PORTUGAL AND GALICIA

ESCAPE FROM VALENCIA – AUGUST 6 – AUGUST 20

Valencia is traditionally hot in August, but this year it has been hot since the beginning of July. Fortunately, a while back, we had planned a two week escape from Valencia that would take us to, hopefully, cooler temperatures and less humidity. Our plans include a week in Northern Portugal with time in both Porto and Caminha and a week in Galicia with time spent in Ourense and Combarro.

Our flight to Porto left on Sunday, August 6, at 4:20 PM. We arrived at the airport two hours ahead of time and, although the line for check in for Ryan Air flights was long, the desk personnel were very efficient and some fifteen minutes later we were on our way to Security. The crowds were medium size and the two people directing traffic were doing an excellent job. I grabbed my little blue tray and emptied my pockets and put all my electronics and my belt in there two. I walked through the metal detector when I was told to and the buzzer went off.

I was puzzled because I had made it a point to put both my watch and my keys in the tray. What had set off the alarm? A security guard signaled me to wait and then took me to an area where he swipes the back of my hands and my palms with a small piece of cloth, which he then had the machine read. It tested positive. A different security guard repeated the same procedure and it tested positive once again. My question was positive for what, since the only things that had touched my hands earlier were soap, shampoo and shaving gel.

I was told to wait until a Guardia Civil came and had me accompany him to a small room that had two-way mirrors. He once again swabbed the palms and the backs of my hands. He then took all my data including my passport number, phone number and address. He asked me if I had packed my bag and if I had checked it in. I replied in the affirmative. He told me to go and board my flight and had a nice vacation. Before I got up and left he asked me if I had used hand cream because sometimes hand cream gives a false positive for some sort of explosive. I had not used hand cream, so I suspect that it was the last thing I used…the shaving gel.

The flight was smooth and uneventful and we arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule. There was a fifteen-minute delay until the final luggage cart emptied its contents on the carousel and, of course, my bag was one of the last ones to make the circuit. The delay gave me time to wonder if, for some reason or other, they had taken my bag off the plane. Such was not the case.

It took us about twenty-five minutes to get to our hotel by taxi. Last year when we visited Porto we stayed at the Sheraton, which was some twenty minutes from the center of town. This year we wanted a hotel that was closer to the action and an acquaintance of our suggested the NH Collection Hotel in the Prada de Battalha. It was the old post office, among other things and it was renovated and turned into a modern hotel. Our room is lovely with a queen-sized bed, ample storage space and a modern bathroom. Our room overlooks the plaza and the windows are sound proofed so you do not hear the sounds of the city when the windows are closed.

After we unpacked, we went in search of something to eat. We had a couple of appetizers at the Cafe Java that is directly across the street. The clams and the shrimp were okay, but we knew that we would have better in the upcoming days. Afterwards we went for a little stroll to become familiar with the area around the hotel and we somehow managed to find a gelateria called La Copa. Outstanding! As an added treat the have an outdoor patio with all kinds of flowers.

We made our way back to the hotel and it was a little after 10:00 and we were done in by the vents of the day. We read for a while and then went to sleep around 11:30 that was 12:30 Valencia time.

 

MONDAY, AUGUST 7

 

We slept in and, by the time were were showered and dressed, it was 11:00. We headed for the Café Tropical, which is a few steps from the hotel. We were in search of a good coffee, some juice and a bread substance. The Café Tropical filled the bill perfectly. It was now time to explore.

We headed to the bookstore that J K Rowling used as inspiration for the Hogwart’s Library. As we approached, we were amazed and dismayed by the size of the line. There probably was a good hour’s wait to get in. Since I am not the world’s biggest Harry Potter fan and since you cannot take pictures once inside, we decided to pass and just went exploring.

We walked into a couple of shops and, in the course of things, Susan shot a number of pictures. We eventually made our way to the river where we sat and watch the tourist boats that ply the river and at 1:30 we headed for a restaurant that our friend, Brian Oberle, had recommended.

It is called Vinha D’Alhos and it overlooks the water. It is a popular spot and we made sure to make a reservation. We enjoyed some olives and some sheep’s cheese with a variety of breads while we waited for our mains. I had sea bream and Susan had sea bass, both of which were perfectly prepared. We shared a lovely bottle of Vinho Verde. We indulged in a molten chocolate cake dessert, as well as coffee and a glass of port.

After lunch we took the fifty-minute cruise that passes under the six bridges of Porto and its surroundings. It had been overcast for most of the day, but at 3:00 the sun was brightly shining. The cruise was as enjoyable as it was last year. It is a great way to see some of the historic buildings of Porto. Since we had done a goodly bit of walking in the morning, we opted to take a taxi back to the hotel and rest up for a little while.

We took to the streets again at eight o’clock in search of a drink and a nibble. We discovered a number of restaurants and cafe about ten minutes from the hotel. We decided to give Café Ribeiro a try and we were not disappointed. We tried their pizza bites stuffed with suckling pig and their shrimp in a butter and garlic sauce. A beer, a glass of wine, an orange and a slice of pineapple for dessert and the bill came to 29€. While we were there the place filled up and at 9:00 0’clock they were turning people away. There were a dozen or so hearty souls who were dining al fresco and it was really fresco,

Back to the hotel at 10:00 and an hours worth of mindless entertainment and then off to bed.

 

TUESDAY, AUGUST 8

 

I took my time this. Morning getting showered and dressed and while I dawdled Susan explored the neighborhood around the hotel a bit more. We went across the street to Cafe Battalha and had a very light breakfast – coffee, juice and a toasted roll. We hailed a cab at 10:30 and had him take us to Matosinhos.

Matosinhos is the actual port of Porto. It’s where the big cruise liners dock and commercial ships load and unload. It is also has the reputation for having the best and freshest fish in town. It is a well-deserved reputation.

We strolled through a park on our way to the beach. The sky was blue and the temperature was in the high 60’s. It was also quite windy. The beach was well populated and it seemed that almost everyone had some sort of a windbreak to protect them from the strong breezes. We got in a good walk and stopped off at a seaside bar for a drink. When we finished we decided that we would explore a different part of town.

We wended our way through the streets and passed a number of interesting shops and buildings. There are newer apartments that overlook the shore, but once you get away from the beach the buildings are more traditional. Since we were close to the “mercado” we decided that we would investigate.

The market in Matosinhos consists of two floors. The ground floor is where one finds the stalls selling fish, as well as a restaurant or two. On the first floor there are a few butchers, but most of the stalls feature fruit and vegetables. We did not see any stalls that sold ham and other deli products. Nor did we see a stall that sold cheese.

There are a number of supermarkets and specialty stores and you can probably find just about anything you need in the downtown area of the town. Street signs are few and far between, but the natives were very helpful and they understood my Spanish and I their Portuguese. Gestures were helpful, also. After our market exploration we headed for S Valentim where we had a 2:00 PM reservation.

The Avenida de Heroes de Francia is where there is the greatest concentration of fish restaurants. Most restaurants have their grills set up on the sidewalk out side the restaurant. The display of the catch of the day is always close by. Our restaurant was about halfway down the longish street and when we arrived there were a goodly number of people without reservations who were waiting for a table. We walked in, gave our name to the hostess and were immediately seated.

The decor of the restaurant is not fancy, but we did not come to eat the decor. It is a tablecloth restaurant, but, for the most past, the walls are bare. The indoor space is quite large and every table was full. We had discovered the restaurant last year when our cab driver recommended the place, telling us that he and his wife ate their every Sunday. We had a great experience last year and we were hoping to have another great one today. We were not disappointed.

It is the custom in Porto restaurants to offer you olives, bread and cheese as appetizers. Some restaurants ask if you would like the trio of goodies, others just put them on the table. The appetizers are not free and you pay for what you eat. You can ask your waiter to remove them from the table if you do not want them. We always do want them. Our waiter placed the appetizers on the table and told us that he would return shortly to take our order.

We knew that we wanted to start with some sausage and a pepper salad that consisted of red and green peppers and onion. The peppers had been charred and they were as delicious as the sausage. Two links were on the plate and our waiter sliced both of them for us. Our main dish was to be fish and the waiter brought a tray with three possibilities. We decided on the sea bass and asked our waiter to suggest a good bottle of Albariño to accompany the fish.

The fish was simply prepared. It had been butterflied and salted and was cooked to perfection on the sidewalk grill. Our waiter brought the fish to the table and deboned it and served it. He was dismayed that we were unable to finish all of it. To be fair, it was a big fish and it came with potatoes and Portuguese cabbage. We had melon for dessert and finished our meal with a coffee. We discovered once again that a quality product, simply prepared to show off its best features is definitely the way to go. We have had enough of liquid nitrogen and painted plates. We prefer good food, good wine and good company.

