Friday, December 31, 2010

A Day in Barcelona

The amazing thing about Barcelona is that you can walk for miles and miles on streets with no cars. Some streets the cars aren’t allowed and others are too narrow. What makes it really interesting is that you can shop or window shop your way along all these streets. It’s helpful if you get lost as you remember things in the stores.

After a late start this morning and I won’t tell you how late off we went. We have been trying to find a concert to go to tonight. Finally, we found it, a classical Spanish guitar concert in a church that starts at 9. We'll eat later.

Our wandering took us to the main market, which was packed. Finally, we stopped for a late lunch at a really busy restaurant that’s always a good sign. We had to wait so we had a good chance to check out the food. For starters we had asparagus tempura which was melt in your mouth. Seamus had Iberian ham, frites and two of the most orange fried eggs I’ve ever seen. I had an arugula salad with parmesan and sun dried tomatoes that were lightly sun dried because they were still a bit squishy. All the food here is so good.

Again we walked and walked. It really is a feast fir the eyes watching everyone and everything. And yes we did a bit of shopping.

The Manuel Gonzalez concert in the basilica was wonderful. His guitar was melodic, pure and really moving. He played traditional Spanish guitar music except for his encore when he played Spanish music only to be interrupted by a fly and then he would play a bit of Yesterday or James Bond theme or Satisfaction or Roy Orbison. It was vale, pronounced bally meaning good. There’s your Spanish word for the day. There were three tiny heaters in the whole basilica and fortunately we were near one. No wonder people don’t go to church as they’ll freeze to death.

We had to walk in the rain to dinner at the market restaurant where everything is super fresh. It was the bream or dorado for me and squid in rice for Seamus. We sat at our favourite spot at the bar where we can see all the food being prepared. Then another walk home in the rain. We must get up at a decent time tomorrow. Lots to do.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back in Barcelona




We could have used a bit more time in Peniscola. Last night we had dinner at a restaurant on the port and you guessed it we had the extremely fresh monkfish (rape) again followed by a nice walk on the beach. This morning we looked around the old town, which is full of narrow streets and overlooked by the castle. On the way out of town we followed the route past the miles of hotels most weren’t even open. I can see going to that part of town in the winter to walk the promenade but it would definitely be a “no go” zone in the summer.

The ride up to Barcelona through fairly hilly countryside was quite magnificent. We stopped for lunch on the road at the auto grill only to be greeted by the police as we were going in to the parking lot. They waved us through but they were on the lookout for someone. Further up the road were more police and they were even stationed on the overpasses. We never did find out what was happening.

We got back to Eurocar with no difficulties. As soon as I remind Seamus that I have a degree in geography, I then feel obliged to do GPS type navigation. It was a relief to get rid of the car. Every car in Valencia had dings and scratches and we had some tight spots to get in and out of. We’re back in our apartment building but a different unit. One with more heating’ although it is 10 degrees Celsius right now.

Dinner was in an old restaurant called the Four Cats. It is well known for the literary characters it has catered to over the years. I know that I’ve read a few Barcelona novels where the characters eat here. We started with the fresh anchovies which we put on the toast with tomato pulp that is very popular here especially at breakfast. I think it is blanched tomatoes pulped. Excellent. Seamus had the Catalan fish dish of bacalau (salt cod) with beans. I had rabbit stew that was not as good as my friend Dino’s. This one had too many onions in the sauce.

We did our usual wandering around. It’s hard to come back to the apartment since there is so much going on. The street will be noisy until at least two in the morning. I love Barcelona.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Valencia to Peniscola

Yesterday was a down day in Valencia. It started with the morning coffee and then an 8 kilometre walk along the sandy beach to the port. The sky was blue; the sun shining and it was toasty warm. A few people were sun bathing and one brave soul actually went for a swim. After a bit of shopping and dinner we decided to pack up and leave Valencia a day early. Although the beach area is lovely, we haven’t really clicked with Valencia. The driving here is a web of one way streets usually not going where you want them to and it wasn’t what we were looking for.



