Riverside Market Opens – Wow!!!

Christchurch’s New Riverside Market…

The latest addition to the constantly emerging & dynamically changing Christchurch CBD scene is the Riverside Market…and wow, what an addition! Mr. Peebles & his team have pulled out all the stops & not spared a dime or an insightful thought with this stunning creation. As reported in the Press / Stuff, the first week has seen a tsunami of folks coming in for a look & hopefully a shop. The fit out is tastefully done with a wide range of excellent character features (e.g., the timber beams, old clock, lighting) – it is a building all Cantabrians should be proud of (like our new library).

Riverside Markert Top Side View….

I have always dreamed of starting a food hall as it combines the best of both worlds for – a convenient one stop shop (like the supermarket) but with independent, quality producers (not like the supermarket). Very few folks these days have the luxury of time or the desire to run around town to all the far corners of the city to round up their food supplies. And the Riverside Market pretty much nails it out of the gate…

Top Notch Butchery – Butcher’s Mistress

The folks who appear to really be hitting their stride are all the food service joints, which at lunchtime had throngs of people queued up out the door…with some decently sized corporate offices in combination with the government sector (Justice & Emergency Services Precinct, the Police HQ and City Council) the lunch time demands should remain healthy for some time.

Little Fish Fishmonger and Fish & Chips

But I have my fingers crossed for the real food folks – I think they may have a few more hurdles to get over to make it hum like the food court guys. There are several challenges here:

(1) how many CBD folks are going to actually shop for veggies, fish, meat, etc & take them back to the office?

(2) it is an in between time of year for the veggie guys so stalls like Cultivate are a wee bit sparse on their offerings.

(3) Although one of the veggie stands was pretty fully stocked, I am not sure where all that produce came from – not a very ‘locally grown’ display or offering.

(4) Pricing – I am all for supporting locally grown vegetables but the yams were $20 a kg while I can buy them @ my Lyttelton Farmers Market for $10.

Veggies!!!

So if you have not been, please go & support this stupendous effort & keep it humming along for years to come…and take a posse of friends too & spread the wealth ;-)….

Bread & Cheese – Bohemian Bakery & Charing Cross Cheesery

An Old Favourite – Mediteranean Foods – Estupendo!

Cured – Tasty Venison Charcuterie

Mucho Places to Grab a Bite….

Top Left: Chicken Rotisserie, El Quincho – Argentine BBQ, Shaka Brothers, Riverside Kitchen

 

A Fish Down South…

Head Waters of the Oreti & the Road to the Von River Valley…

With the regular trout season coming quickly to an end, coupled with me having had a guts full of house projects, I made the executive decision to go for a decent, final fish with my mate Chester in Southland. So I packed up Gertie my 1975 Series III Land Rover & toddled South…and I mean toddled, as it was a long 9 hour road trip. After a delicious Sunday night feast & a decent catchup, we headed for bed to get a good night’s sleep so we could do battle with the Southland trout.

Southland Waters…

We awoke to a day that, weather-wise, could not have been any better – no clouds, blue skies, decently warm temps and NO WIND. So we hustled our bums out the door as New Zealand weather can change in a, well, New York minute.

Looking at the water flow charts & post a quick river inspection as we left Mossburn, we decided to fish the Upper Oreti to start the week off – hopefully with a bang. All kitted up, we fished our way up stream with modest success – a 6+ pounder to the net, but very few fish spotted in what were perfect conditions. Chester & I both thought something was definitely amiss, as our usual fish count was more in the 30-40 fish range in that amount of fishing time.

The Oreti had a wee bit of excess water in it & it had a smidgen of colour, but not enough to put fish down or off their feed. A week or so before it had had a bit of a fresh, so we decided to explore a different section of slightly calmer water on the idea that they may have migrated there to escape the rough waters.

As right decisions go, we could not have been any more righter. We found stable pools with decent water flows (not any sign of flooding like the Oreti) & best of all – trout! Working our way up the these series of perfect pools with deep cut banks was a joy – first fish took a blowfly from the surface & set off on a leaping frenzy & looked to be about 8 pounds. A beautiful take it was too — as happens with many good things as well as bad, it all seemed to happen in super slow motion. I saw him rise from the bottom, silver head shining as he opened his jaws to gulp the fly & turn & return to his post. The day finished out with 4 more fish in the 6-7 pound range – now that’s a start with a bang!

