Déjà Vu Melbourne…

We were in need of a pre-winter break so we packed our bags & headed to Melbourne to catchup with several friends and, of course, eat & drink! Melbourne is not too bad a town to spend a week or two…I often say it is Australia’s version of San Francisco with an overall awesome, energetic & creative vibe across multiple fronts – food & wine, culture, music & art, history, etc…

And we could not have lucked out anymore with the weather as most days it drifted into the low 20’s with beaming sun & the bluest of skies. And since we are serious walkers, it made our exploration all the more enjoyable to be free of many layers & no rain gear.

The Big Metropolis; St. Kilda’s Luna Park; Shrine of Remembrance

One of our first target destinations was one of our regular favourites when we lived in Melbourne – the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria in Fed Square). A stunning space to have a wander and experience a serious collection of art – and about 95% is FREE! And if the NGV ticks your boxes, then you need to toddle over to the NGV International just a hop, skip & a jump down St. Kilda Road (and it’s FREE! – except for special exhibitions).

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria International

Besides revisiting our old friend the NGV, we made a point of checking out some of our food stomping grounds that left us with a vey warm & flavourful memory when we departed Melbourne for the UK. We are not really the ‘fine dining’ types, but rather prefer excellent quality food, cooked well, in a relaxed setting & so our big splurge was to lunch @ Cumulus Inc. Andrew McConnell knows a thing or two about food & restaurants & this is our fave out of his bevy of joints (Cutler & Co, Builders Arms, Supernormal & Canteen, Marion, Meatsmith, Cumulus Up wine bar). And it is always a delight for us to be seated at the kitchen bar & get a first hand, close up & personal view of the food proceedings. We had some fun chats with the staff who, despite a busy lunch hour, had plenty of time to answer our questions and offer some insights into Cumulus Inc.

Cumulus Inc.

Bundarra Pork Cutlet & Pickled Witlof & Butcher’s Sauce; Tuna Tartare, Goat’s Curd & Crushed Green Pea

Excellent Juice from Stephen Pannell – Tinto

And of course when in Melbourne, you must visit the markets…it is a habit we have no matter where we be to have a good squizzy at the local market whether an established fixture (e.g., Queen Vic or South Melbourne or Prahran) or a farmers market (e.g., Vegout, Abbotsford).

Prahran Market

I was always impressed & amazed at the range of goods on offer at the Melbourne markets. I swear there is a better selection of European goods like olive oils, vinegars, olives, etc…in the Melbourne markets than I could ever find in most of Europe.

Queen Vic Deli Section

And of course where there is great food, there’s great drinks…so we made the rounds of most of my old wine haunts (Cloudwine – fave for hard to find vino & great prices, Prince Wine Shop, Blackhearts & Sparrows various establishments with extensive choices, The Wine House, City Wine Shop – small but excellent selection & food is great too & Wine Republic – amazing selection & best new find) & scooped up a solid half dozen (New Zealand’s limit) examples of Australian’s finest. Yum…

Melbourne’s Wine Stores…

Another Andrew McConnell joint – Marion Wine Bar

One of the things on our ‘To Do’ list was to have some top notch ethnic food as Lyttelton/Christchurch New Zealand is not as solidly blessed with such an extensive immigrant community as Melbourne does in spades.

We had an interesting Turkish dinner at Tulum with mates from Balaclava but one of our go to places is Don Don, a Japanese restaurant that is fast as and super cheap (by Melbourne standards) and damn good! I ordered our 2 lunches & before I could put my change back in my wallet, 2 steaming bowls were before me!

