Exploring the market and restaurant scene

July 13, 2010

Saturday, July 10 – Barcelona: [Deb here] After a quick breakfast of freshly squeezed oranges, croissants, coffee, we went off to the market in the center of town, off of the main street, La Rambla. B was particularly impressed with the skill with which they filleted anchovies:

We bought some pistachios from Iran, some aged Manchego, and some fine acorn-fed jambon (95 euros per kilo). As we’d hoped, we found a fabulous selection of olives at the market as well. Then a break with olives and cappuccino:

We had lunch at a small neighborhood trattoria between our hotel and the much-needed laundromat. On the way to the restaurant, we spotted this apartment building with an awning of plants:

Our lunch was tuna tartare (with guacamole):

and octopus on potatoes:

Then we hit the laundromat:

We had dinner near the beaches and the port of Barcelona that evening. Among the folks having drinks and watching world cup soccer after a day at the beach, we found this restaurant where the chef had worked at El Bulli before it closed. The meal was only acceptable but the dishes sure looked fine.

The salt cod balls, unusual for having a cube of fish instead of a paste:

the pimentos with anchovies were terrific:

the fried fish (somewhat a cross between an anchovy and a sardine):

and finally, some marvelous squid with a superior onion jam:

[B here} We’ve left out the pictures of the creepy crawly things that Deb left on the plate: we thought of entitling this post: “Deb goes to seafood restaurant and goes home hungry.” But, in fact, she ate a lot.

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Day One in Barcelona (recovering)

July 13, 2010

Friday, July 9 – Barcelona: [Deb here] We decided that the Hotel Abbot was such a terrific place for the price that we asked whether we could stay for 5 more nights. They were booked solid for the week-end, but after some searching, the manager said that they had a double room without air conditioning, although she seemed reluctant to even offer it. I said that that was alright, and she said that she would offer it to us for 60 euros per night. I took a look at the room; it was essentially the same as the one we’d had for 80 euros. Since it had a refrigerator and we could keep cold wine, beer, and water in the room, it was a no-brainer for B. His reply: “we could eat very well for the difference.” So, here we are, exploring Barcelona for the first time.

The museum of Catalonian music had a wonderful tapas bar in the lobby:

and the exterior had columns of ceramic tile mosaics in many different designs and colors:

Back to the Cerveseria in our neighborhood for a quick lunch of carpaccio and gazpacho:


Bilbao: wow!

July 12, 2010

Thursday, July 8 – Bilbao: [Deb here] We were sad to leave France and the seaside resort of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, but were happy to drive over the border to Bilbao, Spain to visit the Guggenheim Museum which we’d last seen about 6-8 years ago.

The main hall is devoted to a series of Richard Serra’s sculptures:

Here I am inside one of the sculptures:

and a shot taken above the exhibit space of all of his sculptures:

Of course, we couldn’t leave without taking a photo outside of the Jeff Koons’ puppy (with freshly-planted flowers providing the color):

and a new outdoor sculpture:

We had originally planned to drive for 3 hours and to stay in rural Spain overnight before arriving in Barcelona. We enjoyed the scenery and the vineyards of the Rioja region, but then embarked on some pretty stark and uninteresting territory which didn’t seem promising for locating a bed and breakfast. After knuckling down and sharing the 5 1/2 hour drive, we made it into Barcelona after 10:00pm and “winged it” with great success. By 10:30, we had secured a room in a small hotel in the center of Barcelona (a quiet residential neighborhood) for 80 euros per night.

After settling in and asking for recommendations at the front desk, we walked over to the “cerveseria” for a late supper of delicious herbed lamb chops and ice-cold beers before retiring. I KNOW THAT I’M IN SPAIN — EVERYONE IS SMOKING IN THE RESTAURANT! Haven’t seen that for several years in France and Italy.

Some octopus done in the local style:


Slow and easy . . .