Southland Waters Continued….

The Basque Boys Off for a Fish…Wearing Our Berets (Boinas in Spanish) I Picked Up in Spain…

We awoke Tuesday to yet another stunner of a day (the rest of the week would be ditto) & decided to hit the Upper Oreti again, but work upstream from where we’d finished the day on Monday. And as good as Monday was, Tuesday & the rest of the week was as dead as a door nail. And we could not figure or sort out why…we postulated that since it was spawning season for the browns that maybe they’d gone off the feed & were just looking for sex. Or maybe the previous week’s decent flooding had pushed them to other parts of the river. We saw no fresh footprints on either day, so we could not put it down to other anglers thrashing the water before us.

Yet Another Beautiful Pool to Thrash….

Given Tuesday’s blank trout day, we opted to make the Mararoa River our designated destination as it holds a decent population of rainbows who were not ready to spawn until May, and therefore might offer us a better chance of a hookup. But we’d misread the water flow charts & it was a raging torrent when we pulled up to its banks. Oh well…we had already come this far, so we drove on to the headwaters of the Oreti in hopes we might have access to some decent water which we did, but we were also buffeted by almost gale force winds. So we retreated to another Oreti access point & Chester saved us from another blank day with a 4+ pounder to the net.

Wily Southland Trout Spotted, Cast To & Hooked!

On Thursday we decided to attack a couple sections of the middle Oreti (we had done an inspection the day before & water was crystal clear) but it proved to be as devoid of trout as our 2 previous outings. Always a bit of a puzzle – perfect weather, stunning water with loads of character but no trout. I did spot one – a weird one @ that – sitting on his belly in about ankle deep water with his dorsal fin in the air.

Gotcha!!!!

For our final day we decided that rainbows needed to be found so the Waiau River was the pick of the day. Our first section of the river was a dude, with neither one of us, despite fishing hard, touching a trout. After a great fish & chip lunch, Chester said we were going to a spot where some rainbows were guaranteed – a section of the river where a backwater joined the main river flow making it an excellent spot for rainbows to hold…positioned in the slow, zero current back water but poised to make a quick dash into the main flow for any passing comestible. And Chester fished it hard for half an hour with a streamer, throwing his entire fly line down to the backing out into the main current & letting it drift, and then swing round before stripping it back. Zilch…zero…nada. I guess that is why it’s called fishing…

P.S. – I know I ended this post by saying I guess that is why it’s called fishing, but I wanted to comment on the tragedy of the state of our waterways. In just a short 10 years our freshwater waterways (and salt water too I imagine) have witnessed severe & serious declines to the extent that many waterways are unfishable, unswimmable and certainly undrinkable. And in my opinion & I think many scientific opinions & evidence state that it is primarily because of dairy, intensive agriculture and forestry. Federated Farmers & Fonterra will scream they are not to blame for much of it, but methinks doth protest too much as the reports show, 40% of our waterways flow through rural agricultural & dairy land while only 1% flow through urban areas. I see photos almost daily of cows standing in rivers, streams or lakes having a big piss & poo fest, algae blooms in waterways from low water levels (over irrigation extraction) & massive fertiliser & chemical runoffs and massive sediment clouds in waterways from poorly planned developments & outright idiotic forestry works. And it boggles the mind that New Zealand could have and still does treat its most precious resource – fresh, drinkable water – so tragically bad and to add insult to injury, even sells it to the Chinese for pennies on the dollar to be exported. How much dumber than a fence post do you have to be to not only permit that, but promote it? They say water is the new oil & I think they are right. New Zealanders have a history of passivity but  I can only hope the average punter in New Zealand is finally getting mad & will not take it anymore and gets up off their arse and does something…even if it is just to write an email or letter & let the morons in charge know that you care and want things to change.

