, another guy having a beer at the bar.
The young man working the front bar was very nice and we took a table in the rear of the place so as not to get in the way. There was a menu "del dia" - menu of the day available, along with various small dishes which we felt was more suitable for us.
The Missus was still feeling like Pimientos Padrons so we got that.
Not as salty as other versions, this had a nice "zing" due to the addition of red peppers. Nothing amazing or surprising, but simple and tasty.
At this point, we had a little travelers malfunction. I had done a bit of research on Catalan Charcuturie and was excited when I saw this:
What the Missus and I didn't pay attention to was the top part which said......
Entrepans....."between bread", Freds "cold", so we were caught off guard when sandwiches arrived. What could we do but just laugh at ourselves and be happy we ordered "petit". Simply meat and bread.
Fuet is a dry cured thin sausage that reminds me of pepperoni.
The butifarra is the serious sausage in Catalonia. This was the "blanca" or the white version.
Soft, coarse ground pork, with no paprika, which is why it's called "blanco". Nice and ham like.
The Catalana reminded me of salami.
It was more than enough for lunch and would hold us over until our 830 pm dinner. We finished off with some espresso and headed off to the apartment.
We were located 1 block from Sagrada Familia. In fact, you could see the one of the spires from the window!
After settling in and freshening up, we decided to walk over to Sagrada Familia, just to take a look around.
Even though Antoni Gaudi's grand work is not yet finished; he became involved in the project in 1883 and worked on it until his death in 1926; 43 years, the Church has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was only 25 percent completed at the time of Gaudi's death and work continues to this day.
The church is made up of three facades and will have 18 spires, when and if it is ever finished. Only one of the facades bears Gaudi's direct influence; that is, was almost complete at the time of his death. My least favorite façade is the Passion Façade which was completed by 2005. It is quite plain, but somewhat dark and grim.
I could write another two thousand words on the place, but why not read this or this.
My favorite view from the other side of the pond in Placa de Gaudi. It shows the rich and complex design of the structure as it seems to reach for the sky.
It's also far enough to escape the tour buses and the masses, where you can watch the old-timers playing bocce.
Or just shooting the breeze.
We ended up not doing the interior of Sagrada Familia, perhaps on another trip...you need tickets and all that. We headed back to the apartment for a short nap before dinner. And oh what a dinner it would be......
We'd already had a pretty full day. It was pretty hot after lunch and we were stuffed full of orejas.
The one great thing about our apartment was that it was easy to black out the entire place. And the A/C worked really well.
Also, the apartment was located basically across the street and a block or two from the Prado Museum. The Missus had really enjoyed visiting the previous day. Plus....it was free! She had wanted to return.
So after waking from a restorative nap, we were (well She was), ready to head off.
And off into the bright Madrid late afternoon.....
Before heading into the Prado Museum, the Missus wanted to check out San Jerónimo el Real, the Catholic Church right above the museum. This is all that remains of a monastery that stood next to Buen Retiro Palace.
The feature of the church I enjoyed the most were the beautiful stained glass windows.
The visit to the Prado was just as interesting as the previous day. I got to see that beautiful work by Velasquez again. And in addition, there was a special exhibition of works by Picasso.
To be perfectly honest, I'm below a neophyte when it comes to art. I do enjoy the work of Joan Miró, but that's about it. Having only seen the later work of Picasso, I really could not understand or relate to his work. There were several early works of Picasso in the museum. I thought they were really well done, I'd only seen his later Cubist work, but was really impressed at his early work. We were headed to Barcelona next, so we would make it a point to visit the Picasso Museum.
After our visit, we headed back to the Missus's favorite spot in Madrid; Puerta del Sol.
We decided to find a place close by. I had this place on my "Calle de la Victoria" list.
This being quite early for dinner in Madrid (815 pm), the place was empty except for one other group.
The girls working here were very nice....though everyone seemed really friendly in Madrid. I had a caña and the Missus a tinto. Man, the potatoes we really tasty; the aioli had a ton of garlic in it and the tubers were nice and waxy.
This place served Galician style food; so of course I wanted the Pulpo a Feira, but the Missus wasn't sold. So I went with the Pulpo and Camarones. The whole thing is served in a pan submerged in olive oil.
This was like getting your French fries served in its cooking oil.......anyway; the shrimp were really tiny like cocktail shrimp, but had nice flavor. The octopus didn't do well, it was very tough. The olive oil tasted ok as we dipped our bread into it. Though next time I'll go with the Pulpo a Feira.
