San Tomas Fiesta…in San Sebastián

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Scenes of San Sebastián on a December Winter’s Day…Still Folks Swimming @ La Concha Beach!

We had attended the San Tomas fest last year, but in our local abode Hondarribia, where it all seemed extremely tame & crowd free. But many of our Basque mates said we absolutely had to go to San Sebastián to witness how the pros do San Tomas. We were also urged to get an early start as it was the place were most of the world wants to be for San Tomas, and we would find ourselves cheek by jowl with the local Basque hordes.

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Top: Inventive Day of the Pig Chistorra Signage; Funky Hair Do Chook in the Farm Section; Big Bread.

The cheap & cheerful background story on San Tomas fest is that it was the day the country folks ambled into town to pay their taxes, and generally they made a day of it by bringing in their families, a few prized animals from the farm to show off and to get all gussied up in their traditional Basque finest attire for a wee social conclave.

The honoured & traditional taste treat at the San Tomas fest is the txistorra (or chistorra in Español) – a wonderfully delicious local sausage that is especially flavoursome if cooked in a bit of Basque cider. The main method of presentation at the fest as seen in a dozen or more stalls is to serve it in a hand pounded corn tortilla that is then lightly grilled.

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The Day of the Pig – Chistorra! Chistorra!

We caught the 8:15am E21 express bus & stepped off in San Sebastián at 8:45am only to find most folks still setting up their stalls and no chistorra even being cooked yet :-(….so we toddled off to our new fave coffee joint Sakona for as close to a Melbourne or Christchurch class coffee to be had in Spain.

There were stalls EVERYWHERE – with a good mix of food & drink, deli specialties, charcuterie, cheeses, chocolates, breads, pastries, and a extensive range of artisan Basque products that ranged from jewellery to clothes to toys to shoes. And speaking of shoes, both human Hounds quite surprised themselves respectively in that we each bought a pair of shoes from shoemaker Zapatari – not in the mainly-eat-chistorra-and-drink-cider-plan, go figure.

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Top Left: Pigs in a Blanket; Recyclable Festival Cider Cup!; How Basque Cider is Poured; Corn Tortillas in the Making.

So now it was chistorra time & we followed Hound #2’s Dad’s Golden Rule per choosing a place to eat – look where there are lots of people (preferably local) and/or a healthy queue and you have found the right spot. And we did & we queued & we nailed the perfecto chistorra stand. Crispy tortilla with a melt in your mouth, perfectly cooked, tender as chistorra tucked away inside. Our only fatal mistake was to order just one to share – but in our defence it was only 11am & a bit south of the traditional 12pm starting line to begin: (a) serious meat consumption and (b) imbibing something of an alcoholic nature.

We were VERY impressed with the council or fest sponsors for providing (for a euro per glass but refundable) a re-usable plastic glass for your cider pour. One of the things that is so upsetting about events like this is the massive waste…cups, napkins, plates, cutlery, etc…that just ends up in landfill somewhere. So a HUGE HATS OFF to the folks who thought this scheme up….we kept our glasses as souvenirs and to use on our camping or picnicking trips.

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Basque Father Christmas Olentzero Atop the Brexta Market; Wee Fellows Gobbling Chistorra in Traditional Clothes & Caps; Da Crowds.

By 1pm it seemed like the entire population of the Basque Country if not Spain had descended on the San Tomas Fest…so it was doing our heads in a wee bit & we needed some quiet space & a bit of a sit down, so off we went to the Tabakalera, a stunningly re-developed old tabacco warehouse that is just starting to spread its wings. It is a wonderful space for art, music, food & wine, films, quiet reflection…with an amazing view of San Sebastian from its rooftop deck space.

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Two of Alberto Schoomer’s Photos of Andy Warhol & Spanish Sculptor Chillida…and some Basque Punk.

So our second San Tomas Fest ticked off & under our belts (or over from the chistorra consumption) and we each have a new pair of Basque handmade shoes as a souvenir…excelente!

