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!

 

 

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Irun – A World of Markets…

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Mercado Mercairun, Irun, Basque Country

The Hounds have made several Irunian forays for a variety of reasons but we had a ‘reminder’ note to venture back to have a damn decent squizzy of a covered market we’d discovered on out first outing. Post a quick Google search to track down the market’s exact location, we soon discovered Irun has not just 1 market (Mercado de Uranzu), not just 2 markets (Mercado Mercairun), but 3 (Mercado de Urbanibia)!!!!

Due to a rather late rising, we decided to make a beeline for Mercado Mercairun which is the 2nd Irunian covered market we’d yet to lay our eyes on or to sample their wares…

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Anyone for a Steak? Seriously Aged Beef Here…

Well it’s all here in spades folks – pick your section & be prepared to be excited & also overwhelmed. As it was Saturday, and late in the morning, the market had probably already seen its early dash but mucho folks were still queued up at the most popular stalls filling their trolleys with everything from succulent steaks to a charcuterie cornucopia to gleamingly fresh seafood.

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Fresh Off Da Boat…In Every Shape, Size & Colour

Although Spain certainly has its share of supermarket chains like most other Western countries (and they are heavily utilised too), it is refreshing and awesome to see a community or town or city that wholly embraces a market(s) & heartily shops this way. Markets like these provide the best of all food worlds: like a supermarket, they offer the convenience of one-stop-shopping, but with the mega advantage of choosing and buying from small, independent businesses (in many cases artisanal) that actually may give a shite about the products they sell. And clearly long term vendor/customer relationships were in evidence here with some stalls having folks stacked 3-4 deep with quick & snappy banter being fired across the hall.

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Not To Be Outdone, The Veggie Section On Splendid Display…

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Top Notch Charcuterie…Pata-Negra de Belota Is As Good As It Gets!

In the up & coming Local Food Hound posts there will be one about the 3rd market – the Mercado de Urbanibia – which I stumbled upon pretty much by accident. It is an outdoor market that is held in the massive Plaza de Urbanibia with more than 150 stall holders selling everything from socks & shoes to superb charcuterie, cheeses & olives….you know an outdoor food market is good when the temporary stalls need to employ a ticket turn dispenser! I really wanted to buy some olives but the last number called out was #62 and my ticket was #85! Next time…

And I’d be a wee bit remiss if I did not mention & include a follow up post on the stupendous Vinoteca Mendibil – easily one of the best vino stores I have visited since moving to España!

Road Trip II…La Costa Norte de España

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Tunnelling Gertie Trucks On…

As we were winding our way out of the Picos de Europa via a slightly scary gorge road, the day once again looked to be a stunner. So we altered our original plans from making a bee-line for Oviedo to a day-at-the-beaches. You may not know this fact folks, but Asturias is home to some of the most gorgeous (and empty this time of year) beaches in northern if not all of Spain. So we’d made a list, and checked it twice, and 2 beaches were within Gertie’s Daily Driving Allowance (GDDA), so it is to them we toddled…

In the course of our beach drive we ended up passing through, for a second time, the town of Unquera which avidly advertised on just about every building the ‘corbata’. Now in the usual Spanish vocabulary ‘corbata’ is a necktie, but this was clearly not the case. So we needed to investigate…

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Las Corbatas…

Needles to say, corbata pastries made very a modest impression on our palates, but hey we give them an A+ for effort…we stopped!

First on our list was Playa de Torimbia and after a seriously narrow laneway hill climb, we’d arrived at the picture below…too many people we thought – not.

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Playa de Torimbia, Asturias, Spain

Everybody got naked, including Billie (he just takes his collar off so he doesn’t get a rust stain). Everyone had a paddle, but Hound #2 did some naked swimming and boogie boarding – perfecto fun.

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Playa de Torimbia, Asturias: Naked Billie, Modest Me and a Picnic Lunch…

Playa de Torimbia ticked ALL THE BOXES folks, but we still had another beach on the list to pay a visit to – Playa de Gulpiyiri. We’d been told by several of our Hondarribian mates that this was a way cool beach and a must see, so our search began.