Today we set off early with no real plans where we were going to stay the night. Once again we came in to the town Peniscola as we knew it from the way down south. This time we had lunch and then a really good drive around. One part is very much like White Rock as it’s built into a mountain rather than a hill and the other part divided by the old town is all hotels, where there are no people right now. The hilly part is quite lively and has wonderful views including a view of the old templar castle where they filmed El Cid.

After checking in to our hotel we went in search of real estate agents and found out lots of useful information about rentals. This town looks like it has possibilities. The beach is good. It has a big natural park, boat rides that you can take several places, and it is a couple of hours to Barcelona and less to Valencia.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Valencia Boxing Day


We had an action packed day today. It was off to the city of arts and Sciences to see the exhibits. This is part of the vast complex and we visited 6 or 7 aquarium related buildings. My favorites were the aviary with the red ibis and spoonbills, the walrus and the shark exhibit. At the shark exhibit you walked around while sharks and other fish eyeballed you right in the eye. Scary. There is a seventy metre long tunnel where the fish are all around you. My favorite fish in this exhibit was the sunfish. It is huge and most peculiar looking. We also visited the belugas, which we have in Vancouver. This is the only beluga whale exhibit in Europe. The walruses were wonderful floating about on their backs with huge tusks protruding. In fact the tusks had scratched up the glass of the exhibit. The penguins were pretty funny. You were right down there and watched the Emperor penguins and one other kind whose name doesn’t come to mind whizzing around the pool. It was a wonderful exhibit with snow all around. In other words a really proper penguin exhibit. I didn’t know that they could swim so fast.



We finished the afternoon with the dolphin exhibit where the trainers actually went in the water with the dolphins that swam the trainers around or tossed them way up in the air. I would love to do that. I’ve never seen anything like it. All in all it was a wonderful day. Apparently we’re having some problems with our videos but hopefully you’ll get a bit of an idea what it was like.

Tonight we walked up to the beach for dinner and I had the sea bass and Seamus the dorado accompanied by a Valencian wine which wasn’t bad. It is a mixture of several grapes. I did find out that the rape fish that I have been rabbitting on about is actually monkfish. We used to get monkfish in Toronto and now I get it. I don’t think that we get monkfish like this in Vancouver.
Speaking of Vancouver someone sussed me out as coming from Vancouver because I had on my lululemon coat. And I thought that I was blending in. The lady herself came from Vancouver.
We are beginning to formulate a plan for our retirement which doesn’t look at all like what we thought it would. We know that Valencia is not for us. I think that we have been too spoiled by Barcelona.

We watched the news and saw the terrible cold in many places. It was a bit cooler here today, about 13 degrees, but the skies are always a beautiful blue. I love that. I know that many places in Europe and North America are digging out of terrible snow. At least we don’t have that problem. Blue skies. Beautiful.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Valencia the first three days





We started the day up on the beach having a fabulous lunch. Mine was rape in a tomato, wine garlic sauce with potatoes. I’d seen this fish in the market with very sharp, needle-like teeth and a really gelatinous texture. It may look mean but tastes amazing. Seamus had mackerel done in a light batter and he is ready to try it at home. It was lovely looking out over the ocean with a beautiful, long promenade. It certainly seems miles from the hustle and bustle of Valencia.

We then headed off to the City of Arts and Sciences. It is a huge, very modern complex designed by a local architect, Santiago Calatrava. First of all we visited the Christmas market. I managed to feed the camel, which would lunge at you to get its food. A German fellow tried the same thing and the camel knocked him right over. It was off to the science building where everything is hands on, which was a lot of fun. I particularly liked Foucault’s pendulum. We will return another day to the complex to visit the art museum.

On our second day we mastered the tram and metro to get downtown. We did the requisite visit to the market. You cannot believe all the wonderful fresh produce. It would be quite simple to follow a 100 mile diet here. We wandered around the town walking down the narrow streets and visiting a number of squares including the Square of the Virgins. Since we were invited out to dinner we thought we better get some flowers. One of the squares had various flower sellers. I was so impressed to see wonderful bunches of anemones at this time of year. We managed with our nonexistent Spanish to put together a really lovely bouquet of eucalyptus, red gerberas and white lilies.