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…

A Heavenly Day of Fly Fishing…

The Glorious Clarence River…

My New Zealand trout fishing season got off to a VERY slow start even though I had returned to New Zealand from Spain in early October (the start of the season in NZ). With numerous hiccups to sort out (Billie the Jack Russell, house & landslip, 1975 Series III Land Rover, etc…) I could not muster much traction for fly fishing. I managed to grab myself by the shoulders, give myself a decently hard shake & then headed South to catchup with mate Chester to thrash some treaured waters. So the fly fishing pump had been primed…

But if I thought my season was slow to get a burn on, my mate Craig was far worse – he had not been out ONCE this season and it was rapidly coming to a close (30th of April). So we hatched a reasonable plan to head out for Hanmer Springs on a Saturday arvo, crash in a campground cabin to enable a 6AM start and cross over Jack’s Pass to the Molesworth Station. Together we have fished much of the Clarence River and bits of the Acheron, but Craig had been up this way at the end of the last season and said there was some damn new sweet water to be fished – not too small, not too big & loaded with character (i.e., lots of pools, drop offs, banks, etc…) and there be trouts.

Molesworth Station Rivers…

When the alarm buzzer buzzed @ 6AM we awoke to a 100% perfect autumn day with a good chill on, but blue skies and no sign of rain or wind – yet. It was a 1.5 hour drive from Hanmer to our desired destination so after a quick coffee fuel stop, we were on our way. The Moleworth Road is, relatively speaking, in fine shape as it had appeared a grader had recently done its job making the road smooth as for much of the journey. And the weather only got better – with a super shiny sun hanging low in the morning sky it was warming up quickly…and still no wind.

Sweet Water on the Molesworth Station

Having arrived @ our fly fishing jump off point, we quickly kitted up to attack the first pool. Craig was being his usual courteous self and offered me the first crack as he said there had been a few fish in there last season. I promptly tied on a blowfly dry with bead head nymph dropper & flicked my line up to the head of the pool & watched the drift…nada. A quick roll cast back up stream and a metre or more to the right – BANG!!!! A good 2-3 pounder on the nymph. But the pool still had potential, so I moved up stream a rod length & cast again – BANG!!!! Bigger fish this time, with a tad more spunk & bluster and again on the barbless nymph. I am always a wee bit superstitious & nervous when a fishing day starts out so good & so quickly as it often times more than nought turns to custard for the rest of the day.

Valley of the Sweet Water Panorama…

But my supertitions were rapidly put to rest as we continued our march up river & continued to hook & spot fish. After connecting with 4 browns, I started to fish a stunning stretch of water and after methodically working several casts from left to right across the pool I saw my dry fly indicator vanish & set the nymph hook & it felt like I’d hooked an anchor or a cinder block. A BIG boy that methodically, with no rush or panic, moved to the other side of the river where there was a decent bank where he proceeded to go up & down in a 25 foot circular beat, all the while I could feel the rubbing vibrations of the tippet through my fly line but no amount of pressure could budge him. He never came to the surface but after about 2 minutes the nymph hook popped free…damn barbless hooks. Last pool of the day we spotted 2 feeding at the very top of the pool so I flicked the blowfly again, about a metre above them & watched the drift…when suddenly, spotter mate Jack yelled “he’s turned!” and sure enough, a fish face & gaping mouth appeared 2 rod lengths in front of me.  But my English/Spanish fly fishing reflexes kicked in (got to be quick on the draw there) & I lifted my rod way too soon & pulled the fly right out of his mouth :-(….

One of the Brownies To The Net…

It was as perfect a day of fly fishing as I have had in a long time – muchas gracias Craig & Jack…so very glad to be home & back in the New Zealand river groove.

Goodbye Sweet Water…We Mos Def Be Back.

 

 

 

Fly Fishing Los Ríos Norte de León…

Río Curueño, León

I have always had the rivers of Castilla y León on my ‘to fish’ list but last season was literally a washout. My mate Asier & I tried to go several times but his good León fishing friend waved us away as pretty much all the rivers were in flood and pretty much stayed that way for the season. So I was very happy to see the León rivers come right this year and be in mint condition if not a wee bit low. So I packed up Gertie, my Series III Land Rover, and made a bee line for the hills north of León…

Río Curueño…

My primary source of information or guidance for this escapade was an article in Eat-Sleep-Fish, a free web-zine put out by my friend & super UK guide Pete Tyjas of the Devon School of Fly Fishing, that recounted a fly fishing adventure on León’s rivers. The Río Curueño was awarded high marks in the article for its abundant amount of trout and this was backed up by an article in Danica, Spain’s one (as far as I know) fly fishing magazine.