La Pulperia de Victoria La Victoria 2 Madrid, Spain
We decided to cut our losses and find someplace to grab a another light bite on the way back to the apartment. As we passed La Oreja de Jaime, he was cooking and saw us through the window. He smiled and waved at us telling to come back in...... He's such a character, how could we refuse?
This time we sat at the bar and noticed all of the funny stuff on the wall. Like the calendar photo of Jaime with a wig and sunglasses on....and the plastic ears (orejas) hanging on the wine bottles. The place really reflects the owner....it has character.
Now, the Missus had seen something on the menu that I didn't know. So of course She was fascinated. Mollejas. We asked what mollejas were and Jaime grabbed the part of his neck under the jawbone. The thymus gland....mollejas de cordero; goat sweetbreads. Based on our previous experience here; we knew portions would be fairly large....but sweetbreads, that's rich stuff, there's no way you'd get a huge plate of that, right? Wrong. After ordering it, Jaime went to the tray of what almost looked like gizzards and grabbed handful after handful of the stuff. The Missus and I looked at each other in stunned amazement. This went on the flat top, with a good amount of oil. Man, Jaime is not shy about the sea salt either. After achieving a nice char from the griddle, an application of a slightly spicy and smoky sauce was applied. The stuff he puts on patatas bravas and we were served this huge plate of mollejas.
The first, say 12 bites were really good, if a bit too salty. But man, after a while, it's just too much of a good thing. The texture, or should I say combination of textures keeps your interest. There are those creamy pieces, but also of texture of the surrounding tissue, some crunch, some fat, some sinew.
It's always fun to try something new. It's even more fun having it at a place like La Oreja de Jaime.
La Oreja de Jaime Calle de La Cruz 12 Madrid, Spain
Sun had set and we headed back to Puerto del Sol. It was 930 and things were just starting up in Madrid.
We dropped by the market in the basement of El Cortes Ingles and got some yogurt for the next morning. It would be our breakfast before heading off to Barcelona.
We walked down the back streets parallel to Calle Atocha. Past the many bars, the squares, the folks and families just heading out to dinner at 10pm.
The wonderful folks at Estancias con Arte had left us a basket of "stuffs", including orange juice, which would come in handy for breakfast. They also left us a bottle of wine (such a nice touch!), which we enjoyed while doing our "pre-packing" for the next morning.
Getting to our train the next morning was a breeze. Atocha Station is basically 2 blocks (albeit good sized blocks) away.
One interesting note about Atocha Station. There's a tropical garden in the concourse of the train station. While the Missus was waiting for our morning espresso, I took a short little walk.
Madrid was interesting for us. I know it wasn't the Missus's favorite place; I think the heat, schedules, noise, crowds, and the mild grittiness of the city had caught us off guard. On our return trip however, something had changed, we had gained an appreciation for the liveliness of Madrid and embraced the late nights. But for now, we were off to Barcelona.
Morning in Madrid is pretty calm. I guess that happens when most folks end their day at midnight. We were in fact, quite pooped. We awoke, had like three cups of espresso a piece and slowly woke up. The Missus had our day pretty much planned by the time we left.
We of course started at the Missus's favorite location the previous day, Puerto del Sol.
Strangely, I don't have a day time photo of the building which faces the Tio Pepe sign and the statue of Charles III. It was the first Post Office in Madrid and is currently the Governor's Office. Right in front of the building's main doorway is this marker on the ground.
This is "Kilometer Zero", which represents the center of Spain. So I guess this is where we were supposed to start, right? A good part of these walks were distilled by the Missus from Rick Steves Guidebook to Spain. The Missus will often combine all the walks into a single long one. We headed left and up (down?) the street and through Calle de Postas, a street that's been around since medieval times. Some of the building here were quite striking.
Like the display on this Watch Shop named Antigua Relojeria, which has been around since 1880.
This little street leads right into Plaza Mayor.
Pop out of the plaza and you end up at the very popular Mercado de San Miguel. Though not open at this early hour.
We weaved through streets, past buildings until we came to this memorial. This statue marks the spot of an assassination attempt on newlyweds King Alfonso and Princess Victoria by Mateu Morral. The statue memorializes the 15 people killed in the assassination attempt. No the King and Queen were not killed.
Further down the street is Almudena Cathedral. Construction started in 1879 and the cathedral was consecrated in 1993.
That's a 114 years!
Right across from the Cathedral is the Royal Palace of Madrid.
