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Spain Five Wonderful Weeks in Northern Spain


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By caplanco from Colorado, Fall 2011
August 30 - October 4 Caplanco and "M" traveled the northern route through Spain from Galicia to Barcelona, ending with two nights in Madrid, enjoying some great food, art, sites and beaches along the way.

This trip report was originally published on slowtrav.com.

Let’s Begin​

My husband Michael (M) and I left Denver on a non-stop Lufthansa overnight flight to Frankfurt on Aug. 29, arriving there on Aug. 30. The Frankfort Airport is huge. We remembered our last time here when we didn’t have much time and it seemed to take hours to go through security and find the concourse for our connecting flight. It actually took an hour from the time we deplaned to arrive at the Lufthansa Business Lounge to wile away two hours until our flight to Madrid. It was nice to have enough time so that we did not have to rush to go the very long distance to our gate. After collecting our luggage in at Barajas, we went outside to find the free shuttle to the Hotel Axor Feria.

The Axor Feria is about 10 minutes from the airport (€55 per night) and is a modern business hotel done in red, black and white. Our room was a nice size with a very modern bathroom and good air conditioning (A/C). Typically, there were only Spanish TV channels and dubbed movies. When we asked at the desk about a place we could walk to for a light dinner, we were told to go to a large shopping mall about four blocks away. So we spent our first night in Spain at the super mall. And for dinner we had hamburguesas, fries and beer at the Octoberfest restaurant.

WARNING: You will notice throughout this report that there a lot of restaurants mentioned and food described; we love to eat well.


The free Axor shuttle took us back to the airport in the morning and we picked up our rental car from Avis. It did take some time to find our car (a black diesel Leon) because all of the car companies share a large lot and the numbers for each company are not necessarily in order. Once we found it, it took several tries for M to get it in reverse. And then we were on our way to Salamanca. We’d brought our Garmin Nuvi which had the downloaded Spain maps. Unfortunately we discovered that it was not receiving power from the car, so had to use battery power for the whole trip.

We were on a toll road (E13) for part of the way and most was easy highway driving. It looked a lot like driving in the west: beige with patches of green, low shrubs, open space with a small cluster of red tile roof buildings every so often. And, of course, the bull sculpture. We made one stop at the good old AutoGrill for café cortado and a crema croissant. We could see Salamanca as we approached, kind of like you can see our town, Boulder, as you approach it from Denver.

It took three tries to get to the Hotel Abba Fonseca as we missed the first turn and had several “recalculating” opportunities. The hotel is right across from the Universidad and a short walk from Plaza Mayor. It’s an older hotel with fairly up to date furnishings and a good bathroom (€153 for two nights plus €14 parking per night). After unpacking we walked through the grounds of the Universidad toward Plaza Mayor. A menu del dia lunch at Rua Mayor (€12 pp), one of the sidewalk restaurants near the Plaza, served our need. We walked around the plaza and I was pleased to note the abundance of two things that are very important to me: ice cream/gelato shops and bakeries.

A most lovely evening began at 9:15 when we got ourselves out to Casa de Vinos Doctinos (C. Doctrinos 3) and had media racione jamon Iberico, with a glass of vino blanco for M and cava at for me (€18), obviously a very popular place. We sat at one of the three tables outside as the inside was packed and very loud.

Then we walked to Plaza Mayor where we saw a crowd gathered around a table of musicians. About 10 young men, graduate music students at the Universidad, sitting at a table with pitchers of beer except for the leader and the bass player. All were in costumes resembling those of doctoral candidates in the USA. The bass player had added dark glasses to his outfit. They played a wonderful variety of Spanish music. We stood there and watched for awhile, moving to the music. That’s what I love about Spain as compared to Italy: the music - and it is everywhere.

We left in search of more to eat and stopped at Rio de la Plata (Plaza del Peso, 1). Although there were white cloth tables outside, we went down the few steps to the small polished wood bar inside and sat on stools there. Not tapas, but raciones, so we tried the bonita with marinated red pepper with cava for me and vino blanco for M (€15). Delightful place; at 10:30pm people were still coming in.

The next morning we had café cortado, cappuccino, chocolate croissants at Caafe Bar Mandala, Calle de Serranos 9, (€8) which is a lively bar in the area, known for its huge variety of drinks of all kinds. Lots of students coming in as its right near the University.

The cathedral dominates Salamanca. You can see the domes from everywhere in the centro. The Universidad buildings surround it. We went to the “new” cathedral (maybe 14th century instead of 12th?) and walked through. Some of the private family chapels are as ornate as one expects in Spain, but the main area of the church is of stone, with stone carvings, and while the carvings are intricate and elaborate, since they are grey stone, the cathedral has a quiet feeling. The centro is lovely as most of the buildings follow the old pattern of golden sandstone and stone with red tile roofs so you get a feeling of simple continuity. We came across lone guitar players in different locations as we walked from place to place.

Our next stop was the Museo de Arte Nouvelle y Deco. This was a wonderful surprise and worth a stop in Salamanca. The collections include bronzes, ceramics, bisque, and glass of the eras. Of special wow(!) was the huge collection of dolls from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. Fabulous! The building also has a terrific art deco glass ceiling and windows.

After completing the museo, we walked to see remains of the Roman aqueduct (not worth it unless you walk the length of the pedestrian bridge so you can see it over the river) and a hidden botanical garden (not worth finding) before going to lunch. We found Café El Corrillo, Calle de Meléndez, 18 the “most beautiful patio in Salamanca” which we’d noted the day before, and had a good lunch. The usual menu del dia, but ingredients and prep up a notch from the Rua Mayor yesterday. M: endive and Roquefort salad with shrimp and chicken, grilled calamari w/ potatoes and tomatoes, fresh orange; me: white asparagus with vinaigrette, stewed chicken in cider with apple and potatoes, flan. (€28 including the extra €2 per person for sitting on the terrace).

That evening we went back to the Vino Dotorinos. Inside at the bar this time and had chorizo and cava/wine and one tinto rosa to share (€13). It was fun watching the ham be sliced off of the leg, and lots of it. Then on to Rio de la Plata. The tiny dining room at the back was full, with only two people at the bar. We ordered calamari frito with our vino blanco, followed by grilled clams. Lesson for the day: If you want to order something without seeing the menu, be sure to ask how much it costs. M almost fell off the stool when the bill arrived: €26 for the calamari and €35 for the eight clams! Total bill €51!


Plaza Mayor

Cambados with a stop in Ribadavia​

After a quick café, we were on our way to Cambados in Galicia. Some of the scenery was mindful of driving through Utah, then much greener with higher hills. It was fairly easy driving; the roads are good and well-signed. Except for a piece on a two-lane, most driving was on an Autovia or Autopista (toll).

We stopped in Ribadavia to see the old Jewish quarter and have lunch. Antonio at the information office asked where we were from and when we said USA he said, “What are you doing in this far corner. Are you lost?” That fit with our perception that few Americans come to Galicia. He confirmed this, saying that most tourism focuses on flamenco and the south. We had lunch at the Vinotecha Ribadavia on the plaza near the “i”: M; anchovies with cheese and pimiento; me: the standard ensalada de la casa: greens with tuna, crab, olives, egg, corn, and white asparagus (€19) and then walked through the Jewish quarter. We stopped at the Jewish bakery and bought macaroons. There were lots of photos on the walls, and old cooking and baking utensils.