It is VERY difficult in Spain to find any useful information about where, when & how to fish. And you need information because Spain is an extremely complicated country to fish in with numerous licensing requirements, special permits to access to private or managed water (called cotos), vastly varied seasons and regulations, etc… Despite hundreds of Internet searches I was able to track down ONLY 2 books (and a few web sites) on where to fly fish in Spain, but one, Dónde y Cómo Pescar En León by Eduardo García Carmona, is outstanding – only drawback is you need to be able to read & understand Spanish.

As a 3rd backup information source I have struggled to use some of the books written by Englishman Philip Pembroke – his heart is in the right place but to be perfectly candid, they pretty much suck. They are poorly written & edited (or not), the maps are almost undecipherable and much of the information is just plain wrong or mis-leading. On the positive side they do not cost much and they are in English.

Centre of the World for Coq de León…

I based myself at the lovely Casa Candana in the pueblo of La Candana de Curueño which happens to be the centre of the world for the famous Coq de León feathers (there is actually a feather museum up the road in La Vecilla de Curueño). Casa Candana is perfectly situated to access the Ríos Curueño (it flows past the Casa Candana & is free to fish pretty much from La Vecilla all the way down the valley), Torio, Porma, Esla, Bernesga & many more with a short to modest drive. And the owners of Casa Candana are sweet as and serve up an awesome start-to-the-day breakfast.

Bar La Pluma (Only Bar in Town) & Free Pintxos…

To say that La Candana de Curueño is a small village is quite the understatement – it has 2 streets (one is simply called ‘the street behind the church’) and one taberna called, naturally, La Pluma (The Feather) which also appears to double as the local store because there isn’t a store in La Candana…or any of the other pueblos up & down the valley.

Rush Hour in La Candana de Curueño…

All Star Fly Fisherman’s Breakfast @ Casa Candana….

In my first full day on the Río Curueño, I combined some fly fishing with a wee bit of reconnaissance to suss out where the free (libre) fishing spots were and what the stretches or beats (tramos in Spanish) looked like in terms of fishability. I came across a lot of superb water which confirms León’s reputation as  one of the best places to fish in Spain and I believe it has the largest amount of free fishing water of any of the autonomous communities (there are 17).

Río Curueño, León

I fished 5 or 6 different beats my first day that were quite varied in character – below the gorge (Hoces de Valdeteja) you will find numerous sweet, well defined pools (top picture above) with some faster & rockier runs in between. Here the river is about 20-30 metres across with the deepest depth being about thigh high. Hooked a pile of trout with 2 or 3 hitting the 1-1.5 pound mark & beautifully coloured…Above the gorge it becomes a tad bit more bouldery and turns more toward pocket water fishing. The Río Curueño has 2 cotos – Coto de Vildapiélago and Coto de Tolibia.

Río Curueño @ the Source – High Mountain Fishing…

The next day I decided to head to the source of the Río Curueño for a fish and then work my way back down river. As you would expect, the river narrows significantly here to no more than 5 or so metres across (or way less in some cases) and the banks are, for the most part, completely covered in bushes or small trees. Some precision casting is called for or you’ll lose all your flies – after 2-3 hours I caught 6 small fry and was a bit surprised concerning the lack of trout as usually these less fished waters are chocka with very stupid trout. And these types of waters are mostly ignored by fishing folks as: (a) the fish are not big or big enough to take home for a feed; (b) the casting is a bit tricky & frustrating and (c) moving & navigating up river with all the bush is a serious hassle.

So I toddled down river to a free stretch that runs between the pueblos of Tolibia de Abajo and Lugueros. Had a delightful couple of hours here with 2 trout to hand that tipped the scale at just over a pound (or half a kilo) & they were feisty as! Now it was time for some lunch…

Superb Menú del Día @ Los Argüellos: Top Left – Vino del Día; Local Hooch; Salad of Scrambled Eggs, Shrimp & Young Garlic; Veal Cheeks – Super Yum!