We had also read some good write-ups for a place called Paper Plate (Vietnamese) where the kitchen was manned by one of chef Geoff Lindsay‘s ex-fellas of Dandelion fame, but at a far cheaper price point. Super crisp & clean flavours – you could see & taste that everything was made from scratch…

Paper Plate in Richmond; Vietnamese Chicken Salad & Vegetarian Pho; Hanoi Beer

One Sunday morning we met some mates for breakfast @ Industrial Beans in Fitzroy – excellent food but busts the wallet @ $90+ for 4! But post breakfast, our friends said we had to see the mural of our Prime Minister (Jacinda Adern) painted on a silo in Brunswick. So we piled into their car & off we went…very touching & excellent job.

Industrial Beans & Grace, Fitzroy

New Zealand Prime Minister Mural in Brunswick

Melbourne Street Art; Melbourne’s Booming Skyline; Melbourne’s Infamous Laneways…

So if you have never been to Melbourne – GO!!!!! It is a city that has so many nooks & crannies to explore you won’t get bored…and if you do get bored of Melbourne, head out to the country to visit the Yarra Valley wine region or the wonderful Mornington Peninsula or hit up Daylesford or Kyneton for a savoury food experience.

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The Noble Merchant Opawa…

Thr Noble Merchant Opawa – Bagel Sundays!

The Hounds keep a fun-things-to-do-list ready @ hand so that whenever we read or hear about something that would make a decent distraction, we put it on the list & then try & check them off ASAP. So I’d read about this fairly recent cafe/store opening that was just through the Lyttelton Tunnel called The Noble Merchant & for the month of July (it may be extended if it achieves success) they were trialing a Sunday bagel breakfast.
So off we toddled @ just after 8am (the web site & Google said it opened @ 8 (Monday-Sunday) & promptly arrived there at about 8:40am only to find out it was clearly still closed, apparently ready for a weekend opening of 9am – no worries…took Hound #1 for a nice stroll along the Heathcote River and we rather like Opawa anyways compared to many other Christchurch suburbs on the flats…some beautiful grand old villas & houses & lots of park space in view of the lovely Port Hills.

Baked Goods from the Bellbird Bakery – Yum.

We headed back to deli @ exactly 9am and it looked open, but the owner/barista was still milling about & the footpath signs were not out yet, but a couple of local yokels could clearly be seen inside, so in we went…Hound #2 made a joke with the owner (who was British born but grew up in Christchurch) about his opening times and that we were keen  to try the bagel breakfast & he fired back straight away “2 free coffees!!” for being the first through the door for bagels…you do not get shouted much of anything in New Zealand so good on him.

The owner had a good dose of the British banter and his bagel maker was on site to put together the bagel platters & he told us he was from Israel and a very good bagel maker, but a very bad Jew :-). A good bit of amusing & convivial chat was a wonderful way to start a Sunday…

There were 3 bagel options – a traditional smoked salmon & cream cheese (Hound #2’s choice), a venison salami & Dijon infused cream cheese (my choice) and a roasted red pepper & cream cheese  – all for the mere sum of $9.50 and served with sides of olives, pickles, caper berries, cheese & pesto.

Bagel with Salmon, Cream Cheese, Pesto, Caper Berries & Olives….

The final verdict? Excellent bagels, super toppings & sides and an A+ for presentation! And besides the bagel Sundays, The Noble Merchant is also a well stocked deli & grocer if you happen to be in the neighborhood & need to stock up.

The owner also has a cafe & gourmet food store in Lincoln called, funny enough, The Lincoln Pantry, which we had seen on one of our other Sunday outings to Lincoln that I wrote about in one of my other blog posts

So if you want an authentic bagel experience, head to The Noble Merchant on Sunday morning & give your taste buds a thrill….

Bagel with Venison Salami, Cream Cheese & Dijon Mustard, Olives, A Cheddary Cheese & Pickles…

Great Vibes @ the Ohoka Farmers Market….