When we arrived in Cambados, finding Casa Rosita (€75/night w/breakfast) was a problem. We stopped to ask directions, only some of which I could follow, and, as these things seem to happen, just at the highest frustration level, there was the sign pointing the way to the hotel. The room was a nice size and had a little balcony with table and chairs overlooking the water. We thought we would have dinner at the hotel but there was no one in the very large dining room. We chatted with Pilar at the desk and she assured us it was an easy 1k walk into town, so that’s what we did. The walk was along a busy street so not very exciting, but well-lit and okay.

When we got to town we discovered several lively places while searching for a couple that Pilar had mentioned. We found the walkway around the water and the restaurants we’d been looking for. Had tapas at Vinoteca Ribeira de Fifinans,which was going strong at 11pm. M: pulpo Gallego, clara; me: revultos i.e. eggs scrambled with with mushrooms and small shrimp, vino (€24.50).

Breakfast at the hotel was the usual European style which included cured meats, cheeses, fresh fruit, cakes and croissants, cereal, café, juice. The weather was somewhat overcast so we decided to drive into town and find the information office. Town was bustling with a market going on, and a fundraiser for an animal rescue group on a street corner, with very loud music.

We learned of a winery tour that we could take shortly at Martin Cadex, one of the largest albarino producers (€6 per person). We and a German couple were the only ones with Maria, who gave the tour in English. Because the harvest was going on, we couldn’t see the press in action, but we did go into the “smelling” room and could differentiate various aromas one might find in wine. On a beautiful outdoor deck, Maria turned us over to Paola, the export person, who conducted the tasting. She was delightful and gave us many good tips on seafood and restaurants. She also told us about a festa in Sanxenxo that evening and we planned to go.

In the meantime, it was 2:30 and we were hungry. We were heading toward the island of Arousal, just a short drive from Cambados. We had seen banners for a pulpo festival in that town, so we went into to try and find it. Of course, once in town, there were no further signs and no sign of any activity. But we did see several active restaurants across from the marina and plopped ourselves down at Bar O’Rison. When we asked the young man who was our waiter about some of the things on the menu, he couldn’t understand us. He called over an older man who drew a picture of a fish in order to explain that one was enough for two people and you paid per kilo. We opted for a lunch of cockles and mussels. Galicia is the mussel capital of Spain and they are plump and very fresh. The cockles were like eating popcorn: tiny little bodies in tiny shells. We each had a glass of albarino and it was the first time we were charged for bread (€24.50). It was lovely to relax and enjoy the people and the view of the sea.

Then on to the regional park for a walk. The first place we stopped, thinking it was the park, was not. It was a trash-strewn beach. Other people had parked there, too, and it was clear that others were also looking for the park. We got back in the car and found it just down the road. The literature made it sound like there was a simple loop trail. I guess you could say it was simple if you ignored all of the side trails that shot off of it. There were many little coves and, if it hadn’t been so windy which I think is a permanent condition, they would have been pleasant places to hang out. We finally found our way back to the car and back to Cambados.

There were two large wedding parties in the dining rooms. Until we’d learned about the festa in Sanxenxo we had thought about having dinner at the hotel; good we changed our plans. So, in a light rain, on to Sanxenxo. The rain continued. When we got to Sanxenxo and turned on to the main street, traffic was backed up. We did not know where to find El Abuelo Bernardo, Rua Augusto González Besada, 16 which had been recommended, so decided just to park anywhere we could and start asking for directions. It was now pouring, and blowing, and under our umbrella, we walked many blocks. Once at the marina we could see where the festa was sort of going on in the downpour – music in a tent – and were happy to get to the restaurant.

While waiting at the bar for our table, we saw lots of bowls of soup leaving the kitchen. Paola had mentioned that many Madrilenos come here to escape the heat, so maybe they thought this was too chilly. After we were seated in a cozy corner table, we had a good dinner. M was in heaven between all the shellfish and fish. We had razor clams (too chewy for me) and wonderful tiny grilled scallops still in their shell, followed by hake a la plancha (grilled) which was nice, accompanied with several glasses of albarino, and ending with café solo for each (€45.60). It was still pouring when we left at 11, so we decided not to see if more was going on in the festa tent and returned to Cambados.

There were a lot of folks in the dining room on Sunday morning, leftovers, I think, from the weddings. After breakfast we drove into town and parked at the far end, then walked around that part of town which was more residential than tourist, finally getting to historic San Tome. There were several little beaches near the tower and we sat on the rocks at one of them, enjoying the sun and peacefulness. Pretty soon it was time for lunch, so we walked back on the promenade and ate again at Vinoteca Fefinans. They brought a small pottery saucer of good white beans in a sauce with a small piece of bread for each of us to start (free). M: gambas a la plancha (grilled, heads on, eaten shell and all) Me: pate artisanal with toast. I had cana (beer) and M had clara and it was way more than enough to eat (€20.90).

After a Sunday siesta we went into town, which was very quiet. It seems that people play hard on the weekend and then either get ready for work on Monday or go back to their homes elsewhere. We had dinner at A Traina and were the only people in the restaurant, although there were a few in the bar. We shared ensalada mixta – the lovely lettuce, corn, white asparagus, etc. which could have easily been my dinner. M: oysters and a forgettable rabe (monkfish) a la plancha with boiled potatoes; Me: veal cutlet with nice roasted potatoes; beer and wine for both (€50.20).


Beautiful tasting area at Martin Codex

Cedeira and Cudillero​

It was a lovely drive to Cedeira. Vegetation reminded me of the California coast but greener and more dense. The red/orange tile roofs and light buildings are consistent and pleasing on the hillsides. The drive was easy; only a small section on two-lane, the rest on Autopista. We could not find the hotel, so drove into town and found the “i” where someone did speak English. She gave us directions and some restaurant recommendations. The Hotel Herbeira is just outside of town up on a hill and quite modern. Our room (#203) overlooked the pool and the ocean. Carmen, the owner, speaks excellent English and gave us many recommendations for where to eat and what to do.

Taking one of her suggestions, we went to the typical Gallego Taverna for lunch. Up a set of stone stairs, into a tiny dark bar, up stairs to a tiny dining room, back out and upstairs to the terrace. We shared pimientos stuffed with bonita, egg, and mayo. M had calamari and a cana clara and I had a huge plate of two fried eggs over potatoes and covered with fried Iberico with a glass of wine (€24). Then we walked on the promenade and saw the beach.

That evening we went down and had cava outside, watching the sunset. Then to Taverna do Puntal (Lugar de Cordobelas, s/n ) which had been recommended by Carmen for one of the best meals of the trip so far. We finally had percebes (barnacles) which we’d heard about, and they were addictive. We also shared a good and different tortilla de patatas, and pulpo freia, a specialty of the area. The bread here was also the best, kind of spongy and crusty (€34).


The drive was beautiful with dense forests/hillsides, deep valleys with pockets of red roofed villages. We stopped briefly in Viviero, walked a bit and investigated the Hyper market. Then on to Asturias. The landscape became broader and softer with cliffs on the Atlantic/Cantabrico side and deep valleys on the other. Arrived in Cudillero where it was lunch time and the “amphitheater” area, one restaurant after another, was packed.

La Casona do Pio had been recommended by Carmen and had good reviews on Trip Advisor, so I had called ahead for a reservation (€92/night). It was difficult to find, and I finally got out of the car and walked to where we had seen a sign for the hotel. I finally found my way to the hotel, checked in, and had M bring the car closer to the stairs that we had to walk up. Then he had to park at the marina and walk back, as there is no parking anywhere in town. The hotel is in a refurbished salt factory and has authentic furnishings w/modern bathroom including jets in the tub. The room (#105) was very small and looks out at a stone wall. There was only one electrical outlet.