Once we were back in our neighborhood it was off to the port where the 2007 America’s cup was staged. We wandered about and came on a ship, which turned out to be a converted whaler, for a drink. The ambience was lovely except that in Valencia people can smoke in restaurants. Horrible. At coffee in the morning a man at the bar finished his cigarette and butted it on the floor! I digress. We then went to a different part of the marina where we walked right out to the harbor wall. It was getting late and the wind was whipping in. The whole walk was quite invigorating.

Our dinner invitation was for ten o’clock. Once again we trekked in to town. Our hosts were a Spanish gentleman and his girlfriend who goes back and forth between Puerto Rico. There was another Valencian and a lady and her son who had emigrated years ago from Mexico. It was quite a diverse group but we managed to communicate quite well. We did discuss the Valencian language. I found it very interesting that it is based on the Oc language, which is used in France right over to Nice. Apparently, the dialect or language was banned during Franco’s time and is now making a revival. Dinner was a buffet and very enjoyable. I was glad to get home at 3:30.
Today, Christmas was a bit mixed up. The day started like any other with coffee at the beach. At the time we weren’t hungry so we decided to wait until later to eat and headed north up the coast to check out more towns. We went in and out of various places many had very few people there at this time of the year. Many have high rise utilitarian block apartments. This architecture is very standard here. The old centre of Valencia is lovely but a lot of what we have seen looks like old communist housing. By the time we were hungry we couldn’t find anywhere to eat. We went in a couple of really smoky bars and decided against it.

We have to decide if we are going to check out anymore of this coast tomorrow as we did find a couple of places with good beaches and attractive housing. Lots of thinking to do.
Merry Christmas to everyone. I hope that Santa was good to you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Alicante to Valencia



We headed north to Jijona, Spain’s principal maker of nougat. There were nougat factories everywhere. Since nougat is one of my favourite things we made a stop at the nougat museum, where we joined up with seniors from a bus tour to get the museum tour. Of course it was all in Spanish but we got a lot of it. It was very interesting how the nougat and marzipan were made before mechanization. It was all mortar and pestle to grind up the almonds. We completed the tour and received our complimentary honey nougat. It was a bit weird. We bought some regular nougat which we scoffed down last night.

As we continued north we stopped for coffee in Alcoy. In most places we’ve been there have been Santas hanging from balconies. They are pretty cute but in Alcoy they had these black guys. On closer inspection they were actually golliwogs, just like the golly I had as a kid. We haven’t seen them anywhere else.

Last night was spent in Xativa’ the birthplace of the Borgia popes. We had our first rabbit and chicken paella and then visited the nativity scene across from the restaurant. Every town has these nativity scenes. This one had camels, geese, chickens and a harlequin donkey.

This morning we went for our coffee and croissant and then brought the car down to the hotel but couldn’t find parking. I was going to grab our stuff while Seamus settled the bill. The woman checking us out couldn’t get the one visa machine to work. I knew she wanted us to pay cash as she wouldn’t try the other visa machine. I was being bloody minded. We parked on a yellow line and you guessed it. We were towed. So it was off to the police station to pay our fine and then we had to walk to the pound to get the car. It was so maddening and my fault. I insisted on the yellow line.

We arrived in Valencia and drove around and around to find our apartment. It was a nightmare. Again no parking. The apartment was in the centre of the town and was very modern and well appointed when we saw it. I had enough by this time and Seamus asked if we could get an apartment out by the beach’ which we now have. It isn’t the one I would have liked as it was booked but it is a few blocks from the ocean where we had a walk tonight. Lovely. It was 14 degrees. The area is a bit deadsville at night but at least we can move the car around and get parking or take the metro into town. The whole port area looks really interesting and we have a local market.

We did go in the main market in Valencia and it was without a doubt the best market I’ve ever been in. Prices are certainly cheaper than at home. We managed to grab a quick bite to eat before coming out to the beach area in a non descript restaurant, where I had the best sea bass with parsley, garlic and a bit of oil.