All Happening on a stunning Autumn morning @ the Friday Ohoka Farmers Market…

We have been back in New Zealand since November 2017 but we have had to stay seriously focused on our house & all its related hiccups (e.g., property is a enormous jungle, earthquake damage repairs and a decent slip hitting the house in July 2017). But we try to book in short escapes to break the house routines and so it was last Friday we put on our schedule a series of enjoyable errands (.e.g, get our bikes put back together, pick up paddle board caddy, visit a nursery, etc…) but also a fun visit to the Ohoka Farmers Market for a Real Food Revolution Friday (their slogan). My good friend & fly fishing mate Craig (who is also a damn good pie maker & has a stall – Hope River Pies – here as well as Lyttelton Farmers Market) said it had a great vibe and was a decent market, so off we went for a bit of a toddle…

Grown Veggie Stand Chocka with Seasonal Produce

As we arrived @ the Ohoka Farmers Market, it was about as pitcure perfect a New Zealand autumnal day as anyone could wish or hope for – blue skies & sun, just the right level of fall crispness in the air (but not cold), and no wind or rain in sight. The market is a decent size with probably close to 30-35 stalls (I was told in the summer it is heaving with stalls, filling the field) that cover many of the usual farmers market suspects (e.g., fresh veggies, fish, meat, breads, etc…) but the market may be, due to it being this time of year, a wee bit heavy on the value added products like baked goods and prepared foods. Which has always struck me as a bit odd given New Zealand produces 9 to 10 times more fresh food than we consume (I know lots of it is exported) and here we were, smack dab in the middle of lush, verdent farming country with paddocks in every direction that you could cast an eye, but few local farmer folks on site…more bakers & deli products.

Top: Spanish Stall with Excellent Tortillas & We Spoke Spanish!; Mate Craig’s Hope Pies on Offer; Spanish Menu….

But one of the value-added products we mos def enjoyed was the Spanish Food NZ stall, where we sampled the excellent tortillas and had a good lively chat in español! Excelente! Having just returned to NZ after 2 years in the Basque Country of Northern Spain it was a fresh breath of a treasured past life…

And as much as it is a wonderful experience to come across something or someone new, it is equally nice to see old Lyttelton Market friends such as Emilio’s Cheeses, Volcano Market Olives, Grown and the Sausage Shed & Lovat Venison. We are fairly regular customers @ the Lyttelton Farmers Market and just glad to see their familiar faces at Ohoka…

Lyttelton Farmers Market Regulars – Emilio’s Cheeses & the Volcano Olives & Dressings…

One of the more interesting, new discoveries (besides the Spanish Foods NZ) @ the Ohoka Farmers Market was the Little Bone Broth Company. I think if you were going to offer a value added product for sale @ a farmers market then this is a truly, serious value-added product worth considering as many of us, including me, would not have the time nor inclination to do this on any type of regular basis @ home. The difference between bone broth, stock & broth can be found here…I did not purchase any on this visit (I forgot to get cash out :-() but it is on my short list for the future.

New Product to Me – Bone Broth…; Fresh Fish!

So if you are lacking something fun to do on a Friday morning, then a trip to the Ohoka Farmers Market (they are celebrating their 10th year in operation!) would make for a pleasurable outing…stock up on some awesome fresh products as well as decent pantry items and enjoy a coffee & pastry or three and soak in the good vibes…hasta luego!

We are good cusotmers of the Sausage Shed @ the Lyttelton FM; Beautiful & Delicious Fruit…

Restaurant Arroka Berri – Excelente!

Restaurant Arroka Berri (The Rocks), Hondarribia, Spain

We Hounds keep a bucket list of places we want to try for a meal & a beverage and Arroka Berri was quite near if not at the top of our list. We heard some good mumblings amongst our Basque mates and the restaurant became an ardent follower of Hound #2’s Instagram feed, but the final push or raison d’être was our Aussie mates David & Carolyn were visiting us.