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GOÑI Ardoteka Vino Market…

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One of the things I really miss since leaving New Zealand and Australia to live in the UK & Spain for a wee while, is a decent amount of regular, interesting & affordable wine tastings. Melbourne was a seriously sick place for wine tastings as it was almost harder to sort out & decide what not to do versus searching to find a wine event to do. Usually, every weekend some wine store (like the Prince Wine Stores or Seddon Wine Store or even your local Dan Murphy’s) was featuring a tasting & typically with the producers doing the pour – for free. And to add wine tasting insult to injury, there was almost always a massive wine event happening every other week or so with the likes of the Barons of the Barossa rolling into town or The Taste of Tasmania making a Melbourne splash. My head (and liver) hurts just remembering all of these vinous opportunities!

The UK is pretty much bereft of these kind of gustatory pleasures unless, of course, you are able & can afford to live in London or even Bristol or Bath, or some decently sized pueblo. And we couldn’t, so we didn’t, so we did not  have easy access to a regular rasher of sipping & tastings…for effing out loud people, even Christchurch, New Zealand (population 350,000 más o menus) puts on a decent juice show with Vino Fino or Decant doing the city honours.

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When we first arrived in Hondarribia, I discovered GOÑI Ardoteka in San Sebastián quite early on, and it is, by almost any measure, an estupendo wine store – great selection, knowledgeable and pleasant staff, fair prices and easy peasy access from Hondarribia via the marvellous E21 autobus. I signed on to their regular email newsletter for updates & started to see some notifications of tasting events. But I was a bit hesitant to jump right in & sample as, to me anyway, many tasting sessions seemed a wee bit dear – like €40 to €60 dear for the option to test out a few new unknown vinos. As I mentioned above, many of the regular Australian tasting sessions were 100% free and if not, they would hit up your wallet for a modest debit of round $20+ or so (same thing in New Zealand) which is like €13…eso es no problema.

So I was more than delighted to see in my inbox the news notice for the Christmas Wine Market @ GOÑi Ardoteka – wines & bubbles & beer & producers and FREE! I have no hesitation in stating it was the best wine event, so far, that I have attended in either Spain or the UK – and the producers were: (a) super knowledgable and generous with their information & time and pours (and my crappy Spanish) and (b) they be pouring the good shite! We are talking the top of da vino line folks – the cava bodega I started with finished our tasting round of 5 different bottles of bubbles with their 2005 Reserva that would set you back a tidy €93 ($140 NZ), so clearly not in the Lindauer league.

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The Wine Market Bad Boys…

And to add more foam to the froth, all the wines (not just the Wine Market wines) were smacked with a 15% price reduction – whoa nellie, hold on to my wallet! Fortunately (for my wallet), I was a bit constrained as I only had my modestly sized backpack with me and my allowable maximum wine allowance (by weight) was 5-6 bottles. So purchase I did & hauled my delicious treasure back to Hondarribia on the E21 autobus to savour at a later date…keep it coming GOÑI Ardoteka!

Tolosa Chuleta Fest – Yippee!!!

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Yum Yum Eat’m Up — Chuleta Fest @ Tolosa


WARNING: To all vegetarian and vegan folks, this post contains meat photos.

The Hounds had recently paid a visit to the Basque town of Tolosa to check out the famous weekly Saturday market (which we loved BTW) and we spotted some announcements regarding a Festival de Chuleta – a Steak Fest to put it simply. A few weeks later, I read in my regular Saturday El Diario Vasco newspaper a detailed article on said festival with loads of history, ticket details, etc…I decided – “I’m in on this deal”.

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Street Scenes Tolosa…

I made the tactical decision to catch a train to Tolosa so as not to put a cap on any potential fun by having to drive my 1975 Land Rover back home post visiting vino & chuleta heaven. Like many other things here in Spain, trains are sort of an approximation…más o menos. The web site said a train departed from the Irun station at 11AM, so got myself there by 10:30AM only to find there is no 11AM, there is a 10:53AM. Said train, according to the web site, would deposit me in Tolosa at 11:40AM…try 12:05PM. But no pasa nada – I was not in a hurry & still had a decent chunk of time to wander old town Tolosa.

Casco Antiguo (Old Town) is, like many other Spanish cities or towns, the best part of the town with narrow, cobble stoned, pedestrianised streets that simply reek with character & charm. The only negative or slightly creepy thing was that they had loudspeakers strung up & down every street, playing a very weird mix of traditional Basque music, which was then followed by a Heavy Metal tune…go figure.

