Tag Archives: Food

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

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

Naples University

Naples and Sorrento, Italy


Naples isn’t quite like the other tourist spots of Italy.  Naples is gritty.  You won’t see the hundreds of security officers wandering around with nothing to do like you might in Rome (we saw only one, donning a bulletproof vest).  Unemployment in Naples is extremely high, and it shows.  They also say that the mafia controls the trash collection (or lack there of) and it shows.  What shows the most is that Neapolitan youth love spray paint.  Graffiti is visible on basically everything.  I never really felt unsafe here though.  I’d venture to guess that the odds of being pick-pocketed in Naples are about the same as any other city in Italy.  Fewer tourists and empty piazzas were actually refreshing.  The huge Piazza del Plebiscito was practically empty as we strolled through.  We also found excellent lodging in Naples at L’alloggio dei Vassalli.

While Naples wasn’t my favorite destination in Italy, it isn’t as dire as I may have made it seem.  One, including myself, could make a convincing argument that the pizza alone will make the trip a worthwhile one.  We stopped at Pizzeria da Michele twice, which is famed in its own right but also from the book “Eat, Pray, Love.”  A picture of Julia Roberts is proudly displayed within.  Da Attilio also provided a solid pie.  In general, the coffee and pastries were also top notch.  The Museo Archeologico contains some amazing works excavated from the ruins of Pompeii (though the museum itself is drab).

Naples makes a great home base for some other destinations as well.  The beautiful town of Sorrento is just a short train ride away to the south.  Pompeii and Vesuvius are also just a short train ride to the north.  Unfortunately we just didn’t have enough time to get to Pompeii and Vesuvius but we did make it to Sorrento for a day.

There is a stark contrast between Naples and Sorrento which is quite clean and quaint.  The town is famous for its softball sized lemons.  The trinkets in the shops are lemon themed, the candy is lemon flavored, and of course there is limoncello for purchase.  Most shops even let you taste before you buy.  One end of town has a lemon grove that you can stroll through, though the mosquitoes were a nuisance.  Great for a day trip but wasn’t a place I’d stay for more than that, unless I were exploring other towns down the Amalfi coast.

Naples itself may not be for everyone but it’s worth a visit.  To non-foodies it may sound odd, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of the pizza in Naples.  I suppose those types of lasting memories are what travel is all about.  You might even fall in love with the more authentic feel of this city versus the long lines and tour buses of other Italian cities.  Anyway, if you can’t stand the place head to Sorrento and Pompeii.  There’s nothing to lose.

Next post: The Cinque Terre

Vesuvius in the Distance

Vesuvius in the Distance
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/2000s, ISO:500

Umberto Galleria

Umberto Galleria
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/80s, ISO:500

Lemons of Sorrento

Lemons of Sorrento
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@12mm, f/5.0, Multi, ISO:320

Back Alleys

Back Alleys
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/3.5, 1/100s, ISO:200

Missing the Garbage Man

Missing the Garbage Man
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@14mm, f/4.0, 1/500s, ISO:200

Margherita Pizza at Da Michele

Margherita Pizza at Da Michele
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/2.2, 1/80s, ISO:200

Sorrento Harbor

Sorrento Harbor
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.0, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Neapolitan Graffiti

Neapolitan Graffiti
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens@20mm, f/7.1, 1/2000, ISO:640

Grand Canal Sunset

Venice, Italy


Venice is surreal.  The notion of purely water based transportation in itself is an oddity.  Like the other big cities in Italy, it has tourist meccas, the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco specifically.  The areas near these two spots seemed even more packed with tourists and low quality/over priced food than Rome.  Learned the hard way that an espresso in Piazza San Marco costs about $14 USD.  Conversely, strolling the streets and canal bridges in the evening is an experience that can’t be replicated.  Just watch out for the dog poop.  No matter where you are some amount of the people will not pick up their dog’s doo doo.  This fact is amplified when streets are narrow and there’s no grass or trees.   Also of great importance, the canals did not stink.  I can’t speak for whether they ever do stink or how badly they smell if and when they do, but I don’t recall a single foul odor.  My wife and I visited in late May.  Maybe it was luck or maybe people tend to exaggerate.  In fact, the lack of exhaust from cars and scooters was quite pleasant.

I was dragging through Venice, half out of it from an illness I’d been fighting off the whole trip.  Luckily our bed & breakfast had the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in (Italy or otherwise).  Actually, B&B Sandra was perhaps the best B&B I’ve ever stayed in.  The owners, Sandra & Leonardo, make you feel at home and prepare an extensive breakfast daily.  The B&B is within reasonable walking distance of almost anywhere, but of course you can take the water buses instead.  No gondola or water taxi rides for us, not sure it would be worth the euros when a good seat on the water bus gets you all of the same sights.