We took a cab back to the hotel. The twenty-minute cab ride cost us 15€. Our meal cost less that 70€, including tip. The next time we visit Porto S Valentim will be on our list of must visits.

When we got back tot he hotel we took life easy. We read a little and we rested a lot. In the early evening we headed to La Copa for some of their wonderful gelato. When we returned to the hotel, we set aside our clothing needs for Caminha where we would spend Wednesday and Thursday night and return to Porto on Friday. We went to sleep around 11:30.

 

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9

 

We will head to Caminha later today. We decided that we would travel with our backpacks and leave our suitcases at the hotel until we returned on Friday. We had breakfast again at Café Battalha and then finished our packing and checked out. The hotel will keep our suitcases until we return on Friday.

We took a cab to the Campanha train station. Local traffic is intense in Porto and our trip to the station cost almost as much as our trip to Matosinhos. The good news is we arrived in plenty of time to catch the 12:46 to Nine where we would catch the 1:40 connection to Caminha. We reached our destination a little after 2:30 and we certainly enjoyed the scenery along the way.

Our hotel, Design & Wine is a five-minute walk from the train station. Each room in the hotel has a unique theme and we are in the Paint Room with its Picassoesque design theme. The rooms are quite modern. Our room looks out onto a small garden-like area and the natural light just floods into the room. We unpacked and then went in search of a late lunch.

Our destination was Solar do Pescado and we chose it because of its excellent rating on Trip Advisor. We arrived at 4:00 and most of the diners had finished their meal. We were shown to a table for two and we studied the menu. We opted to start with an ensalada mixta    with lettuce, tomato, onion, hard-boiled eggs and white asparagus. What a difference fresh ingredients make for such a simple combination of elements. For our main course we chose an arroz de mariscos best described as a soupy rice with assorted shellfish.

The version one gets in Valencia has an abundance of squid and any other shellfish that you find are few and far between. Today’s version could have easily fed four. The dish was replete with shrimp, mussels, clams, cockles and little bits of lobster. With the exception of the lobster there were at least eighteen pieces of each variety. Surprise, surprise! We could not finish the dish although we each had four or five servings. We enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine with our main course and passed on dessert. We did have coffee and the house invited us to a chupito. The bill for such a sumptuous meal was less than 70€.

After lunch we took a little walk and while Susan continued her exploration of the town, I opted for my usual afternoon siesta. We took it easy for the rest of the day. After all, this is a vacation and rest and relaxation are part of the plan. We were in bed by 11:00 and in dreamland soon after.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 10

 

Breakfast is included with our room, so we made our way to the dining room around 10:00. The offerings include toast, rolls, pastries, cereal, fresh fruit, cheese and cold cereals plus juices and assorted breakfast beverages. The plan for today was to visit beaches and so we set off with Foz do Minho as our first goal.

Foz is about a mile and a half away from the hotel. You essentially follow the shoreline on a paved road and at a certain point there is a wooden walkway that takes you to the beach. It was low tide and there were not many swimmers and sunbathers on the beach. We stopped at the bar and had a Coke and then began the second part of our journey to the Playa de Moledo.

We followed a path through the woods that was some three miles long. While it was windy by the shore, there was little wind as we walked through the pine forest. We encountered very few people along the way and eventually we reached the beach. We stopped again to have a drink and then we continued on to the town.

Moledo is Caminha’s beach and it was well populated, but far from crowded. We explored various dining options and then decided that we would be better off returning to Caminha where there are many more dining options. We found a cab and in fifteen minutes we were back at out hotel.

We had lunch at Baptista, which is right next to our hotel. It has about a dozen tables and most were taken up by families. We had no problem getting a table for two and we sat down and studied the menu. I opted for grilled octopus and Susan chose the grilled cod. Boiled potatoes and Portuguese cabbage accompanied the entrees. We also had a bottle of the house white. Dessert was melon and that was followed by coffee. We then headed back to the hotel for some R and R. I had walked 5 miles and Susan, who had taken a walk on her own in the morning, was up to 6.5 miles.

Not surprisingly, we stool the rest of the afternoon off and spent time reading and catching up on correspondence. We made our way to the Plaza around 8:30 and had a rather forgettable pizza along with a beer for me and a gin and tonic for Susan. We then went back to the hotel and dozed off.

 

FRIDAY, AUGUST 11

 

I woke up this morning a little under the weather. I think it was a combination of too much sun coupled with too much exercise for one day. I didn’t feel that I was up to a long train ride with two changes of train so we decided that a taxi back to Porto was a costly, but intelligent alternate mode of transportation. Our driver spoke Spanish and we had an animated conversation during the 75 minute trip. It cost us 90 €, but I made the trip in one piece and that was the good news.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel and since it would be a while before our room was ready. We went across the street and had a light breakfast. We then took a brief stroll, but it was really hot, so we decided to return to the hotel and wait in the air-conditioned lobby until our room was ready. We are now on the fourth floor and our room is equally attractive as the one that we had on the second floor at the beginning of our stay.

I decided to take a nap since I did not sleep well the night before and Susan read her book while I slept. Susan has gone out for a bite to eat, but, in truth, I am not very hungry, so I have decided to lay low for a little bit longer.

We left our room at 7:00 in search of a snack and found a nice place a few blocks away. I had a sandwich and Susan had a gin and tonic and we watched the world go by. We strolled for a bit afterwards and then headed back to the hotel. We watched a little TV and read a bit and, once again, we turned in early.

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11

 

I finally got a good night’s sleep. I showered and dressed and at 10:30 had a light breakfast across the street. Our destination today was the Vila Nova di Gaia where the major port wineries have their warehouses. Perhaps a tour would be in order or perhaps not.

We headed out form the hotel and in less than fifteen minutes we were descending the staircases that would lead us to the bridge that would take us to Gaia. I can’t remember the last time that I saw so many stairs. I would wager there were close to 200 by the time we got to the level of the bridge. It took around ten minutes to cross the bridge and there we were in Gaia.

The streets were filled with tourists and that was not surprising. We decided to explore beyond the tourist area and strolled along the banks of the Douro. There were very few people and a nice breeze. There were also a goodly number of benches along the way. It turned out to be an unexpected opportunity to chill out. On our way back we stopped at a small restaurant for a bit of refreshment. The place was called Antigua Casa Ze da Guida, There were a few indoor tables and a few outdoor tables. The outdoor grill was fired up as they awaited diners in search of lunch.

We originally stopped with the intent of having a glass of wine, but after our first glass we opted for a second and then ordered a plate of clams and some cried croquets to go along with the wine. When we made our way back into town, we stopped at an ice cream parlor and we each enjoyed a scoop of ice cream. After our ambitious morning walk, we decided that a taxi back to the hotel would be the wisest decision to make.

We rested and relaxed during the afternoon hours. We left the hotel in search of a bite to eat. W ended up at Café Ribeiro again and we both had a sandwich, along with a plate of fries. When we finished we headed back to the hotel to pack our bags, since tomorrow is a travel day. We are heading to Ourense in Galicia.

 

SUNDAY, AUGUST 13

 

The trip from Porto to Ourense is not a rapid one. You have to go by way of Vigo. The Intercity leaves Porto at 8:15 so we were up early and checked out of the hotel at 7:30. The streets were deserted and that is to be expected at 7:30 on a Sunday. We made it to the station in plenty of time to catch the 8:15 Intercity to Vigo.

The train is an older version and our car was quite noisy. The good news is that seats were relatively comfortable. We were schedule to arrive in Vigo at 11:40 allowing for the change of an hour when moving from Portugal to Spain. The fastest train from Vigo to Ourense leaves at 11:15 and the next fastest at 2:35. No problem we thought. We will just leave our luggage in the Consigna and take a stroll through Vigo. Who knew that the station did not have the usual lockers where one can leave their baggage?

I watched the bags while Susan went on a scouting mission. She found a small restaurant about a block away from the station and we made our way there. We enjoyed a hefty portion of tortilla española, a revuelto of mushrooms and cheese and a plate of pimientos de Padrón. Since we were in Galicia we downed our food with a glass of Albariño. We sat in the comfort of the restaurant a while longer before we made our way back to the train station. As soon as we arrived, they announced our train.

The 2:34 train out of Vigo that is bound for Ourense makes many stops along the way and the train really does not reach speed until the final leg between Ribadavia and Ourense. We arrived at 4:40 and only had to wait a few minutes for a cab. We are staying at yet another NH Hotel that has proven to be a very reliable hotel chain. They room they gave us was rather small and to make matters interesting the bathroom had no door. I went back down to the desk and asked if they could switch us to a room where the bathroom had a door.