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Old Town Tolosa…

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Lots of Tolosa Graffiti…And Hay Muchos Signs…

The Tolosa Chuleta Fest was started in 2006 to commemorate the 750th (yes, that’s right 750th) birthday celebration of the founding of Tolosa. Tolosa, over several generations if not centuries, has earned a well deserved reputation for expertise in all things grilled. The chefs who grill are called asadores in Spanish & the restaurants are asadors. And originally the meat used came from the ox, but has now shifted to beef and is called locally ‘vaca vieja’ or old/aged beef.

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The festival runs for 3 days (6th, 7th and 8th of December in 2016) and is housed in the ‘Tinglado‘ (translates to ‘shed’) which was constructed in 1899 & 1900 to be the new home to the Saturday weekly market. The Tinglado sits smack dab on the Oria River, with glassed walls providing a very up close & personal river view.

The Festival Folks had divided the Tinglado into 2 bits – a sweet, spacious dining room for the lunches & dinners and a casual pintxo & bar area for a bit of Chuleta Fest warmups. There were 5 or 6 stalls, each offering a different pintxo or two, and of course, a bar serving the usual suspects – vino tinto (Rioja) & blanco (local Basque star txakoli) , cerveza & cider.

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The Best Fest – Pintxo Alley. Bottom Right – Pintxo to Beat All Pintxos!

I started my festival warmup with the pintxo pictured above (slow braised beef in a pork bun with micro greens, pickled red onion & a secret sauce) which was SO delicious that I came within in inch of having another, but given I was only an hour or so away from a massive steak fest I decided to spread the wealth and sample a different taste treat.

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Top Left: Local Brew Called La Salve (Translates to ‘Hail Mary’); Family Who Made Da Vino; Chistorra (Basque Sausage); Grill’n Up Some Pintxos…

My second comestible treat came in the form of the locally famed chistorra, a Basque sausage that is often cooked up in some local cider. Again, a hit right out of the park – 3 different types of chistorra perfectly grilled with another secret sauce (pictured above). Excelente & washed it down with a local brew call La Salve (translates as ‘Hail Mary’ – cool).

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Chuletas de Vacas….The Star Attraction

When the clock struck 2, folks started queuing up at the dining hall entrance…tickets in hand and appetites, just like the charcoal, on fire. As we passed through the foyer entrance, we were greeted with a chuleta display to get the juices flowing and we could plainly see the asadores hard & hot at work.

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Table Is Set…Wine is Open. Ready, Set, Go!

We had 10 folks at our table – 5 native Spanish-speakers, 2 Americans from Denver speaking American, a couple from Holland (who live in France) & me. Besides the asadores hard at work, the Ibérico Jamón carvers were all non-stop knife action to repeatedly fill & refill our plates to kick off the luncheon with a bang. The jamón goes down SO easy & marries perfectly with a glass or two of red vino.

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First Up – Sliced Ibérico Jamón…The Good Stuff – Black Label.

Next up was the veggie portion of the fest – white asparagus in a tangy vinaigrette dressing (sorry, no pics…too busy eating & drinking) followed by cogollos de Tudela – Romain lettuce hearts. Perfect foil to the previous salty & savoury jamón flavours, and the beef that was to follow…a light interlude was mos def called for…

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Top Left: Dining Room; The Veggie Plate – Hearts of Lettuce; The Dining Room Cow

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All Fired Up & the Grilling Begins!…A Man & His Ox.

As you can see by the grilling photo above, the Spanish are generous with their salt. As many chefs & cooks will tell you, salting the meat generously prior to grilling or cooking works small wonders as does brining (particularly chicken, turkey or even pork). Despite what appears to be, to me, an excessive amount of the salty stuff, you could not in any way taste it on the finished steak.

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Turn Away Now Vegetarians…

So the goods get delivered, and they are oh, oh so good. Cooked (for me) just the way I like it, as I think many meats become totally devoid of flavour when singed to within an inch of their life – might as well eat your shoe. This was perfecto – a crispy, char broiled brown crust with a deep, deep red centre and flowing with good steak juices. The meat was well balanced with just the right amount of fat marbling (relative to the meat) which added delectable, flavourful bits to the overall flavour.

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Steak & Roasted Pimientos….

The plates of steak just kept coming – no one @ our table seem to be able to get enough chuleta, nor vino as our Spanish table mates kept hailing our waitress with ‘Más Vino! Más!’ & bottles magically kept appearing.