We had thoughts of visiting, but the Missus was on a tight schedule here, so maybe next time. East of the Royal Palace is Plaza de Oriente. We saw Mounted Police getting ready for their shift when we arrived.
It's a very nice green space.....
The street we were walking on is named Calle Arenal.
By this time; we had almost circled back to Puerto del Sol and were in need of a break. Some espresso seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. There's a charcuterie and cheese shop named Ferpal (strangely, we didn't even read about it in the guidebook until later - though RS's recommendations are in our opinion somewhat suspect for our tastes) on the street.
What looks like a coffee counter takes up half the shop....and folks were lining up for their morning (late morning) fix. So we decided to join in. The staff at the counter are rather diner worthy. As in grumpy in a somewhat humorous way. You still get served and everything works fine....for some reason, it just reminds me of a diners here in the states.
While waiting to order our "caffe" I noticed a couple of items on signs. The first was a plate of Lomo Iberico Bellota for a mere 4 Euros, which of course we got.
The Missus actually enjoys the less salty, leaner, more meaty cured pork loin (lomo). This was a nice little brunch item for us. I also noticed something on the menu board behind the counter. Under the heading "Sandwichs". Yes, not "sandwiches", but "sandwichs", the "crema" category were the words "foie gras". For .9 Euros, basically a buck. I had to try this.....
It was a nice little half sandwich, with the crust sliced off, just like mom would make. This was basically a light foie gras mousse. It was quite tasty and filling which we enjoyed it with our "caffe".
Ferpal Calle del Arenal 7 Madrid, Spain
We took a short shopping bread at El Cortes Ingles, the huge multi-floor department store. There's a supermarket in the basement of all El Cortes Ingles as far as I can tell.
The next leg of the walk was up Madrid's version of Broadway; Gran Via.
An interesting study in early 20th century architecture, what makes the street even more interesting is that the buildings were built in groups starting in 1910 and ending in the 1950's. So buildings on blocks were built around the same time.
At the end we took a break at Plaza de Espana and watched these dogs having a great time.
We noticed that the dogs in every city seem to have distinct personalities. In Madrid, they were a rambunctious bunch, having their own mind, pulling their masters along.
Coming full circle we ended up back at Puerta del Sol. We were hungry, it was lunch time. Along the arteries stretching out from the square are tons of eateries. We looked in several of them, a few of which I had on my list and settled on La Oreja de Jaime.
It was quite interesting. There were tons of tourists outside the place, but only Spaniards in this little joint. On occasion someone would walk in, order a Caña...a small beer...polish it off in one large gulp and head on back out. For lunch this was a one man operation; Jaime took orders, cooked, served the drinks, bussed the tables. You name it. There were a couple of older folks eating and having drinks. We simply requested a couple of cañas and ordered from the chalkboard. No crazy equipment here, just a deep fryer, a stove, and a wonderfully seasoned flat top which you can see from the streetside window.
We started with some Padrons.
Thrown in the deep fryer, we quickly found out that Jaime does not go easy on the salt....it was good sea salt. Nice and almost sweet if a bit high on the sodium scale.
You'll notice the name of the place "Oreja"......so what else would you get from here but orejas....ears.
The orejas were only 5€, so we were flabbergasted at the portion size. Get a media (1/2) racione if you go here. These were simply done on the griddle, which, by the flavor, smoky and almost sweet is highly seasoned by who knows how many orders of pig ears. These were crunchy, wonderfully gristle-y, and chewy, with a pretty hefty amount of olive oil, a touch of smoked paprika, and since we love pig ears, quite enjoyable, though the Missus couldn't bring Herself to eat the hairy portions.
The champignons with camarones was also pretty good.
The shrimp was quite tasty, full of that nice shrimp flavor that folks in the states seem afraid of. It was a bit on the oily side, but I'm not complaining.
Man, the prices were quite cheap and we left stuffed. Even more impressive was the couple who walked in after us. Apparently, they come here often as Jaime knew them. The woman, who appeared to be in her 60's polished off an entire order of patatas bravas, as did her husband, they polished off a plate on pardons, another plate of something else I couldn't make out, and then, the husband having fallen by the wayside; the woman devoured a plate of orejas, while enjoying three beers. Not small caña sized glasses, but three bottles of beer...and some olives to boot!
Jaime is quite friendly, always smiling, even though he's a one man show. The prices are quite reasonable and this was a pretty good and simple lunch. No messing about, just good grub.