We walked to the “i” at the marina and got some information, then stopped at one of the umbrella-ed restaurants for lunch. M: fried sardines, clara; Me: ensalada de a la casa which is the standard lettuce, tuna, white asparagus, hard boiled egg, onion and green olives; café solo, agua, and rolls (€19). Music was playing from a shop across the street. Everyone looked quite happy; this is obviously a big tourist spot. After lunch we walked, up, up, up (the town is built into a hill) and then back down and then rested.

We had dinner at one of the several marina restaurants and found that it was a mistake to get the menu de noche because it was too much food, and wasn’t very good. M: seafood soup, grilled lumbago(?) fish; me: salad of warm mushrooms and little shrimp, mixed fry of calamari; wine (€30).

After we got back I saw an article in the Lonely Planet Magazine praising Cudillero. It mentioned that, since the fishing industry was dying, the town chose to build the tourist trade. That it is focused on tourism is evident, and why we found it to be the one place on our trip that we would not go back to.

After a sleepless night in an airless room listening to a mosquito buzzing all night, we decided to change our plans and go to Oviedo rather than to yet another coastal town. We used the Internet to find a hotel and called for a reservation at Hotel Libretto.

As I waited at the foot of the stairs for M to bring the car around, explosions occurred. After my first shock, I noticed that no one seemed upset; turned out that signaled the beginning of a religious procession. People had hung religious banners outside of their windows. As we drove out of town we passed a group of musicians in medieval dress.

We took a side trip to see the cliffs at Cape Video, which are very impressive.


Sunset in Cediera


Rachel at Hotel Libretto had given us very specific directions for driving to the hotel. The only problem was that is was National Asturias Day, so the very street we were told to turn onto was blocked off for a parade. After asking several policemen how to get to where we needed to go, we finally got to the garage near the hotel where we’d been told to park.

Hotel Libretto (€97) is quite interesting and across the street from a lovely park. The hotel is very modern and based on opera themes. We had a nice size room with a king bed, Lucite desk and chair, an open plan claw tub with rain shower and an interesting mural on the wall, and a separate tiny toilet area with a glass door. It was very quiet.

I went out for a walk and discovered a kind of they-serve-you-self-serve place with nice little sandwiches and beautiful pastries. Just what we needed! M had two little sandwiches and I had a jamon tortilla sandwich all of which were very good (€8.30).

Exploring Oviedo was a pleasure. There are many sculptures all around the town and it was fun to come across them. The architecture is lovely also. That evening we went to a sidreria area for tapas at Casa Ramon (€14.50). The area is a plaza filled with several sidrerias in a row, most with the same menu.

The next day we realized that we’d left the Cadegon Northern Spain book at home! That had been the only guidebook we wanted to take. We went in search of a bookstore called Librero Maribel which we thought might have a connection to the Maribel Guides. The woman there, who spoke some English, explained that each province only had information about its own province and did not have info on others, a similar situation that we’d encountered in Italy. So while they had a few books about Asturias in English, there was no book with more expansive reach. She also explained that while the children learn some English in school, their parents don’t speak it so there is little opportunity to practice and the children forget what they learned. It was suggested that we go to the book department at El Corte Ingles, the large department store. We found the British edition of Lonely Planet Spain, which we broke down and spent about $40 to buy. The Internet and Maribel are great, but we still find it helpful to have a guidebook with city maps and information about small towns.

Oviedo impressed us as being quite fashionable with some very nice shops. It was easy to find lunch on one of the wide pedestrian streets, so we stopped at 4 Calles. Here we learned to wait to order until we saw whether or not complementary tapas were served with the ordered drinks; they are in most places (€7).

That evening we went to the small art museum and then to Tierra Astur on the famous street of sidrerias which was quite an experience. The street was mobbed with families, ladies-night-out groups, etc. We put our name on the list at 9:45, waited outside people-watching, and were seated at 10:30. People kept coming in, the noise level was high, lots of young couples standing at the bar. Once seated we had scorpion fish pate (canned and very good) and Asturian tortillas with jamon iberico. I expected the latter to be puffy corm flour fritters, but they were kind of hard crunchy discs with fried ham on top. At one point all the lights went out and as we wondered what was going on, everyone in the place started singing “feliz navidad” and a cake with candles was brought to a table near us. Tierra Astur is quite an experience and we were glad we had it. We had seen many interesting dishes go by as we were waiting, and the menu, even the English one, is daunting. But it was the right amount of food with a couple of glasses of wine for me and soda for M (€29.39).

After a good night’s sleep and some caffe and pastry, we spent the day just walking in the city. We saw one of the costumed Asturian bands on parade and followed them for awhile. We found the Woody Allen statue with its missing glasses. It’s just a lovely town to wander about. We had lunch at the famous El Raitan, which is on a very nice small plaza. It was perfect with a menu of small plates, so we sampled cabrales cheese, onion stuffed with braised boar, and fabada pote (€24.41). Everything was tasty and we were glad to have had the chance to try some Asturian specialties.

M figured out yesterday that waiting until 9 to go to dinner is not where the action is as people get tapas/snacks and then go to dinner much later. It seems that eating/drinking is an all-day affair. We have seldom passed a bar/café that did not have someone sitting there, at any time of day. So we headed out around 8:30 to the streets where we knew there were many bars. They were jam packed with the roar of the crowd. We grabbed the first table we could find and had drinks and potato chips. Then roamed until we found another table in a better location and had some lomo Iberico and the two meat stuffed dough balls that came gratis with our drinks. Then, because we were still hungry, on to the Pizzeria la Competencia which was also packed. M spotted a table and we could see the TV with the soccer game behind us, and the TV with the US open tennis match in front of us. It was a very fun scene. Two slices gratis with our drinks, then shared an enslada mixta. The medio pizza we had ordered never arrived, which was just as well. It was on the bill and we paid for it anyhow (€13.45). We know it was not done deliberately; in that crowded boisterous atmosphere, with only two or three servers, I’m sure they didn’t remember who got what when.

Our decision to forego the coast for Oviedo was a good one. It’s a delightful city and we enjoyed our time there.


Oviedo architecture

San Sebastian via the Picos, with a day trip to Altamira and Bilbao​

To be fair, we only saw a tiny bit of the Picos at the southern end. We went into Cangis de Onis and got caught in a festival and market day. Traffic was backed up and it took us quite awhile to find a place to park. We went into the “i” which also has a nice small museum about Asturias. We bought a few things in the market for a picnic lunch and went on. M wanted to find some cabrales cheese and we stopped in Poo de Cabrales. A religious festival was going on which we stopped to watch. Many people were in the Asturian dress and participating in the ceremony. I got a kick out of two teenagers in their ancient garb buying helado at the helado truck. Then, on to the Picos.

We live in the Rocky Mountains and I’m more of a give-me-a-beach-any-day kind of gal, so mountains do not excite me. I liked being in and driving through the Dolomites in Italy which I found to be quite spectacular, with broad vistas. In the part of the Picos we drove through, I felt a bit claustrophobic. The granite walls seemed to be closing in, surrounding the road. There were many hikers who looked like they were enjoying themselves and, from a farther point, the Picos are beautiful to look at. They are craggy and rough, similar to the Dolomites. We had our picnic in a parking lot which was the only place on the very narrow road that we could stop.