The receptionist was very apologetic and moved us to a suite that has a sitting area, an. Enormous bed, ample closet space and a bathroom door. We will most certainly enjoy our four days here in Ourense.

After unpacking we decided to go out and explore a bit. Given that it was Sunday no stores were open and, although a goodly number of bars and cafes were closed, there were a goodly number that were open. We headed for old town and that had a familiar feel to it. To a certain extent, it was like walking through the streets of Toledo or San Sebastián. There is a comfortable mix of businesses, houses and restaurants. We stopped for a drink and a bit later we stopped for ice cream. Although it was late in the day, it was still hot.

We were back at the hotel around 9:00. We took life easy for a couple of hours and then we shut off the lights and went to bed.

 

MONDAY, AUGUST 14

 

We were out and about around 10:00. The first thing we needed to do was to find a laundromat so that we would have enough clean clothes to last for the rest of the trip. We discovered an Autoservicio close to the hotel. It is called OSO BLANCO and it turned out to be the perfect choice.

All the machines are modern and depending on the size washer you choose the cost is 4€, 5€ or 6€. The machine automatically adds detergent and softener so you do not have to bring any of that along. The dryers run 3€. In less than an hour we returned to the hotel with clean clothes.

We did a bit of housekeeping when we got back to the hotel and we caught up on correspondence and other internet tasks. We decided that we would try LA ROMÁNTICA for lunch, but when I called to make a reservation I was told they don’t take reservations. Who needs reservations when there are long lines of people waiting to get in?

We arrived at 1:30 and the place was packed. However, we did manage to get seated immediately. LA ROMÁNTICA is an Italian restaurant, that also offers a lot of meat options and after a week of fish we were ready for a good steak. Susan and I both ordered half servings of steak. The steak came with salad and a never-ending plate of fries. We did not need to order an appetizer. When the steaks came, the literally filled the plate. In addition to the steak we had ordered water, a beer and a bottle of good wine. The bill came to 29€. What’s not to love about Spain?

We took a long walk after lunch and got as far as the Roman Bridge. We even spent some time in a mall because we were both curious and hot. When we were all mailed up, we set out again and returned to the hotel. I took my afternoon nap and Susan returned to the casco viejo to shoot some pictures.

 

Around 9:00 PM we took the elevator up to the bar that is located on the roof of the hotel. The panoramic view that it affords is very, very nice. He had a few drinks and a couple of tostas – one with anchovies the other with salmon – and lingered until 10:30 or so. We then went back to the room and read a bit before calling it a day.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15

 

After a late breakfast we hung out in the room until 11:30 at which point we called a cab to take us to the railroad station. Our destination was Ribadavia, a small town some 20 minutes away by train. Ribadavia had a vibrant Jewish community until the Order of Expulsion and the ensuing Inquisition. In addition to its Jewish Quarter, there are the remains of a castle and a Sephardic Museum.

The trip was uneventful. The station at Ribadavia is unattended, and the trains to and from Vigo make only a few stops everyday. There are only to trains back to Ourense, one at 4:15 and the last one at 11:40 PM. Obviously, that meant we had a limited amount of time to spend there.

We walked into town from the station. It turned out that Tuesday was a día festivo, The Day of Assumption, so all businesses were closed. Most of the bars and restaurants, however, were open, as was a farmacia. I happened to notice that there was a restaurant next to the farmacia that was called Barmacia. It gave us a giggle as we continued on our way. It took us about twenty-five minutes to reach the castle and the museum.

We paid our admission and started at the museum, which had on exhibit a number of books and documents, as well as explanations of the history of the Jews, all written in gallego, the second language of Galicia. If one reads or understands Spanish then the gallego is not a challenge. After our museum visit we inspected the remains of the castle.

From the castle we made our way to the Plaza Mayor where the entrance to the judería was located. We made our way through the narrow streets and returned to the plaza. Since it was close to lunchtime we looked for a place to eat and decided on a space called Taberna Papuxa. In a former life it was a Jewish bodega where wine and spirits were made and sold. The irony is that in its current iteration it serves a limited number of dishes among them octopus, ham and other pork products. You order at the bar, find a seat – there is an outdoor terrace as well as the original indoor space – and someone delivers the food to your table. The food was good and enjoying it in an historic tavern made it all the more enjoyable.

One of the attractions of Ribadavia is a bakery called Tahona de Herminia that sells pastries made according to the original Jewish recipes. We were unsuccessful in sampling some of these pastries because when we first walked by they were closing to have their lunch and when we cam by again at 3:30 they did not answer a knock on their door. We needed to begin our way back to the train station if we were going to make the 4:15 train back to Ourense, so we began the trek back.

The train was on time and twenty minutes later we were back in Ourense. We went back to the hotel and rested for a while. At 8:30 we headed to the casco viejo in search of refreshment. We ended up at a restaurant called Barallete. We ordered some mejillones a la vinagreta and some albóndigas de pescado y langostino, both of which were excellent. What was unique about this place is that they went from table to table with tapas and pinchos that had just come out of the kitchen. We tried a couple and they were excellent. For dessert, we went across the street and had an ice cream.

It had been a full day and we wearily made our way back to the hotel. There was nothing on TV, so we gave up the ghost and went to bed.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16

We were in the Plaza Mayor at 10:30 because we wanted to take the tren turístico that makes its way around Ourense in a 45-minute circuit. We stopped off at one of the cafés in the Plaza to have breakfast and to say that our waiter was slow almost begs one to define that adjective. We did manage to down our breakfast and get our tickets for the 11:00 AM departure.

The train is the yore that one sees making its way through amusement parks in the USA and truly is not up to the challenge of the varying surfaces it traverses. Physically the train makes it up all the hills, but the ride is bone rattling and uncomfortable. It turns out that most people use the train to get to one of the two thermal baths for which Ourense is renowned. The one-way trip costs 85 céntimos.

The train stops at Termas Chervasquiera that are about two miles outside of town. They are located on the banks on the Miño River and there are seven or eight different pools. As you pass you can see that there are a number of people enjoying the pools and there are a goodly number sunning themselves on the surrounding decks.

The end of the line is where the Termas de Outariz are located. They are five miles from the center of town and are located in a very nice natural setting. In addition to the spa – the baths – massages are also available and there is a sushi bar for those who get hungry. When we reached Outariz we got out of the train to stretch our legs and at noon we began the return trip to the Plaza Mayor where we had a cold drink and watched the world go by.

Rested and refreshed we then made our way to Nova where we would have our lunch. Nova is famous for being a one star Michelin restaurant that has a reasonably priced tasting menu. There are three different tasting menus and the price varies according to the number of dishes that there are in each menu. We opted for the Menú Nova with its nine dishes and we also opted for the wine pairings. The menu was priced at 35€ and the wine pairing was an additional 25€,

This was one of the better meals that we have ever had. The setting, the service, the food and the wine were all outstanding. The first plate consisted of octopus in a seafood foam and topped with trout eggs. Understand that we are talking about a tasting menu here so the portions are appropriate to a nine-course meal. We then sampled some salmon sashimi on a bed of pumpkin with green peas. Third was a slow cooked egg in a broth of truffle and potato. Fourth on the list was a bouillabaisse with scallops. Next came a ravioli filled with crab served with a crab broth. The fish dish was a perfectly steamed piece of cod and the meat dish was stuffed veal cheek with shiitake mushrooms and braised endive. Our first dessert was a mint foam covering a small scoop of nectarine ice cream. Our second dessert was a take on vanilla ice cream. After the meal the chef came and visited our table and brought with him a few more sweet goodies. We finished our coffee, paid our bill and left knowing, that if the occasion presents itself, we will definitely pay a return visit.

It was back to the hotel and a brief pause in our day. Later this afternoon, Susan is heading out to the Termas de Outariz for a soak and a massage. My plan is to use her absence to update my blog.

 

Susan returned to the hotel at 10:30 and we went to the bar/cafe on the corner and had a drink and a nibble. We then headed back to the hotel. We decided that we would pack in the morning when we were to leave for Combarro.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 17

 

We took a rather circuitous route to get to Combarro. Our first leg was a train from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela. It’s a 25-minute trip. The next leg was from Santiago to Pontevedra. We had to wait 30 minutes for the connecting train, but once it arrived we made the journey in less than half an hour. From Pontevedra we took a cab to Combarro and we reached the hotel at 2:30.

The Stella Maris is a hotel that has been around a long time and it shows its age. The bathrooms have been updated and that certainly was a plus. The room was a little tired. Our bed was a double bed in which the two of us just fit. The wifi signal did not reach our room. I think it had to do with distance away from the router since the signal was very strong in the lobby. The best part was the view from our room was outstanding. Combarro is on a ría, a river that is fed with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean.