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Lonely Dessert Cheese Plate & Sweet Snack…

To say I had a good time would be the understatement of the day or week – our festive table was the last to leave the Tinglado & its merry surrounds…all happy campers toddling off home for a wee siesta…Great job Tolosa! Keep up the good work!

 

 

Granada’s Magical Alhambra…The Finale.

The beautiful city of Granada was the next stop on our road trip to let Hound #2 tick off one of her birthday wishes – a visit to the mystical Alhambra (a bit of a heads up tip folks – if you ever plan to visit Granada & tour the Alhambra, get on it ASAP as they book up FAST). Again, the weather gods were being kind and we arrived at our apartment in the Albaicín area with very little stress or fuss with mucho, mucho thanks to Frances the marvellous owner of the Los Apartamentos El Balcón del Albaicín who guided us in through a ‘back door’ portal to avoid the street chaos of the Albaicín. We were quickly settled in, with our car safely deposited in a garage for the remainder of our stay and a mild autumn evening in full swing…so let’s hit the town!

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Hot Spot!

The Albaicín area is a way cool space to hang in – sitting atop its own hill with commanding views of Granada but even better, the Alhambra. One of the best views to be found is at the Mirador de San Nicolás, which appears to be a regular gathering place for locals, tourists and a wee night market. The Albaicín is a labyrinth of cobble stone lanes & passage ways with every corner turned producing more things to see, do, drink & taste.

In Granada, and many other Spanish towns, the tapas are free when you order a drink. But the secret is that your tapas climb the quality ladder with each subsequent beverage so it pays to find your place & stick to it. Which is pretty much what we did by snagging a bar side table @ La Fragua – Bar de Tapas. This place is, literally, a hole in the wall that will not blow you away on the decor front but ticks all our boxes for a seriously local taverna. They get to choose your tapas so our first drink came with sautéed lamb & potatoes – yum. We ordered our second round of ‘tubos’ (local Granada slang for beers) & a steaming bowl of curried lentils arrived…excelente!

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The Streets of the Albaicín…Top Left: Table of Tapas; Late Night Bakery of Maria; Bar Ladrillo; Street Scene con Billie; La Fragua; Curried Lentils @ La Fragua.

After pretty much making most of the taverna rounds in the Albaicín, we decided that since it was Hound #2’s Birthday Day/Night, a nightcap (or two as it turned out) was in order, so round the corner from our flat we went to El Higo (The Fig). This quickly became our fave spot to end our Albaicín nights – super friendly staff (and owner), great beverages, live music & just plain fun folks. The owner was sweet and shouted us 2 shots of Pacharán to put the final nail in the coffin…

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El Higo (The Fig) – Our Local…Home Away From Home.

So being just a tad groggy upon awakening Saturday morning, we toddled off in search of coffee and to do a walk our flat owner Frances has penned on our map the night before. Not far down the Albaicín hill we found Rincón del Chapiz, the perfect stop for a cuppa & a pastry to kick off the day.

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Saturday Morning Stroll a la Frances @ El Balcón del Albaicín.

The walk took us down to the river Darro (which, BTW, is a beautiful river stroll not to be missed) & then across a bridge where we climbed the steep hill to the outer walls of the Alhambra. Following some tips from a UK Guardian article on Granada’s Moorish secrets, we set off to find the nearby (we hoped) Campo de los Martires which was said to have stunning (free) gardens and to be a bit devoid of touristy folks. It was everything and more than the Guardian piece said, even though no dogs were allowed which Billie promptly ignored. And it is a gorgeous landscaped walk down to Granada proper – they must employ an army of gardeners…

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Stunning Landscaped Spaces in the Campo de los Martires – No Dogs but Billie No Read Español.

Once in downtown Granada, we had a mission numero uno – pick up our Alhambra tickets at the Corral del Carbon. I repeat my opening words of advice, the Alhambra only admits 6,000 people a day (sounds like a lot but it isn’t) and even if you secure a general admittance ticket, you still need to score your allotted time window to see the jewels in the crown – the Nasrid Palaces.

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Scenes of Granada…

Post a quick coffee jolt…we headed off to have a squizzy at the Mercado San Agustín, Granada’s big indoor market. Hound #2 was not so impressed, but I thought it had a pretty decent comestible offering ranging from meats to fish to veg to cheeses & deli delectables.

