Monthly Archives: August 2014

Barcelona, Spain


Tour of Spain stop 2 – Barcelona.  We took the high speed train (Renfe Ave) from Madrid to Barcelona, only about a three hour trip.  Lodging was found using Tournights which offers apartments for rent.  There is a huge amount of things to see, do and eat here.  Lodging is just about the last thing to be concerned with.

Immediately upon arriving in Barcelona you are immersed in architecture.  The Gothic style Cathedral of Barcelona is astounding in size and detail.  Numerous works of Antoni Gaudi such as Casa Batllo, Casa Amatller and La Pedrera draw the eye with their unique exterior facades.  The over-arching feature (literally, no building is allowed to eclipse it in height) is another Gaudi design, the Sagrada Familia.  This is one impressive church.  Amazingly, after over 130 years of construction it still isn’t finished.  The detail carved into each façade and the sheer size could elicit a religious experience.  I suppose that might be the point.

Also home to Barcelona is one of the most famous markets in the entire world – La Boqueria.  The colors, variety and action could inspire just about every amateur photographer.  Sadly I turned into just another tourist taking pictures of fish and meat, but for some reason you just have to do it.  Fresh seafood can be had in the corner of the market for lunch or dinner at Kiosko Universal.  Highly recommended.

We did two tours while in Barcelona.  A free walking tour and a bike tour to several wineries in the Penedes region.  These two tours were probably the two most enjoyable travel tours I’ve experienced so far.  First the walking tour.  The tour guide (Chris G.) was knowledgeable and engaging – even several years later I still recall many of the highlights of this tour which is rare for me, usually in one ear and out the other.  We also stuck around for a paella demonstration dinner.  Fresh ingredients from La Boqueria, cooked and into the belly.  Paella can’t and won’t be any better than that.

The bike tour was almost a requirement after all of the eating and drinking.  At least some exercise was needed to continue to eat and drink.  We chose a tour of Penedes run by Spanish Trails.  Albert was the friendliest and most excited tour guide of all time.  Biking was easy but fun through some beautiful country.  The wineries specialized in Rioja, Tempranillo and an even more unique dry sparkling wine called Cava.  We purchased several bottles which the tour loads up in a van for you so you don’t have to carry it while biking.  The highlight of this tour and perhaps our entire trip to Spain was the meal following the tour, hosted by Albert and his family.  Traditional simple Catalan dishes were served family style and more wine was served, including a dessert wine from the porron.  Each took a turn trying to pour wine like a fountain held high at arms length straight to the face.  Later in the trip we went to two of the top restaurants in the world, both amazing and unforgettable in their own right, but this was also a meal to be remembered.

Next post: Spanish Pyrenees – Ordesa

Sagrada Familia - Barcelona - Gaudi - Columns

The “Trees” of the Sagrada Familia
Olympus OMD EM-5, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/13s, ISO 200

Passion Facade - Sagrada Familia - Barcelona - Spain

Paella!
Olympus OMD EM-5, 7-14mmlens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/2000s, ISO 200

Barcelona - Cathedral - Gothic - Saint Eulalia

St. Eulalia Cathedral
Olympus OMD EM-5, 7-14mm lens@7m, f/4.0, 0.5s, ISO 250

Saint Eulalia - Barcelona - Cathedral - Night

Late Night Stroll
Olympus OMD EM-5, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 0.8s, ISO 200

Amatller - Batllo - Gaudi - Barcelona - Spain

Gaudi’s Amatller and Batllo
Olympus OMD EM-5, 14-42mm lens@27mm, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 200

La Boqueria - Seafood - Barcelona - Spain - Mercat

La Boqueria Seafood
Olympus OMD EM-5, 7-14mmlens@14mm, f/7.1, 1/30s, ISO 200

Grapes - Penedes - Wine - Spain

Penedes Grapes
Olympus OMD EM-5, 14-42mm lens@28mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 320

Paella - TravelBar - Barcelona

Paella!
Olympus OMD EM-5, 14-42mm lens@42mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 200

Madrid, Spain


Madrid was the first stop on our trip to Spain.  Centrally located with reasonable airfare landed it atop the batting order.  From Madrid to Barcelona, Barcelona to Ordesa National Park in the Pyrenees and finally on to the food capital of the world, San Sebastian (return flight from nearby Bilbao).

My wife and I traveled here with some close friends after their wedding.  The trip was quickly coined Luna de Miele (loosely honeymoon?).  We stayed at an excellent bed and breakfast called Abracadabra B&B just a block or so away from the Palacio Real and Plaza Mayor.  Breakfast was great and the rooms were quiet and well kept.  Highly recommended.