Tonight I’ve managed to not be able to work the washer and dryer as well as screwing up the TV. I’m on my second glass of wine to recover from this strange day. Some days Seamus can be very saint like and this is one of them. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Alicante

We’ve been here for two days now. Much of yesterday was spent wandering about the marina. Today we went out there for an amazing lunch. Seamus had mackerel that absolutely melted in your mouth. I had a starter for main course of a sardine, beautifully fried egg and two braised scallions. It was fabulous. The wine was a 14% 2005 Rioja that had matured in an oak barrel for a year. Excellent.

Tonight we wandered around again but lots of the shops are closed except for on the main streets. We are probably some of the few tourists here. I am a little disappointed having heard so much about Alicante. My guess is that the poor economy is closing stores and restaurants early. We ended up in an Italian restaurant and had really good pizzas. Mine was buffalo mozzarella, arugula and fresh tomatoes. Seamus had Serrano ham and cheese on his. This was nicely topped off with some Barolo grappa courtesy of the server.

We were going to stay another day but I think that we will move on.
On another note the Keith Richard’s book, Life is an excellent read. He is a wonderful storyteller. I can identify with his buying sweets using his ration book. I used to get dolly mixtures with my coupons. The book would make a great Christmas present.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 6 On to Denia

We left San Carles not really sure where we would end up. Our first stop was Peniscola, a lovely town with a beautiful promenade and 5 kilometer long beach. Most of the apartments and houses were all closed up. It was 18 degrees when we were there and it is very odd for us that there were no people about unlike home where the beaches would be really busy.

We headed down the coast with orange groves as far as the eye could see. The only interruption was when there were fields of artichokes or olive groves with the mountains in the background. We decided to bypass Valencia as we are going to spend a week there later in our travels. It was on to the Costa Brava. The first stop, Gandia was pretty grim. It lived up to everything you may have heard about the Costa Brava so we kept going and stopped at a lovely little port town Dania. The hotel we are staying in was built in the 1300’s and was formerly the old customs house.

We decided to have dinner in the hotel and opted for the 7 tapas menu. It was like dinner at Davide and Elizabetta’s. We had mussels in pickle; tuna with pimentos and boiled egg; spicy meatballs; langoustine with saffron and orange cous cous; pumpkin, cardamom and wild mushroom soup; bacalao balls; and ox tail. The ox tail was so tender but unfortunately I was stuffed to the gills by this time. The dessert was very light…lukewarm meringue, lemony mousse and sugared almond ice cream. Fortunately the portions were small so we will manage to eat tomorrow.

It is hard to judge how bad Spain’s economy is. Tonight when we wandered around the shopping area before dinner most of the shops were empty. I don’t really know if it’s because there aren’t many people here at this time. It would draw a certain amount of people as ferries leave here for the Balearic Islands.

Seamus continues to read Keith Richards. Who knew that after he was busted in Toronto that he went for rehab in Philly and lived in Cherry Hill? This was 1977. To readers not in New Jersey or Maryland this doesn’t mean a lot but I have family there and spent many happy hours at Cherry Hill Mall.

Tomorrow Alicante.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Days 4 and 5

Our first stop after leaving Barcelona was Sitges, a really charming spot on the Mediterranean with lots of different architecture and a wonderful long promenade by the sea. Since it was about 3 o’clock lunch was our first priority. We ate at a restaurant called Picnic, which was full of locals. After sharing a salad we had risotto nero with calamari and very sweet prawns only they were a bit larger than prawns. The meal was excellent and so was the wine, a local Spanish Barbera from the area with same name. After a walk it was into the car and off to Tarragona.

We finally settled on a hotel and headed downstairs for dinner. This hotel has a really interesting concept. They have a high end deli called Provisions, where you could select your food from quite a variety of things and it was heated up and delivered to your table. People were coming in for take away. Seamus had a Spanish frittata and I had a small plate of pasta Bolognese. Being satiated once again it was off to bed. Seamus is really in to Keith Richard’s autobiography and for the second night read until 3.

In the morning we visited El Corte Ingles, which is the big Spanish department store. We’ve had some issues with internet connection so bought a stick so we can get wifi anywhere. It’s a huge store and has everything you can imagine and is beautifully laid out. Then it was into the car and heading south.

