A Travellerspoint blog

June 2013

Food, Food, Glorious Food!

sunny 28 °C
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If you are feeling hungry at the moment, DO NOT read this blog now, you have been warned! This was a foodie day and it was AMAZING!

"In everyday life there is always manana. There is no urgency"

Foodie moment

Today we visited the San Miguel Market in Madrid. We had seen it a few days before but it was overwhelmingly full at the weekend, so we waited until a week day so we could peruse foodie heaven at our leisure. The market wasn't cheap but the food was fresh and smelt amazing. You could buy meats, cheeses, paella, fish, oysters, pintxos, cocktails, olives, macaroons and any type of wine . The choice is huge! We had some croquettes (king prawn and chicken ones), a Jamon Iberico (the best ham in Spain) hotdog, little salamis and a yummy Rijoca red wine (not our best though...keep reading!). Yummy market food!

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So, fresh after our Tapas tour the night before we decided to get all Spanish and have some afternoon drinks and tapas at our new favorite local 'Malaspina'. We sat at the bar (you get cheaper drinks if you're at the bar, it goes up on the tables and up again if you're at a table outside) ordered a drink each and got the same delicious tuna and potato salad as the day before to enjoy for free. We hadn't even finished our drinks and two pieces of bread with smoked salmon and lettuce appeared in front of us! We then ordered another drink and were given a slice of Tortilla each.... I LOVE FREE TAPAS!!! I am writing to the Australian government immediately to make it law in Australia!

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We chose a popular restaurant from Trip Advisor which was near our hostel, Venta El Buscon. The review recommended the 'Parrillada de Carne' which was a meat platter for two which included Steak, Ribs, Chicken, Chorizo and Sausage. Mark was in meat heaven!!! This came with a big salad and of course...chips! We also had a bottle of our new favorite wine (see below) and finished our meal with a free shot! We rolled out of there satisfied and VERY happy!

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Cultural moment

Spain has a certain pace of life... and our tour guide put it really well.... 'Manana', everything is done 'Tomorrow'. This is the case with the building of monuments, which are often not finished until well after the person who commissioned it is dead! It is the case with their jobs, where their family, personal life or even lunch break takes massive precedence over finishing what they are doing. I do love that they prioritise family and 'living', Australians work far too much and forget to 'live' with the money they earn, but in the same way I would hate trying to get something done here, and I can kind of understand why Spain is suffering in the recession!

Wow moment

Today we visited the Parque del Retiro in the middle of Madrid. It was stunning weather and there were people sunbathing and rowing boats. We also visited the Palacio de Cristal whilst at the park, which was a nice, if a little strange!

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What we learnt today

Today we found our favorite Spanish wine so far! It was called Ramon Bilboa - Limited Edition from the infamous Rioja wine region. It was amazing! As good as the wines Eric feeds us from McLaren Vale, yup i said it! Plus for only €2.50 a glass or €14 a bottle in the restaurant you can't go wrong!! Wish we could get it at home!

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Posted by travellinglise 11:21 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Totally Tapas! with Spongebob Squarepants

overcast 21 °C
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We love a country that gives free food with your drinks!

Foodie moment

Following the recommendations of a friend we met in San Sebastian we went to Malaspina for lunch. The free tapas we got with our drinks was a delicious potato salad. For our lunch we ordered Mark's new favorite snack, Jamon Croquettes and the local specialty, roast pig. Of course it was served with fries which we are starting to notice most dishes are! All of it was great, and the restaurant was really welcoming and friendly so we'll be back!

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Today we went for a 'Tapas Tour' through the same company as the walking tour. The food at the first venue just kept coming and coming! There was bread with cheese, Jamon, Tortilla, Meatballs, etc etc and even our old friend Tripe made an appearance again!! The second venue was interesting as we needed to order a drink to receive a free plate of tapas. These plates were piled up with paella, croquettes and calamari, all for free! It was packed with people paying for drinks and getting their dinner for free

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Cultural moment

The area we stayed in was called Sol, and it was a huge public square where several roads met (the roads all branch out from the square like beams of sunlight, hence one of the reasons for the name). A busy square where people meet to go out, travel across to go for food, shop but you realise very quickly that this is not a completely normal average place... it all begins when you first spot SpongeBob, then Mickey and Minnie, then another SpongeBob this one with his friend Patrick by his side! Sol is FULL of street performers, they range from dressed up cartoon characters (Tigger, Chuckie, Pooh and Dora the Explorer were some other familiar faces), to people dressed as statues (Dalai Lahma, Jesus, Aliens, Soldiers). We seriously wonder how much money they could possibly make in a day when they depend on tips from people when they take a photo! What was also strange is that people were having photos with them but not seeming to understand that they would then need to give them some money, they were quite surprised when an angry Mickey would chase them down, with his head off demanding payment for the photo! Not sure if they thought these guys were just doing it for fun? Or even that the Spanish government (with their financial worries) were paying the performers to be there just for the pleasure of the tourists??? Either way the photos I took were sneaky ones so we didn't have to give them any money, so at least we knew we were doing the wrong thing!===

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Wow moment

Today we headed to the Palace in the centre of Madrid. The current palace was built during the time of King Philip V and he wanted it to be even grander than Versailles in Paris. So he ordered to to have over 2,000 rooms! In typical Spanish fashion it took over 17 years to construct it so unfortunately for Philip V he died before it was completed and never got to live there!

