May 24, 2017


Ibericos and Pinxtos -- 2 major decision factors
In deciding to ditch the central European travel plan, the analysis went something like this:

[At an amazing meal in Dijon] E, taking another bite:  Oh man, French food is heavenly.

Me, taking my own bite:  Mmmm, I know.  Although, in fairness, on our first night in France, you totally ordered a plate of various Spanish jamons and chorizos.

E, grinning:  And it was good!

Me, taking a sip of wine:  And French wine, so reasonably priced in France...

Both of us, sighing contentedly.

E:  You know where the food and wine is not going to be this good?  ...Poland.  And all the other countries between there and Italy.

Me [laughing]:  It's true.  Remember the pickled sausage in Prague?

E: Also, it's been surprisingly cold in France.  Have we checked the weather in central Europe?

Me: You know, there's no reason we *have* to go to central Europe.  I want to visit all of those countries and sights on our list, but we don't have to do it this trip.  It is a fairly ambitious itinerary, and it's been so nice to take it slow since we arrived.  You make a good point about the weather.  I know how much you love Spanish food (Jamon & Pulpo), and, obviously, Spain is much easier for both of us, linguistically, than any of the central European countries, so if you would rather just stay in western Europe, we could add Spain and figure out some other stops before showing up in Italy for the wedding...

And that was that.

Surtido de Embutidos
After 20 days of eating gorgeous but filling composed plated meals in France (I pulled out all the adventure stops and had Andouillette for lunch as my last authentic meal - In case you were interested, that box has been checked by this *very* omnivorous eater and does not ever need to be revisited), the first dinner in Spain was such a great change. 

Pimientos de Padron -- when we get back to California,
I'm eating these every week until they are out of season.
Tapas that we could share. Olives with additional marination in the form of olive oil and some delicious spices on the outside.  A salad of sliced tomatoes with onion, olive oil and oregano.  A small plate of jamon.  A bikini (toasted ham and cheese sandwich). Pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato juice and olive oil on it).  And that was it.  We left feeling satiated, but thrilled with the light food and lack of heavy fat, cream, and sauce. Conveniently, in Catalonia, my mixing of French and Spanish as I transitioned back was welcomed as closer to Catalan.

End of the run in Girona.
E and I started our road trip by running in Girona and then walking along the Roman city walls to cool down.  From there, we picked up the car and headed out towards Zaragoza.  E has developed a ninja-like ability to pick restaurants on our road trips.  I don't question his methods, because the results are unquestionably divine.

Best Pulpo of our trip.
This first road trip pick was a Catalan speciality restaurant in a suburb of Barcelona (the server spoke only Catalan to us, which was fun to decipher, but thankfully the menu was in both Catalan and Spanish, and they understood my Spanish with residual French mixed in just fine).  This restaurant had a gorgeous outdoor seating area, and we were drooling with each dish:  olives (marinated after curing, again, brilliant), a selection of cured sausages and cheese, pa amb tomaquet (smashed rustic bread topped with olive oil, garlic & tomato juice), pimientos de padron and the best eggplant preparation ever (dry! No oil!), and finally a grilled octopus arm over pureed potatoes.  We paired this with a little wine, a lot of sparkling water and finished it up with 2 espressos.  The meal took almost 2 hours, which broke up our longest day of driving to Zaragoza.  We spent the entire drive congratulating ourselves on our good decision making re: staying in Western Europe.

Zaragoza was a bit surprising, as neither of us had realized that Basque was prevalent there.  At some point on the drive the signage switched from Catalan/Spanish to Basque/Spanish, which did not help with me trying to revert my brain to clean Spanish post-French, but did result in some more delicious food.

The coral where they hold the bulls before the running.

We stopped for lunch in Pamplona and E's restaurant picking abilities were yet again on point.  After an 11EU 2-course Basque set meal for both of us followed by cheese and espresso, we stopped to enjoy a drink in the bar on the square where Hemingway passed the time while writing The Sun Also Rises, and after watching the world go by, we found our way to the start of the circuit of the running of the bulls and walked the route to the stadium.  This visit was particularly poignant for me, as Pamplona was one of the only places my Dad had ever gone in Europe (of course, for the running of the bulls -- he wore the traditional outfit with the red neck kerchief, although he didn't run and just stood high on a pillar and watched them go by).

View from Café Iruña into the Square in Pamplona.

Again, we were surprised to realize that the signage in Pamplona was Basque/Spanish.  The festival of San Fermin and the running of the bulls is actually a Basque Festival.  I had thought that the Basque-speaking region of Spain was much smaller than it actually is before this trip.  The only place I expected to find it in Spain was in San Sebastian, where I had been the guest of a French-speaking Basque family during the Basque Festival for the city, when hundreds of Basque descendants who had spread throughout the world (like my friend who took me from Bordeaux) returned to the town of their origins to celebrate.  This visit was much more sedate, although still quite international, as the tourists dominate San Sebastian, at least downtown and along the waterfront.
View of San Sebastian from the other side of the bay.
For the rest of our time in Spain, we were a little shocked to realize that our lessons from South America re: the Spanish being jerks and just brutally rolling in and taking over the local language and culture *also happened in Spain* (by the Castellano against the local European peoples with their own distinct languages and cultures).  Today, it appears there is a resurgence of respect for the dialects.  Most Spanish regions we visited had bi-lingual official signage in Castellano and the local dialect.  Also, menus, ATM instructions, and Museum guides could often be found in Castellano, Catalan, Gallician, Basque and more (often all of these options were available where English wasn't (but French usually was)).

Running route in Burgos
We had such a lovely time in Spain.  Not sure if our experience is true for the country as a whole, but somehow we put together an itinerary that made it very easy to run and workout. In most cities there were separated running/walking and biking trails and many people using them, including women in serious workout gear, often running very quickly.  (Another huge difference from France, where I saw some men in workout gear, but very few women.)

Our favorite Spanish Meal!
Before this trip, my ideal Spanish meal involved Pulpo a la gallega and pimientos de padron and some olives.  E's choice Spanish meal, of course, was a plate of Ibericos.  I'm happy to report that we had many different meals (lots of pinxtos, gazpacho, salmorejo, arroz mucoso a la Valenciana, etc.) but E and I are steadfast.  My stereotype remains as my favorite quintessential Spanish meal and because we'd recently had Jamon, we had it (minus the olives) as our last lunch before flying to Italy.

We ate so well and enjoyed the people we met and the ease of being in a place where we could use a language we spoke/read reasonably well that we agreed that Spain is now up there with France, Argentina, Japan, and Italy as one our favorite places where we will always want to return.

Goodbye Spain, 'til we meet again.


Angela Knotts said...

DROOLING. I clearly need to get to Spain sometime in the near future. ;)

bt said...

@Angela -- it's a serious food paradise.

Arvay said...

Is that tentacle sitting on a bed of molten CHEESE?!?

bt said...

@Arvay -- it is just one step short of that level of awesomeness, sadly. It is merely pureed potatoes with cream and paprika and oil and all sorts of other non-cheesy deliciousness.