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Playa de Gulpiyiri, Asturias

This was one COOL spot…as travel blogger www.rustictravel.com describes it so well…

A real gift from nature and a quite unique place. More or less undiscovered until recently, this little village has become more popular in the last few years and can get quite busy at the height of the season; still, it remains an exciting spot and well worth the visit. The action of the sea digging into the limestone cliffs over hundreds of years has created natural tunnels that emerge to the back of the cliffs in the fields beyond. The depression left behind fills with water when tide rises to create a natural pool with its own beach, quite special and very attractive.

We 100% concur with this assessment & description – quite special and beautiful…

We were now beached out for the day, so we pointed Gertie towards Oviedo

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Oviedo, Spain

Oviedo was made slightly famous by the fact that Woody Allen shot his film ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ here, and the town embraced that fame and has leveraged it to the max. There are a few things that stand out about Oviedo: (1) they are obsessed with statues (there’s even one of Woody); (2) they like their city clean, very clean; (3) they love their Asturian cider (sidra) and even have a ‘Cider Boulevard’ (and a sister wine alley); (4) the residential buildings attractively feature, to great effect, glassed in balconies & loads of shutters; and (5), the food is effing awesome.

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From Top Left: Cider Boulevard; Woody & Me; Billie & Sign; Town Hall

Our hotel owner (Hotel Santacruz – great location) highly recommended we visit Cider Boulevard (it was a Friday, we thought it might be a manic mess post a chat with a parking attendant) so off we went on a slightly zig zag path to see a few of the sights whilst walking.

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El Ferroviario, Cide Bar, Oviedo, Spain

We arrived at Cider Boulevard & it was pleasantly buzzing – both folks & chatter. We checked out a few of our researched cider bars but they seemed too swish for the Hounds, until we found El Ferroviarro – seriously Old School (our style). As mentioned before, cider can only be bought by the bottle – so we bought & got taught how the pour gets done. Hound #2 had a go & managed to bath the bar in cider…

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Cider Boulevard: This Is How It’s Done….

Saturday morning we were up bright & early (maybe a tad early for Oviedo) and headed off for coffee & a town toddle in search of statues, a market, art & culture and food & drink.

The ‘statue search mission’ worked well as a general modus operandi to explore Oviedo, as we got lost mucho times but we always discovered something fun, new or interesting.

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Some of the many Oviedo Statues…

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…and more statues.

It being Saturday, it was a prime market day so in between statue ‘search & rescue’ we found the Mercado El Fontan. Oh Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy! We love markets – only draw back is we cannot buy much as we have no place to store it if it needs cold (e.g., fish, cheese) or any place to cook it up. Still the market offers a wonderful panorama of what local products are on offer and it also gives us a chance to track down some Asturain specialties.

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

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Mercado El Fontan, Oviedo

And as usually happens, markets tend to attract complementary purveyors in the surrounding spaces and it was certainly true of Mercado El Fontan. There were a good half dozen or more specialty food & wine stores on all sides of the market, offering up Asturias’s (and other regions) best. Coalla Gourmet was particularly impressive – a few bottles of vino were snatched up here!

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Coalla Gourmet, Oviedo

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Pooped Pooch & BB Vino, Oviedo

Post a decently long day of wandering, we all had a small siesta back at the hotel before we (minus Billie – pooped pooch needed more siesta) ventured back out to continue our explore. We headed for the Museo Bellas Artes de Asturias for a wee cultural squizzy. The Hounds were massively impressed with the works of Joaquín Sorolla – he’s been one of our faves since we saw his work in Bilbao.

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturais, Oveido: Top, Joaquín Sorolla, Museo & Don’t Know the Painter but Likey…

Well, by now we had certainly rolled into Beer O’Clock time…and then some comidas were in the cards. We have a pretty good knack for sniffing out the right places – we are not batting 1,000 but pretty damn close. So as we wandered the back alleys post our museo perusal, we came across El Molinón (The Big Mill) & it looked like our kind of place. Ordered up a couple of vino tintos from a sweetly selected wine list, chatted with the very nice bar folks & decided to give it a whirl. Yippee! Geez this was good – we decided to just order up a couple of raciones (smaller than a plate but bigger than a pintxo/tapas). We picked an old but delicious fave standby to start – Pimientos de Padrón – and followed that up with something new – Picadillo con Cabrales.