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Mercado San Agustín – Choices, Choices & More Choices…

Growing hunger pangs began to be the dominant force, so we reviewed our notes (Hondarribian mate Andoni had supplied a generous list from I think his sister-in-law who is a Granada resident) & started our quest. It being a Saturday, places be popular so we had a couple of strike outs due to (a) they were so popular there was not a seat to be had and (b) many places are night time spaces, so a no go.

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Pintxos @ Pacurri and then Lunch! @ Om Khalsum…Estupendo!

We did manage to squeeze into Pacurri for a beverage & free pintxo but we felt like something a bit more substantial & Pacurri was not the ticket. Onwards & upwards to Om Khalsum which has the Moorish thing going in spades. This was a very easy place to settle in…and we opted for the super value special of 10 tapas & a bottle of vino – oy vey – for €15! While lounging about Om Khalsum, Hound #2 got into a chat with a fellow who was wiling away the Saturday arvo with some food & drink with his young son & he insisted we had to pay a visit to the BEST BAR & RESTAURANT in Granada, Bar Poetas Andaluces II. We managed to find it, but we were so stuffed from our fab lunch @ Om Khalsum we could only manage a beverage & a dessert – which Hound #2 raved over. So worth a stop if you be in the hood…

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Bar Poetas Andaluces, Granada

Post another super fun Saturday night wandering the Albaicin, and ending up @ El Higo – AGAIN, we set off on Sunday morning (less groggy) for a bit of a wander round the Sacromonte neighbourhood. There are a couple interesting if not strange things to note about Sacromonte: (a) most if not all the ‘houses’ are actually caves where folks actually do live and (b) this be flamenco central. Besides those 2 items, this is a great place to get stunning views of the Alhambra and the City.

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Sunday Morning Stroll Round Sacromonte – Folks Live In Cave Houses Here…great views of the City.

Leaving Sacromonte, we made zig zag path to an outdoor Sunday market in the Realejo area of the city – but being such early risers compared to the Spanish, it was no existe when we arrived, but the saving grace was we discovered an excellent vino store Enoteca Evohé…they carried quite a different range of wines so several bottles were put in the backpack.

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Top Left: San Agustín Mercado Building; Cathedral; Casa de Vinos Wine Bar; Hound #2 Sipping a Sherry @ Saint Germain…

Back in the central city, we started to experience hunger pangs as breakfast wore off…so we consulted our notes again & dug up a bidness card handed to us @ a vinoteca Friday night by the bartender who urgently urged us to go to a French place (Saint Germain) in Spanish Granada. Ok…why not? The bartender warned us it would be ‘muy ocupado’ (very busy) but we managed to grab an outside table & a couple of beverages (Hound #2 sipped a marvellous Oloroso Sherry). Good stop…

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Back @ Casa de Vino – Superb Selection Here…

Now we were crossing into serious pintxo time – so we went back to my mate Andoni’s list & headed for Los Diamantes II. This place is on EVERY LIST we’d been able to research – so natch, it was packed to the gills with Sunday family lunch folks. Diamantes has made its Granada name as a house of serious seafood (there are several Diamantes but Andoni said numero 2) and deservedly so…except our first 2 or 3 choices were not available on a Sunday arvo menu (apparently no grilling on Sunday), so we opted for the clams (one of my fave choices, not so much for Hound #2) & some cervezas & a free tapas of risotto…

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Los Diamantes II – Clams, Risotto & Cervezas…

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Local Albaicín Hot Spot – Bar Los Mascarones…Only Open At Lunch & Packed to the Gills…Wow!

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Love the ceramic tile work…even makes Coca-Cola look good.

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Gardens of the Alhambra….Generalife Section…The Alhambra at Night from the Mirador de San Nicolás.

The Alhambra…how do I find the words? Because it is, seriously, a bit overwhelming with so, so much to absorb and try & take in. We started our tour perusal (as many folks do) by wandering the gardens & buildings of the Generalife which was constructed between the 12th and 14th century as a place for the Muslim royalty to rest or just getaway from their busy days & nights @ the palaces. Hound #2 was most impressed as gardening is her passion and these were not gardens to sniff at. They are an amazing mix of flowers, sculptured hedges and many, many water features.