The Crew; Arroka Berri Logo

We arrived promptly at 8:30PM as we English, Aussie & American folks tend to do, only to find the restaurant 100% empty, and our arrival seemed to cause a bit of front of house consternation & chaos. We retreated to an outside table for an aperitif of a chilled bottle of José Pariente Verdejo (perfecto) whilst we waited for the staff to receive us. At 9:15 or so, más o menos, we sat down at our table…

Vino of the Night – Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas Mencía…Estupendo!

First order of bidness – vino. The wine list @ Arroka Berri is not only very interesting but stunningly affordable. We opted for some bottles of red with a few glasses of white thrown in for Carolyn. I was most curious to pop a cork on the Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas – a wine from the Bierzo region which is famous for the use of the Mencia grape & a bottle of which I have resting on my wine table. This wine costs me (at the retail level) €13.50 euros but Arroka Berri lists it at €16 – deal to make ya squeal! A stunner – to borrow an old mate’s phrase, a velvet Elvis.

Platter of Ibérico Jamón…Yum!

Now to the business of starters – I & Hound #2 were going to order 2 of the Ibérico Jamón & Lomo platters but our waiter discouraged us down to just 1 platter – and he was right as we struggled to finish it! Layered on wee toast points & drizzled with the savoury tomato sauce, jamón heaven…

Foie & Arroz Bomba

David decided on a super rich dish — foie gras. The foie gras was a la plancha (grilled) and sat atop a mushroom based risotto…not missing any gigantic flavours here.

Cordero Asado (Roast Lamb)

On to the Mains…and mostly meaty ones at that. Carolyn decided on the Cordero Asado (Roast Suckling Lamb) with Baker’s Potatoes…the pictures here do not do these dishes justice but the flavours were astounding.

Carrilleras de Ternera (Beef Cheeks)

David ordered, sort of on my high praise for beef cheeks, the beef cheeks (Carrilleras de Ternera) and promptly devoured the plate….man can eat but then again he’s an Aussie.

Cochinillo de Segovia (Roast Suckling Pig)

For my plate of the night I opted for Cochinillo de Segovia, a beautifully roasted suckling pig with ever so crispy skin & perfectly cooked potatoes. This was finger lick’n good…we took the remains home to Hound #1 (Billie) for dessert.

Torrija Caramelizada

And speaking of dessert, the guys opted out but the girls opted in – Hound #2 decided quickly on the Tarta de Queso and Carolyn decided to try the Torrija Carmelizada. It was the Tarta de Queso that merited the multiple thumbs up. And the boys were not truly left out as we ended out our Arroka Berri meal with free glasses of Cava and Patxarán! Needless to say, we all wobbled home at around midnight – a typical happy Spanish repast…

Arroka Berri Tarta de Queso (Cheesecake) – Excelente!

Gíjon – Magical Town…

Our distant impression of Gíjon from various readings & conversations was that it was a seriously heavy industrial port town & maybe not worth a visit, but we had heard from several good friends that Gíjon was mos def worth a visit. These were friends who had lived & spent a chunk of time in Gíjon and, we assumed, they knew of what they spoke. So as part of our return trip to our fave area of Asturias, we put it on the list…

La Galana…Not So Galamorous – Looks Good But Pulpo Tough and My Fabada Vey Weak on Flavour…

We broke up our long Land Rover drive with a brief stop in Noja and pretty much have nothing to report…so on to Gíjon to arrive in a pissing down chubasco (rain storm) & struggling to find a park. But we did, and then zigged & zagged our way to our AirBnB flat that was strategically located in primo territory (Cimavilla). After a warm welcome by our hosts, we headed out with Billie in tow to luckily find a break in the weather! We made a bee line for the Plaza Mayor with a wee bit of hunger & thirst on the burn & several folks had put in a good word for La Galana, so it was our first port of call. This place was the definition of style over substance – staff were surly & rude, prices a tad on the high side and the food was more than a few steps below average. Hoping things would improve…

Gíjon Street Scenes…

Coastal Park Near our AirBnB flat in the Cimavilla Barrio…with a sculpture by Eduardo Chillida