La Oreja de Jaime Calle de La Cruz 12 Madrid, Spain
It was getting quite hot and I was starting understand the how's and why's of how things are done here. At least I understood the necessity of a siesta......
So, how did we end up travelling to Spain? Well, if you're a regular reader, it's a familiar story...much like almost all our other trips, it was food. We were having a version of Patatas Bravas at Tasty n' Alder in Portland when the Missus made Her decision. "We're going to Spain......" So there I was, planning first a trip to Spain, then adding the Basque Country, then Bordeaux, finally Dordogne. The decisions developed quite organically, the logistics, while not difficult took a bit of planning.
A few months later; there we were, a bit bleary eyed arriving in Madrid. Getting to where we needed to be was quite easy; the Expres Aeropuerto costs a mere 5 Euros to get from the airport to Atocha Station. We had some time to kill and walked around, though it was getting to be quite warm, up and down Calle Atocha. One funny thing, we actually sat and took a break in the square right where our apartment would be on our return trip to Madrid! Anyway, after some coffee, walking about, we met the owner of the apartment we were staying at....which happened to be a couple of blocks from Atocha Station and got settled. It was getting mighty warm by this time, so we were ever so happy to have a nice strong A/C unit. After a wonderful shower we headed out to get something to eat. It was 1pm, early for lunch in Madrid and Sunday to boot. We were close enough to one of the areas I had mapped out Calle de Jesus, a small stretch which has a number of Cervecerias and Tabernas. The favorite here is obviously Cervantes, but the line was crazy, and it looked like all tourists. Instead, we chose this little place next to La Anchoita named El Olivar.
The place was fairly quiet, there were two parties of what looked like regulars, a good sign, there were some items on the menu I really wanted to try. The place was manned by a staff of two.
I started with a beer, the Missus a "Tinto" a young, light table wine. The gratis olives were briny and worked well.
As for ordering food....well, I was tempted by the sign that said "Especialidad Rabo de Toro"...basically oxtails, but man, it was just too hot for us to try that. Rather, I saw two items on the menu I wanted to try.
The first, was Jamon de Bellota. Awhile back, I'd done some research and found that there's something above and beyond your "normal" Jamon Iberico. These days, "JI", while still having the heritage of the blessed Black Iberian Pig, is now corn fed, and perhaps; if you're lucky, acorn fed somewhere during the process. The Jamon Iberico de Bellota on the other hand, is truly acorn fed. Also, while typical Iberico is cured two years; Bellota is cured for an even longer period.
This place did Bellota, decently cut, already "sweating" when it hit the table, the taste is sweet, not too salty, the fat velvety, lacking in the 'stringy/sinewy" texture that I've had with Jamon Iberico.
Since we grow Padron Peppers, we couldn't wait to try some.
They deep fry these babies in most places. We found that the versions in Spain had a thinner skin and were a bit "sweeter". These were on the salty side though.
Lunch was nice and we headed back to the apartment satisfied and ready for a "siesta".
Awaking refreshed, we took care of a few outstanding odds and ends, then headed out to the Prado Museum. You see, on Sundays from 5pm to 7pm and on Mondays thru Saturdays from 6pm to 8pm admission is free.
I can truly say, that my visit here truly gave me and appreciation for art that no other museum had been able to do. There are no photos allowed; but I purchased postcards of some of my favorite paintings in the museum.
I had never heard of Diego Velazquez, but when I walked into the gallery and saw his painting "Las Meninas" (The Maids of Honor) I was amazed. I saw it from a distance, the painting had almost a 3-D effect and seemed so life-like, the composition and depth was amazing as it actually seemed to pop out to me when I walked into the room. I guess I had first seen this work at the angle that worked right for me. I was strangely moved by the painting, something that had never happened to me before.
And then there were the dark and somewhat disturbing works of Francisco Goya, who during a "dark period" (perhaps somewhat paranoid) in his life painted some rather disturbing works. Like Saturn Devouring His Son. Which kinda spoke to me in the "you know, I'm having a really bad day" way. Though Goya's most famous works are probably La Maja Vestida and La Maja Desnuda which are on display at the Prado.....it's the "dark works" that I found interesting.
There was a bit of overload, so we decided to stop and return the next evening. Because.....well, it's free, right?