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El Molinón, Oviedo

The Pimientos de Padrón were perfecto, but the Picadillo con Cabrales was a taste sensation – essentially the Spanish version of New Zealand/Aussie/UK’s mince on toast except made with Chorizo (out of its casings) & Queso de Cabrales (delish Asturian blue cheese). We would like to try & make this at home…

So we bid adieu to Oviedo – sweet place…and onwards we drove.

Olite, Navarra and Surrounds…

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Puente la Reina, Navarra…One of the pueblos on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela…11th Century Stone Bridge!

The Hounds had read about the sweet wee town of Olite as it makes just about every guide book’s ‘must do’ list. We thought we might have been there on our trip 3 years ago, but we felt it was worth a couple of night’s stay as it would allow us to do the dinosaur hike just outside of Enciso…and we’d be smack dab in the middle of the Navarra wine region!

It is a relatively short drive in Gertie the Land Rover, so we decided to explore a bit on our way to Olite. We made a pit stop in Puente la Reina as the 11th century stone bridge was said to be worth a look.

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Excellent Butcher & Charcuterie in Puente la Reina…Took Home One of the Chorizo….From Carniceria de Juan Sanz

We parked up in Puente la Reina near on noon, just long enough to have a wander & then track down some lunch. The town seemed almost vacant with very few folks wandering about, and many of the local stores & bars & restaurants were pretty much closed. But we did come across the open Carniceria de Juan Sanz (pics above) & ventured in to catch a whiff of the awesome chorizos hanging from the rack. Quickly negotiated the purchase of a chorizo picante and we were back on the street. And then we found the bridge, and what a marvel – folks in this day & age might learn a thing or two about how to build a bridge to last over 900 years!

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Taberna La Fonda de Tito’s Menú del Día – From Upper Right: Pochas (Beans – yum), Grilled Horse Mackerel, Grilled Rabbit…and Vino!

With the smell of the chorizo still in our nostrils, our hunger strings had been stroked so it was time for lunch – more specifically, a menú del día. We were having next to no luck as many places (even though it was a Thursday) were either closed, or closing or had no food on offer. So we felt very lucky to find La Fonda de Tito open and they were more than happy to serve us up a menú del día – yeah! It hit the spot and all for the princely sum of €10!

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Olite’s Palacio Real….

On to Olite! Olite is renowned for a few things: (a) seriously cute old town section; (b) it is the capital of the Navarra wine region & has its vino museo; and (c) its fairy tale castle. And it is all those things & more on an early inspection tour late on Wednesday arvo when we toddled into town. We had a room for 2 nights at HOTEL LA JOYOSA GUARDA, a tad upscale for the Hounds but a splurge is called for on occasion. We struggle with places to stay due to one wee problema: Billie the Dog. Hotel La Joyosa did not say ‘no’ to Billie, but they did not exactly say ‘yes’ either. A few email exchanges & we were told he was allowed if we carried him across or through any of the public spaces in the hotel (made for some funny entrances & exits) & he had to be kept in & sleep in the wee balcony cubby hole.

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Empty Olite…Except for the Pigeons….

We quickly scrubbed up and got out for an exploration…what struck us first was how empty the whole town seemed (especially compared to Hondarribia)  – very few folks out & about and many of the businesses, bars & restaurants shuttered up. Por qué? We actually went into the tourist office (it was open – phew!) to query what was shaking? The nice lady told us it was a bit quiet as they had just finished Semana Santa (Easter Weekend) and many businesses took a small break. It was damn near beer o’clock and thirst levels on the rise, so she pointed us to the Parador, being a hotel it is usually open. Score – dos cervazas in a spot that captured the late afternoon sun!

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A View from the Top….

The evening meal in Olite was a challenge – we were not inclined to do any ‘fine dining’ and many of the touted pintxo bars remained firmly closed, even at 7:30 or 8PM. We ended up, sort of by default, at our only option – Hotel Merindad de Olite – which flung its doors open at exactly 8PM for 2 hours of service. It is an enjoyable spot despite a bit of grumpy service (which eventually warmed up). We wolfed down 2 pintxos each & placed an order for a rancion of artichokes – excelente! They also have an fantastic wine by the glass menu and an in-house bodega where you can buy bottles of wine. Which we did…

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Gertie the Land Rover in amongst the Navarra / Rioja Vines…and trusty co-pilot.