We hit some of the key tourist spots such as the Palacio, Plaza Mayor, Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum.  Intersting stuff but I wasn’t blown away by any of these sights.  Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia was memorable.  The claustrophobic outdoor El Rastro street market and the Mercado San Miguel were the must sees.  My first taste of Jamon Iberico as well as other small bites at the Mercado will be planted in my memory for years to come (I admittedly appreciate food more than paintings and sculpture).  The sheer size and volume of people at El Rastro was unforgettable.  The streets were flooded with shoppers, entertainers and storekeepers.  Just about anything could be found on sale.  I recall a specific tent specializing in VHS tapes and another with casettes.

Jamon aside, Madrid was my first shot at quite a few traditional Spanish dishes/styles.  Papas Bravas, Paella, and Tapas to note a few.  Our most memorable moments came from bar hopping and savoring a variety of small dishes along the way.  Rioja wine also made quite a few appearances.

Madrid is a great starting point to get over some jet lag and start to experience Spain.  Variety of experience but relaxed.  Major sites all within walking distance of Plaza Mayor.  Fewer tourists than Barcelona.  Some sightseeing and bar hopping here should satisfy just about anyone.

Next post: Barcelona

Plaza Mayor - Madrid - Spain

Plaza Mayor
Olympus OMD EM-5, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/2000, ISO:200

Museo Reina Sofia - Madrid - Spain

Museo Reina Sofia
Olympus OMD EM-5, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.0, 1/100, ISO:200

Metropolis - Madrid - Spain

Metropolis
Olympus OMD EM-5, 20mm lens, f/4.0, 1/25, ISO:400

El Rastro - Madrid - Spain

El Rastro
Olympus OMD EM-5, 14-42mm lens@42mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO:200

Bear and the Madrono Tree - Madrid - Spain

Bear and the Madrono Tree
Olympus OMD EM-5, 20mm lens, f/4.0, 1/13, ISO:500

Royal Arches - Palace - Madrid - Spain

Royal Arches
Olympus OMD EM-5, 14-42mm lens@31mm, f/5.6, 1/160

Food and Drink in Italy


Basically every meal we had in Italy was fantastic.  Tripadvisor and other review sites really make it quite simple to find quality.  Given that, there were of course some standouts.  Here are the top dining experiences we had across Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice and the Cinque Terre.  Admittedly not my best photography, but it is hard to care about taking photos when presented with food like this.

1.  Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori – Florence

No Pizza, no Bistecca, no ice.  This sign is posted right out front, this is not a pizza joint, not a Florentine steak house, and they do not have soft drinks.  There are about five tables and the place is run by a small family.  Reservations are required or you basically have no hope.  The location is also very convenient as it is right next to the Medici palace.  Simple, very reasonably priced and fantastic.

Vini e Vecchi Sapori, Osso Bucco

Osso Bucco

Vini e Vecchi Sapori, Zucchine Blossom Pasta

Zucchine Blossom Pasta

Vini e Vecchi Sapori, Cinghiale (Wild Boar) Pappardelle

Cinghiale (Wild Boar) Pappardelle

2.  Antica Ristorro di Cambi – Florence

Bistecca Florentine.  This steak alone pushed me from normally ordering steaks prepared Medium to now exclusively ordering Medium Rare.  This was conveniently located for us, there may be better Bistecca to be found, but cheap wine and a delicious steak is still a great experience.  House wine comes by the jug.

Antica Ristorro di Cambi, Steak, Bistecca Florentine

Bistecca Florentine

3. Pizzeria da Michele – Naples

Made famous in the novel and movie Eat, Pray, Love (at least according to my wife) this place is on the map.  Deservedly so.  Gigantic pizza but so good you can easily eat a whole one yourself.  Sauce, Mozzarella and a little basil is all any real pizza needs.

Pizzeria da Michele

Real Pizza

4. Il Gabriello – Rome

Pasta cooked to perfection.  More al dente than I’d ever had before.  I don’t think I’ve had pasta prepared this well since.

Il Gabriello, Spaghetti Pomodoro

Spaghetti Pomodoro

Il Gabriello, Cozze (Mussels)

Cozze (Mussels)

5. Ristorante Da Gigino – Sorrento

Wasn’t sure what to expect here, suspected it might be a bit of a tourist trap however the quality of the food was excellent.  Stopped here for lunch while strolling the streets of Sorrento.  The pasta was prepared perfectly and the seafood was fresh.  More simply prepared dishes executed perfectly.

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Caprese Salad

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Gamberi (prawns) e Vongole (clams)

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Cozze (Mussels) e Vongole (Clams)

6. Vulnetia – Vernazza

The Cinque Terre region is famous for Pesto and seafood, specifically anchovies.  While the two dishes pictured below can be found just about at any restaurant in the area, Vulnetia does them well.

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Gnocchi with Pesto

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Acciughe (anchovy) and Patata

Next post:  Madrid