The Potato Chick
Travelling, eating and my other favourite things...
In a sentence...another wonderful weekend with friends.
Food we loved...tortilla from Bar Cerveriz . Not the Mexican flatbread we make burritos with at home, Spanish tortilla is a cross between an omelette and a frittata (in this instance filled with cheese and potato).
After starting in Barcelona in July and popping in and out of Spain three times, it seemed fitting that our final Spanish destination was its capital city Madrid.
I had expected Madrid to be gritty, grotty and intimidating; one of those cities that is so big you can’t really get in and get a feel for the place. In fact, I absolutely loved it. It’s big but the city centre is perfectly manageable. The food is excellent. The buildings are gorgeous. The number of art galleries is astounding and there is also quite a lot of lovely green park space. I can’t imagine what it must be like here in the 50 degree Summer but Madrid in Autumn was utterly enchanting.
We spent our time here enjoying absolutely perfect weather with our lovely German friends Soren and Beke. It was great to properly catch up over several fun-filled days and nights.
We started off by introducing Soren and Beke to the free walking tour. We hit the jackpot with this one – our guide was the lovely Tatiana. Originally from Kyrgyzstan, she had been living in Madrid for 5 years and was completely passionate about the city.
The boys ticked off a major bucket list item with a trip to Stadium Santiago Bernabeu to see Real Madrid take on Barcelona. Meanwhile, Beke and I strolled to the hipster suburb of Malasana for a couple of Melbourne style flat whites at Federal Cafe – just heaven. Another day, Nick and I checked out the coffee at Cafe Toma and I was equally enamoured with this little pocket of “home”.
We also wandered through the Sunday market , picnicked and laid in the sun at Parque del Retiro and managed to visit major art galleries Prado and Reina Sofia for free.
Of course, we ate plenty of good food – jamon, cheese, calamari sandwiches, stuffed mushrooms, potatoes bravas, croquettes and more. Our favourite meal was probably the dinner we had at the super trendy Mercado san Miguel. This place is basically a hipster Spanish version of a food court. It’s filled with bars and tapas stalls so you can buy little bits and pieces from different places. We really enjoyed our dinner here, taking it in turns to wander off and buy a new treat for the group to share. We finished off a fabulous dinner with churros and chocolate, and a night cap of duty free Port.
On our final night we had drinks at a rooftop bar before another dinner of tapas bar hopping. We finished off with the unforgettable tortilla mentioned above.
Bar Cerveriz was something special. The husband and wife team behind the bar were perfectly happy to engage with a group of crazy foreigners. The husband theatrically cooked up several tortillas with us watching him like hawks, flipping them in the air for added effect. His long-suffering wife was left to serve all customers while he entertained us. She even let the boys pour their own ciders. This might not sound like much but Spanish cider needs to be poured from a great height to allow air bubbles in which apparently helps the alcohol to be absorbed more quickly. Without even batting an eyelid she put a plastic container on the floor to catch the drips and away they went. Unfortunately she did not offer them a job on the spot and so the next day we parted ways and bid farewell to Madrid.
Thanks to Soren and Beke (and Madrid) for a fantastic weekend.
Next stop...Bucharest, Romania.
In a sentence...another fabulous Spanish city.
Food we loved...churros con chocolate from Bar El Comercio. Finally, we found churros worth writing about! The secret? The Spaniards eat them for breakfast.
Seville was a lovely surprise. We chose to go there simply because it was conveniently nestled between Granada and Lagos rather than out of any burning desire to see Spain’s fourth largest city. What we found, however, was a city that I really liked and could happily live in.
Just like Granada, Seville has plenty of lovely buildings and a large cathedral. The cathedral used to be a mosque. The entire mosque was destroyed in an earthquake except for the minaret (tower). Rather than having steps inside there are ramps. This is so the old man who had to deliver the call to prayer five times a day could ride a horse or donkey up to the top rather than having to walk! Once up the 35 ramps the views of the city were spectacular.
We also visited the Real Alcazar (Royal Palace), Seville’s answer to Alhambra. While not as impressive as the Alhambra it did have lovely gardens. Disappointingly the biggest and most important palace was closed because “Game of Thrones” was being filmed there.
We did two excellent walking tours and learnt about the city’s legends and history. My favourite “fun fact” related to Seville’s numerous orange trees. According to our Dutch guide the oranges the trees produce are quite sour. Apparently the English come across and harvest all of the fruit to make marmalade. He wasn’t sure whether any money changes hands but I can’t imagine that they get all those oranges for free.
On our second walking tour we met Paul and Kerry, the quintessential middle aged Australian couple. Recently retired, they were on a long European trip. Just listening to Paul curse “Game of Thrones” and the way in which it had interfered with their sightseeing in his classic Aussie accent made me miss home.