I was a bit of a starv’n Marvin at this point as the last real meal I had eaten had been Sunday night (it was now Wednesday) as La Pluma bar only serves pintxos when you order a drink & Casa Candana was closed to go shopping in León. I first stopped in a popular, local taberna but when I inquired about some food I was told ‘later’ – it was now 2PM – so I asked how much later & was told 3PM! So I drove on to the next taberna or what I thought was a basic taberna (Los Argüellos) only to walk into a super swanky place – in my full on fly fishing kit of boots, neoprene socks, gravel guards, polypropylene tights & shorts and an Akubra fedora. They wanted to put me in the dining room but I managed to talk them into letting me eat in the courtyard…and what a meal! They offered an outstanding menú del día (3 courses, wine & coffee) for the pittance of €12 – score!

Post my superb lunch, I tackled several of the stretches of the Río Curueño that run through the gorge. Gorge fishing is not my favourite cuppa tea though I know (especially in New Zealand) it can be superb if you have the right conditions. It can be frustrating putting in at one point only to fish 4 or 5 pools and then find when you round the corner you cannot go any further due to deep water and there is no way to get around it as you are bookmarked by sheer rock walls. So you retreat…and repeat.

The next day I decided to test some new water – the Río Torio – which was an easy 25-30 minute drive west & then south. I parked up riverside in a pueblo called Pedrún de Torio & I knew there would be a weir here (I hate weirs), but Googe maps showed a road that paralleled the river for quite someway. Well, there is no road but I managed to walk across the weir to a footpath on the other side & make my way a decent distance up river to find – another effing weir! Pushed on to some good water & noticed the trout were taking dries – so put on a #20 Royal Wulf (all purpose bug) & made a perfect cast to drift it under some overhanging bushes and just when I lifted my rod to avoid snagging the fly – bam! A serious tug on the other end! Best fish of the trip (pic below) weighing in @ 2+ pounds (1+ kilo) – a seriously fat boy!

Roman Bridge over the Río Torio (and big trout); Río Torio; Best Trout of the Trip from Río Torio – Weighed in at 1+ Kilo or 2+ Pounds…

I left the Río Torio @ Pedrún and headed north to another free section near the pueblo Serrilla. But first – lunch! Another menú del día deal to make ya squeal @ Las Portillas @ a price shattering €9! Had a quick chat to 2 local council workers & they gave me instructions on how to get to a Roman bridge which marked the start of the free section. I was able to park up just short of the Roman bridge & slowly crept across, scanning up & down river for trout when I spotted the biggest trout I have seen in Spain. He/she easily weighed in at 5-6 pounds (sort of normal for New Zealand) but was located directly under the Roman bridge, cruising a beat in shin deep, super calm water. Impossible to fish to…

Top Left: Gertie The Land Rover; Ensalada Ruso (Mayo & Shrimp); Lomo de Cerdo (Pork Loin)

Brought to hand a decent number of trout on this free stretch, but then the wind & weather changed & I could hear the deep rumble of thunder a ways away…and some flashes! Done & dusted for this trip…

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…

 

Fly Fishing Asturias & Cantabria…


We recently went on our second big adventure to lovely Asturias where Hounds #1 & #2 planned to hit the beaches while I thrashed a bit of Spanish water in search of trout. Asturias can be a tough fish, as many of the rivers close to the coast are also classified as highly prized salmon rivers for which the permits or licenses are obtained via a lottery system that you had to have put your name in the ‘hat’ the previous October. And, as they should, they heavily favour locals. And in some of my own research into Asturian rivers I found that for every 100 salmon beats you will typically find only 4 or 5 trout beats, often on wee tributaries (most likely dried up in mid to late summer) to the real deal like the Rivers Deva or Cares or Sella. And given I only had 2 or 3 days to fish, I made an executive decision to hire a guide to cut to the quick & catch some trouts rather than fritter my time away in search of elusive river access & fish. I chose Oscar at A Mosca Cantabria and he was estupendo! Hard to go wrong with Spain’s two time World Champion (been in to top 4 four times and placed in the top 10 every year for the past 10 years) and a guide with extensive and intimate knowledge of the rivers, their current conditions and, most importantly, where the trout are.