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Whilst visiting the Palace we came across a huge stage set up for a free concert. There was a full orchestra and choir, and hundreds of people watching. The music was amazing and it was crazy to stumble across something which was probably a big event on the Madrid calendar!

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What we learnt today

We actually learnt this information about Tapas during our walking tour from Sabella but thought we would include it here as it is more relevant. In Spain (more relevant in the South now) you will often be given a tapas (small plate of food) for free with every drink order. There are two historical stories behind this. Firstly the word tapa means cover or lid, so the snacks were named Tapas because one of the kings didn't want to get insects in his drink so he put piece of bread over it to form a 'lid'. It then became tradition to serve bread with drinks to cover them and this evolved to become snacks called Tapas.

The historical story behind the tradition of giving free tapas with each drink spans back to the time of King Alfonso X (Alfonso the wise). At that time the people did not have much wealth so at lunchtime when given the choice between spending their money on food or alcohol they chose the alcohol and came back to work drunk. So Alfonso X, knowing banning the drinking would be impossible, made it law that all drinks must be served with food so the workers came back from lunch in a much better state! Hense the beginning of the free tapas... which is a great thing i think!

Posted by travellinglise 11:51 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Marking History in Madrid

rain 20 °C
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"The Spanish people are ungovernable" - Amadeo I of Spain

Foodie moment

Possibly not a foodie moment for Spain, but waking up tired from a night out, Mark and I craved Asian Food. Off we went to 'Wok to Walk' for a noodle fix... not bad!

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Cultural moment

We are staying in the centre of Madrid and one thing that has jumped out at us is the number of police there are around this area! You have to think of it as a preventative measure rather than caused by need, although you do hear about bag snatchings etc being pretty prevelant in the city. So far they are doing their job as everything has run supersmoothly... in fact the biggest danger is being run over by one of the numerous cop cars/vans/bikes that go shooting down the footpath! The one thing the cops do seem to spend a lot of time doing is scaring the guys who set up 'illegal' stalls to sell copy bags, hats and dvds, they are constantly on the lookout for the police and have set up their mats so that one pull of a string and they have bundled their goods up and they are off down the road out of the police's way!

Wow moment

Today we took a 'Sandemans New Madrid' free walking tour. Now I will start by saying it is not technically free because the guides do live off tips but I will also say that they are worth every cent you are willing to give!! Our guide, Sabella, was Madrid born but with great English skills and she was hilarious! The history and facts they cover are all things you want to know, not endless dates and names, but stories about the people she is speaking about which means you actually remember all of it at the end. The tour went for 3 and half hours but even me with my low attention span didn't even notice the time fly by! HIGHLY recommend the tour (particularly Sabella) and it is on in lots of cities worldwide so keep an eye out for 'Sandemans'. Oh and be generous with your tips - we tipped 10 Euro each and it was WELL worth it, but unfortunately we were the highest tippers out of our whole group (and possibly the poorest!).

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What we learnt today

We learnt SO incredibly much its going to be hard to include it all but here's some highlights -

There is a statue of one of the kings riding a horse, in Plaza Mayor. It was moved there and suddenly the locals stopped going there. It wasn't because they disliked the king (they disliked all the kings) but it was because the statue was smelly. It wasn't until years later they found out why - the horse statue had an open mouth and was hollow and over the years unfortunate birds had flown in and died :( Kind of gross. Anyway, to fix it they remodeled the horses mouth so it was now closed, and it now has a very strange expression on it!

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We learnt a brief overview of Spanish royalty - and it showed the Spanish have not followed any kind of pattern in choosing their royalty. Some were married or born into it (Habsburg's) but eventually that ended with Charles II. Charles was a perfect example of why inbreeding should not occur over generations, as he was not quite all there and incapable of creating an heir or running a country. Unfortunately the Spanish did not realise that his mental and physical disabilities were due to inbreeding and instead thought he was bewitched. Then followed many 'remedies' such as putting dead pigeons on his head, surprisingly that didn't work and to add fuel to their superstitious fire, he died on Halloween evening.

Following the end of the Hasburg line the Spainish started sending their royalty into exhile and choosing foreign leaders to come in and run their country. One of these was an Italian duke, Amadeo of Spain, who had over 20 attempts on his life in the 3 years he ran the country - needless to say he quit the job!

I won't go into the rest now, but we now probably know as much about Spanish history as Australian!

Posted by travellinglise 14:18 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Sunning ourselves in San Sebastian

sunny 23 °C
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" I like to cook for my friends, and now you are here, you are my friends " - Mario, staff member at Roger's House, and undiscovered MasterChef :)

Foodie moment

Pintxos, Pintxos, Pintxos!!!!! Our favourite food by far - just couldn't stay away!!