Not satisfied with the professional walking tours we had undertaken we planned a few tours of our own. Nick’s DIY walking tour took us to the exterior of the bull fighting ring, along the river, past some fabulous street art and to the world’s largest wooden structure. The tour concluded with a chilled glass of Manzanilla (dry sherry). Don’t be fooled by the sweet stuff we get in Australia, the sherry the Spaniards keep for themselves is pretty awful. In the evening, I arranged a DIY tapas bar crawl where we sampled plenty of delicious morsels including marinated eggplant at Bar Alfalfa and the most amazing anchovies on toast at La Trastienda. We finished off the evening watching a little bit of flamenco.
We loved our whirlwind 36 hours in Seville and would highly recommend that it be added to any Spanish itinerary.
Next stop...Lagos, Portugal.
In a sentence...what a joy to be back in Spain.
Food we loved...the simplest of tapas dishes – aged manchego cheese and iberico ham on crusty bread. We also loved the delicious and unique (and free!) tapas served at Bar Poe – coconut chicken, black bean and pork stew and salted cod.
I woke up on our first morning in Granada feeling less than 100% - a bit sick, sluggish, desperate for water...
It took me a while to add up the symptoms and realise I was feeling something I had not felt in a while after many alcohol free days in Morocco. Upon our triumphant return to Spain we had excitedly drunk plenty of sangria and red wine and, of course, I was now feeling slightly hungover.
I didn’t have long to feel sorry for myself, however, as we were up bright and early to queue for tickets to the Alhambra. Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex with beautiful gardens and an amazing view of the city. It might sound boring but it was the absolute highlight of our time in Granada and, in fact, one of my favourite “must see sights” of our entire trip. As we had entered the complex right on opening time the crowds had not descended yet and there were parts where it almost felt like we had the place to ourselves. The downside of this was that it was absolutely freezing. I’m sure my face looks slightly purple in some of the photos below.
Granada is a fabulous Spanish city with plenty of lovely buildings including a large cathedral. We stayed in the ancient Muslim neighbourhood of Albayzin which is full of narrow alleyways and little shops. As we wandered around it felt like we were still in Morocco. Although the weather was unexpectedly cold this wasn’t such a bad thing because it lead to a delightful new gastronomic discovery – Spanish hot chocolate.
Each night we popped out for a drink or two which would be accompanied by free tapas. By carefully choosing which bar you stopped at dinner could be taken care of for less than 10 euros. We would then return to the hostel where everyone congregated in the kitchen drinking cheap bottles of red wine. We made a lovely group of friends which included Australians and Germans. One of the Australians had the very useful skill of being able to open a bottle of wine using only a shoe and a concrete wall. Very impressive.
As per usual we did a free walking tour which allowed us to see some parts of Albayzin we had not already discovered. Inspired by how much we had enjoyed the gardens at Alhambra we also visited another nearby garden. It had good views of the city and some resident peacocks. Sadly we had to visit in the afternoon rather than have a picnic lunch there as it closed each day for three hours siesta!
After three nights in Granada we had adopted the Spanish lifestyle again. We woke up clear-headed and ready for our next stop in Spain.
Next stop...Seville, Spain.
San Sebastian, Spain
In a sentence...food, food, food.
Food we loved...everything!
It has been said that there are two types of people in this world – those who live to eat and those who eat to live. As a female member of the Davey family, I fall firmly into the first category. Readers who fall into the latter category should probably stop reading this post now...
After a busy period in our trip, our time in San Sebastian was mostly spent relaxing, eating and drinking – punctuated by some exercise to try and work off some of the calories. San Sebastian is a fabulous town with two beaches and lots of gorgeous buildings. We quickly slipped into a happy routine of heading out mid-morning to explore, a few pinxtos for lunch, an afternoon siesta, watching the end of Le Tour de France and then bar-hopping for pinxtos for dinner. We enjoyed a free walking tour of the city and a morning hike along the coast to a tiny little fishing village about two and a half hours away (via bush-bash).
Gastronomic highlights which we discovered included:
But my absolute favourite food item came when I least expected it. Once we finished our hike, covered in mud and soaked in sweat, we thought that some beers were definitely in order. As an accompanying snack our very friendly local guide Inigo ordered a little plate of sardines and a crusty roll filled with tuna, salted anchovy and green chilli. I am still dreaming about that roll – so incredibly delicious.
On our last night we were lucky to be able to meet up with good friends Mon and Matt. We started with drinks on the beach and then took them on a tour of our favourite pinxto bars. A great night out with friends from home was the perfect way to finish our time in what has become one of my favourite destinations.
In a sentence...possibly the world’s biggest party?
Food we loved...iberico ham.
With headlines like the above, it’s easy for people at home to dismiss San Fermin (better known as Running with the Bulls) as just another excuse for young Aussies to do something stupid. However, our experience was that it was truly a festival for the locals, and we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to join in.
Running with bulls takes place in a number of countries including Portugal, Mexico, France and Spain with the biggest run being in Pamplona. There are many different theories about how the run originated but Spanish tradition says the true origin of the run began in northeastern Spain during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market, men would try to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement. After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as men would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created.