As we head into our final stretch of time here in Spain, I am trying to squeeze in as much fly fishing on Spanish rivers as is humanly possible. I am now the proud owner (sort of) of 6 fishing licenses as you need one for any or all of the Spanish provinces that you want to fish (if you are a Spanish native you can obtain a multi-province license which covers I think 7). I am thinking about writing an article on the Spanish fishing license debacle as it is as close to Hell on Earth as you can get…

Some of the Trouts Caught in the Deva via Czech/Spanish Nymphing and Dry Fly & Dropper

When Oscar picked me up for our first outing, he explained that given the VERY mild winter where there was virtually no snow, combined with an extremely dry Spring in Cantabria and Asturias, that many of the rivers he wanted to fish had seriously low water levels and were close to unfishable. So his plan for the day was to head to the pueblo of Potes near the Picos de Europa to fish a catch & release section of the River Deva. The Deva’s source is in the Picos de Europa where the high valley that the Deva originates from actually faces South. The South had had a decent amount of rain recently so the Deva’s level and flow were good.

We rigged up 2 rods – one for Czech/Spanish nymphing and another as a dry fly & nymph dropper. As most fly fishing folks know, to say the Czech/Spanish/French nymphing technique is productive is truly the definition of an understatement. We soon had a posse of trout to the net but as we cruised into the afternoon we made the decision to: (a) head a wee bit farther out of Potes, up river for a less urban/more wild setting and (b) to have lunch.

Río Deva, near Potes, Asturias: Top Left – Me; Guide Oscar & Mate Dario; High Mountain Flows of the Deva

After a couple of hours or so fishing the upper Deva stretch (with some success), Oscar decided we should head 45 minutes due East to the river Nansa where as early to mid evening rolled in, the Big Boys came out to feed. We arrived at the river bank shortly after 8PM and scanned the river for any activity. Not much to see but Oscar said it usually kicks off into high feeding gear just after 9PM.

And almost like a trout alarm clock, when the face of my watch registered 9:15 the sips & sucks began to happen. Big sucks and sips…clearly gulps. But the trout were clearly wary from fishing pressure – I had one decent take but my reaction time @ 9:30-9:45pm was a tad slow & the Spanish trout are VERY, VERY quick, so no Big Boy prize…

The next day the weather turned ugly as it was forecast to be a day of rain…and more rain. And for once in their sorry forecasting lives they were 100% right. Oscar said we would head for some other stretches of the river Nansa, a bit higher up where the river was narrower with pocket water & flat stretches to fish.

River Nansa on a VERY Wet Wednesday: Top Left – Best Trout of the Day; River Nanasa & more River Nansa (Almost looks like New Zealand) and final Fish Shot.

Despite the despicable weather conditions (I was soaked to the bone), we fished and we caught some trout…and my best fish of the trip – who rose from the dark, deep water depths to a perfectly cast & drifted (if I say so myself) CDC dry tied by Oscar. Sweet fish, great fly fishing & estupendo guide Oscar – muchas gracias!

Casa Manolo….The House of Goat

Restaurante Casa Manolo in the Barrio of Amute, Hondarribia

We have made a bucket list of places we want to eat at in Hondarribia & surrounds before we depart in August to work our way back to our home in New Zealand. Casa Manolo was put on our list due to several good recommendations from some very trusted Basque mates. So on a sunny-almost-Spring-day we made a wander some 20 minutes to the south to partake of some comestibles @ Casa Manolo…

Da House Red – Pretty Tasty When Chilled to the Bone 😉

We’d dropped in before one or two times for a beer or two, but now we wanted to eat…from the web site it was not at all clear whether a menú del día was on offer or that it was a strictly an a la cart place (and with no prices). What the heck, it was worth a gamble….

A wee bit of initial confusion ensued as we wanted to dine outside (because of Billie The Dog and it was a sunny, fresh Spring day) which caused a bit of consternation & disbelief but all was quickly sorted & our waitress arrived table side to read off our menú del día (yeah!!!!) choices. First things first – para beber, vino tinto! And quick snap arrived a bottle of the vino de mesa that was especially bottled for the establishment at a local bodega in the pueblo of Orio. Decently chilled it went down well…

Two Hungry Hounds Waiting for Da Food…

My Starter – Peas, Potatoes, Carrots & Jamón Topped with an Egg.