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A more successful 'Menu del Dia' attempt - with one exception! The problem started when we hadn't quite got up to translating the main courses on the menu when the waitress wanted our order, so Mark picked a random one that had chorizo in it. Starter was lentil and chorizo soup and spinach and salmon pie - both great! Main course was the local speciality, cod with spicy, tomato sauce and then the translation fail...... Tripe!! Probably the one thing on the menu we would never have chosen! Needless to say we had a go at it.. the sauce was nice but we just couldn't get past the idea of it! Mark said he liked it more than the cod, but proclaimed he would never order it again!! Oops!

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Cultural moment

The residents of San Sebastian love the sunshine, and have turned the act of sunbathing into an art form. As soon as it hits lunch break they head straight to the beach, strip down to many levels of undress (including completely naked) and soak up as much sun as they can before they head back to work! No Slip, Slop, Slap here!!

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Wow moment

San Sebastian has two beautiful beaches with some of the softest sand you will ever feel. On one side of the tidal river is the famous La Concha beach, and the other La Zurriola, the surf beach. Both are really beautiful beaches, which is amazing considering they are right in the city.

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Parte Vieja is the old town of San Sebastian and is where our hostel was situated. Beautiful sunny squares, winding cobbled streets, back to back cafes and bars with glimpses of the ocean between stone arch ways. So lovely!

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What we learnt today

Whilst hostels are often judged on their facilites and location, it is often something as simple as friendly staff that make it a special experience. Roger's Hostel is basically just one floor of a residential apartment block; the rooms are small, there is no common room and there are just 3 showers and toilets for all guests. Yet it is still a favourite hostel of all that visit it. This is because you are treated like part of the family from the moment you arrive. Each night one of the staff, Mario, cooks for everyone who wants to join, for just 5 Euro. As you are squashed in the 'much too small' kitchen, enjoying free sangria and chatting to all the people staying there with Mario pottering around cooking delicious food, you do feel at home. Any loneliness or feelings of detachment from the world you may feel whilst travelling just fade away! As Mario himself said, " I like to cook for my friends, and now you are here, you are my friends now". What a sweetheart!

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Posted by travellinglise 08:56 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Bilbao Baggins

sunny 25 °C
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"A fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium" - The New Yorker: Guggenheim Museum

Foodie moment

Our first 'Pintxos' (traditional Basque cuisine) experience was not our best but was a great stepping stone to our discovery of these amazing snacks. Pintxos (the tx is pronounced ch) are little open sandwiches (or mini baguettes) which can be topped with ham and cheese at a basic level right up to octopus or bacon wrapped goats cheese or anything you can imagine at the more imaginative level. They are all laid out on the bar and you grab a plate, pick what you want, order a drink and pay for it at the end of the bar. They range from 1Euro for the basic at happy hour to 2E for the more complex ones. There are also hot pintxos such as croquetes and tortilla. Great as a snack or if you get enough it can be lunch or dinner, Mark loved them and wants to start his own pintxos bar in Melbourne!

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First big meal in Spain, and we decided on a Menu del Dia. Good news is that Menu del Dia´s (Set Menu of the day) in Spain are incredibly good value! They are around 10 - 15 Euros and include 3 courses, bread, a bottle of wine and a bottle of water. Bad news is that this particular meal was a Non Foodie moment!! We were very proud of ourselves for interpreting the menu enough to 'think'we knew what we were getting, using only a short list of food words in the Lonely Planet. First course was Garlic king prawns and Paella. The King prawns looked and smelt great, but on the plate was our first hint that this meal was going to be a bit strange... Mark opened a packet thinking it had a serviette for cleaning his hands after shelling the prawns but instead inside was an orange flavoured tea bag... we have NO idea what we were meant to do with that and our king prawns - if anyone can shed some light on it, that would be much appreciated! The Paella was very average (Don´t worry Barbara yours is still the best!) with some big chunks of chicken neck and bone, a sad looking king prawn and some tiny clams (not actually sure if there was a clam in there anymore!. Next course got worse... We thought we were getting pork sausages with potatoes and capsicum - nope 3 slabs of ham with chips and some strips of capsicum. The other main - Churrasco - we though was going to be 'grilled meat in a tangy sauce' - nope the worst fatty, gristly, boney steak i have ever had with chips! Just when we thought the experience was over we were offered dessert - Barbara had warned us that the Spanish are not great with desserts so after our main course experience we were VERY wary! The Flan (Creme Caramel) was ok, but the tart tasted like an asian egg tart - and i dont think it was supposed to!! All in all quite an "experience" and we knew the food could only get better!! And it certainly has!

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Cultural moment

Bilbao is full of parks and gardens and each one has a great, creative playground for children. Each one was full of famillies and children having a great time in the sun.

Wow moment

The town of Bilbao is a beautiful place, especially in glorious Basque sunshine! The river has bridges spanning it of all different styles and structures. The Guggenheim is eye catching and quite awe inspiring to look at.

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What we learnt today

Vending Machine - hostel style! This great vending machine stocked all the things a backpacker may need to self cater - chorizo, spaghetti, pasta sauce, bread, hot dogs. We're not that poor yet but may need to hit one up eventually!

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Posted by travellinglise 12:08 Archived in Spain Tagged bilbao Comments (3)

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