Whatever the exact origins of the tradition are - it has turned into a week long party in Pamplona which features on the bucket list of many young travellers. In order to “tick off” this item we spent three nights camping (with Aussie bogan tour company The Fanatics) with old friends Jules and Mitch and new friends Brayden and Emma. Tradition dictates that you must wear all white (accompanied by a red neck scarf) whenever you are in the town centre. And so we spent the entire three days looking like a crew of painters.
The boys chose to run on our first morning while Emma and I watched from the safety of the bull-fighting arena where the run ends. Please now let me introduce a very special guest to tell us all about running, my lovely husband Nick:
“Our running with the bulls experience started early as Mitch, Jules, Brayden and the rest of the Fanatics crew were loaded onto a bus for the short ride into the town centre. As we walked towards the start line at the Town Hall I was shocked to see the town exactly as it was the night before: complete party mode.
We were early enough that we had plenty of time to wander down to the holding pens to see the 6 bulls and 6 oxen we would be running with, take a few photos, find some water, and still have 2 hours to wait in the rain. Back at the town hall we waited nervously, trying to get as much advice about the run as we could, while the police set about clearing the course of drunks and passed out locals.
At 8.00am the first rocket launched which signalled that the bulls had actually been released onto the course. Just like a light switch had been flicked the crowd went completely crazy. Half were jumping up and down trying to get a glimpse of the oncoming bulls, while the others were running flat out looking backwards. It was absolute chaos.
Within a minute the bulls were upon us and the speed at which they thundered past was amazing. The initial plan was to count each bull as it went past so we knew when it was over, but this was impossible as our attention turned to making sure we didn't trip and get trampled in the crowd. It was a relief to hear the final rockets go off signalling that the bulls had made it safely through the bull ring and into the pen.
The whole experience was completely chaotic. The other runners were a far bigger danger to safety than the bulls. I'm glad I did it, the feeling is not like anything else I have ever done. But I would never do it again. It's off the bucket list and I will leave it at that”.
The other main tradition during San Fermin is the evening bullfight which features six of the bulls from the morning’s run. Knowing I was unlikely to enjoy this experience, I chose to spend the evening on a mouth watering “tapas-crawl” with Brayden and Emma instead. Whilst Nick, Jules and Mitch did not exactly enjoy the gruesome side of the fight they certainly enjoyed the hospitality of their Spanish neighbour who, once he established that they were not French, shared his baguette, chorizo and wine with them.
Pamplona is a really cute town and we experienced three fabulous nights partying with the locals, drinking copious amounts of sangria, enjoying a new drink discovery of 50/50 red wine and Coca-cola and eating plenty of delicious tapas treats. Mitch even joined a local marching band (see pictures below). And when it was time to put on our dancing shoes we headed to the wonderfully named Kato’s Disco.
We were so thankful to the locals who welcomed us with open arms – Running with the Bulls truly does not deserve its bad reputation.
In a sentence...to quote Dennis Denuto – “It's just...the vibe...of the thing”.
Food we loved...chorizo and potato bravas.
By the time we arrived at our hostel in Barcelona it’s fair to say I had turned completely feral. Armed with the fearlessness that only several months on the road can bring we had thought it a wise idea to book a 6.40am flight out of London Gatwick. As we jumped in a taxi to the airport at 3.45am we realised this had not, in fact, been one of our better ideas. And so I arrived at the lovely Primavera Hostel cranky, sweaty and sleep deprived.
The fact that we ended up having a fabulous time in Barcelona despite the rocky start is testament to what a great city it is.
We spent most of our time here walking along the wide shady streets, admiring the gorgeous buildings and enjoying the beach. Barcelona is a city that has a good “feel” to it - that indescribable x-factor - and I liked it straight away. We quickly developed our standard tapas order – potatoes bravas, some sort of chorizo, perhaps a mini hamburger or some other delicious cold morsels such as crab salad, smoked salmon or jamon and goats cheese. Although Nick had vowed to eat nothing but chorizo during our time in Spain he found himself easily distracted by the myriad of other cured meats on offer.
We started each day with a run along the beach and a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean. We visited Park Guell and Sagrada Familia, both of which were designed by legendary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia absolutely blew my mind. From the outside it does not look very exciting (it is covered in scaffolding) but inside is incredibly beautiful with so much light streaming in through all of these gorgeous stain glass windows. Apparently it will only be about another ten years before it is completed!
During a very informative free walking tour our guide taught us all about how to find authentic paella, the origins of tapas, Picasso, Catalunya (the region in which Barcelona is situated), the Catalan language and the upcoming referendum. At the referendum people who were born in Catalunya will vote as to whether they want to become independent from Spain. However, even if the result is in favour of independence, Catalunya cannot actually become independent unless the constitution is changed!
Three nights in Barcelona was nowhere near long enough to soak up everything that it has to offer. We will certainly be back – not on a 6.40am flight next time!