Monday, August 2, 2010

1st July 2010 - 3rd August 2010 - Sardinia & Spain

Sun & Bite Sized Fun!

Where were we? That’s right… lying on a beach in Sardinia.

We ended up in Sardinia as we just couldn’t face the hoards of tourists and queues that were inevitably going to greet us in mainland destinations such as Rome and Florence yet we were so desperate to get a taste of Italy in more ways than one.

We’d heard the coast line of Sardinia was something to behold and combined with our existing affection of the white wines from the region we decided the Italian island would be our next destination after the UK.

A quick flight and a wonder in the dark later.. We were at our hotel in Alghero on the west side of the island. Our plan was to somehow get to the other side of the island the next day to a small coastal town called Cala Gonone. Cala Gonone is very much a locals holiday destination, so it was nice to experience Italian families in full force with their big umbrellas and picnic hampers laid out on the beach. We can’t say we did much besides catch boats to a magnificent beach and then drank Sardinian wine and ate at one of the 2 restaurants adjacent to our hotel (we weren‘t in the mood for moving much). Our week was very relaxing and good fun… I’m not one for spending all day lying on a beach, but here I made an exception, the relaxation was divine.

Cala Luna Beach - Sardinia

Enjoying the bars at Cala Ganone

Alghero - Sardinia

Now onto Spain… somehow we ended up spending nearly a month here without having any previous intentions of it. We ended up spending so much time here to escape the crowds and heat of Italy… that’s right the heat… Spain was a good choice for escaping the heat… an average well of 30 degrees every day is cool right?? Anyway this place has been such an amazing experience culinary wise that we would have had a great time if it had been 35 degrees or minus 35 degrees!

A few days in Madrid (where we stayed with Andrew Moody who we randomly discovered is living there) was highlighted by the fact the world cup final was perfectly timed for our stay in the capital. Thousands of people converged on the main squares of Madrid to watch a particularly dire football game salvaged by the late Spanish goal sending the crowd mad. The long awaited world cup win for Spain was a particularly uniting event for a country that we have since learned is relatively divided regionally. Spain has many different languages, dialects, and general cultures, and the people seem to identify themselves by their region much more than by their country. The people in Catalonia aren’t Spanish, they are Catalan, and they speak Catalan (which is very similar to Spanish), and the people in the Basque country are certainly not Spanish and their language is completely different which would explain the pro independence movements that are still very present in that region. So the world cup provided a certain unity amongst regions (except for the Basque people) and for a few hours everyone was cheering the same team.

Crowds in Madrid, World Cup Final

The fallen angel in Madrid

Granada followed Madrid with the mandatory visit to La Alhambra which was very beautiful and worthy of it’s praise. Granada was especially awesome though due to the fact that it is one of the few remaining places in Spain that offer free tapas with every drink! A particularly good tapas bar filled with many a Spaniard and served by old men in a form of organised chaos gave free servings of Paella that were big enough for an entire lunch and if that wasn’t enough to fill your stomach, you could spend all of about 2 Euros and get two servings of smoked salmon with caviar, cheese and avocado on bread. It was here that our love of Spanish food began to grow.

La Alhambra

Salmon tapas (notice the almost finished paella)

Granada from our window

Our life over the last year

A short stop in Valencia which should have been longer was followed by a fantastic week in our new favourite city… Barcelona. Our time is Barcelona was spent either eating or admiring the wonderfully bizarre architecture of Gaudi hence the decision to stay in the region of L’Eixample opposed to the touristy old area known as the Bari Gothic certainly paid off. For those who haven’t been to Barcelona or know much about Gaudi, he was an architect in the late 19th and early 20th century and his unique designs ranging from lamp posts to massive churches define the city. One structure the Sagrada Familia is still yet to be completed more than 80 years since the death of Gaudi and is not expected to be finished for probably another 30 years. The Sagrada Familia was truly one of the greatest creations we have seen by man kind, and this is saying something considering we literally visited a construction site.

Is it Paris? No it's Barcelona from our window

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia

The tapas in Barcelona was definitely of a higher standard to what we ate in Granada, however it was also of a much higher price but we didn’t care. We came probably as close as we’ll ever get to eating at El Bulli by dining three times at Tapas 24 run by one of the El Bulli chefs hehe. It was of course fantastic and I could spend a long time harping on about that Patatas Bravas, the Peppers de Padron and each and every dish but that might get boring. So we were thinking, this is as good as food gets… how could it get better right?? That was until our next leg in what we now think is the gastronomy capital of the world… San Sebastian.

Tapas 24

It's a mountain man! At Montserat near Barcelona

Gaudi's landscaped Park Guell

Gaudi's signature cross

Hanging out in Barcelona

San Sebastian in the Basque country is known for two things, a beautiful old town sandwiched between 2 idyllic beaches, and pinxtos. The town was pretty (although noisy, you couldn’t sleep before 3am) and the beaches were very nice, however it was the pinxtos (pronounced pinchos) that kept us in the San Sebastian for seven sleepless nights. Pinxtos is a form of tapas where the portions are even smaller and are generally more delicate and creative in terms of flavour and ingredients. Gastronomy is the major past time in the Basque country and they take it very seriously, that’s why we toured many a different pinxtos bar over the course of a week experiencing a myriad of different flavours and textures. Everything from small portions of foie gras ravioli, to tender veal cheek, to mussels, to a bar that specialised purely in pinxtos made from white anchovies! The size and price of these dishes allowed us to sample an average of 8 different dishes at any one sitting… our stomachs were permanently smiling.

San Sebastian from our window

San Sebastian

The fact that San Sebastian has more Michelan Starred restaurants than Paris has to say something, and it also meant that we couldn’t leave without eating in one of them. Of course the food gave Tetsuya a good run for his money and burnt a hole in our wallets, but it was worth it… see for yourself.
So we left Europe and headed for South America with full stomachs and few extra kilos under our belts. It is now time to go on a diet (Sth America is a good place as the food is fairly rubbish) and go do some hiking in the mountains before coming back home fit and healthy!

Time to go look for a job.


P.S. A big congrats to Dave and Carolyn on their engagement!!

Kokotxa Restaurant
San Sebastian

The damage

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