Our AirBnB flat was located within a 3-4 minute walk to the coastal park of Cerro de Santa Catalina which suited Billie to a ‘T’ for his early morning piss & poo walk. Stunning 360 degree views capped off by a wonderful Eduardo Chillida sculpture titled ‘Elogio del Horizonte‘.  Billie was very impressed…

It being Saturday, and Gíjon having a reputably damn decent mercado, we made a bee line for the Mercado del Sur to stock up for our coming days of camping by the sea at Camping Troenzo. And boy did we score! We’d made a list of special Asturias items that needed to make it into our basket & we found several stalls that were packed to the gills with our desired delectable items. By pure accident, we did most of our procurement at a deli stall called Pimienta y Perejil (Pepper and Parsley) that many folks outside the market and post our visit said was THE BEST. The man knew his Asturias products like…well, an Asturian deli expert, so we grabbed some jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, some Cabrales queso and some fat & big Asturias white beans.

Awesome Mercado del Sur - Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

Mercado del Sur – Gíjon’s Major Market…Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

And as luck would have it, the monthly artisan market was on for that very Saturday – double score. We picked up some more Asturias queso de cabra cheese and some primo cecina from the Gancedo stall — all organic, all home grown, all in the family and free range.

Artisan Market in Plaza Mayor…

And if our supply shopping could not get any better, in the barrio del Carmen we chanced across Coalla, Spain’s version of the famed US of A’s Dean & Deluca. This joint was a taste & smell sensation – our camping pantry was now past fulll…

Coalla – The Spanish Version of Dean & Deluca…Impressive.

As we edged into our Saturday night, one thing we needed to continue to continue ticking off was a decent taste of ciders as Asturias and the Basque Country are THE makers of Spanish cider. So just round the corner from our flat was La Tabacalera which suited all our minimal requirements just fine – it was a sideria and they had cider.

Sideria La Tabacalera…Top Left: 1st Cider of the night, Zapica; Hound #2 Gets In Some Pouring Practice; Chorizo in Cider; Marinated & Spicy Olives; Da Place…

In most other parts of Spain it is quite customary to just order a glass of cider, but in Asturias you have to have the whole bottle. Not too potent @ 6% or so on the alcohol scale, but it does sneak up on you. Asturias is also one of the provinces where a free pintxo comes with your drink…here we were first plied with some spicy, garlic olives. But our hunger was a tad bigger than that so we put in a racion order for sauteed chorizo with, of course, cider!

Way Cool Bar – La Vida Alegre…

Our next destination was the barrio (neighbourhood) del Carmen which our good mate Terra had tipped us off as THE COOL & HOT area of Gíjon, chocka full of bars, restaurants, cafes & stores. And she was spot on…

We started with a wee cerveza rest stop outdoors @ La Vida Alegre (The happy or joyful life) and enjoyed the excellent people watching as the Saturday night crowds began to stuff the streets….

Hop’nest Bar of the Night – Turnedo! Top Left: One of our 3 Free Pintxos @ Turnedo; Outside View; Excellent Vino Selections; Da Crowds; Menus…

Then it was on to Vinatería Turnedo – now this was the definition of popular…but even though super busy, the staff was more than up to the challenge with quick service and always with a smile.

Yawn…More Bars…Tough Life.

Tierra Astur – More Cider!

Almost happy that Saturday night came to an end – our heads & livers thanked us…so up early & in need of a decent, pre-leaving-Gíjon-coffee we had only one choice – Raw Coco, who’s acquaintance we’d made the previous morning. And it was a case of déjà vu too with the same order of two cafe con leches & a slice of sinful carrot cake.

Raw Coco – Fave, fave Cafe

So we waved a sad goodbye to Gíjon, but we were not too sad as we were heading  for a lunchtime rendezvous @ Casa Juanín…

 

A Salamanca Weekend…A Savoury Visit.