July 12, 2010

Wednesday, July 7 – St-Jean-de-Luz: [Deb here] I’ve discovered a small street in town where there are no gelato vendors nor sellers of espadrilles, but shops of more distinction, including one with a compelling shop window of shoes and bags of many hues. After walking by the shop twice while it was closed, I returned to select a deep blue pair of ballerinas (55 euros). After talking with the proprietor, I learned that all the shoes are made in Spain and in France (mine are the latter) and not “chinoise” as she noted firmly. I wish that I could carry back a couple of pairs of pumps in beautiful colors in suede and skin, but am exercising great discipline! The color and style selection reminds me of the shops in Florence that sell gloves:

We returned to the cafe that sells savory tartines with green salads and a carafe of wine for dinner:

B wanted the merlu (white fish) tart:

And I wanted the potato, gruyere, and herb tart we’d had before:

Per protocol, we each ate half of each. As usual, we had our flavor enhancers at the ready:

I’m the last person to join the hordes of ice cream eaters in resort towns, but after accompanying B to the gelateria in town a few times, I’ve now decided that this gelato is the best that I’ve ever tasted — no, it is exceptional — so that I’ve joined B in selecting a couple of flavors to taste each night. Two that are just mind-boggling are the cassis and the caramel with fleur de sel. Never in my life have I tasted such perfection, not even in the Italian melon or chocolate gelato we’ve had over the years. [B here: One outstanding flavor that I never expect to taste again was “Lait de brebis” (sheep’s milk).]

I’ve decided that I would make an excursion to Saint-Jean-de-Luz strictly to taste each night’s freshly-made gelato flavors and to buy colorful shoes.


We didn’t do anything (well, we went to the beach)

July 6, 2010

Monday, July 5 – St-Jean-de-Luz: [Deb here] This was our day at the beach, something that we rarely do. We went to the beach in the morning, had a simple picnic lunch back at our chambre d’hote (the Duchess’s lovely leftovers of duck confit and aubergines) took a nap, strolled through town again for some more gelato and retired to the beach again in late afternoon. No pictures here, since this was a lazy day and we didn’t want to endanger the camera at the beach. We did, however, have a few cold beers (found this original Budweiser from the Czech Republic!):

At 9pm we went to a chamber concert in the church of St. Jean Baptiste in town. Perfect ending to a perfectly relaxed day.


An exemplary sea-side resort

July 6, 2010

Sunday, July 4 – St-Jean-de-Luz: [Deb here] Happy 4th of July!, although it went unnoticed by us. After breakfast in Capbreton, we made the short, 20km drive to St-Jean-de-Luz, which turns out to be the epitome of resort towns: small, tasteful, family-oriented, with an enormous, fine-sand beach. By the end of the day, we’d resolved to spend four nights here relaxing a bit.

We located a lovely chambre d’hote in the center of town, 100 meters from the beach and the charming town centre. (First, we’d found one just outside of town which advertised WiFi, but on a premonition, before we’d hauled our bags to the tiny, over-priced second-floor room, B asked whether there was WiFi and the poor woman admitted that as she had neglected to write down the password, the WiFi was inaccessible. We promptly excused ourselves, put our bags in the car, and made another few calls.)

Here is our room in the centre of town:

We loved the black slate open shower (excuse the pajamas hanging in the photo):

Walking through town, we found the perfect shoe store for my replacement walking shoes — and they were all on sale! I immediately found the Geox shoes I’d been looking for and B couldn’t resist a pair that suited him! B has wide feet and the store proprietor offered to stretch them overnight; naturally, B had to document the process:

We found a terrific shop/cafe which makes only tarts, both savory and sweet:

and bought a slice of the potato, gruyere, herb:

Among the many charming aspects of this town were the municipal plant-watering truck:

and the terrific Italian gelateria which became our twice-a-day go-to dessert station:

Dinner was at one of the small, local restaurants: Petit Grille Basque where we had scallops:

and stuffed paquillos (a red pepper):


More chateau, then Pays Basque

July 6, 2010

Saturday, July 3 – Capbreton: [Deb here] Our last day in La Rochefoucauld began with lunch with the Duchess where she served us duck confit, potatoes poached in butter, garlic, and herbs, and her extraordinary aubergines (a well-known Middle Eastern dish called “the priest fainted” for which we were promised the recipe):

B and the Duchess had a promising conversation about the possibility of architectural schools in the U.S. either inviting her to speak to the students or establishing an architectural school at the chateau. Here is a photo of the half-collapsed donjon from the exterior (where I.M. Pei’s glass tower will complete nine centuries of architectural innovation):

and the view from the interior courtyard of the half that didn’t collapse:

After bidding her farewell, we settled in at the Cafe des Sports in town where B and I could update the blog, look at the NYTimes, and have a couple of beers. It was approximately 4:30 before we departed and decided to make our way south toward Biarritz and St. Jean de Luz, just before the Spanish border. We made it as far as Capbreton, where we almost broke our record for not having a place to stay before 9:15pm — happily, the tourist office had posted the list of chambres d’hote outside the door. After several phone calls, we found a place which could be called, at best, adequate.