May 30, 2011

Spain: Madrid & Barcelona

Madrid

Madrid is best discovered on foot, getting lost in its pretty streets, and going from one tapas bar to another.

Apart from visiting the main sights such as El Palacio Real, El Parque del Buen Retiro and La Plaza Mayor, it is a great place to go to for food. Every street has its lot of eateries of all kinds. The city is nice to be shown by locals, who will take you to the best places they know. We were lucky to meet up with two Madrileños friends who we strolled through El Rastro with, Europe’s largest flea market, and stopped in bars along the way for a glass of caña and tapas.

Some places we ate at during our stay and that we especially liked were:

  • Estado Puro, PZ Canovas Del Castillo 42, 8014 Madrid – a posh bar where traditional tapas are reinvented and given a nice twist such as the 21st century Spanish omelette (liquid) or the ‘chorizo’ sandwich (without chorizo or bread);

  • Huerta Uno, Las Huertas 1, 28010 Madrid – a lovely restaurant where we had cocktails, Iberian pork cooked to perfection with leeks and sweet pepper sauce and chocolate brownies.

    In the morning, Madrid wakes up slowly, and it is nice to go out for breakfast, and if you want to enjoy a traditional Spanish breakfast, opt for the churros with chocolate, or a piece of toast with tomato and olive oil.
  • Barcelona

    Barcelona is easy to fall in love with. The city boasts very varied architecture, a Mediterranean feel, palm trees everywhere and stunning viewpoints.

    I liked it as soon as we arrived. Just going out in the streets wraps you in its lively atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed strolling around Port Veil and going to Park Güell.

    Market

    Food was not disappointing either. One of our first stops was the Mercat St Josep La Boqueria, a beautiful indoors market with stalls pilled with fresh fruits and vegetables, local hams and cheeses and freshly caught fish. We bought delicious products with which we prepared sandwiches for our lunches. Another place we liked was a restaurant called Origen 99.9%, Carrer de la Vidriera 6-8, Barcelona - most of the ingredients they use are sourced locally, and we had a platter of tasty Catalan cheeses and charcuterie, L. Had rabbit and I went for the vegetable toast.

    Park Güell

    Sagrada Familia

    For our last evening, we went to a cider bar in a back street, La Sucarrena, Carrer de la Mercè 21. In Spain, cider is mainly produced in the Asturias and it is an art to serve it. The barman served the first glass, reclining the glass and holding the bottle high over his head, and pouring a little bit of cider in the glass. He handed it to me and told me I had to drink it very quickly, saying ‘rapido, rapido!’ (I was trying to do my best!), so that the sediments do not fall at the bottom of the glass. It was our turn next to give a go at pouring the cider – over a bucket – and we had a lot of fun doing so.

    Luke pouring cider, Spanish style

    May 06, 2011

    Lisbon

    The first stop of our European trip was Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon is a charming city, with a village-like atmosphere. With seven hills, you can be sure to get pretty views of the city, and to climb those hills, the best way is probably to hop on one of the old trams. Or, you might prefer to get lost walking in the Alfama, a neighbourhood with tangled alleys that seems to be locked in time.

    Portuguese cuisine is home-style cooking and often rustic, with a lot of fish on the menu. Pastelerias (pastry shops) are on every corner and we’ve both fallen for Lisbon’s speciality, pasteis de nata – mini custard tarts in a crispy puff pastry case.

    Pasteis de nata at Confeitaria Nacional, Praça de Figueira

    Also, make sure you don’t leave Portugal without having tasted Port and Ginja, a sweet flavoursome cherry brandy, drunk by the locals.

    We stayed at a guesthouse called Pensao Royale, right in the city centre, and were made very welcome by the owner, Paula. Our room was nice and clean and the breakfast was very big with not only toast and cereal but also fruit and the choice of at least four different cakes every morning.

    Pensao Royale, Rua de Crucifixo 50

    A few places we enjoyed eating at were:

    • Pois Café, a very chilled out café with sandwiches, toasts and healthy salads on the menu.

    Pois Café, Rua de Sao Joao da Praça 93

    • Restô do Chapitô, The Chapitô is an art and cultural centre, but also has a bar and restaurant where you can enjoy tapas and grilled dishes, and if you book ahead, you can have your dinner with splendid views of the city and river.

    Restô do Chapitô, Costa do Castelo 7

    The perfect spot for a picnic of local ham and cheese sandwiches, nuts and cherry tomatoes.