Twenty years ago, on our first trip to Spain which was spent almost entirely in the south, we drove in from France and spent one day in San Sebastian. I have always wanted to return. This time we rented an apartment there for a week. Before I go into detail, I will say that San Sebastian was even better than I remembered and my next dream trip will be to rent an apartment there for the month of September.

So, about the apartment, Tamarindo II. When trying to decide which would be the best apartment for us (EnjoyRentals has many), emailing back and forth agent Aiser was very helpful. However, once we arrived, there was a different problem every day, so I do not recommend this company.

Jenna and her boyfriend Uria met us at the apartment and helped with the luggage. The apartment itself was just fine and located right across the street from the park leading to La Concha beach. The main problem was the noise. Besides heavy car traffic, there is a bus stop right below the window and the large buses stopped there and idled before turning the corner. It was lovely and warm the middle of September but we could not keep the windows open at night because of the noise. When I called Aiser to find out how to work the air conditioning he told us there wasn’t any and we should just open the windows because it cooled off at night. I told him it was much too noisy to have the windows open at night and he said that no one had ever complained about the noise before but that Uria would bring over a fan the next day. The fan did help.

Here’s a summary of our apartment problems: The WiFi did not work. We had made sure it was available in the apartment because we needed to work while there. It took multiple phone calls and several “fixes’ before an adequate router was finally installed three days later; the toilet stopped up and was unusable for 24 hours and we wasted a morning waiting for a plumber to fix it; the parking lot, for which we had prepaid, was more than the stated three blocks away and when we went to take the car out for the day, we couldn’t get out and had to wait while the attendant called Aiser. Two days later Aiser called to say that the young woman who had met us to give us the keys and taken M to the parking garage, had us parked on the wrong floor; we would have to move the car. Uria came to help us park in the correct place. So you see, even though Aiser always sent Uria to fix the problems sooner or later, the problems should never have occurred in the first place.

But those problems did not diminish the joy of San Sebastian. We knew about the San Sebastian Film Festival and purposely adjusted our dates so that we would be there for the first day. We’ve attended the Telluride Film Festival for 25 years and were excited to see what the San Se was like. After doing some grocery shopping at the Bectxa market on a beautiful sunny day, we went to the Kursaal to see about tickets for the film festival. We sat on a bench, eating good gelato, trying to figure out what we might want to see. It is a huge program which goes on for a over a week in six different locations. Unfortunately we found out later, when it was too late to do anything about it, that tickets go on sale on the internet the Sunday before the festival starts; several of the films we wanted to see were already sold out.

That evening we were off to do our first pintxos tour. We had several pintxos with txocoli (wine) at one of the places listed in the Maribel guide Taberna Gandarias (€10.30) and then just keep walking and looking at what was displayed in the various bars until we found another that looked good. It appears that there are a couple of different methods. At some places, like Meson Martin (€9.90) you take what you want and then, on the honor system, report how many and pay. At others, which serve some hot or special pintxos, you must put what you want on a plate, and let the waiter see what you have and then pay. If you order something hot or special, it will be brought to you. A running tab was kept and when we were done, they knew exactly how much we owed even though the place was packed.

The next day we went to La Concha beach. It was a glorious day and we walked the 1.5 km beach and found a spot and just read and rested. The beach is a scene: hundreds of people (it’s a very large deep beach) of all shapes and sizes. Anything goes, from topless to stomachs hanging out over bikinis, on both sexes. Everyone appears to be happy. The beach is surrounded by beautiful belle époque buildings and green hills. This is a beautiful city.

Our day ended at Bergara Bar where we had the most fabulous pintxos. Instead of doing the customary three and moving on, we had 10, every one super, and several glasses of txocoli (€38). This is one of two places in the Nueva Gros area that have won awards and been featured in magazines. The other one, just down the street, was closed for remodeling.

The next morning was overcast so we decided it would be good for a day trip to Altamira and Bilbao. On the way we stopped to see the highly touted Santillana Del Mar. We walked through what we found to be a highly oversold lovely medieval town. It is well-preserved, but a total tourist site.

The Altamira Museo, on the other hand, is wonderful and well worth a visit. As we are seniors, we got in for free, too. The actual cave is closed in order to preserve it, and the museo has a terrific replica into which you walk after seeing a brief film about what went on in the cave from 15,000 years ago to when it was discovered in the mid-1800’s. As you walk through there are explanations in Spanish and English and the one about how the artist did his work was especially interesting. There is also a large and very well done exhibit space – all bi-lingual.

Then to Bilbao and the Guggenheim (entry €20). Our plan was to have the €32 per person tasting lunch at the well-reviewed Gug restaurant, but it had closed 10 minutes before we arrived. We were disappointed but we enjoyed the menu del dia in the adjacent Bistro. I had grilled hake with salsa and smashed potatoes and green salad,; M had roast lamb with celeriac puree and green salad; both had a glass of wine and great bread sticks (€24). The Gug (or Goog as it is known here) is a very interesting building with – in my opinion - not so great art. It is filled totally with mediocre abstract expressionists and huge installations.

We did have a rather interesting experience when we tried – and failed – to get out of the parking garage at a nearby shopping mall. I assumed that you had your timed ticket time stamped at the machine near the exit ramp and then paid an attendant somewhere at a street exit. Wrong! After several tries, with the arm not rising to let us go up the ramp, I got out of the car and looked for help. I found an office with an attendant who spoke no English. The poor attendant, seeing how freaked out I was, actually locked her office and walked with me to the machine in the garage where one pays, took my money, did the deed, and handed me the paid ticket that we had to put in the exit ramp machine to get out. I was so relieved that I gave her a big hug. Then, of course, I couldn’t remember where I’d left M in the car, and she walked me through the garage to find him. It was nice to have an apartment to come back to and the ability to fix a simple dinner.

The sun was shining brightly the next day. We had a fabulous pintxos lunch at Bar Zeruko(€24.60). If we thought Bergara Bar was great, this place was fabulous! Hard to describe what we had, but everything was beautiful and tasted wonderful. After some shopping, as San Se has some nice stores, we went to the beach in the late afternoon.

That evening we’d made a reservation at Bodegon Alejandro. Our expectations were well-met. We arrived at 9, ordered the tasting menu and a bottle of wine (€104.44), and left at 11:30. These are the courses we enjoyed:
  • Cold marinated anchovies lasagne and vegetable ratatouille with gazpacho cream
  • Creamy rice with baby cuttlefish oil and slivers of Idiazábal cheese
  • Grilled hake on potatoes with virgin olive oil and citrus vinaigrette
  • Glazed Iberian veal cheek served on a potato and bacon terrine with warm roasted pepper jus
  • French toast soaked in fresh cream and egg yolk, caramelised in saucepan and served with cheese ice cream
  • Slightly spicy peach gnocchi with coconut ice cream and vanilla juice.
We really needed a walk after dinner. The promenade around La Concha was the perfect place.

Friday was overcast and blustery, a good day to stay in and get caught up with laundry and work.

It was the opening night of the Film Festival and we had tickets for the 9:30 movie. We left at 7:30, in a light drizzle, and went back to our favorite Bar Zeruko. More fabulous pintxos including langostino and scallops (€35), then off to the film festival. The scene was about as opposite of our Telluride experience as could be. We encountered the red carpet and had to get around it to find the line for the K2 venue where our movie, Bonsai, was showing. The opening night gala movie Intruders seemed to be what the stars on the red carpet (most of whom we did not know) were there for, and every so often a cheer would go up from the crowd. Like Telluride, we had to stand in line – except, not being Spanish speakers, we couldn’t talk to anyone while there. We went into a very nice large theater we got good seats in the center. A woman gave an intro to the film and the Chilean director spoke. It was a nice film and one I’m pretty sure will not be seen in the States.