Up and alert quite early the next day, we ventured out in search of some coffee and pastries for breakfast…success though Hound #1 had to stayed tied up outside. Then we piled back into Gertie the Land Rover & pointed her due South with the day’s goal to reach the town of Enciso to do a 6KM dinosaur walk. Yes, folks…you heard me right, a dinosaur walk – something Hound #2 had on her ‘Spain To Do’ list from our visit 3 years before (we did not do the walk then).

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Dinosaur Fossil Walk – Enciso, Navarra

And it was pretty cool – to be up close & personal with footprints of beasts that walked this planet 130-150 million years ago. And they provided quite a few ‘life like’ replicas just in case your imagination suffered a massive failure….awesome.

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From Top Pic: Billie, Dinosaurs are over here mate….Boot & Foot Print Comparison….Family Photo….

After 6+KM of walking, up a reasonably steep mesa…time for lunch! Hound #2 had identified our best candidate – Casa Cañas in the small pueblo of Arnedillo, just a short hop down the road.

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Casa Cañas – Arnedillo, La Rioja…Anyone for a 1950 Rioja?

Hound #2’s research was spot on – local as local gets with an €11 menú del día & packed with town folk. The place has been up & running & serving comidas since 1907 – wow! That is what I’d call ‘success’ in the food biz!

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Casa Caña’s Menú del Día…Starters of Peas & Bacon, Lentils with Chorizo…and of course, vino!

Hound #2 took to the pea plate as her starter, I opted for a steaming bowl of lentils with chunks of chorizo floating through it – both super yum (we switched bowls half way)! The vino tinto was a pleasurable drop….like the name.

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Casa Caña’s Mains…Grilled Sea Bass, Braised Beef Cheek and Flan & Pudding for Dessert

For mains, we again split the difference with Hound #2 hankering for seafood, so the grilled sea bass was ordered. A braised meat option? Decision made – braised beef cheeks with peppers & patatas fritas. And of course, dessert…

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Río Cidacos – Sweet water…Looks Trouty.

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On Way Back to Olite – Quick Stop in Wee Pueblo of Funes….Graffiti reads: “Smile, the world is at your feet.”

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Billie’s Annual Right of Spring – A Gallop Through a Field of Wild Flowers

Our last day in Olite, Hound #2 wanted to get a close squizzy of the Palacio Real de Olite castle while the Museo de la Viña was my preferred destination – surprise!

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We both loved our respective choices – Hound #2 made the effort to climb many of the castle towers which gave her come excellent views (see pics above). And I found the Museo de la Viña an extremely well laid out, visual & tactile & sensory pleasure. As many of you folks may know, Spain takes its wine quite seriously and it has played a large part in Spanish life ever since the Romans walked & settled in the Iberian Peninsula.

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Museo de la Viña – Olite, Navarra…Like How You Finish the Tour – glass of vino!

Back in Gertie we set our course for the hilltop pueblo of Ujué. A TINY place of 239 folks with streets better designed for sheep or small carts to navigate, but not really a 1975 Land Rover.

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Gertie Makes the Climb to Hilltop Town of Ujué

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Ujué – Sweet Church of Santa María

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Mesón Las Torres…Ujué, Navarra

We wanted to drop in on Ujué to: (a) see the church of Santa María; and (b) track down & sample a local dish called Migas de Pastor. Migas de Pastor has its origins in Spanish & Portuguese cuisine and the ingredients vary across provinces, but essentially it is: day old bread crumbs soaked in water, garlic, olive oil, paprika & sometimes bits of bacon or chorizo (ours had mushrooms too). It originally was a breakfast dish, but has migrated to a starter for lunch and dinner.

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Mesón Las Torres – Migas de Pastor & Pochas…and Cerveza!