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Pueblo de Palencia…Top: Plaza Mayor & Town Hall; Local Band; Church.

We had decided to opt out of a Valentine’s Day Valentine’s Day with all it requisite paraphernalia & fluff and instead, 2 weeks later, have a romantic weekend (minus our ‘child’ Billie the Jack Russell) in Salamanca.  With our time in Spain rapidly diminishing (we leave on August 1st for the U.K. to prep our New Zealand return), we have assembled a decently long list of to do’s & Salamanca was top of the list.

It is a reasonably long drive (5+ hours) so we sorted out a few pit stops along the way which was a tad difficult as there seems to be, by all appearances, nothing much of real interest on the road to Salamanca (Burgos is great but we’d already been there). We have a Spanish friend who was born & raised in Palencia, so that was where we headed for a roadway breather & something to eat…

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Bar Alaska, Palencia – Estupendo!

Though many of our guide books or articles gave Palencia a minor pass, we made the most of it & headed straight through the Old Town to highly recommended Bar Alaska. And the reviewers were spot on – our only mistake was we did not take stock of exactly how good this place was & simply stop here & enjoy. But no, Hound #2 had read about a Turkish place called El Rincon de Istanbul which by Tripadvisor ticks was the bee’s knees for Turkish food outside of Turkey itself. Not…we were both slightly suspicious when the menu was: (a) almost longer than the Bible (obviously not freshly cooked); and (b) the menu & the restaurant walls were plastered with florescent plastic photos of their food.

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Lunch @ Rincon de Istanbul, Palencia – Not Too Good…

And our gut instincts were right – the falafel came out of a frozen packet, the bread was also a packet product and my curried chicken was almost stone cold & Hound #2 summed it up precisely by stating that it looked like ‘sick’. Onward to Salamanca…

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View of Stunning Salamanca & the Roman Bridge that crosses the River Torme (trout are in there!)…

Our arrival into Salamanca was easy as due to the fact that our hotel Vincci Ciudad de Salamanca, was right on the outskirts, only a 10 minute walk into the centro, so easily avoiding all the driving & parking hassles of a central Old Town space. We quickly settled in & headed out for a Friday arvo / evening stroll to the City Centre – across a beautiful Roman bridge over the River Torme. Once again, the Weather Gods smiled upon us and we had a perfecto winter’s day of blue skies, sun, no wind & mild temps…

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Beautiful Architecture Round Every Corner….

The Old Town is, thankfully, very pedestrianised so walking or strolling is a breeze. Salamanca is a big university town & has one of, if not the oldest, university in Europe. And it is chocka with students – we heard more American/Canadian/British accents in one weekend than we have heard in our entire time in Hondarribia. We were late to find out that this weekend was El Carnaval weekend – so a wee bit fearful of possible chaos & craziness. No problema…tranquilo…sweet as.

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Top Left: Back Street View, Cathedral in the lights, Plaza Mayor – Excellent Space!

Salamanca is a bit closer in modus operandi to the South of Spain than the North, which means that many places open later (round 8PM or after). So with a small chunk of time on our hands we made a bee line for La Vendimia Vinoteca – tienda de vino supreme!

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Tienda de Vino Excelente!

It is ALWAYS a great pleasure to peruse a wine store that offers up a distinctly different range of vino bebidas….not your bog standard super mercado or local bodega selection but different juices from small producer folks that I only seem to read about in magazines. Several bottles were purchased (and 3 more the next day) and off we went into the Salamanca night…

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Bodega Cuzco – Our Salamanca Fave….

At the top of our list & just about everyone else’s was Bodega Cuzco which offered up caliente made-to-order pintxos paired with a superbly chosen wine list. The staff were top notch too – friendly & super efficient. I had the chicken curry mini burger while Hound #2 went with her usual favourite – pulpo (octopus) a la plancha (grilled).