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Top Left: Palace of Charles V; Palace Ornaments; View of the Sacromonte area; Palace Front Door; External Wall Passageway; Garden Fountain

We next entered through the gates of the Palatial City and had a stroll along the fortress walls & gardens to arrive at the Palace of Charles V (above). A sort of brutish style of architecture – extremely macho with many carved scenes of horrific battles. Everything associated with this building was big & man-sized.

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Top Left: Tiles Inside the Nasrid Palaces; A Nasrid Palace & Pool; More Tiles; Another Nasrid Palace & Pool; Court of the Lions Fountain; Pomegranates – Granada’s Symbol; La Alhambra Entrance Sign & Map.

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Top Left: Fortress Towers; View From the Towers; Post Box Lion; View of Albaicín from Palace; Candle Tower; The Alcazaba.

Inside the Nasrid Palaces, it is one jaw dropping architectural & artistic marvel after another…it sort of takes your breath away to see it on this scale. The extensive, beautiful tile works, the carvings, fountains & pools, gardens and stone works. These folks lived da life!

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Inside the Palaces of Nasrid…

The city of Granada it is an amazing mix of Christian Spanish, Moroccan Arabic & Muslim and Jewish cultures which are on display from the architecture to the food. It is a city to put on your list if you find yourself in the Southern part of Spain…

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Top 3 – Soria’s Medieval Monastery; then the Band Stand in the Trees (Soria); More Monastery Scary Sculptures; Guadalajara Castle

So onwards though I might not say upwards to a one night stay (more than you need) in the city of Guadalajara. Which was mostly chosen because: (a) Hound #2 just liked to say the name and (b) it was exactly halfway home & we avoided Madrid (in a car). Researching Guadalajara was tough as 90% of the Google hits were for the Mexican Guadalajara, even though ‘Spain’ was specified. Also, there’s far more to do in the Mexican Guadalajara…

We Hounds made the most of it though but Billie is happy pretty much anywhere and we luckily stumbled upon La Favorita which had excellent, friendly staff & service, yummy food and a great selection of beverages.

To return to our Hondarribia home we had a 4 hour cruise so we decided to make a pitstop in Soria. The main interest of Hound #2 in Soria was the fact that: (a) they had a park bandstand that was supposedly (it was) up in a tree and (b) there was a medieval monastery with a stunning circle of stone arches. Old Town Soria is cute & sweet – the rest not so much…

Great trip on all counts…but happy to be back in Hondarribia as it is our home…

Bonanza Birthday Adventure…Segovia, A Parador & Toledo Up First…

My girlfriend’s (Hound #2) birthday comes up every November, as they do, and this year she made it clear that no pressies were required, just a trip, a trip to see the city of Granada and the Alhambra. Because of public travel complications (takes too long and no doggies allowed), we opted for a week or so long road trip with pit stops in Segovia, Toledo and a sweet Spanish parador thrown into the mix before our arrival in Granada…

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Segovia’s Roman Viaduct…Impressive! No Cement or Mortar here Folks…just the weight of the stones, perfectly placed.

First stop was Segovia as Hound #2 was aching to see the Roman aqueduct and that was pretty much it! We had actually thought about staying in Segovia but Segovia has NO PLACES YOU CAN STAY WITH A DOG! Serious faux pas Segovia…but we had a nice wander as the weather was more than co-operating with bright sun, blue skies and mild temps. Segovia was super busy with bus loads of tourists…and it struck us that the pueblo had been taken over by many well known chain stores. In fact, just under the 100AD Roman aqueduct was a Burger King AND a McDonalds – ugh.

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Segovia in Super Light….

Onward & upward to the Parador @ Gredos…Hound #2 has always wanted to stay at one of Spain’s amazing paradors but:

(a) they be expensive – the one in Hondarribia, where we live, can run you €250 per night; (b) and most of them do not, once again, do not allow dogs.

But as luck would have it, the parador in the wilds of Gredos (absolutely nothing else around but conveniently on our way to Toledo) not only allowed dogs, but set us back a mere €70 (plus €15 for a full on breakfast)! And Hound #1 Billie copped the deal to make ya squeal – a new travel bed, 2 new food / water bowls and a 4kg bag of Royal Canin kibble (all thanks to Royal Canin) – for free!