We were lucky to find Mesón las Torres open for business, and with a stunning Spring day, we opted for a picnic table outside in the sun (so Billie could join us). It was a version of Spanish ‘comfort food’ I’d say – very satisfying, filling and garlicky! A taste sensation that lasted the whole way home….

One the way down the hill from Ujué, Hound #2 spotted the Co-operative Bodega St. Martín so of course a vino visit was in order. We sampled 3 or 4 of their wines right in the fermentation warehouse where we were able to get up close to the clay amphora pots they use for some of their better wines. Came home with 2 Garnachas for the cellar….

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Bodega St. Martín…San Martin de Unx, Navarra

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Headed Home…From Bottom Right: Billie OK, Then Getting Tired & And Out For The Count!

Bilbao…More Than A Museo Continued…

Saturday morning the weather gods were once again on our side with bright blue skies, decent doses of sun and no wind. First on the ‘to do’ list was a visit to the Mercado de La Ribera – markets are always on our to do list & this market came with some words of high praise.

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Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao

The market opened in 1929 and used to be housed in a glorious old art deco building but has recently been modernised. It is the largest indoor market in all of Europe to which I can mos def attest. As much as we love markets, it is always a tough visit in that so much of what is on offer we cannot buy as we lack any cold storage. But it is all here folks in spades – we are not sure how the people of Bilbao can possibly buy and consume all the food that was on display. The seafood was blinding in its fresh brilliance and variety. And the meats were the same – Spain is especially good in all things pork and the charcuterie here would possibly make the French a bit envious. We did manage to grab a sweet, fat stick of salchichón for the train ride home – score!

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Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao – Fish! Fish! Fish!

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Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao – Estupendo!

We had decided to go a wee bit museo hog wild and plunked down the dosh for a double ticket – the Guggen and the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. And our experience with this museum was the polar opposite to the Guggenheim – the art was spectacular and enthralling and we could take pictures! The focus of this museum is Spanish painters or artists and we got seriously lost in time here which is what you hope to do in a museum. So if in Bilbao, do yourself a serious art favour and spend a chunk of your time at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (Bodega Urbana is a 5 or less minute walk away for a delish post or pre museo lunch visit – and of course wine).

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

We felt s bit peckish after our inspiring art tour, so we made a bee line for Plaza Nueva, again, armed with some postcards to be done and some thirst & hunger to be quenched…hard to believe sitting outside in just a shirt in February in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Mid Day Break…

Saturday night was yet another big pintxo quest and fest…we love this way of eating – have a nice stroll, spot some tempting morsels laid out on a bar top, pick your fave & wash it down with a vino tinto. Repeat. Your appetite is satiated at a much more healthy food consumption level than the sit down feed most folks usually do.

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Pintxo Fest

Armed with our trusty list we made the rounds….and the folks were out this Saturday night given the absence of the wet stuff and a reasonably mild temperature. And we gave it the good old college try – sampling the wares & vinos at Gatz, Motrikes (grilled stuffed mushrooms to die for), Kuku Soak, La Viña del Ensanche and Gure Toki to name but a few…

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Though we like our ‘hot top spot’ lists, we also greatly enjoy a bit of spontaneity and a smidgen of free will or discovery and we were most lucky on this trip to come across a few gems. While weaving in and out of the Old Town laneways, we noticed a happening area across the river near Calle San Francisco. We dutifully crossed the bridge and found ourselves in a clearly up and coming hipster street. Our first stop was El Perro Chico where we were pleasantly surprised to be served El Pájaro Rojo vino (Mencia grape) from Bierzo as the house tinto, an excellent drop and not standard bar juice. We had a peruse of the menu and ticks all our boxes – worth coming back to Bilbao to just eat here! And directly catty corner to El Perro Chico was the super hip Bar Marzana…we will return here. And you should too.

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El Perro Chico…

Returning to the Casco Viejo we got a wee bit lost and landed in Saltsagorri – a vermut bar! What excellent hosts these folks were and the taberna was packed with rowdy, fun crowd. Put it on your lists people – this is a seriously local hole in the wall.

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Saltsagorri, Old Town, Bilbao – Vermut Bar!

But our night was still sort of young (we’re sort of old) so why not a rock concert? Hound #2 had spotted a listing in one of the local entertainment guides for a group called the Reverendos that was playing that night at a venue close by. So off we went – a Basque blues band, who knew? But way fun and rock’n music and an excellent venue.