For a starter I went with the Peas, Potatoes, Carrots & Jamón topped with a perfectly cooked egg – excellent in my flavour book. Hound #2 opted for Alubias Rojas (Red Beans) which she did not want me to take a picture of as it is not much to look at, just tastes damn good. The house goaty red was superb with these dishes ;-)…

Tuna Atop Sliced Potatoes Smothered in a Tomato-y Sauce…

For Hound #2’s main, she (as usual) went all fishy and ordered up the Tuna on Sliced Potatoes topped in a savoury tomato coulis. She gave it a solid B+ score and finished the plate…

Star Dish of the Day – Cabrito (Young Roasted Goat) con Chippies…

I truly lucked out & ordered the dish of the day – Roasted Cabrito with Chips. Casa Manolo’s specialty is goat (just in case you had not noticed all the goat pictures or drawings so far) in many forms and I find it very hard to find goat just about anywhere so the decision was easy. A dish worth going back for – perfectly roasted to within a tender bone of its life, with a seriously crispy & flavour packed crusty skin. Yesssssssiiiiiiirrrreee folks – the real deal. I thought is was so good I had to include two photos of it to display it in its full roasted goaty glory….

Close Up & Personal Goat…

As with all menú del días, dessert is included and as usual I forgot to snap a pic but managed to artfully reconstruct my Chocolate tart back to picture worthy shape. Alex had decidedly demolished her Flan so no pic was worth taking…

A damn delicious meal had by all (including Billie, The Jack Russell) for the whopping sum of €10 a person, yes folks, that is €10 per person for a 3 course meal & a bottle of vino. Gotta love Spain!

Mutriku Mackerel Madness – Déjà Vu!

Welcome To Mutriku!

The Hounds made the pilgrimage to the Mutriku Mackerel Fest last year, but because detailed info on the when, what & how was next to non-existent, we opted to set off quite early in old Gertie the Land Rover to avoid any crowds & parking hassles & pulled in just short of the 10AM mark. The town was absolutely vacant, and we had a couple of serious doubts about the possible success of our mackerel fest quest. But a quick chat with the Tourist Information folks confirmed that it was all a “Go!”, but kicking off shortly after 12PM…

Mackerel Pintxo Numero Uno y Dos! Our First Port of Call – Taberna Ametza.

The only substantial mistake we made last year was that we missed the BIG MACKEREL GRILL OFF that capped the day at around 6PM (due to driving & drinking restrictions). So included in this year’s operational plan was an overnight stay. There are only 2 places to sleep with a dog in Mutriku & we lucked out with one of the 3 rooms @ Hostal Rin. Perfectamente location…

Our greatest advantage in attending this year’s fest was that we pretty much knew the score, and queued up for our fave spots from last year. First stop, Taberna Ametza, where we sampled 2 different mackerel pintxos washed down with a pair of  zuritos (small beers) on the town square – off to a solid start…

Batzokia’s Excellent Mackerel Strips in Olive Oil with a Drizzle of Balsamic…Top Pintxo By Far!

We next made a bee line for our top voted bar from last year’s visit – Batzokia. The front of house service @ this taberna is all women & they were: (a) super friendly and (b) massively efficient. In a brief chat with one of the women we learned (if our Spanish was up to snuff) that the bar/restaurant is run as a co-operative and is somehow part of or supported by a Basque political party called EAJ-PNV (we have one in Hondarribia). And, once again, we were not disappointed to find our most desired pintxo still being dished out in quantity (and free!) at the bar. We found it hard to leave…

Mutriku Scenes…

The Weather Gods, though not fully co-operating, were indeed most kind to us. As every time we headed into a bar or taberna for a drink & a snack, the heavens opened up & hosed Mutriku down. Then, miraculously, just as we zipped & buttoned up to battle the elements, they flicked a switch & it all ceased & desisted. Two hats off to the Weather Gods!

Mutriku Scenes – Billie Strolls the Harbour…Buildings of Mutriku.

Top Left: Mackerel Pintxos & a Croqueta; Event Poster; Yet Another Taberna – Bar Zubixa; Mr. Mackerel Stokes Up the Crowd

Top Left: Bar Zubixa Political Poster; Da Marching Band!; Boat

Top Left: Mutriku Port; Boat Houses; Family Pic; Duck Fountains

As the arvo wore down, it was fast approaching the kick off time for the Big Event – a grand scale mackerel grill up & pintxo fest port side. We developed a plan to: (a) make an initial foray into the crowded fest as Hound #2 had a great fear of missing out on some mackerel a la plancha; then (b) return Billie to our hostel room for a siesta; (c) wander the Old Town & sample some more pintxos at any bars we might have missed; and (d), end up back at the port for some more mackerel pintxos & some live music.