We unpacked and went in search of lunch. A few steps away from the hotel is the Segunda Parada that, in addition to its upstairs dining room, has a terrace that overlooks the water. We ordered a fish stew that came with two different types of fish and an abundance of potatoes. Servings in Galicia are generous and it was impossible to finish the stew. We had dessert and coffee and then we took a walk to get a general idea of the town.

Combarro is a summer town where, I am certain, many families spend their summer. The hotels there are few and far between, but there are a number of places for rent and I imagine many families own their own summer residence. At one time Combarro was a lazy fishing village, but know its primary business is tourism.

In the evening we stopped at the hotel bar and had a drink. Afterwards we returned to the room and called it an early night.

 

FRIDAY, AUGUST 18

 

We had breakfast at the hotel and then we headed out to explore Combarro in depth. We took the route along the ría and the process came across several beaches and a number of shops and restaurants. We moved at a slow, leisurely pace and after about two hours we stopped for a cold drink. We then made our way to Bar Chousa where we had a lunch reservation. The meal was disappointing. I had ordered a filet and Susan had ordered lamb chops and both were quite overdone. We passed on dessert and headed back to the hotel to rest and relax.

In the evening we made our way to Tinta Negra, which was jammed to the rafters. It was Friday night and the weekend visitors were our in force, along with the regulars. We had a drink and then went back to the hotel. We read for a while and then turned in.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 19

 

Today was another travel day. We needed to get from Combarro to Vigo because our Sunday flight back to Valencia leaves from Vigo. Looking at the various options we decided that a cab was the best way to get from point A to point B. By the time we paid for a cab to get to Pontevedra, took the train and then got a cab to the hotel for a few Euros more we could just take a cab directly to the hotel and that is what we did.

The only room available at the NH Collection in Vigo was a junior suite. There is a soccer game tomorrow between the Vigo team, Celta and a team from the Basque Provinces, Real Sociedad. A number of fans had made the journey to Vigo and had reserved most of the rooms at the hotel. Since it was noon and the room was not yet ready en dropped off our bags and went exploring.

The last time I had spent significant time in Vigo was in the summer of 1990. The city has grown and expanded significantly. It is now Galicia´s largest city. A lot of what we saw during the day simply was not here 37 years ago.

We made our way to the casco viejo and looked around to see what there was to see…mainly lots of tourists. We stopped for a drink and then went on to visit the Museum of Modern Art that was too modern for my taste. We then headed back to the hotel where our room was ready, so we took our bags up to the room and investigated lunch options.

O Portón is highly rated on Trip Advisor so we headed there. As it turned out, it is very close to the casco viejo and so we returned to the scene of the crime. The place was jammed and we got the last indoor table where we were fenced in by two different families with children and parents who were inattentive to the needs of other diners. There were small kids all over the floor playing with a variety of toys and blocks and making it impossible for the waiters to deliver what the families had ordered. The noise level was as close to unbearable as it can get.

We decided to order a number of appetizers. On our list were empanada gallega, shrimp, squid, clams and mussels. We ordered a bottle of Albariño, Martín Códax, finished our meal and escaped. We found a small, QUIET cafe on our way back to the hotel and had dessert and coffee there in blissful silence. When we got back to the hotel it was close to 6:30.

We rested up and relaxed a bit and then around 9:30 went to a small bar called Porto Santo where we had a drink. Afterwards we returned to the hotel, read for a while and then called it a day.

 

SUNDAY, AUGUST 20

 

The phone rang around 8:30 and I was still asleep so I missed the call. When I got up I saw that Matthew had called. When I called back I got his answering machine. I tries to call Rachel and got her answering machined We then decided to give Melissa, Rachel’s former sister-in-law a call and we found out that Rachel was in the hospital having had a reaction to one of the medications she is taking. We were able to get in touch with the hospital and she was resting comfortably with a slight fever and a headache. They were waiting for the results of various tests, but the consensus was that she would be in the hospital for a couple of more days until they figures out what the source of the problem was.

We got showered and dressed and went back to Porto Santo to have some breakfast. We then made our way back to the hotel where I updated this blog and Susan read for a while. We have to be out of the room by 1:00 and we do not leave for the airport until 8:00 so we will need to be creative to fill up those seven hours.

We managed to creatively kill the necessary hours before heading to the airport for our 10:40 flight. The plane was delayed for fifteen minutes on the runway because of heavy air traffic in the Spanish skies. We arrived in Valencia a little after midnight, caught a cab and walked back into our home. We left unpacking for tomorrow and went to bed.

 

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MAKE MINE A MALTA

MAKE MINE A MALTA – JUNE 21 – JUNE 28, 2017

It is 6:20 in the afternoon and I am sitting on the balcony of our room at the Juliani Hotel. The hotel is located in Spain Julian, Malta and our room overlooks Spinola Bay. We have been here since Wednesday afternoon and will be returning on Wednesday, June 28. We decided we were due for an escape where we could get in some R and R and have a bit of fun, in the process.

The flight from Valencia is some two hours and twenty minutes and Ryan Air offers direct service three times a week. Our flight was painless and a driver provided by the hotel met us at the airport. It is a perk one gets for a stay of four days of more. Our driver; Leo, was very knowledgeable and filled us in on some of the basic facts about Malta and its multiple occupations starting in the 6th Century BC. He also shared with us that the population is around 99 percent Roman Catholic and that there are 365 churches in Malta.

We made it to the hotel in less than thirty minutes and check in was very efficient. Our room is a suite with a king size bed and there is a nice sitting area with two chairs a sofa and a coffee table. The balcony is small, but it is big enough to accommodate a table and two chairs.

We took a stroll in the afternoon to familiarize ourselves a bit with the neighborhood and to stretch our legs. Restaurants abound and, although there are some specialized ones, the majority seems to serve salads, pasta and pizza with a limited menu of seafood, steaks and chops.

We got back to the hotel around 7:30 and decided that we would have a drink at the hotel’s rooftop bar. The space is small because it accommodates a pool, as well. In addition to the parade of beverages one expects to be served at a bar, there were a number of Asian style nibbles available. We tried the chicken meatballs and they were quite tasty.

We chatted with a couple from South San Francisco, Both Ken and Dorothy are retired from their careers as civil servants. Ken’s father, Maltese by birth, returned to Malta a number of years ago and Ken and Dorothy visit him every year for three weeks. Our. Conversation was both enjoyable and productive, because they provided us with a number of restaurant recommendations. We left soon after they left and got to bed a little after midnight.

Thursday morning we slept in a little bit and had breakfast at the little spot next door to the hotel. There were a goodly number of choices, including a full English breakfast. My choice of a minute steak with eggs and chips and toast was enormous and I did not even come close to finishing it. I have never seen so much food for 5 Euros.

After breakfast we did a bit of investigation about the best way to move around and explore the islands that make up Malta. We purchased a card that gave us unlimited transportation for seven days on public buses, two trips on the ferry and a trip on the sightseeing bus that visits your choice of the north or the south of the main island.

With pass in hand we hopped a bus and made our way to the ferry station that plies the water between Sliema and Valletta. There is a building boom going on in Malta and the number of cranes testifies to that. Tourism is filling the many restaurants, hotels and rentals. Malta’s unemployment rate is almost non-existent and the number of foreign workers that are here to serve the needs of the tourists is incalculable. There are a goodly number of European students who come here to study English by day and the other students by night.

The ferry trip lasts all of fifteen minutes and we stopped at a local pub when we arrived and rehydrated. Malta is hot in the summer months and, in that respect, is quite like Valencia. It was a bit of a climb to the center of the city and having met the challenge of the hill, we began our exploration. In addition to exploring the streets, we paid a visit to the Archeological Museum and the Armory. If you are all interested in the history of Malta this is a must visit stop. There are a wide range of displays that full explain the archeological underpinnings of this fascinating piece of their world.

After our visit, we wandered through the streets some ore until we came to the town’s main square and stopped and had a light bite at one of the many restaurants there. When we finished our lunch, we strolled a bit more and then made our way down to the hill to the ferry. When we returned to the hotel, we rested up a bit and around 8:30 we looked for a place to have dinner. We settled on a nearby place called Cuba, which advertises itself as a Bistro, Cafe and Pizzeria. They have an outdoor terrace that overlooks the bay and that was a nice accompaniment to our light meal that consisted of a pizza and a glass of Chianti. Bedtime was early because we need to catch the sightseeing bus at 9:30.

On Friday we were up and out at 9:00 and we stopped off next door for a quick coffee. We never had a chance to finish it because we thought our tour bus had made a stop across the street. It turns out that there are two sightseeing companies and they offer many different tours to the north and the south of the island. We waited almost 25 minutes for ours to come and did no dare cross the street for another coffee and miss our bus.