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The Reverendos….

And you might be surprised to hear but we’d worked up another appetite so we decided to close out our Bilbao stay on a high note and make a return visit to Cafe Iruña to savour the most tasty & spicy Pintxo Moruno – lamb kebabs cooked over a wood fire by Ahmed. These are worth a detour from any place you find yourself in Bilbao – a decent portion of Spanish food lacks any real kick or intense flavours but this had it all.

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Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Pintxo Moruno…Super Yum.

So for not expecting too much and fearing we may have overbooked our needed time in Bilbao, we came away quite enamoured with this Basque city….so much so we plan to make a return trip before we depart Spain for New Zealand.

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Bilbao Scenes…

 

Paris Birthday Bash…The End.

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We’d been hoof’n it for several days now, so a ride on the Metro was in order to give our shanks’ ponies a wee rest. We’d read that dogs were allowed on the Metro…but they had to be in a bag. Ruh roh…so we brought with us an old, flexible overnight bag to see if Hound #1 was game. I won’t say he liked it, but there were no real complaints to be heard. He got a snack for being such a good boy…

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Metro Madness…Dog In Da Bag.

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We made a beeline that morning for a  market we’d read about in the 15th Arrondissement called the Rue de Grenelle Marché. Things looked initially bleak as we seemed to be walking forever and as yet no sign of market folks. But not to worry, you could not miss this market even if you were totally blind as this was HUGE!

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The Rue de Grenelle Marché – 15th Arrondissement

Located underneath a bridge or highway overpass, this market stretched for block after block with every imaginable food option on display, multiple times. When we travel to someplace like Paris it’s a dream to rent an apartment for a month or so to take full advantage of the markets food-wise and save your wallet a bit of pain from being forced to eat out. Though that said, the Paris markets we visited did not strike either of us as ‘cheap’.

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The Rue de Grenelle Marché – 15th Arrondissement

After satiating our market tastebuds @ Rue de Grenelle Marché, we wandered in a direction to have a halfway decent view (bit overcast & misty) of the Eiffel Tower – so Paris & French & oh so expensive. Along the way, we eyed a busy pedestrian street across the boulevard – let’s have a look…

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Rue Cler – O La La…Rue de Food & Wine

Rue Cler was not on our radar in any way, shape or form – but what a find! A lovely no-cars/motorbikes walkway with all the food & wine & sweet shops that Paris is renowned for and busy as. You have to say one thing for the Parisians, they do love their food and get out to support the small local shops in force. A lesson to be learned by the rest of the world…

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Pooped Pooch, Pooch @ the Palais Royal, Pooch @ the Louvre, Lovely Toulouse Latrec Metro

On Hound #2’s ‘I want to do this’ list was a visit to Montmartre & a climb up to Sacre Couer to hopefully have one of the best views of Paris you can have without paying 15 euros a person for. And it was (as the pic at the top of the Eiffel Tower will attest) – except for all the bloody tourists (including us). It is always sad to see such a historic & iconic area be overrun by tat & bric-á-brac shops, buskers & hustlers.

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Montmartre – Sacre Couer

Once we’d descended from the mount on high, a snack & a beverage seemed in order. And as it does not take to many steps to stumble on to a wine store in Paris, we ambled into Le Rouge et Le Verre. A bit of language confusion ensued but we finally sorted it out that, because of licensing, we needed to order some food to have some wine. No problema. Two glasses of a rich & savoury St. Joseph Rhone red were poured and a plat of charcuterie was delivered. We were now powered up to march on…

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Rouge et Le Verre Wine Store…Excellent Charcuterie Plate & Vino…Hound #1’s Cheated.

Our final day in Paris called for a bit of culture, so Hound #1 was left behind for s snooze and we hopped on the Metro headed for Musee d’Orsay. We like the Musee d’Orsay over the Louvre because it is a bit more manageable – and that’s not to denigrate the lovely Louvre. But when you have just an hour or two, Musee d’Orsay hits the right art spot.