The Big Verdel Event – Top Left: Plate of Grilled Mackerel & a Cold Beer for 1 Euro!; Da Crowd; Festival Menu in Basque; Up Close & Personal Verdel Pic; From On High Crowd View

Parts (a), (b) and (c) all went to plan & success was achieved on all fronts…but when part (d) rolled around, something was clearly amiss. We arrived back at the port shortly after 9PM (give to take 15 minutes) and everything & everybody had vanished – no mackerel food stalls, no people, no stage and no music…party over! We were going with the general consensus view that the Spanish like to party & stay out late, but I guess the stall vendors & musicians had other ideas. But it was true that the gente (people) fullfilled their mantra ‘eso si que es la vida‘ (this is the life) & saw the sun rise…we could hear the riotous crowd noises from our paper thin walled room. And it was not much help on the sleep front when our two neighbours stumbled in (and I mean stumbled in) around 4 or 5AM.

Top Left: ‘Mackerel Day’ in Basque; Professional Txakoli (local white wine) Pourer; Two Fun Late Night Pubs…For Young Folks.

Zumia Pit Stop…

Up early for a quick walk round the Mutriku port, then headed home with a quick stop in Zumia for a second coffee and a wee squizzy around the Old Town section…safely back in Hondarribia for lunch. Excellent adventure had by all…

Big Birthday Lunch @ La Hermandad de Pescadores…

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La Hermandad de Pescadores, Hondarribia

Another year, another birthday – regular as clock work these things. This being my 61st and not the Big 60, we played it more casual & local and had a lunch time booking at the La Hermandad de Pescadores right here in Hondarribia. This joint has been on our ‘must do’ list for quite some time but it warrants a special occasion as they do not offer any deals to make you squeal with a menú del día, so it is strictly a la carte so it costa lotta.

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Birthday Benefactor…

We had been proffered some menu advice by our good morning coffee mate Pia – she insisted we start with the Pimientos Verdes Fritos con Jamón Ibérico, so we did and they proved to be the perfect kick off to a wonderful birthday feast. You will find a version of this dish on many, many ración menus & it is more commonly called Pimientos de Padrón (minus the jamón). They are local peppers that are 99.9% of the time completely devoid of any chilli type heat so safe as for most folks…

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Pimientos de Padrón con Ibérico Jamón

The Hermandad de Pescadores vino list was well chosen and most fairly priced and even though we were headed towards a seafood affair, we decided to go with one of our regular faves – Macho Man Monastrell. Besides being an entirely quaffable drop, the marketing angle is superb…even the bottle is macho sized by being just a tad bigger & heavier than your normal wine bottle…same amount of vino though :-(.

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Macho Man Monastrell – Yum!

Next up for table delivery was the Pulpo a la Plancha – Octopus on the Grill. This was nicely plated up atop a puree of potatoes with 2 salsas – one of coriander or cilantro origins and the other a very punchy, picante pimiento which is quite rare in Spain. It all worked exceptionally well together & plates were cleaned & cleared quickly…

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Pulpo (Octopus) a la Plancha (Grilled) with Coriander & Pimiento Salsa on a bed of Mash Purée

For our mains we had 3 core choices done in various forms: merluza (hake), bacalao (cod) or almejas (clams). The first 2 we cook at home quite often or consume on may occasions as bar pintxos so we both picked off the almejas dishes. Clams are a bit on the luxury side of things in the Basque Country, with a serving for two from a local fishmonger to cook at home racking up a 20-25 euro bill. The clams come two ways here – Hound #2 went with the Almejas con Pochas (white beans) and mine was Almejas con Alcachofas (artichokes). After multiple taste-test sharings, the slim margin of a thumbs up victory vote went to the pochas version…though there were no real losers ;-)…

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Almejas (Clams) with Pochas (White Beans)

So if by far chance you find yourself wandering the streets of Hondarribia and feel the need for some excellent seafood choices for a lunch or dinner, La Hermandad de Pescadores will not let you down…

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Almejas (Clams) with Alcachofas (Artichokes)