We opted for the Northern route because our goal was to visit the city of Mdina. The secondary roads that take you north are in dire need of a repave. That means riding the upper deck is like riding a horse and the jostle level is quite high. We got off the bus at Mdina and looked for a place to have a bite to eat. We had a cheese plate, along with some bruschetta and felt sufficiently fortifies to begin our exploration.

We explored the narrow street for a while before we entered the Cathedral. What is most impressive about this cathedral are the mosaics that cover the floor. They are made from marble and the designs on each and every one are very artistic. After the cathedral you get to visit the TESORO that houses a number of religious objects cast in silver and gold. There are also examples of ceramics down through the ages and a display of coins, starting with the Carthaginians and going to the modern day.

After our visit, we strolled a bit more until we reached the overlook that gives you an impressive view of the land that surrounds Mdina. There is a tearoom nearby so we stopped off for a bit of refreshment. My beer was most welcome, as was Susan’s peach tea.

We caught up with our sightseeing bus and, since none of the other stops looked intriguing, we completed the journey back to our hotel. Was the trip worth the 20 Euros? Frankly, it was not. For your 20 Euros you get a seat on the bus, if there is one available, an audio guide that you can listen to if the station that you plug into is working – mine wasn’t – and the ability to get on and off the bus when you wish. Buses come by every half hour. The enclosed portion of the bus is not air-conditioned and if there is a wait because of traffic it can become quite stifling. In sum, for 20 Euros you are getting a bus ride.

We took a stroll before dinner and arrived early for our 9:00 o’clock reservation at a restaurant called 1927. The restaurant came highly recommended. We shared a shellfish appetizer and we both opted for sea bass as our main. A bottle of wine and coffee were our beverages of choice. To be honest, we found the experience to be average. There were no major negatives, but, at the same time, there were no major positives.

After dinner we returned to our room and after reading for a bit, we gave up the ghost and went to sleep.

While I slept in on Saturday morning, Susan got up early and took an invigorating walk around the bay. The weather was comfortable, according to all reports, and she stopped along the way to take pictures and to have a bite to eat. By the time she returned around 10:00, I was up and dressed and ready to begin our day.

 

I had a quick breakfast at the restaurant next door and we crossed the street to wait for our bus. Our destination was the small fishing town of Marsaxlokk, which is south of Valletta. It required two buses to get there and one of them was an express bus that used the highway to get us to our first destination. Our connecting bus came shortly afterward and it was loaded with young people who were heading there to swim and play water polo. We took public transportation and used our 7-day pass. The public buses are air-conditioned and that is a big plus when the temperature is in the low 90’s.

The shore was a brief walk from the bus stop and when we arrived we found a nearby restaurant and had a drink in air-conditioned comfort. As one would expect in a town that caters to visitors, there were a number of stands selling a variety of products – T shirts, table cloths, souvenirs and, believe it or not, postcards. The number of shops that sell postcards here in Malta surprises me. In the digital age the selfie has just about replaced the need to send postcards.

Fifteen minutes later we were in front of a restaurant called Tartarun. It had been recommended to us by a charming couple that we met while waiting to board our flight to Malta on Wednesday. Thanks to them and the restaurant we had a very memorable experience. I started my meal with a swordfish crudo and Susan had a tatami of salmon, along with a beignet filled with a red curry. We both opted for pasta as our main course. Susan had a tagliatelle with lobster in a cream sauce and I had the linguine with seafood. The portions were more than generous. We ordered a Verdicchio to go along with our meal and it was the right choice. For dessert Susan chose a melon sorbet and I was intrigued by the halva ice cream so I could not resist. We finished our meal with coffee and a native liqueur made from carob called layla.

We took public transportation to get back to the hotel where we lounged until about 9:00 when we went up to the rooftop terrace of the hotel to have some sushi and a drink. The streets seemed rather quiet for a Saturday night, but maybe we were out of the party zone. We were in bed well before midnight and asleep before Sunday made its appearance.

I slept in a bit on Sunday morning while Susan went out and explored. When she returned at 10:00 I was dressed and ready to attack the day. We had a non-description breakfast at a cafe up the street and we then headed out on our walk. We ended up at Dragonara Beach, which is about a thirty-minute walk from our hotel. There are lots of hotels and shops in the area and is heavily populated with tourists. The sand beach there is rather small and it looks like one has to fight for space to lay down a towel or blanket. Since our goal was not swimming, we continue don and eventually found an air-conditioned theater that had a 12:00 o’clock showing of Wonder Woman. I think there were seven of us in the theater.

We enjoyed the movie, although we are not big fans of the Marvel Comic movies or the DC Comic variety, however there was an equal emphasis on story in this film as well as scenes of death and destruction. What was odd was the fact that they stopped the movie after sixty minutes to publicize the fact that the refreshment stand was open and waiting for us to buy some treats. That interruption lasted for ten minutes, at which point the movie resumed.

On our way back tot he hotel we stopped at a restaurant called Sardinella and enjoyed a salad, the Sardinella salad with a rosemary chicken breast, walnuts, greens and chickpeas, and a pizza, the Maltese with Maltese sausage and black olives. When we finished we made our way back to the hotel and took life a bit easy as we recovered from an ambitious walk in 90-degree weather. We paid a return visit to Sardinella for a nightcap and at 9:32 we are in for the night.

Today is Monday and we were up and about a little after 9:00. We had breakfast next door and then headed to the bus stop to wait for the 222 bus that would take us to the ferry station for the crossing to the island of Gozo. The bus came and went without stopping. We learned that is what happens when a bus is as full as full can be. The next bust came by in a matter of minutes and it was nearly empty. We took our seats and in a little more than an hour we were at the ferry station.

There are many boats/ferries that make the trip to Gozo. We opted for the official ferry that accommodates hundreds of passengers, as well as vehicles. The trip lasts some twenty-five minutes and the channel is very calm. The cost is less than 5 Euros per person and you pay when you make the return trip.

We exited the terminal and looked around, trying to decide what our plan would be. We were approached by a taxi driver, Sam, who offered to take us to Victoria, the capital city of Gozo or to the beach. We chose beach and in less than thirty minutes we arrived at Ramla Bay. We rented a couple of chaises and an umbrella and basked in the sun for more than an hour. We had lunch at ROSE’S, one of the only two restaurants at the beach and lunch was spectacular. We ordered a fish plate for two that included a salmon steak, a grouper steak, calamari, mussels and six jumbo prawns. It was served with a side salad and the ever-present French Fries.

Sam had offered to come pick us up at 3:30 and when we left the restaurant he was already waiting for us. He would not let us pay him for the trip to the beach. He said we could settle up when we were back at the ferry station. Taxi fare turned out to be 25 Euros. Amazing! If you need taxi service on the island of Gozo give Sam a call. His full name is Sam Cutajar and his phone number is 2155 1451 and his mobile is +356 9982 2715.

The ferry ride back to Valletta was uneventful, but when we made our way to the bus stop there were hundreds of people waiting for buses. We managed to get on the 222 when it was just about full. There are priority seats on the bus for mothers with children, pregnant women and old folks. We played the old folks card and got two 20 somethings to vacate their seats. That was a good thing because the ride back was close to 90 minutes.

We have just returned from a bayside restaurant where we had a drink and shared a lamb kebab that was not very remarkable. When I finish this sentence, I will read for a while and then call it a night. Tomorrow is our last full day in Malta and we plan to wing it.

We started Tuesday off with breakfast at Il Ponte. The coffee was fantastic and the ham and cheese omelet was quite good. Energized we decided that we would take a morning walk and 2.5 miles later we decided we had dome enough on this 94 degree day. So, we hopped a bus and went back to the hotel.

We had a late lunch at Cuba where we had eaten before. Susan had the salmon salad with quinoa and I opted for the Bacon Cheeseburger. The food was good, but the service was abysmal. The manger of the outdoor terrace was almost as unconscious as our waitress. We had to ask three times for oil and vinegar for Susan’s salad, a refill for my beer turned into a challenge and the shot of Sambuca for my coffee never made its appearance.

Susan decided to sit by the pool for a while and I caught up on my reading. We went to Bianco’s for a late night pizza was quite delicious and the service was outstanding. We ordered after-dinner drinks and our waiter comped us a second round because it was our last night in Malta.

This morning we took our time packing our bags and checked out of the hotel a little before noon. Our cab ride to the airport took us 35 minutes because of the traffic. It should only get worse in the next two months. Check-in at Ryan Air was painless. There was one family ahead of us. Security was painless because they had six lanes open to process boarding passengers. We boarded our plane at 2:00 and at 5:30 we were back home.

