Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spain Trip 2013: General Observations

I think one of the first conversations that Doug and I had when we started dating was "where are we going for our first big trip?" It didn't take us long to decide on Spain- he'd never been and I'd only visited Barcelona.

We decided to spend 16 days there, stopping in Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada with day trips to Toledo, Segovia, and Cordoba (see our full itinerary below). 

I plan to blog about our favorite sites, restaurants, and bars in each city but first, some general recommendations/observations about our travels in Spain: 

1) Buy Rick Steves' book. His guide was an invaluable resource when it came to both planning our trip and exploring and eating while we were there.

2) Airbnb is awesome. As travelers on a budget, we basically had two choices for lodging: hostels or Airbnb. We chose Airbnb for our nights in Barcelona, Sevilla, and Granada and could not have been more happy with that decision. Yes, there were a few funky things here and there, like lots and lots of stairs and a slightly confusing building (were we staying in a real estate office or what?), but for the most part, great locations and our own bathrooms and kitchens made it worth it.

3) Restaurant service is much different. In Spain, servers are there to take your order, bring your food, and give you your check. And that's about it. They're not there to make you feel comfortable or check in with you, and you're certainly not getting your bill until you manage to flag someone down with a "la cuenta, por favor." This definitely took some getting used to for us.

4) Take advantage of the Renfe train system. We used Renfe for all our city-to-city travels. It was reliable, fast, and relatively cheap. Plus, as Doug pointed out, Renfe trains kind of have a Darkwing Duck thing going on.

5) Spaniards are serious about siesta. I don't know why this was surprising to me since siesta is probably the first thing you learn about Spanish culture in elementary school, but for some reason I was thinking it was more of a cliche than an actual thing. But really, the smaller towns and even the larger cities to some extent do shut down from about 3-6pm. As Doug and I eventually learned, it makes a lot more sense to partake in this custom rather than wandering around trying to find something that's open.

6) Jamon is everywhere. I thought people were joking when they told us to be prepared to eat a lot of jamon. But they weren't joking... and neither am I when I say I've had enough cured ham for quite some time.

7) Be prepared to stay out late. Another cliche that we saw in action time and time again was Spaniards's preference for eating dinner late and staying out even later. Most restaurants didn't get a good dinner crowd going until 9pm, at the very earliest. As far as going out, as we learned from Doug's Madrileña friend Ana, staying out until 3am on a weeknight is not at all unusual.

8) Beginner to intermediate Spanish will work just fine. This is may not be true in less touristy cities and towns, but a combination of our iffy Spanish and an abundance of English-speakers meant that we only had a few communication issues.

Here's our itinerary for the trip. Doug and I agreed that it was pretty much perfect (good job, Doug!). The only change we would make is to not spend the night in Toledo and spend an extra night in Sevilla instead. 

Day 1: Fly to Barcelona
Day 2: Barcelona
Day 3: Barcelona
Day 4: Barcelona
Day 5: Barcelona to Madrid
Day 6: Madrid to Toledo
Day 7: Toledo to Madrid
Day 8: Madrid
Day 9: Day trip to Segovia
Day 10: Madrid to Cordoba to Sevilla
Day 11: Sevilla
Day 12: Sevilla to Granada
Day 13: Granada
Day 14: Granada
Day 15: Granada to Madrid
Day 16: Fly Home

Monday, May 13, 2013

Portland Restaurant: Sunshine Tavern

What: Sunshine Tavern
Where: 3111 SE Division

We have been lucking out this spring with some incredible weather and Adam and I have been doing our best to enjoy it. After a morning walk around Mt. Tabor with my cousin Chase we stopped for lunch at Sunshine Tavern.

Initially the plan was to get something fresh and healthy, but then this happened...

Adam went for the Slushy Margarita ($8) described as "10 oz of all natural slushy fun," while Chase and I went for on the rocks versions ($7). This was the first mistake of my afternoon as these margaritas were followed by pitchers of margaritas in the park about two hours later...

And we followed that up with more really healthy items...like Adam's fried chicken sandwich ($11) with blue cheese dressing, celery, red onion and chili mayonnaise accompanied by a nice pile of french fries! It was pretty delish.

Chase ordered the jambon buerre royale ($12) with butter, fleur de sel, radishes and fennel.

I went for the preserved plums ($8) with hazelnuts, crème fraiche and honey. This was refreshing and the crème fraiche with honey made for a nice, sweet, alternative condiment for the salty fries.

Sunshine Tavern definitely offers a good selection of "tavern" foods with prices ranging from $7-16. If you find yourself on Division for lunch I would recommend checking it out. Cheers!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Portland Restaurant: Genoa

Where: 2832 SE Belmont St
Honeys Heart: Capellini con gamberi and the wine pairing

A few weeks ago Adam and I were lucky enough to be treated to a fantastic dinner at Genoa in southeast Portland. They have a set menu and you choose your main course. Don't worry, you can't go wrong! We also opted for the wine pairing which was a great decision.

I missed a picture of the beginning of the dinner. It felt too fancy, but I got over it after the crudo di bufalo that was a tartare of oregon bison, pickled green strawberry, cucumber, and black olive and began documenting. The second course was an amazing capellini con gamberi featuring oregon bay shrimp, old bay mascarpone and pan grattato. Rolling a little of the pasta through the dot of arugula-type pesto was SO good.

Next was the insalata di asparagi with new crop asparagus, cured iberico pork, black garlic and coddled egg. So fancy and tasty.

For our main course I went for the merluzzo of puget sound sablefish, charred artichoke, yogurt gnocchi and green garlic. I love fresh artichoke and the fish was perfect.

Adam opted for the manzo with seared beef striploin, spring onion, ashen potato, and crisp tongue. The sauces on the bottom of the plate were so good and, like the fish, the strip loin was cooked perfect.

We finished our meal with some cheeses. One was a cow's milk cheese with grapes and the other was a goat cheese with little dried fruits. YUM.

This is definitely a nice night out. Go treat yourself, enjoy, eat slowly, sip the wine pairing and let it drag out. Great night.
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