It was still fairly early in Madrileno terms at 645 though the Prado was closing (it was Monday). So we headed off on a walk arriving at what is considered the heart of Madrid, Puerta del Sol - the "Gate of the Sun", this was once the location of the Eastern gate of the city walls. The Missus and I had our favorite objects in the bustling square. Mine is the statue of the Bear and the Madrono Tree, which is actually the official Coat of Arms of Madrid.
For the Missus, it's the iconic Tio Pepe sign, actually an advertisement for a brand of sherry. The sign shone with neon brightness over the square from the 1950's until 2011. The removal of the sign caused so much of an uproar, that it returned to its perch in 2014.
Because the sun sets so late at this time of year; it wasn't until our third night in Madrid, on our way back that we finally were able to take a photo of the sign in its full neon glory. The Missus loves these wide open squares, so we'd find ourselves returning here everyday during our stays in Madrid.
By now, the clock was closing in on 745, I thought a visit to one of Madrid's most popular eating neighborhoods, La Latina, targeting on the ground zero of eating and drinking streets in the area; Calle Cava Baja. The Missus loves Her eggs, so I thought She'd enjoy the classic "Huevos Rotos" (broken eggs) from Los Huevos de Lucio. The bad thing was....we couldn't find the darn street. We took a wrong turn down Calle Ribera de Curtidores ending up all the way down on Ronda de Toledo. We ended up having to turn up at Puerta de Toledo walking all the way back up the street.
We finally found little Calle Cava Baja. The street wasn't too busy since it was still an ungodly early hour to eat in Madrid......830 in the evening.....
As you can tell by the sign; the specialty here is huevos...eggs. The place is owned by I believe the son of the highly regarded Casa Lucio across the street.
We'd arrived just a tad after 830pm and you can tell, the place had just opened. It seems that only tourists eat before 10.
It was all part of our education. As was finding out that the portions were pretty hefty. It was only later on that I came to find out to order things "media racione" (half orders). Until then, we'd be eating pretty large portions...like this plate of Manchego Cheese (12.9 €).
The best dish of the evening was the Berenjenas crujientes con salmorejo (7.95 €).
Wonderfully crisp, well seasoned, thin slices of eggplant fried to perfection, not a drop of grease. The sauce was a thick tomato based "soup" with nice hints of garlic.
And of course there were the Huevos Los Clasicos (8.9 € - the House Classic Eggs).
"Broken Eggs", basically cooked soft then slightly mixed breaking the yolks. The eggs tasted lovely, almost rich, the potatoes had a wonderful flavor.....for some reason, potatoes in the states don't have the same flavor. It reminded me of potatoes in Peru. Again, this was a bit too high on the sodium scale for us...and we like salty.
I had a beer and the Missus a "Tinto" a light red.
It was a filling and satisfying meal.
Taberna Los Huevos de Lucio Calle de la Cava Baja 30 Madrid, Spain
After dinner, the Missus decided that we needed to walk around a bit so we headed to Plaza Major a square ringed by very symmetrical three story buildings. This was once Madrid's Central Square. Many events have taken place in this square since it was built in the 17th century, from bullfights to public executions. On this evening, the square was packed for a concert. It was the end of the San Isidro Festival...though we'd come to find, there always seemed to be a celebration of one kind or another happening; Spaniard's like to have a good time.
We also started understanding why folks eat late here. It was almost 10pm, the sun had gone down maybe 20 minutes ago and the temperature was still in the 80's.
As we walked back down toward our apartment, the Missus and I discussed our day. We both loved the Prado Museum. Puerto del Sol and Plaza Mayor just seemed a bit too crowded and the place a bit more littered than we enjoy. The food was good, but on the salty side. I had enjoyed our meals more than the Missus. In the end, we were enjoying ourselves.....it was good to be on holiday, visiting somewhere we hadn't been before. And tomorrow was another day!
Can you believe we're almost two-thirds into our trip? Time is flying by. Anyway, we haven't ever eaten as well in recent memory. Three cities in two nations and the home to a proud people, who eat quite well.
On our first stop we did two huge tasting menu dinners. Amazing.
What could possibly be my favorite piece of artwork in the world. I just couldn't pass it without taking a photo.
Here's one of my favorite.....if a bit spooky photos.
We did a day trip to a town with a famous tree.
Which was the site of a tremendous devastating bombing which inspired this painting.
Next stop is a must for the food pilgrim.
At this point, I started wondering how long it would be before the Missus hit the Foie Gras wall.
Amazingly, it hasn't happened yet.
Last stop was another wonderful seaside town.
Where we had a comforting and delicious dinner.
We headed into the sunset happy with full bellies.