It’s a few days later, Saturday the 1st of July to be exact and I have had some time to think about or Malta experience. When I compare Valletta to Valencia there are some obvious differences: the city is very clean, there is a noticeable absence of graffiti, there is a law against open carry of alcoholic beverages, ladies of the evening are invisible, there are no panhandlers on the streets nor on the beaches. There are laws that are enforced that are the reason that the preceding observations are so. Valencia passes laws, but somehow seems unable to enforce them.

Malta has its negatives for me, also. There is a noticeable lack of sand beaches and the ones we saw in Valletta were both small and crowded. The food options seem to be the same everywhere you go – bistros offering salad, pizza, pasta, burgers and items from the grill – fish and meat. There are some ethnic restaurants to be sure, but they do not stand out. There are many more ethnic options here in Valencia.

Would I go back? No. Valencia has more to offer and it would be easier and cheaper to plan an escape to Denia or Xativa and enjoy the sun and the sand. The places of historical interest that we visited were certainly worthwhile, but having seen them there is no need for a return visit.

We are still looking for the European equivalent for Puerto Vallarta where you can sit under a palapa and chill out while the wait staff brings you anything your heart desires.

 

 

 

 

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Hail, Hail The Gang’s All Here!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Yesterday we celebrated an early Thanksgiving due to the fact that on Wednesday we had to Granada for the Hocus Pocus Festival. Since we will not return until after Thanksgiving, before seemed a better option than after. There were fourteen of us around the table and they represented friendships that began anywhere from twenty years ago to two years ago. There were several other invitees who were unable to attend because Saturday was a workday for them.

The meal had all the traditional ingredients and there were a number of things to munch on before we got down to the real business of the day. We enjoyed chopped liver, mixed nuts, olives, and pickles, as well as ajo arriero, a dish made from potatoes and salt cod. There was a cranberry cocktail with a Prosecco base, as well as beer and wine. The meal ended with two homemade pies – pumpkin and pecan – thanks to the talents of Brian Oberle and a round of after dinner liqueurs. So who all was around the table beside Susan and myself?

Going counter-clockwise we start with Emma, Juanjo and Vilma. We met Vilma some five years ago when she was waitressing at a restaurant called El Molinón. Originally from Honduras Vilma had been living here in Valencia for a number of years. She wanted to learn English, so Susan offered her services. A friendship blossomed from those linguistic exchanges. Juanjo came upon the scene a bit later and the two were married in Honduras and celebrated here a month later with an outstanding celebration. Recently Juanjo has realized his lifelong ambition to become a pilot and now works for a firm that specialized in private flights for executives. Emma, the latest addition, turns one year old on December 20.

Next to Vilma is Paquita, Pepe’s mother, who lives in Pedreguer, a small town located in the province of Alicante. We have spent Christmas day with her and her family for the last five years. She prepares a traditional cocido and after that filling meal all the men gather around the TV and enjoy a siesta.

By now, you all must know Pepe. We met almost twenty years ago via an e-mail exchange. Magic was the link. Pepe at the time was very much involved in mentalism and had published a number of articles in very important publications. Our first project that was, in essence, an English translation of one of his effects was published in Genii magazine. I made my first trip to Pedreguer some nineteen summers ago when I was the guest of honor at a weekend session of La Cuchara Mágica. Pepe keeps himself quite busy these days between work, fun and an online Masters Degree that he is working on.

Next to Pepe are Carol and Joana, but you will have to look carefully to see Joana who is mostly blocked by the flowers. Carol is Jordi’s wife. Jordi is missing from the photo because he came late. We met Jordi in 2009 when he gave a class on various rice dishes at the nearby Food and Fun. The following Monday we visited with him at Seu Xerea, where he was working at the time. It was our first experience with cocido, and a memorable one at that. Jordi then went on to his own restaurant, Carosel, where we enjoyed many a fine meal. Carol frequently helped Jordi out at the restaurant and that is how we came to know her. Joana was born some five years ago. I am sure you have seen many photos of Joana and me. Recently they moved to the countryside where they bought a house and Carol, among other things, keeps busy overseeing the education of her daughter.

Next come Miguel and Mari Paz, two of our newer friends. They are Juanjo’s parents and we met them at a surprise party for Vilma a couple of years ago. Miguel is a barber and Mari Paz is a publisher and they are very active in the Falla Plaza Jesus. They were the ones who invited us to become falleros de honor for the 2014 Fallas. It was their first visit to our place and we were pleased to finally have an opportunity to reciprocate for all their kindnesses.

Next to Mari Paz are Klaus and Zahava. Susan met Zahava at High Holiday Services here in Valencia in 2009. Zahava is a practicing homeopath and Klaus is heavily involved in homeopathic research. She and Susan frequently get together for coffee or movies and Zahava has frequently invited us to celebrate Jewish holidays with them.

Brian is next to Zahava. We met Brian at Food and Fun the day that Jordi did his workshop. Brian is currently overseeing the US Consular Agency here in Valencia after having spent many years in the Foreign Service. His wife, Ofelia, is an artist, and unfortunately was a bit under the weather yesterday. The four of us frequently get together dining at home or at a variety of restaurants. Brian and Ofelia have a daughter, Olivia, who currently lives and works in Berlin.

The festivities began at 2:30 and ended close to 7:00. Susan did an amazing job putting everything together and all the elements of our Thanksgiving were absolutely spectacular!

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50 AND COUNTING

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A week has past since Susan and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We decided to do something special and that involved returning to the city and the restaurant where we celebrated our 25th.

In making our plans we discovered that getting to San Sebastian was going to be a difficult task. Connections from Valencia either through Madrid or Barcelona via rail were a bit complicated. Airfares were obscenely expensive. Putting our thinking caps on we came up with a solution that, in the end, worked out well.

Thursday at 10:30 we boarded a train bound for Barcelona. When we arrived we took a cab to the Ayre Gran Vía Hotel and checked in. Since we had a 3:00 PM reservation at a nearby restaurant we left our bags with the front desk and had a taxi take us to a fusion restaurant called Pacífico y Sur that combines Peruvian cuisine with Asian influences. It was one of ten restaurants featured in an article that appeared in the newspaper ABC.

The space itself is rather spare with very few wall decorations. It is in an older building as evidenced by a toiler that has the flush tank suspended from above. The quality of the food and its presentation is in stark contrast to the plainness of the restaurant. The restaurant is owned by Paco Toledo who is originally from Chile, but has lived in Spain for a number of years.

We had our choice of the menu of the day or a tasting menu and we opted for the 20 Euro tasting menu. We started with a croqueta, that was followed by a causa Nikkei (a base of cold mashed potatoes with a center well filled with raw tuna and avocado), ensalada de escabeche Nikkei (a lettuce salad with small pieces of pickled fish), ceviche, a Japanese style beef and noodle dish and a small wedge of lemon pie for dessert. We opted to have coffee elsewhere and left very satisfied with our new discovery.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Barcelona’s bullfighting ring that has been converted into a mall. It has four different levels and includes a multiplex cinema, the usual suspects that one finds at a mall and a number of restaurants. Architecturally it is quite interesting, but since I am not a great fan of malls I just enjoyed the architecture.

When we returned to the hotel we rested for a while and in the early evening we went for a walk. Along the way we stopped for a tapa or two and were back at the hotel by 9:30. Since we needed to get up early the next day to catch the 7:30 train to San Sebastián we made an early night of it.

On Friday we arrived at the train station in time to have a quick cup of coffee. We boarded the train and five and a half hours later we arrived. There were no taxis outside the station and we had to wait a good twenty minutes before we got one. It took some fifteen minutes to get to our hotel, the Codina, and after finishing the details of registration we headed up to our room.

As part of our planning for this weekend I had written the hotel far in advance and had asked them for the best room in the house. I was not disappointed when I walked into the room. We were on the top floor in a triangular shaped room that had a raised sitting area and an enormous terrace that offered vistas of both the mountains and the sea. There were floor to ceiling windows and that made the room light and airy. Anniversary weekend was off to a good start.

That evening we caught up with two friends from Valencia who are now living in San Sebastián and will be opening their new restaurant in some four to six weeks. Arif and Alex were the former owners of Basílico in Valencia and were two of the pioneer restaurateurs in the Ruzafa neighborhood. They took us to one of their favorite bars where we found an outdoor table. We ate, drank and chatted for a good three hours and rather than walk back to the hotel we flagged down a cab.

We slept in on Saturday and after a light breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to get showered and dressed for our anniversary meal. The forecast was for rain, however it was only overcast when we headed out. As many of you know we had celebrated our 25th anniversary at Akelare and had an unforgettable dinner replete with wine and champagne. In the intervening 25 years it has become a three star Michelin restaurant and it features tasting menus.