Our last day in San Se was overcast again with light drizzle, sometimes getting harder, but always warm. We went to Bretxa Market to buy food for the road and wander through the beautiful displays in the fish market. On the way back we encountered a band of older men, led by a woman, playing traditional songs, and many in the crowd had song books and knew the words. People were tapping toes, dancing, singing, including us. I said we were either a part of traditional folk songs or the revolution was starting. It was a great scene. We followed them when they moved onto the square where there was also a group in traditional dress with the women playing accordion and tambourines.

We intended to end our stay in San Se with a good farewell lunch. We didn’t realize that 1:30 is the best time if you want to get in to a restaurant without a reservation, so we left at 2:00. By the time we found Kokotxa, Atelena and Ni Neu, they were all “complete,” much to our dismay. We went to Cuchara, the hidden place near the Heineken sign. It was still raining, and a nice young couple from Ireland shared their table with us. Lunch was just fair (€42): small portions of pork ribs, suckling pig, cod cheeks, and scallops wrapped in Iberico. It was nice having conversation with Siobhan and her husband John.


Fabulous pintxos

Calella de Palafruegell and the Costa Brava​

I could have easily stayed in San Se for another week, but it was time to go. It was a pretty uneventful drive, changing to flat scrubby plains in Navarre, and then getting green again (cava grapes!) as we approached the Barcelona area. Again, lots of wind generators; at one place a huge solar array.

To our great surprise it was really chilly and rainy; Calella de Palafruegell is where we’d expected to have the best weather. The apartment is cozy (i.e. one person in the kitchen at a time), a bit musty, with a nice garden patio and a pool that is still open. A downside was those tiny ants that were all over everything. This is the only place without WiFi, which we knew when we rented it. The owners had a book listing restaurants, grocery stores, etc. and we walked into the port area to find the recommended take-away places, both of which turned out to be closed. The sky cleared for a moment of sunshine so we had dinner on the covered patio at Bar Gelpi. I had lamb chops which really tasted good, and French fries with a couple of glasses of red wine. M had grilled sardines (€42.40).

Fortunately the next day brought a major change, thank goodness, from the rain and chill of the night before. The sun was glorious, blue sky, perfect. We walked part of the path to Llafranc to see what it ws like, and found it to be easy and mostly follow the coast. Then we turned around and sat on the terrace at Tres Pins with a beautiful view and a so-so pizza (€14.80).

It was time for the beach. We went to the smaller one at the end of Peligri and spent a couple of hours reading and just enjoying the breeze and sun. It is a course sand beach rather than the fine sand beach at San Se. We may never take any day trips – weather dependent, of course.

After some grocery shopping, dinner was on our garden patio even though it was a bit on the cool side: Penne with fresh onion, red pepper, tomatoes crushed to make a sauce, tuna. M made a salad with lettuce, cucumber, white asparagus, olives. We finally got around to drinking the vino blanco that Carmen’s husband had given us when we left Cedreia. There were many DVDs in the apartment and we ended the evening watching one.

Sun again the next day. We were up and out by 11:15 and on the coastal path to the botanic garden at Cap Roig. The path has many series of steps, and several tunnels. Of course, there are beautiful views all along the way and the water is a clear turquoise. It’s said that this is the most natural wild area on the Costa Brava. I found this path, which took about 30 minutes, much easier than the paths in the Cinque Terre. In spite of all the steps these paths are either smooth paved, paved with stones, or packed sand, with little exposure. Stairways have metal banisters and/or walls to hold onto.

The botanic garden is worth a visit (€3 per person). This is off season so there were no roses or other blooming plants, but the cactus garden was huge with an amazing variety. Also, there a quite a few sculptures to be discovered as you walk through the many terraces. The sun was very warm and we decided to walk on the road rather than the path as it was a bit shorter. A car pulled over and a grey-haired man walked toward us. He began speaking in Catalan and when I said “solo Ingles” he switched to faltering English. He said, “Pardon the impertinence ... would you come in our car...” M thought he was asking for directions to Calella, but I knew he was asking if we would like to have a ride back. We were thrilled to accept. His name was Josep Luis (never learned his wife’s name even though we were sort of making conversation in the back seat.) I asked if she had ninos (because I didn’t know how to say adult children), she laughed and said, as near as I could tell, that she was 46 years old and had two children around the age of 19. They lived in Barcelona and were leaving the next day. It was a brief but charming experience.

Four o’clock at the beach was perfect as the sun was not as hot and the breeze is still just right. We went to the larger Candell beach which was very nice. We stopped for a cava at Puerto Limon (€6) and watched the sky get pink over the sea. The restaurants that we were interested in for dinner were not open. They seem to close during the week after the July/August season, and may open just for the weekend. So back to Port Bo and Restaurant Tony’s. As we walked in we saw Josep Luis and his wife having dinner and paused to greet them. We sat outside on the terrace and asked that they be sent two glasses of cava from us. We had very good mussels marinara, and shared the traditional fideua of vermicelli and small shrimp and pieces of fish or scallops (€46). Josep and wife came out to thank us for the cava, and to give us their card.

In Oviedo M had commented that he was surprised there had been no bugs anywhere we’d been. Now I know why – they are all in C de P. Lots of pesky flies and, of course, the ants in the house.

Another lovely day and we were off for an easy drive to Girona. We went into the old city, the Jewish Call, to the Jewish History Museum (€5.50). It is very well done and most was explained in English and other languages. We carry Time Out with us as I think they are always current with good suggestions. Went to a Time Out suggested restaurant for lunch, contemporary Mimolet. Very creative cookery indeed. I had a strawberry, hummus, caramelized tomato, greens and anchovy salad which sounds crazy but was delicious. This was big enough to have made a meal along with the good bread and cava but it was followed by the most delicious duck breast with peaches in a balsamic reduction. M had the “menu for working people” including a fusilli, pine nut, egg salad starter, and a rice with sausage and pork main. We shared his fresh mixed fruit (strawberries, cherries, raspberries) for dessert, with café solo (€63.20). Then we needed to walk and tried to find the city wall, but got lost and wound up going up and down many stairs. We’d passed many nice looking shops but most were closed. Before going back to the car, we pooled our coins to have enough for the parking ticket machine. Imagine our surprise when the total was €12.10! Parking in Girona is not cheap.

The next day we went to use the very slow Internet at Vent del Mar. We had a nice conversation with the owner. He is from Cuba, has been in C de P for eight years, married an Argentinean woman (now working behind the bar) and they have a one year old son. He has relatives in Michigan, Ohio, San Diego, Iowa, Albuquerque, etc. Loves baseball and rooted for the Cincinnati Reds; wants his son to be a baseball player.

We took the coastal path to Llfranc for lunch. It’s an easy path with lots of stairs. Llfranc has a nice beach promenade, wide, smallish beach and I think it would have been too small for a week’s stay. Lots of Brits for lunch at Terramar Terrrasa. I had a salad with chicken, currents, greens and a light Caesar dressing; M had a tuna sandwich (€26.95). We took the shorter way back along the road and passed some huge and lovely homes.