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Bambú – Another Great Choice for Friday’s Comestibles…

Next on our visitation agenda was Bambú – again a crowd pleaser and a highly rated establishment. A really well oiled hospitality machine (not President Trump’s kind) that was cranking on all cylinders & buzzing with Friday night crowds filling the place to the max. Salamanca is technically reputed to be a city that falls into the category of a free pintxo with every drink order. What we found were 3 distinct offers: (a) order a drink & get a gratis pintxo; (b) order a drink & not get a free pintxo but notice that most of the locals were getting one so we asked…and usually, begrudgingly got one; and (c) you pay for your pintxos (like at  Bodega Cuzco) . Bambú fits into the first bucket so with our first round of cervezas, I got the universal Spanish sandwich – jamón with pimiento pepper on a wee roll. Hound #2 scored with a smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese & dusted in bread crumbs. Round 2 was accompanied by some delicious meatballs or albondigas as they are called here.

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Salamanca Scenes…

Up early on Saturday to have a full on day in Salamanca, first port of call was the Casa de las Conchas. Unfortunately, La Casa was undergoing some renovation works so the full beauty of its facade was hidden by some serious scaffolding. But still a marvel – and we had a nice chat with the librarian (yes, there is a library inside) who told us a bit about the history & construction and said it was VERY difficult to find qualified people to do the restoration so they had ONE woman doing it bit by bit as they could afford to pay her.

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Casa de las Conchas….

Next on our Saturday morning agenda was our required visit to the local mercado – the Mercado Central de Salamanca to be exact. An always fascinating adventure to walk the aisles & floors (2 levels here) and have a decent perusal of all of the local products on offer. Salamanca has a reputation as serious ‘meat country’ in all its various forms – fresh beef or pork or veal or fowl or ox; charcuterie of all shapes & sizes like chorizo or jamón sliced or full legs, salchichon (salami extraordinaire), morcilla (blood sausage), sausages & cecina (dried beef or ox).

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Mercado Central de Salamanca….

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Mercado Central de Salamanca: Top – Serious Spanish Beef; Veggies Galore; More Meat & Charcuterie…

And of course you will find a decent collection of veggie & dry goods stalls too, and as icing on the cake, a magnificent fish section stuffed to the gills with everything possible from the sea or fresh water. The Spanish love their seafood and we are quite blessed living in Hondarribia as it is a fishing port town so we see el pescado as fresh as it can be.

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Mercado Central de Salamanca – Fish Section….

Post our mercado visit, we paid a second visit to La Vendimia vino store and then set our course for Calle Van Dyck. This street is a renowned student haunt due to its cheap eats & drinks. We were hesitant to see it in all its glory, late at night on Carnaval weekend so we opted for a mid day visit to see what the fuss was about.

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La Cocina de la Yaya (affectionate term for grandma)…Top: Braised Mushrooms; A Moruno skewer – usually lamb but this was pork…

We did a couple block walking tour, sticking our noses into various joints & decided we liked the look of La Cocina de la Yaya (Spanish for grandma). And yes folks, the price was right – 2 cervezas & 2 LARGE pintxos for all of 6 euros. The students have sussed this out correctly…

We popped into one other taberna on Calle Van Dyck before aiming ourselves to return to the Old Town & we came across Restaurante Don Bustos in our wanders. Following, once again, Hound #2’s Dad’s Rule – if it has loads of local folks inside there is a high probability it is a keeper. Score for Dad’s Rule – busy as & buzzing with Spanish. Two cañas (beer) ordered straight away & 2 pintxos gratis of fried eggplant handed across the bar. Delish.

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Restaurante Don Bustos….Pintxo of Fried Eggplant. Place was hop’n!

We had built up a respectable ‘to do’ list with regards to bars & pintxo places, so we next made our way to La Casa de Las Pulgas (House of the Fleas) which was warp speed busy with only one bartender, but scored a sweet pintxo of chickpea stew with diced shrimp & mussels. Yum.