The food was much better in Florence and Tuscany in my opinion, but I’d imagine we just didn’t seek out the right places.  One tip is that the food seemed to improve proportionally to the distance from the Rialto and San Marco.  Lunch at Osteria L’Orto dei Mori was memorable.  The cicchetti (similar to Spanish tapas) bar tour is also an excellent way to go for a dinner.  Hopping from bar to bar sampling the specialty of each with a glass of wine made for a great evening.  Perhaps one of the best things we ate in Venice were strawberries from the local street vendors.  Maybe Venice has the best strawberries in the world in May, maybe I normally eat crappy strawberries.  I don’t know but they were the best I’ve ever eaten.

The short trip across the lagoon to the island of Murano is worth it for a few hours to see the famed Venetian glass work.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to post as most of the shops prohibit taking pictures of their work.  The glass is gorgeous but also on the pricey end.  Expect at least 150 euros for a decanter or vase with real quality to it.  Some of the shops conduct live glass blowing demonstrations.  Watched a guy make a very detailed horse out of glass in about two minutes.  Impressive.

The first shot below is an HDR that is admittedly a little unrealistic looking, however I thought that it fit with the surreal feeling of Venice in general.  I tended to rely on the 14-42mm Olympus kit lens as the close quarters and tight streets are more conducive to a mid range lens.  Though it’s crowded, watching the gondolas go by below the Rialto in the evening is a do before you die type of experience.

Next post: Naples

Dreams of Venice

Dreams of Venice
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, Multi, ISO:200

Venetian Windows

Venetian Driveway
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/4.0, 1/400s, ISO:200

Water Taxi

Water Taxi
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@42mm, f/5.6, 1/1600s, ISO:200

Gondola for Hire

Gondola for Hire
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@18mm, f/3.9, 1/10s, ISO:200

The Campanile

The Campanile
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@18mm, f/395, 1/1000s, ISO:200

Venetian Streets

Venetian Streets
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.5, 1/1600s, ISO:200

Parking Spots

Parking Spots
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@13mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO:200

Tuscany

Wine Tour of Tuscany’s Chianti Region


I’ve been blogging about cities and taking lots of shots of landscapes and architecture in Italy, but really my wife and I traveled here for food and wine.  We had our most enjoyable or second most enjoyable day in Italy (Hard to judge, the Cinque Terre was also amazing) after one full day centered on drinking and eating.  When you tour fantastic wineries and end up eating lunch at a world famous butcher shop, I guess that’s what you’d expect.  A perfect dinner awaited back in Florence as noted in my last post.

My wife and I booked a tour with Tuscan Wine Tours, hoping to try some full bodied dry red wines and wanting to see the famed Tuscan countryside.  We booked well in advance as this outfit is well reviewed in Tripadvisor and spots/available dates were filling up.  We were not disappointed.  If you have a day in Florence and like wine and meat, this tour is what you should do.  You can see the architecture of Florence in pictures on the internet but you can’t taste the wine.

After a 20-30 minute drive we arrived at the first winery.  The scenery was nice and your tour guide will prep you on Italian wine types and classifications.  Our guide spoke perfect English as did the hosts at the wineries.  Tuscan wines are centered around Chianti Classico but offer quite a few other varieties of primarily red full bodied wines.  The wineries also made their own olive oil which could change your whole mentality on the stuff if you’ve never had great olio.  We haven’t bought the supermarket brand ever since.  If you do some research though there are some affordable brands to be purchased just about anywhere.

Lunch was at a butcher shop in the small town of Panzano.  The shop is easy to spot due to the unconventional horizontal red and white stripes and painted blue and flowered cow out front.  Meat was on the menu and it was fantastic.  We were surprised long after we returned home to see a place that looked familiar to us on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” during an episode he shot in Tuscany.  After comparing some pictures to the video we realized the amazing lunch we had on this tour was at the shop of famed butcher Dario Cecchini.