I did a load of laundry while M went to the beach. After M returned we went to Tragamar for dinner. Unfortunately, while we had seen people going there for lunch so we knew it was open for the weekend, it was not open on Thursday for dinner. So we walked all the way back to the other end of town to the Hotel San Roc and had dinner there. The views are supposed to be lovely but, of course, it was dark. There were not too many people in the dining room. We shared the traditional tomato bread with anchovies, which I don’t need to have again. I had kid baked with honey and rosemary which sounds much better than it tasted because the kid was all ribs with a lot of gristle and little meat. It came with a lovely rice and a sprig of roasted rosemary which was good, crunchy and without the strength of fresh rosemary. M had the traditional suquet with monkfish and gamba, which he liked. There were thinly sliced potatoes on the bottom with the fish and gamba on top all in the suquet sauce. We shared a bottle of white wine from Empordia (€59.55). Wine is very inexpensive and good; water is more expensive.

We left the next morning for the Greek and Roman ruins at Empudies. The Museo is very well done and explains the chronology of the city from the Greek 5th BC through the Roman AD until the capital was moved to Castello. There are some very well preserved artifacts from both times. After the museum we walked through the ruins, especially enjoying the mosaics in the Roman city.

Then on to Cadeques, including the very twisty 14 km two lane road. It wasn’t the road or M’s driving that bothered me but the people coming from the other directions who do not always mind the center lane when they come around the curves. But we made it safely, parked and walked around the waterfront to find a place for lunch. We were really not impressed with the part of Cadeques we saw; small beach and not very pretty buildings on the side streets. We got a map at the “i”and saw that there was much more to the town than the little part we were in. You could see some pretty large houses up the hillside. It reminded me of our impression of the Cinque Terre after having been in other lovely fishing villages; it wasn’t such a big deal. C de P is so nice that Cadeques was underwhelming.

I think this might be a good place to stay if you were not driving and didn’t want to take any trips outside of Cadeques. It’s fame is Dali, and we chose to skip the museum which had a showing of his work and decided not to go to Figueres, which I regretted not having done. The passing parade as we ate lunch at Nord Est was a really mixed bag. I had the green salad with tuna and white asparagus and M had the green salad with skewered cold squid on top (€33.30).

Our last day in C de P was overcast and we weren’t able to enjoy time on the beach. We decided to do an excursion to Pals. Went through Begur and picked up a helpful cultural routes piece at the “i’. Pals is a very lovely medieval town which makes Santanilla look really pathetic. There were some very nice shops and were bought gifts at one of them, Xocolata de Pals. The woman at the “i” in Pals had mentioned a festa in L’Estartit, so we went in search. It was quite a contrast to harming Pals and quiet C de P: multi-storied hotels, multiple boats, lots of diving shops. The festa had something to do with pirates and wasn’t of much interest. Don’t put L’Estartit on your list unless you are a scuba diver.

On the way back we stopped at Paratellada, another well-preserved medieval village. Lots of restaurants and a couple of them were packed and smelled really good. However, given it was already 3:30, we decided to snack at home and start organizing. Apparently this a nice place to drive to for lunch, and M said he’d read that there are a couple of fine restaurants there.

In all the places we’ve been on this trip people love to talk and do it constantly. It creates a pleasant buzz in the cities in the evening. I will miss that buzz and sense of community when we return home.

We had the perfect ending to our stay in C de P. It was raining and we walked in the rain (but not blowing and cold as it had been the night we arrived) to Tragamar which really was open. Dinner was terrific as was the decor. We shared black rice with baby squid. M had dorado cooked in cava with potatoes and onions. I had three delicious baby lamb chops with smoked eggplant, like babba ganoush. For dessert we shared a fabulous death by chocolate with intense vanilla ice cream, and café (€75.50). It had stopped raining by the time we walked home.


View of the cactus garden at Cap Roig


Another easy drive. We tried to stop at the well-advertised La Roca Village outlet mall, but were unable to find it. Once off the Autopista there were no signs directing you to the mall. We later discovered that the mall is closed on Sunday, so even if we’d found it...

Joan and Elisabet greeted us and took responsibility for our bags as the apartment was not yet ready. The reviews raved about the young couple who own the apartment, and I confirm that they deserve the praise. So off we went to the Sants train station, returned our faithful Leon, and took a taxi back to the apartment. To our pleasant surprise, all of our bags had been brought up to the apartment. Joan was there to show us everything we needed to know and point out nearby places of interest and restaurants on a map.

Then we set out to find the Sardanes dancers that M had seen advertised in a brochure. We found it on one of the grassy boulevards and thoroughly enjoyed watching the variety of people in this simple but complicated circle dance. Some of them had the special white espadrille shoes that are traditionally worn for the Sardanes. Purses and bags were thrown into the center of the circle and people just broke in and joined hands. At one time there was a very large circle and about four smaller ones all going on. The band was great, a variety of ages, and the music was lovely. It was a moving experience to see the tradition of this community event.

Afterward we walked back and stopped at the closest of the three placas within walking distance of the apartment and had a light dinner.

Our first stop the next morning was the “i” and we decided to walk to Placa Espanya. We then walked, walked, and walked. We stopped at the old synagogue and the Call area and shops in Born and Raval. M was very interested in taking a cooking class – preferably one that would teach him how to make some of those award-winning pintxos. We’d seen information about Cook and Taste and went there only to find that the class was filled so M put his name on the waiting list. The class they offer is for a more traditional menu (gazpacho, paella, etc.) with an optional visit to Boqueria Market the morning of the class. We asked Marta for lunch suggestions in the area and she said to go to Senyor Parellada.

It was a good suggestion. Senyor Parellada is a lovely old traditional Catalan restaurant with excellent food and service. It looked formal with chrystal chandeliers, waiters in black coats, good art and lighting, but waiters were low-key and friendly. Marco even had his photo taken with M. We shared gambanettas in garlic oil a la planca. M had rabbit with almonds and peaches, cava and I had black rice with a mix of peas, seafood and meats in it, vino blanco, café cortado (€37.50).

We stopped at the Palau de la Musica to buy tickets for a guitar concert (€56). Our final stop was the MACBA (free for seniors) which we found to have better contemporary art that we’d seen at the Guggenheim. It is an interesting stark white angular building with interior ramps to the floors. You get different perspectives and angles as you walk up and down the ramp. We stopped for groceries on the way home, and were exhausted by the time we got there.

On our last trip to Spain we did not get to Parc Guell so we planned to spend a good chunk of time there. Our son had been there several years ago and wanted us to take a photo of the ‘drago” for him, which we did. The drago is fascinating as no two sections are alike. The mosaics which cover it are glorious. We went into the Gaudi house museo which has rooms filled with furniture. The designs of the furnishings are true Gaudi, and it is mind-boggling to think of the craftsmen that carried out those designs. The park itself was a bit of a disappointment. I expected grass in the drago area and found, instead, sand, which was covered with sellers of everything from scarves to sunglasses, etc. We walked up ramp and stairs, sellers all the way, enjoying views of Gaudi buildings and Barcelona. At one spot there were some young musicians playing Spanish guitars and we paused there for a rest. It was very warm and we decided not to go any further.

There is an interesting small theater in Gracia, Teatro Lliure. I’d read about a concert there performed by a well-known Catalan singer and pianist, Maria Del Mar Bonet and Manel Camp. We bought tickets and the young man who sold them to us seemed hesitant. “You know, it’s all in Catalan,” he said. We assured him that we were aware of that and considered music to be a universal language.