A reservation at Akelare in August is almost impossible unless you have reserved in advance. We had and, as expected, the restaurant was full. Susan and I chose different tasting menus. There is a scan of the menus among the pictures. In honor of our celebration we ordered a bottle of a 2005 Remelluri Gran Reserva. We finished of our meal with champagne and chocolate. We spent a memorable four hours at the restaurant and before we left we had a chance to chat with the owner chef, Pedro Subijana.

The rain held off until 10:00 that night at which time all hell broke loose. It was a spectacular storm with thunder and lightning and from out vantage point in the hotel we got to witness the storm close-up and personal. We went to bed a little after midnight hoping that the weather forecast for morning rain would be wrong. It was.

Sunday was a brilliantly sunny day with temperatures in the low 80’s. We decided to walk the length of the beach and that took a good half hour. We stopped off at one of the bars in the old part of town and enjoyed a number of tapas. That turned out to be our lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking leisurely back to the hotel.

In the evening we visited Bar Pepe that was a short distance from the hotel. We had a few tapas and a glass of wine or two. We then returned to the hotel to pack our bags and to get ready for another early morning with a 7:30 train.

The train ride from San Sebastián to Barcelona was close to six hours and after a quick lunch we boarded the 3:00 PM train to Valencia. We unpacked and collapsed having enjoyed a spectacular 50th anniversary four-day weekend.

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Andalusian Travels

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

We made it back home last night around 9:00 after a seven-day road trip to the south of Spain. We divided our time evenly between Seville and Granada and in the process did some touristy activities, caught up with old friends and attended a couple of concerts. The average temperature for those seven days was 104 degrees and I, who has a tendency to sweat when it is merely warm, constantly felt like I had taken a shower with my clothes on.

It is not easy to get to Granada from Valencia. There is one direct train a day and it leaves late at night and gets to Granada at 6:00 AM. It is a sleeper train and if you can sleep in a smallish couchette all the more power to you. The alternative is to find a cheap flight to either Malaga or Seville and to continue on from there. Wednesday afternoon we flew to Seville and from the airport we made our way to the NH Plaza de Armas Hotel that, according to descriptions, was close to all major tourist attractions.

The hotel was a plain vanilla hotel that was comfortable and quiet. It was a good fifteen-minute walk away from the Cathedral and the Giralda and normally that wouldn’t be an issue. However in 104-degree weather it is. We unpacked and then went in search of lunch. We ate at a restaurant called El Cairo and had an enjoyable meal. I thought it was rather expensive for what it was and I find prices, in general, to be higher in Seville in comparison with other cities it size. Seville is a tourist destination and I think that probable explains its higher prices.

On Thursday we caught up with ex-colleagues Andrew Handelsman and Melanie Boswell Handelsman. I taught Melanie my first year at Westridge. She was a 7th grader back then and our paths have always crossed since then. Andrew taught Spanish at Westridge for a number of years before heading off to Woodberry Forest twelve years ago. He is the director of the Woodberry in Spain program and the group was half way through their Seville experience.

We ate at a Moroccan restaurant called Al Medina. While we worked our way through an excellent meal we caught up with the goings on in our respective lives. Andrew and Melanie invited us to join them later that evening on the rooftop terrace of their hotel, the Doña María. We split up around 5:00 and at 10:00 we joined them on the terrace.

The Giralda is so close to the hotel that you feel that you could reach out and touch it. Susan took a number of photos and we then sat down for a round of drinks and some more conversation. I normally catch up with Andrew and his kids in Valencia. For the past few years we have arranged a dinner and magic show for him and his kids. They reach Valencia the 8th and that is the very same day when we head back to the States. As fate would have it, we managed to connect in Seville. Around midnight we headed back to our hotel, having agreed to meet for lunch the next day.

Susan and I visited La Casa de las Indias on Thursday morning. It houses all the original documents related to the discovery and the conquest of the New World. We received a guided tour of the current exposition and learned quite a bit about the life and times of one Antonio Ulloa. It was a morning well spent. Around 1:30 we took a cab and had it leave us on the doorstep of a very popular restaurant called Eslava.

When we arrived we discovered that all the outdoor tables and the indoor tables were filled and the bar area was jam-packed. We put our name on the waiting list for a table and found an empty corner of the bar. We had a drink while we waited for Andrew and Melanie to arrive.

We tried a variety of tapas many of which are unique to this space. One of them is called el cigarro para Bécquer and the other dish was a plate of honey coated pork spare ribs. It is a dish that took third place in a nationwide tapas contest a few years ago and is one of the seven finalists in a rib competition that is being held in Asia.

We made our way back to the hotel after lunch and basically vegged out for the rest of the day. We did mange to get out for a while and have some ice cream and when we returned we packed our bags in preparation for our Saturday trip to Granada.

The train trip to Granada is currently complicated by the fact that they are working on the tracks between Antequera and Granada getting them ready for the fast train, the AVE. They are supposed to finish by the end of the December. That means that in 2016 it will be easier to get to Granada from Valencia. For the moment it means that the train takes you as far as Antequera. You then got off the train and get on the bus that takes you to the Granada train station. The trip lasts about an hour and a quarter and the scenery along the way is quite pleasant. From the train station it was a short trip to our hotel, the Vincci Albaycín.

Since it was a little bit after 3:30 we looked for a place where we could have some tapas and call that lunch. We found a spot near the hotel called Platos and we had a little bit of this and that. We left filled, but secure in the knowledge that it was not worth a return visit. When we returned to the hotel we unpacked and rested up a bit for our evening excursion.

Granada has hosted an international festival of music and dance for 64 years. Most of the events take place on the grounds of the Alhambra. There is a theater located in the lower gardens of the Genralife that accommodates larger audiences and the patio of the Palacio de Carlos V is also a performance space. Here is a link that will help you visualize the space http://granadafestival.org/fileadmin/360/generalife/flash/visita%20virtual_GENERALIFE.html

Saturday night we saw the National Ballet of Norway in their performance of the ballet version of Carmen. They debuted the ballet in March of 2015 and this was its second performance. It was a privilege to be seated in such a historical space watching a moving performance on a stage that was surrounded by trees that dated back centuries. The performance began at 10:30 and ended a little after 1:00. Getting back to the hotel was a challenge. Taxis were few and far between. One would think that there would be an abundance of taxis at the end of the event knowing that hundreds of people needed transportation. We did finally manage to get one, but it was a little after 2:00 when we returned to the hotel.

We did some sightseeing Sunday morning and had a rather noisy lunch at Restaurante Carmela. The food was excellent, but since it is a rather small space the noise level was close to unbearable and with all the waiters scurrying past to deliver the food it was difficult to focus on the food. We had eaten there before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but it was in November and it was not the height of the tourist season.

Sunday night we had the pleasure of seeing Vicente Amigo, a flamenco guitarist, in concert in the patio of the Palacio de Carlos V. Rather than pure flamenco, I would say that he is clearly part of the flamenco fusion movement. In addition to himself, his group consisted of a percussionist, a bass player, a singer and another guitar player. The group played for two hours without a break. They also played two encores, much to the delight of the audience. Getting back to the hotel we experienced the same problem as Saturday night.

Drained from the heat we decided that Monday we would take things easy. We found a nearby Galician restaurant for lunch and were satisfied with a bowl of salmorejo, a heartier version of gazpacho and a seafood platter featuring octopus, mussels, and clams.

At 4:00 we caught up with an old friend of mine, Amador Javier García Piñeiro. We met sometime in the 90’s in Madrid, but neither of us can remember the exact date. I think we first made contact via e-mail and then we caught up with each other in Madrid. He now lives in Valencia and in addition to his work with computers he is a co-founder of a non-profit that is building schools in Ghana and Uganda. He needed to be at work at 5:00, but we had a good long chat about a variety of things.

The impetus for visiting Granada was the fact that a good friend and fellow magician, Miguel Puga, was going to debut a new work entitled El Brujo Amor which is a rewording of Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo. The title is appropriate since it is a tour of de Falla’s life using music and magic. There are seven projection screens used in the telling of the story and six musicians interpret the score. While rehearsing earlier in June, Miguel suffered a fracture to his right leg and as a result had to cancel all his appearances for two months. Since there was no performance Monday night we thought this would be the perfect time to visit with Miguel and Ana and at 8:15 that evening we rang their bell.

We spent a little more than four hours together talking about his new production and magic in general. We had a lengthy discussion about magic as an art form. It was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. We were back at the hotel at 12:30 and we did a little packing in preparation for our return to Valencia.