Our destination was the Ebro Delta, which is a river delta leading to the sea. The area has actually shrunk in size since the 1930’s. We passed through huge areas of rice fields some flooded and some not. No wonder risotto is on all the menus. We stopped for lunch at a place in the middle of nowhere. The lady recited the menu, which is one way to learn Spanish quickly. We settled on a salad followed by small fish about 2 inches long called raf or plages with boiled potatoes with olive oil. Those small fish had an amazing taste. We ordered the wine de casa, which Seamus liked but I didn’t. It was sweet and left a sherry after taste. Dessert was gelato that tasted like rice pudding. It sounds weird but tasted great. A coffee and calvados and we continued on our way.

We reached the end of the road and went for a bit of a walk. There were a few fishermen after bass, dorado, or possibly eel. The area has high grasses and marshy areas where we saw lots of cormorants, egrets and blue heron but alas no flamingoes. We drove for miles around the area and over a new bridge. Half of the bridge was for cars and the other half for pedestrians with benches everywhere. Very civilized!

We stopped for the night in a town called Carles. Dinner was calamari and patates bravas for Seamus and I had sole. It was just a little sole. The food is amazing as is the scenery along the coast. It is a special treat because there aren’t a lot of tourists around. So far it’s sunny with beautiful blue sky everywhere and really vibrant sunsets. Tomorrow more food, more scenery. Bueno.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Barcelona to Tarragona

Days1-3 Barcelona

After pretty uneventful flights we arrived in Barcelona. This time we are staying in a one bedroom apartment in the Born area. After sitting on planes we were very happy to just walk and walk checking out the stores, the people and the fashions.

We had dinner at one of our favourite tapas restaurants. I had the cod with zucchini topped with cheese and put in the oven. Lovely.

After yet another walk it was off to bed only to get up the next day at 1:20 in the afternoon. We headed off to the Maritime museum, which is a lovely building, which went back to medieval times. There were beautiful high ceilings but unfortunately for us the building was under construction so we didn’t see too much. Then we moved on to the Cataluyna museum, which showed us the history of the area to modern times.

Last night we had dinner at my favorite restaurant that is right beside the Santa Caterina marketplace. We always sit at the bar so we can watch the chefs. It was amazing to see the huge pieces of t bone steak for two going in the grill. I had a beautiful piece of dorado and Seamus had the tenderest calamari with scallions and a little asparagus. There are ten chefs all doing their thing so it’s quite something to watch.

This morning we actually visited the San Caterina market. I can’t begin to describe the wonderful fresh fish, rabbits, yellow chicken, fruit and vegetables. Beautiful. We had our coffee and croissant and headed off to Gaudi’s Park Guell with his stamp everywhere including the tiled benches, which overlooked the city of Barcelona. After walking everywhere in the park we decided to walk to the Segrada Familia, Gaudi’s church. We weren’t willing to queue up for over an hour last New Year’s but we were lucky today as there were no line-ups. The last time we visited here was seven years ago. We were very surprised to see that the main part of the church inside was finished as last time it was a major construction site. The stained glass was a sight to behold. We then went to the top in an elevator and looked out over Barcelona. They are still working on the outside of the church. Who knows when they will finally be finished?

Then it was off to the main shopping district where I bought a very cool dress or long sweater at Sisley complete with the requisite zip. For the ladies everyone is wearing leggings, including skin tight ones that leave nothing to the imagination. Skinny legged jeans and boots are everywhere. In fact the shoe shops hardly have any shoes just boots. My “not your daughter’s jeans” just don’t cut it as they aren’t skinny at the bottom. Red is very much in fashion in the stores. It is just red and I don’t particularly like it.

We set out for dinner with a few places in mind but we don’t like going in restaurants, which are practically empty. We were very lucky to find a fish restaurant where you select what you want and they take it off and cook it. Seamus had razor clams and I had sepia, which is different from the squid. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is. The fish, salad and a bottle of wine - 27 Euros. We will definitely go back. We then moved on to Origens for dessert with Seamus having castagna cake and I had a coconut flan. We then rolled back to the apartment. It is pretty chilly outside at night.

Our TV only gets Spanish and the router for our internet isn’t working so we don’t actually know the temperature. Tomorrow we leave Barcelona and start heading south.