That evening we went to our local placa to have tapas at Sureny which was listed in Time Out as having gourmet tapas such as tuna marinated in ginger and soy sauce. In spite of good reviews on Trip Advisor, we do not recommend it. It cost €28.67 for three very mediocre tapas and a glass of cava.

Another wonderful day in Barcelona. Our first morning stop was the Boqueria Market which is a feast for the senses. We had cortados and a kind of apple strudel pastry at the famous Pintxos Bar (€7). Smiling Juan, the owner, served us and we took a photo with him. Walked the market, enjoying the sights and sounds, then stopped at Quim for a morning snack of fried artichokes. Beware - they were already sold out at 11am. So we had really good chiporones frito instead. Cava and cana at 11:30!(€14.10)

We took a worthwhile tour of the Teatro Liceu, the second largest opera house in Europe (€9). It is very beautiful and it also has a lovely gift shop. Continuing our cultural stops, we decided to go to the Museo Picasso first, then have lunch, since we were going to the guitar concert that evening. On the way M’s phone rang and Cook and Taste called to say they had an opening on Saturday and M was thrilled.

The Picasso Museum was as wonderful as I remembered (€9 per person). The temporary exhibit showed how he was influenced by older artists in Paris, such as Van Gogh. The permanent collection is also great, especially the Meminas series. By that time we were done, it was after three. We’d read that he seafood restaurant we wanted to go, La Paradeta, did not close until four, so off we went. Of course, the kitchen was closed when we finally found it. We were starving and tired when we found La Vinya del Senyor, a wine and tapas bar owned by Senyor Parellada where we’d had the good lunch. There were no vacant tables outside so we sat at the bar and enjoyed anchovies, olives, foie, meatball, little cannelloni, and three glasses of cava between us (€37.30).

That evening we heard a fabulous Spanish guitarist, Xavier Coll, in the most spectacularly beautiful building I have ever been in. It is hard to describe the Palau de la Musica. The stained glass domed ceiling, the ceramic posts, each one different, the ceramic roses on the ceiling and walls and, most stunning of all, the music muses on the stage walls that almost come to life as the top part of each one is actually three dimensional when lighted. Coll played four different guitars from different eras and explained as he went along. The second half was just Coll in concert. His encores were a tango and his singing and playing Granada. He voice is operatic.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah was on Sept. 28. Before we’d left home I had contacted the reform synagogue in Barcelona to see if we could attend services. I submitted all the necessary documents and we received information about what would be available for non-members. I responded that we were interested in attending a service and the community dinner. I contacted them again, via email, when we got to Barcelona; I never heard back from them as to the times and locations of the events. We had participated in Jewish services in Florence and were looking forward to the Barcelona experience.

Since it was not to be, we celebrated our New Year at Barceloneta. But first, I spent the morning shopping for gifts – and getting lost on my way back. I finally found a policeman who had a book listing every street in the city with accompanying maps. He told me I’d walked about 10 blocks in the wrong direction and set me straight. So if you ever get lost in Barcelona, find the nearest policeman and his very helpful book.

We had become experienced Metro users, so getting to Barceloneta was easy. Our choice for lunch, Can Majo, had a 45 minute wait for terrace seating. Be sure to reserve ahead if you want to eat on the beach. It was a beautiful day with a nice strong breeze, so we did an impromptu take off the shoes, roll up the cuffs, and walk on the beach. It is a huge beach with fine white sand.

Can Majo was finally ready for us. M ordered anchovies and a “platter of seafood with lobster” for a main and I ordered small scallops for a starter and grilled turbot for a main. Olives and tomato bread were brought to start with our bottle of vino blanco. The anchovies arrived, then this huge plate of cold mussels, berbecherros, other weird shells, clams, a couple of gambas, with a crab on top. We shared. My scallops did not arrive. When the waiter came to clear our plates, I complained that there had been no lobster on M’s platter. He explained that the lobster would be coming as the chef preferred to serve the cold first, then the hot. And sure enough, a huge plate of lobster and gambas arrived, as did my grilled turbot. Fortunately, the scallops had been forgotten. M was in heaven. (€97.47)

We walked on the beach promenade after lunch. They’ve really turned this area into a very lovely place. Twenty years ago it was pretty seedy. Now it is mainly high rise apartments, but not much of a neighborhood feeling that I could see. There is a great big shimmering metallic gold fish on top of a building at the end of the promenade by the casino; never found out what it is.

I really needed more shopping time so we went to wander shops in El Born before our 2:00 lunch reservation at Monteil. There are great little boutiques in the Artisanal area and the craftspeople are at work in the shops. Everything from gorgeous clothes (oh, to be a size 4 with lots of money) to toys, to handmade shoes, etc.

I’d picked Monteil for lunch based on things I’d read on Trip Advisor, as it appeared in none of my other information. Good choice! It is very small, so reservations are necessary. We decided not to do the €50 tasting menu as we didn’t like what was on it. In most places everyone at the table has to do the tasting menu, and everyone gets the same dishes. We designed out own tasting menu as we shared everything. For starters with our cava, M had cream of leeks, like vichyssoise with leeks and hazelnuts, and I had vegetable raviolis with a fabulous vegetable cream sauce. We were both humming away. Entrees were covina (fish) with artichokes in a seafood stew for M, and suckling pig for me. This suckling pig was perfection with crisp skin, juicy tender meat, and great seasoning, pink peppercorns and juniper berries surrounding it. It could be compared to a chicken leg with thigh attached, and the little baby hoof was still there. We each had an accompanying copa suggested by the waiter. Mine was a fruity white from Malaga, and M had a dry white from Catalonia. There was no way we were not going to have dessert, so we shared a fabulous coconut sorbet on a round of rice pudding with strawberry sauce poured around it. Service was excellent; waiters spoke English and were truly happy that we were enjoying our lunch. M had a chat with Marco, the owner along with the chef, and liked him, too. (€108.95)

The concert that evening at Teatro Lliure was very interesting. We had tapas and cava at the upstairs bar before the performance (€11). The pianist was quite good and so was the singer. Born on the island of Majorca, introduced in Barcelona to Catalan musical traditions, and then hit by censorship under the Franco regime, Maria del Mar Bonet has since become the spokesperson for Mediterranean song. She is obviously well-known by many who cheered when she sang certain songs which she’d written. We recognized some of the music (Embraceable You; Lover Come Back to Me) even when she sang in Catalan. She received the 1992 National Prize awarded by the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Government) for popularizing Catalan folk music. The pianist, Manel Camp is Head of the Department of Jazz and Modern Music of the School of Music of and an Adviser to the National Council for Culture and the Arts Adviser to the National Council for Culture and the Arts. Much of the sounds were repetitive – it would have helped if we had a translation of the lyrics – and they did an occasional jazz/blues as well. At the end, there were about four encores after the audience random clapping turned to regulated rhythmic clapping. This was obviously a pattern as the performers could have chosen to not come back, but they chose to do so. Anyhow, a pleasant and different concert evening.

Michael had elected to add the market tour prior to the cooking class so he was off to Boaueria the next morning. I enjoyed a quiet morning and then went to the placa and had a “Shepherd” (don’t ask me why) salad or lunch outside at Amelie. The salad had greens, bits of chicken which had been marinated in a mild ancho sauce, bits of pineapple, and onion (€13.10).

M got back around four; he’d had a good time, especially touring the market and tasting several different kinds of jamon iberico. Joan and Elisabet came at six to give us back our deposit. They are charming folks and I’ll add to the good reviews they’ve received. Later that evening, our last in Barcelona, we took the garbage to the placa and had a final gelato at Pl. Republic.