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Musée d’Orsay

And we were not disappointed – we were some of the first folks in queue so we managed to have some sections of the museum to ourselves. An absolute fave was the mind-blowing Impressionists collection on display – all the boys & girls were there…Cezanne, Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, Cassatt, Rodin, Lautrec and my personal fave – Van Gogh. Had to be a couple of billion dollars of art in this one exhibition. And you can get so close & personal – see the brush strokes. Stunning.

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And post the museum, one more market to do – Place d’Aligre. This is a mixed market with half being food and the other half a flea market. I went for the food and Hound #2 was attracted to the flea. It is reputed to be one of the cheapest markets in Paris and it appeared so…but it is 100% fruit & veggies so you will not find cheeses or charcuterie or meat or fish here. But the street that the market is hosted on is another of Paris’s block of delectable comestibles. There is small but well stocked indoor market that covers all the bases and a stroll down either side of the street will bring you to several wine & cheese stores, butchers and fishmongers. We stocked up on some saucisson for the train ride home…

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Marché Place d’Aligre – 12th Arrondissement

Well that’s Paris and my & Billie’s 60th – it was a great combo!

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Road Trip – León’s First Up…

As part of Hound #2’s birthday celebration, we sorted out a week long road trip to León, Porto and Burgos (in that order). León was our first stop, and what a great first stop it was. We were very blessed with some spot on info from the Restless Fork blog (and excellent weather), so armed with their secrets of León, we hit the streets…

 

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BPS – Billie Positioning System…

We undertook this journey in my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie to us) which was a bit of a stretch for all involved, including Gertie. But she’s a trooper & got us there in the end…and we arrived to the most beautiful sunset which showcased one of León’s jewels, the cathedral.

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The Essence of Beauty…

And our great impressions continued with a warm, warm welcome at Le Petit León Hotel – located at the epicentre of the the old town action – just minutes away from the cathedral, tapas bars & restaurants and much of the old town sites…and a hop’n in house bar!

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Hotel Le Petit León…Perfecto.

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Le Petit León’s In House Bar….

We quickly got a bit lost in the crooked & narrow León laneways and somehow managed to stumble into La Despensa de Lorenzo as our first stop – and what a great first stop!

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La Despensa de Lorenzo – Fenomenal!

The place was chocka with León’s finest small goods (including a decent selection of local Bierzo Mencia vino), especially the cecina (the Spanish version of bresaola) which is what a good mate had ordered us to try. The shopkeeper was more than obliging, hoisting up 2 serious slices of cecina on some delicious bread. As we savoured those savoury bites, she continued to ‘force’ upon us various samples of their chorizo, salchichón and local cheeses – almost a meal all on its own. And not to be left out of the festivities, she insisted that Billie partake in the fun – lucky dog…

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La Despensa de Lorenzo – Gratis Nibbles…and Billie Too!

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Queso With A Sense of Humour…

Semi-satisfied, we pulled ourselves together and headed off in search of our long list of tapas bars par excellence. León is one of the cities in Spain where if you buy a beverage, your tapas is FREE! The tapas range all over the board from a bowl of potato chips or cocktail mix nuts to generous portions of sliced bread & charcuterie to tapas that clearly took some effort – like a gazpacho tomato soup with crispy shallots on top (El Colibrín Bar) or a steamy plate of paella (Camarote Madrid) or the calamare bocadillos (Monalisa).

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The Hummingbird Bar

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Selfie @ El Colibrín Bar – León

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Camarote Madrid – León

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Paella @ Camarote Madrid…

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Bar Correo – León…Super Wee Wine Bar & Friendliest Staff

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El Rincón del Gaucho – León…Packed with Locals & Excellent Tapas…

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Jamón, Jamón – León…Specialist in Tasty Charcuterie & Right Next Door To Our Hotel – Too Easy!

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El Tizón – León – Old School Tapas Bar…

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No Dogs Allowed Sign on Door – 10 Minutes Later Owner Waved Him In!

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Monalisa – León – Best Bocadillos Tapas of Calamare and Chorizo…

So if you have never been to León or had no idea you needed to go to León, go. You will drink good vino on the cheap and eat for pretty much free…and have a marvellous time strolling the old town neighbourhoods.

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León’s Stunning Architecture…