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

 

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.

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…

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 Walk On The Wild Side – The French Basque Country…

Village of Bera, País Vasco…

The weather forecast called for a near perfect Spring day recently, so we decided a Sunday tiki tour was in order to: (a) shake the cobwebs off Gertie, the 1975 Land Rover, and (b) to explore & visit a bit of the French Basque country since it’s just over the border.

We sorted out a circular road trip which had us headed for the Spanish village of Bera as our first stop of the day. We arrived earlier than planned, so the village was more than quiet, though it was quite obvious that things be shake’n in Bera as for a village its size it appeared that it could feed Napolean’s army with the number of dining establishments spotted.

We wandered up to the town church and puttered around the graveyard which was peppered with fascinating old, Basque tombstones. Then a wander down a crooked laneway for a wee stroll & then a return via a path along the village river. The water looked sweet & we quickly spotted numbers of trout holding their feeding positions…one looked to run to more than 1 pound which is a decent size for these parts. Hummmmm????

We decided it was time to move on if we were to make our lunch date in St. Jean de Luz & be able to pay a visit to 2 or 3 other French Basque towns. As we left town though, headed for France, we were a tad disappointed that we had not wandered farther along as Bera has a decently sized Old Town section where they were hosting an agricultural machinery fair…damn!

Crossed to the French Side – Cute As Village of Sare…

From Bera you climb up & over the foothills of the Pyrenees and descend down into the first Basque Country village of Sare. You have or hate to admit it sometimes, but the French truly do have a grand sense of style and that was on display in spades in Sare. Tidy as, almost movie set perfect & clean as a whistle…we tested one of the local cafes with a café au lait & it passed more than a muster. A bit of souvenir shopping was completed, then a good zig zag wander round the village lanes & back to Gertie the Land Rover.

We literally made a pit stop in Ascain, it was nice but did not seem to hold a candle to Sare and there appeared not to be a soul on the streets. We made a pause for a bit of refreshment (local brewed beers), in some sun facing deck chairs before making the decision to move on to our lunch destination…

Lunch on the French Basque Coast @ St. Jean de Luz…

Hound #2 had read somewhere, about some cafe or bar that was someplace on the beach, somewhere near or close to St. Jean de Luz – I know, not exactly the directions you can put into Google & achieve success. But lo & behold we managed to find not 1, but 2 bars/bistros on the beach & opted for La Guinguette d’Erromardie. It just had the too cool for school look, with lots of hip folks taking in the sun & beach vibe and clearly tasty food & drink.

Yum Food @ La Guinguette d’Erromardie – Top Left: Caesar Salad; Grilled Fresh Sardines, Baked Potato & Salad; Coastal View with 2 Hounds; Drinks & Flowers Beachside…

The Daily Special was all Hound #2 had to see – grilled sardines with a baked potato & salad – choice made & she was happy as Larry (so was Billie). I thought I’d be healthy & have the Caesar Salad & get my dose of greens, but was disappointed to see the chicken in my Caesar came deep fried, not simply grilled. No serious complaints – all very tasty & washed down with some red vino & chilled cerveza & sweet, sweet staff. This place must rock @ night on the summer weekends.

Top: The Company Car; Beach View Towards St. Jean de Luz; Sunday Buzz…

This type of day needs, needs to be repeated before we depart for the UK, then New Zealand…so close & so interesting…and they have trout!!!!

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…

A Salamanca Weekend…A Savoury Visit.

salpalenciascene

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…

salbaralaska

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.

salturkeymeal

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…

salbridgeview

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!!!!!

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)

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

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

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

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

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Segovia in Super Light….

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

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

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

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El Bar @ El Parador @ Gredos…

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

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A Parador Brekky!

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

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Post Brekky Parador Woods Walk…Billie’s Fave.

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

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Toledo Bound….Bit of A View…

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

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Hola Toledo!

A few things to mention about Toledo:

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

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

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

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Toldeo Scenes – Crazy Trafico!

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Awesome Views from the Library Cafe…

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

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Tasting the Wares….

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

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Birthday Brekky Deal To Beat The Band….

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

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El Greco Museo

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

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

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

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Kumera Mains – Seared Salmon & Venison Stew….

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

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