Some general observations about Barcelona, which we loved. There are lots of families with kids everywhere. Dads seem to be involved. Kids are in the restaurants late, especially on weekends. After school there seem to be many grandparents looking after the kids, maybe while Mom is making dinner? The placas are filled with kids after school, having a grand time, free play. One group of boys had a set of boxes that they were using creatively in a game. Sometimes the moms are having café while the kids play. It’s a lovely sight, and one we seldom see in Boulder. There are still a lot of folks smoking here, mainly younger and mainly women which makes me sad to see. There are lots of bookstores and books stalls in the city. There are many older people (who may actually be younger than we think and just look older) using canes or wheelchairs and with helpers. I’ve also noticed that many public buildings have elevators for the stairs.


Juan at Pintxos Bar in Boqueria market


It was time for our train adventure. I’d purchased our discounted tickets online before we left Boulder, thanks to excellent information on Trip Advisor. We got up in the dark at 5:45am, schlepped all the bags down to the door and then watched on our balcony for the taxi which had been ordered for 6:45. It certainly was a different street at that hour. We only saw a couple of young people who we assumed by their staggering that they were on their way home, not just going out.

The taxi came right on time. It was pretty easy at Sants, found out which track and went through security. We were quite early as you can only board 1/2 hour before the train is scheduled to leave, 7:30 in our case. So we got café and juice and waited for access control to open for track 1. Took the elevator down, found car 7, and got all our bags on. The two small spaces near the door for heavy luggage were already taken. We found our seats and began lifting all six pieces and M’s backpack into the overhead rack. The only other people on the train were a couple sitting right across from us. He got up and helped get everything into the overhead. They were a nice couple from Brasilia, Brazil and he chatted with us for awhile. The AVE was smooth and quiet. This one made three stops along the way so it took 3 hours and 18 minutes rather than 2 hours and 45 minutes. I watched the countryside pass by.

We got to Atocha and waited until everyone got off before we started to download the bags. One man with a briefcase offered to help and walked off the train with one of M’s cases. M, fearing a thief, ran after him while I waited on the train with the rest of our bags, wondering just how long the train would stay still. M finally came back – just a helpful man, not a thief - and we unloaded the rest. The nice guy from Brazil actually came back to see if we needed more help. We finally had everything together and – guess what – no elevator. A mechanical moving ramp was the only way up, and it was a bit frightening for me as I had both hands full of baggage so nothing to hold on to while I had to get on the moving floor, which was not really wide enough to have the bags on behind me. I finally turned one of them sideways and managed to make it to the top, get off, and get on the flatter moving sidewalks.

We got a taxi and arrived at Hotel Preciados around noon. We waited in the lobby for about 1/2 hour until our room was ready. The room was nice, with a balcony facing a quiet side street. There was air conditioning, an automatic shade and a double door so it was quiet at night. Our main reason for staying two days in Madrid was to visit the museums. Fortunately both the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Prado are open on Sunday and we’d planned to do both. We started with at the Thyssen-Bornemisza (€15 with audio guide) with a shared lunch of smoked salmon salad and a pork bocadillo in the terrace café. It’s a terrific museum and we were too tired to really do it justice. I would recommend spending at least four hours there and using the audio guide on every painting for which there is information. We quickly went through the early part of the collection (14th century religious), then savored the impressionists and enjoyed the 20th century. I had planned for us to then go to the Prado to revisit the Goyas, Grecos, and Bosch but even I had wound down too much to do anymore.

In the evening the plan was to go tapas hopping in the La Latina area, which we assumed would be like the wonderful pintxos bar areas in San Se. We got a bit lost going there and were dismayed that when we finally found the Casa Baja and Casa Alta, there were hordes of rather rowdy 20-something folks crowded at every tapas place that I had on my list. This was very different from our San Se experience, and was not pleasant. I had the name of one wine bar in the area, Taberna Matritum and when we found it, it was quiet so we stayed. Each had a glass of wine and we shared three small plates (€49.85) then we walked back to the hotel.

We spent our last day in Madrid walking through the Salamanca neighborhood. This is an upscale residential and shopping area. Very expensive shops and we enjoyed just walking around and looking in windows. We had lunch outside at Sula where we ate too much good food; we should have either shared or asked for half portions as I noticed the people at the next table had done. I had white asparagus from Navonna with artichoke hearts and “habitas” – whatever they might be – and a citrus foam, followed by a mushroom risotto. M had a plate of Iberico jamon followed by pig cheeks cooked/glazed in red wine over a sweet potato mash; shared a bottle of vino blanco (€110). We walked back through Retiro, a huge and beautiful park with fountains, formal gardens, paths, cafes, etc.

Around 9pm we walked to the Mercado de San Miguel. It is a great vibrant scene and I wish we’d gone there instead of to La Latina. There are lots of food booths, standing tables, and you can pick up a variety of food and drink and stand and eat. I was too full for anything of substance but did manage to down a chocolate mousse with chocolate sauce. M had a variety of olives with anchovies and a martini glass of aged vermouth with a fresh squeezed pina colada juice on the way out. On our walk back to the hotel we stopped to see a “troupe” doing a combined ballet and comedy on the plaza. It doesn’t matter what night, the buzz goes on and the cafes and restaurants are full.

There is an unbelievable amount of traffic in Madrid at 8am. The taxi got us to the airport in plenty of time. One perk of business class is the ability to stay in the airline lounge. The lounge in Madrid had free flowing alcohol in additional to coffee and pastries; obviously at 10am we did not take advantage of the alcohol. The flight from Madrid on United operated by Aer Lingus was smooth and easy. The On Demand system had the five hour Mildred Pierce series with Kate Winslet which kept me occupied for most of the trip. The only problem was bad coffee.


Entertainers shouted "Eh, Poppa!" at M

Notes on shopping and other practicalities​

Good Places to Shop​

  • Leclerc Sombrereria for hats, San Sebastian
  • Zara for good value and good looking clothes, several cities
  • Samarkanda for scarves and eclectic gifts, Girona
  • Xocolata de Pals for food gifts and great t-shirts Diana Cristo for jewelry, Barcelona
  • Joi d'arte for jewlelry, several shops around Barcelona
  • Teatro Liceu gift shop, Barcelona
  • Re Born for great t-shirts and interesting clothes, Barcelona
  • Adolfo Dominguez for beautiful women’s clothes, Barcelona
  • Lady Louquita for a fun variety of stuff, Barcelona

Random Practicalities​

  • The No Show padded footies that I bought at Nordstrom are great with both the Josef Seibel and Keen Emerald City sandals. They let me walk comfortably with no friction creating blisters, and you can only see a bit of them on the sides.
  • Keen sandals, Teva hiking shoes and Black Diamond walking sticks were all purchased from Altrec.com with good prices and fast delivery.
  • Una vaso de agua (tap water) is provided at no charge if you ask for it.
  • Tissues are seldom provided at hotels or rental apartments, so buy them at the mercado if you need them.
  • Dress in the coastal towns is very casual; anything goes.
  • If you go from coastal town to coastal town in Galicia, all of the menus will be the same. It got quite boring after awhile – even for seafood loving M.
  • If you get a new camera before you leave, do read the instruction book and practice a few times. M hasn’t yet figured out how to zoom in or out.
  • After reading horror stories about people who turned their rental cars in only to find an enormous repair charge on their credit card after returning home, I took photos of every part of the exterior of the car before we left it. The process at the airport is to just park your car and then go to the rental office; no one looks at it with you.

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