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El Bar @ El Parador @ Gredos…

Simply said, the paradors of Spain are impressive. Stunningly old but classy buildings with character in spades, top level staff & service, food & drink that is hard to beat and rooms to suit all needs. We hit the bar for some delicious (for lack of a better word) mushroom stew (it is the forage season here) and then split a perfect, fresh salad with a few brews in front of the open, warming fire.

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A Parador Brekky!

I scored big time too as being north of 55 years of age, we got the old folks breakfast discount & were treated to this plethora of delectable delicacies…left the table full and satisfied.

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Post Brekky Parador Woods Walk…Billie’s Fave.

And to top off & finish our wonderful parador stay, they have a marvellous woods walk which ticked everyone’s boxes (we worked off breakfast, Billie got his sniffing & peeing done) in a crisp fall morning. Estupendo!

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Toledo Bound….Bit of A View…

Then off to Toledo, with a wee pit stop atop a seriously high hill (not really a mountain) and we got this wonderful gander across a misty valley…

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Hola Toledo!

A few things to mention about Toledo:

(a) it is relatively tiny – ‘tiny’ as in squished onto the pinnacle of a hill & surrounded by old stone walls. The squish factor makes for challenging navigation – especially when they allow cars & trucks & scooters to use the very same streets. And it is quite hard to get your bearings as the streets are so narrow, and the buildings smack dab on either side of the street that you cannot see an effing landmark to orient yourself;

(b) Toledo is not a vibrant, late night kind of place by a long shot. You may have heard how famous the Spanish are for ‘la marcha’ (nightlife) and they like to be out very late – not here. Granted, it was a Thursday night but we wandered up & down dozens of streets only to find the majority of places shuttered up…and Toledo supposedly had a gastronmic tapas competition happening as we wandered!

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Window Shopping – Toledo…They Like Their Swords & Knives…Sort of Famous for them…

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Toldeo Scenes – Crazy Trafico!

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Awesome Views from the Library Cafe…

One of the all time best views to be had of Toledo that is actually in Toledo is from the library’s cafe, which sits on the top floor with vistas in all directions – and the coffee’s damn cheap @ €1 per cuppa!

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Tasting the Wares….

When we awoke on the Friday morning, it was Hound #2’s actual birthday. So a special breakfast needed to be sought out, so we went on a search & discovered Cafetería Wamba. Deal to make us squeal…

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Birthday Brekky Deal To Beat The Band….

Stuffed with the sweetest of birthday pastries & coffee, it was time for a bit’o culture. So after several dead ends & retracing of steps, and employment of Google maps, we found the El Greco Museo.

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El Greco Museo

And lo & behold, for some still not understood reason, today (Hound #2’s birthday) the entrance was free! We liked the museum but were a wee bit puzzled early on as there appeared to be no El Greco works actually at the El Greco museum. They had an interactive computer program at the start that showed you on a map all the other places in Toledo you could see El Greco’s work, and the first 2 or 3 exhibition rooms we toured were all disciples of El Greco or outright copiers, but no El Grecos. But phew, we eventually found a decent sampling of his work which some art folks speculate is painted in a seemingly exaggerated or distorted style (tall & extended bodies with pointed & small heads) because they think El Greco’s eyesight was either horrible or fading quickly, or that he was slightly mad – or both.

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Celebratory Lunch @ Kumera….Curried Chick Peas with Shrimps & a Perdiz (Local Partridge) Salad…

With the Culture Box ticked, it was time for a birthday lunch & we were hoping we’d be a tad luckier than the previous night’s debacle. And we were, as we settled into a savoury menú del día at Kumera. I won the first plate competition round with my Garbonzos Con Curry y Langostinos (Curried Chick Peas & Shrimps) but Hound #2’s Ensalada de Perdiz a la Toledana (a local seasonal Toledo specialty) was not far off a top score.

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Kumera Mains – Seared Salmon & Venison Stew….

And sorry, but glad to say folks, I won the main plate competition too with my Venison Estufado (Stew) – superb! Though, once again the Salmón al Horno (Baked Salmon) in a Spring Onion Cream would not have been kicked off the table. All washed down with a most delicious cuppa vino blanco (verdejo and macabeo grapes) of Paso a Paso by Bodega Volver.

Satiated and more than satisfied, we packed the vehicle & set our course for Granada & the Alhambra…the next phase of the birthday festivities.