It took a bus, a train a plane and three taxis to get us back home. We left the hotel at 10:30 and we were back in our house at 9:00 PM. It is Thursday as I write this section and Susan’s brother, Saul, and family will arrive at 7:00 tonight to spend four days with us before they head south. Next Wednesday we board a plane for the States to help my niece celebrate her 50th birthday.

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Where You Going? Barcelona!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ALL PHOTOS COPYRIGHT SUSAN V KAPLAN 2014

Last Thursday at this time we were boarding a train for Barcelona to spend a few days there. In spite of the fact that we returned Sunday, we managed to accomplish all that we had set out to do.

The main objective was to afford Susan the opportunity to update her photos of the Sagrada Familia. It is a project that she began in 1974 and has continued to the present day. 1974 was the date of our first visit to Spain and way back then there was no intention of there being a photo project. However, repeated visits to Barcelona turned it into a project.

We reached our hotel, the Ayre Caspe, a little before 3:00. After unpacking we went in search of a Chinese restaurant that is highly recommended by Trip Advisor. It is called Chen Ji and was a quick ten-minute walk from the hotel. The restaurant itself is rather non-descript. The décor is minimal and the tables and chairs serve their intended purpose.

The menu is rather extensive and we chose four items from the menu – bao, steamed dumplings, hot and sour soup, and a shrimp dish. When our dishes arrived we were surprised by the quantity of bao and dumplings that covered their respective plate. There was a dozen of each. Both dishes were very tasty and, I am pleased to say, authentic in taste. Finding a Chinese restaurant in Valencia is a herculean effort because most of the restaurants tend to dumb down their food to appeal to the Spanish palate. The Spanish palate does not tolerate spicy very well.

The hot and sour soup needed the addition of a little vinegar and the shrimp dish was quite good. The only surprise and disappointment was the white rice, which was rather soggy and clumpy. Our lunch cost less than 20 Euros and that included a beer and a bottle of water.

Thursday evening we walked to the Sagrada Familia from our hotel hoping that they were illuminating the building at night. That turned out not to be the case. Susan, however, was able to get a few night shots and we were happy to discover that the chapel was open and there was a mass going on. After the shoot, we headed back to the hotel for a nightcap.

Susan was at the entrance of the Sagrada Familia at 9:00 with the entrance we had purchased on line in hand. She shot interiors and took the elevator up to one of the towers for some interiors and exteriors. I caught up with her at 11:30 and we headed over to Calle Córcega to catch up with two friends from Valencia, Vik and Carlos.

Vik was a waitress at Carosel for several years. Carlos cooked at a number of places that we frequent here in Valencia. He worked at Seu-Xerea, Carosel and La Comisaría to name a few. He and Vik moved to Valencia when he was offered a contract at Granados 83. Granados 83 is a hotel that belongs to the Derby Chain and features a restaurant with the same name. Vik was finishing up a one-year contract at the Barceló Hotel that is located on the beach. She was tending bar there.

We had a lovely visit and as we left we told Vik that we would visit her at her hotel that night in hopes of taking some roof shots of the city at night. We told Carlos that we would see him tomorrow at his restaurant where we were going to have lunch.

The nighttime shots of Barcelona did not materialize. We had hoped that Vik would be able to find an empty room on the top floor that would afford Susan the opportunity to take some pictures. That was not to happen. We had a drink at the bar and then we headed back home.

Saturday morning saw Susan in line at the Sagrada Familia at 9:00 to take a few more interior shots and to explore the second tower. When she returned to the hotel we headed to the old quarter of Barcelona with the intent of visiting the oldest magic store in Barcelona, El Rey de la Magia. We found the shop rather easily. It gets a lot of tourist traffic and, in this day and age, that determines the type of product that it carries. I was looking for a couple of things, neither of which they had. The owner explained to me that these days their focus was on the theater that own and operate. The theater features local and visiting magicians.

At 2:30 we met up with Jaime Monfort who is studying at a circus school in Barcelona. The restaurant has a lovely outdoor terrace and Carlos had reserved a table for us. No sooner had we sat down than he emerged from the kitchen to greet us and to help us decide what to have for lunch. Our menu consisted of cod croquets, gourmet Iberian ham and cheese, a salad and a wild mushroom dish. Jaime and Susan ordered the fish of the day, which was corvine and I opted for the tuna tataki. Of course dessert was a necessity and it was outstanding. We took our coffee on the roof terrace and thoroughly sated we left the restaurant around 5:00.

That evening we attended a guitar concert at the Palau de Música, an Art Nouveau building that is a favorite of visitors to Barcelona. We heard a very engaging concert performed by the Barcelona Guitar Trio. There were works by Piazolla, Albéniz, de Falla and Chick Corea. We ended our evening at the hotel bar and afterwards we packed our bags in preparation for an early morning departure having accomplished our mission.

 

 Torre 2014 Stained Glass 2014 Stained Glass 2014 -2 Stained Glass - 2014 Nacimiento 2014 Nacimiento 1982 Men at work 2009 Men at work 2009 -2 Interior window 2014 Interior window 2009 Interior 2014 Interior 2014 -3 Interior 1974 Interior 1974 -2 Gaudi Face 2014 Exterior 2014 Exterior 2014-3 Exterior 2014 -2 Exterior 2009 exterior 1974 Cross - Fachada del Nacimiento - 2014 Cristo 2014 Column of Light 2014 City View from Nacimiento - 2014 Black figure - 2014 Altar 2014 Altar 1974

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Where Have You Been Marty Boy, Marty Boy?

Sunday. September 14, 2014

The heat is still making its presence known here in Valencia. Temperatures are staying in the high 90’s with an occasional foray into three-digit territory. The humidity has been high and that makes it a special treat for those of us who tend to sweat excessively in those climatic conditions. The good news is that there is no lack of people who call to your attention the fact that you are sweating profusely. As if the puddles at my feet weren’t notice enough.

For the most part summer has been uneventful. We did make it to Cáceres in June for the Spanish National Magic Convention and we managed to sneak in a visit to Mérida and Trujillo. The convention was enjoyable, as was the city itself. Unfortunately all the ups and downs occasioned by stairs and hilly cities did in my right knee. I am still in the recovery stage and that has limited my daily activities. The heat is certainly not conducive to long walks and I manage to get to those places where I either want to or need to be. The doctor says another month of not overdoing physical activity should return things to normal. The good news is that I have made great progress since the original diagnosis.

On a sad note, my friend in magic, Jerito, passed away in late August. He was 94 years old and one of the founding fathers of magic here in Valencia. He was a professor of economics by profession, but he also dedicated a great deal of his time and effort to performing and writing about magic. A group of us would meet at his house every Thursday to talk about tricks and magic history. The group will continue to meet and so his memory will continue to be part of our lives.

As some of you already know, Rachel moved from Boulder to Seattle almost a month ago. She found herself a small apartment that is close to the University of Washington. The neighborhood is ideal for her with lots of shops and cafes within easy walking distance. Susan joined her on August 27 to help her with the unpacking process. After ten days Susan headed to San Francisco to spend some time with her brothers and arrived back in Valencia on September 10.

I took advantage of my two weeks of bachelorhood to finish up my proofreading of a magic book by Miguel Gómez that is being prepared for publication this fall. I also had an opportunity to work on some of my effects and to do a performance at the local Ronald McDonald House with my partner in crime, Juan Gurrea.

With the arrival of September the pace of the city has returned to its normal state. Monday night I attended a meeting of the CIVAC where eight candidates audition for membership in the organization and all were successful. The level of magic of the candidates was most impressive.

We had a lovely lunch on Friday in the company of Yuen and Jim Butler. Jim is a professor at the University of Kansas and spent a few months here recently as a guest lecturer at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia. He and Yuen are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a mini-tour of Europe. Carosel seemed like the best place to get together and, as usual, we had a spectacular meal.

Yesterday was the first concert of the season of Los Amigos de la Guitarra. The artist was Kokichi Akasaka and, to be honest, this was not one of our favorite concerts. The music last night seemed to lack soul. Maybe it was the heat or maybe it was jet lag. I guess we will never know.

There was a vacant seat next to Susan and it was occupied by a woman named Linda. She did mention her last name, but that seems to have gone with the wind. Linda is currently visiting Europe and having sent some time in Madrid is here in Valencia until November. She currently lives in St Kitts, but is thinking of moving in the near future.

After the concert we ended up at Macellum http://restaurantemacellum.com/ and we opted for a selection of shared appetizers. We were supposed to get 5 and dessert, but somehow we ended up with 7 and dessert. The appetizers ranged from the traditional to the exotic and all were delightful.

At the moment there is nothing on today’s agenda, but life here is always filled with surprises. I imagine we will give some thought to packing for Vitoria.

 

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