After lunch, another winery with excellent Chianti and olive oil.  We stopped in the town of Greve for gelato on the trip back to Florence where we were dropped off at the scenic Piazzale Michelangelo.  From here you can get a view of the entire city skyline.  The stress of sightseeing in the crowded cities can be well relieved by a tour into the country side, especially with some wine involved. – Mike Valore

Road to Villa CafaggioOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Road to Villa Cafaggio
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.0, 1/100s, ISO:320

Lunch at Antica Macelleria Cecchini

Lunch at Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 1/140s, ISO:320

Lots of Wine

Lots of Wine
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.5, 1/80s, ISO:320

Home-made Olive Oil and PastaOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Home-made Olive Oil and Pasta
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 1/150s, ISO:320

Greve Town SquareOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Greve Town Square
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:320

Next post: Venice

From the Piazza Michelangelo

Florence, Italy


Destination 6:  Florence

Almost every major Italian artist and architect is represented here.  You could write the entire history of the Renaissance by spending a few weeks wandering around here.  The Accademia houses Michelangelo’s David (You can see the fake one placed at the original location outside the Medici palace in the last photo in this post).  The Uffizi houses paintings from all of the masters.  Brunelleschi’s basilica dome or Duomo, is perhaps the most famous dome in the world.  Hell, you can even see Galileo’s finger in a jar here.  Leather, jewelry, and fashion in general are big but the prices are high.  Check out the prices for gold jewelry in the shops on the Ponte Vecchio.  I couldn’t afford anything even if the prices were Yen instead of Euros.  In my opinion, you’re better off spending your hard earned money on wine and food.

Florence had our most memorable dining experiences in Italy.   Vini e Vecchi Sapori was one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had, and likely ever will have.  Florence is situated on the edge of the Chianti wine region in Italy.  Not the cheap Chianti you can buy for a few bucks at the local liquor store.  This wine is a deep red, dry and the flavors are powerful.  Goes perfect with the local specialties such as Bistecca alla Florentina.  Bistecca is aged steak cut thick and served rare, putting most any other steak to shame.  Fantastic gelato is a given.  Discussion on Italian food and photos are for a later post, but the quality here cannot be ignored.

While these works of art/architecture and the amazing food culture draws tourists, I found it to be less crowded than Rome.  The streets in the main historical areas seemed less overrun by speeding Vespa’s and what are comically tiny cars (at least by American standards).  The pace was more of what I had imagined Italy to be.  Then again maybe we were just starting to learn how to enjoy this wonderful country.

Sun Shines on the Ponte Vecchio

Sun Shines on the Ponte Vecchio
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/5.6, Multi, ISO:320

Bridges Over the Arno River

Bridges Over the Arno River
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 0.8s, ISO:200

Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo)

Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo)
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:320

Atop the Duomo

Atop the Duomo
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/7.1, 1/900s, ISO:200

Perseo and Medusa

Perseo and Medusa
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@31mm, f/4.9, 1/250s, ISO:200

Next post: Chianti Region Wine Tour

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Puerto Rico, Old San Juan and Castillo San Felipe del Morro


Destination 2:  Old San Juan and Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Bodega Chic

Bodega Chic, Calle San Sebastian

Old San Juan lies on an island to the northwest of the main tourist area of Santurce.  As would be expected Spanish influences dominate the architectural style.  While some areas of the town can get overrun by tourists (specifically the areas near the cruise ship harbor), there are plenty of smaller more local bars and restaurants to be found.  Calle Sol and Calle San Sebastian are excellent streets to bar crawl.

La Casa Estrecha, San Juan

La Casa Estrecha

I would recommend a short tour of the old town, specifically the Flavors of San Juan food tour.  The tour guides weave you through the old town explaining the history of the city and noting key landmarks.  Local restaurants and bars are featured as opposed to the tourist traps.  One of the more memorable oddities of the tour was La Casa Estrecha, one of the thinnest residences in the world.  The house is now being renovated to be turned into an art gallery.  Our favorite restaurant in San Juan was Verde Mesa, which we stumbled upon while strolling the streets of the town.  The restaurant has a small number of tables and the entrees feature fresh fish.  The ceviche was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Protecting the harbor entrance is Castillo San Felipe del Morro (post header shot).  El Morro protected San Juan from invasion up to the last military actions it saw in the Spanish-American War in 1898.  The sentry towers along the fort and city walls called Guerites or Garitas, have become the image most associated with San Juan.  The fort is within walking distance from the old town.  The main entrance can be accessed by walking along Calle del Morro which is flanked by expansive lawns used by the locals for picnics and flying kites.  Shots were taken with an Olympus EPL-1 and various lenses including the Oly 14-42, Panasonic 20mm, and Panasonic 7-14mm.  Next Post: Triglav and Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Calle del Morro from El Morro Entrance

Calle del Morro from El Morro Entrance

La Garita or Guerite

La Garita or Guerite & San Juan Harbor