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Casa de las Pulgas (Fleas) – Chickpea Stew with Shrimps & Mussels…

And just down the street on Plaza Angel was a super popular place called Casa Vallejo which people spilling out onto the street & plaza. And here the free pintxo was a white bean stew with various bits of diced chorizo mixed through it. Perfecto…

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Casa Vallejo – Busy As…

Queued up next was La Cocina de Toño, a place known for its hot, freshly made pintxos (versus cold or microwaved off the bar). This place got the 2 thumbs (maybe 4) up as super tasty, excellent pintxo snacks at a fair price with a great vino selection and, thankfully, in a slightly less hectic atmosphere than our previous 2 bars.

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La Cocina de Toño – 2nd Fave of the Trip…Top Left: Chickpeas with Shrimps; Back Bar & Hanging Jamón; Pulpo (Octopus).

After a wee siesta back at the hotel, we geared up for a Saturday night in Salamanca with Carnaval supposedly in full swing. We were again quite relieved to find out that carnaval in Salamanca, despite all the youngsters, was a quiet affair.

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A Return Visit to Bodega Cuzco – Great Again…Top: Goats Cheese with Caramelised Onion Topping; 2 Copas de Toro; Duck Confit Fajita.

We made our plan to be @ Bodega Cuzco spot on the 8PM opening to avoid the inevitable throngs. We got two cozy seats at the bar & placed our order for two vino tintos de Toro and 2 pintxos – Hound #2 had warmed Goat’s Cheese with a topping of Caramelised Onions while I satisfied my duck craving with a Duck Confit Fajita.

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2 Blogger Favorites….

We popped into to several other places on our list like La Viga and Bar Montero but ended up just having a wine. La Viga was packed with locals but the food on offer was not our cuppa tea – fried pork crackling & other fried things. Bar Montero seemed a bit more formal with very little being offered on the bar and only a full menu to order from.

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Live Music @ Local Salamanca Dive Bar….

We decided to call it a night & zig zagged our way through the narrow back streets & stumbled across a teeny tiny bar & decided on a nightcap. Happy to find that they served Alhambra Reserva 1925 but even more surprised to see a group setting up to play. We hung around for some tunes which, again, were not our cuppa tea but a fun way to end the evening…

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Goodbye Beautiful Salamanca…

We felt we had seen what we wanted to see in Salamanca, so we set off early to take advantage of another spectacular winter’s day & drop in on Valledolid as we had never been & had no plans to visit.

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Stretch Your Legs Pit Stop @ Valledolid….

We spent an hour or so wandering around the Old Town, stopping off @ Plaza Mayor for some coffee in the winter sun and finding 2 serious wine stores right next to each other but closed (it was Sunday) – damn!. We concluded it was a city mos def worth a night & day’s stay…

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Lunch in Burgos @ La Pez…Simple As – Tuna Fillets Topped with Pimiento Peppers & Then Turned Over – Yum!

With Burgos up ahead on our road trip home, we made the executive decision to make it our lunch destination. We had had a stupendous time in Burgos on another trip and had fond memories of its Old Town section & excellent food. We laid out a direct walking line to Plaza Mayor & its various side streets and popped in at an old fave – Meson Los Herreros. Two pintxos & two cervazas down the gullet we navigated to La Pez de la Senda which is a very different pintxo bar from your bog standard. La Pez had just recently opened on our first visit to Burgos and we found the staff super friendly and they seemed to be always giving us free pintxos or samples of vino or vermouth. La Pez is also a mini deli with various products available for sale to take home. Our pintxo of the day was a beautiful jar of the local tuna  topped with cooked pimiento peppers, then turned upside down – what a presentation! Tasted great too…

So if you have never visited or heard of Salamanca, it is a city to put on your Spanish to do list. You will be rewarded with awesome architecture, old world charm, food & drink to please any palate – go!!!!!

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!