Wandering the caves of Sacromonte

This morning I walk the streets of Albaicín (Granada) on my way to wander around Sacromonte. I was introduced to the neighborhood last night when I attended a zambra flamenco show. Today I am heading up to a cave museum (Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte) for a lesson on the history of this intriguing neighborhood.

I first read about these cave homes through a fictional book series. In each of the books the protagonist has an adventure in different cities throughout the world. In one book a woman visits the hillside cave town of Sacromonte in Granada. From then on I decided I needed to see these caves in person. A summarized version of the history is that they were inhabited by Gitanos, or what some people refer to as Roma gypsies- but the word gypsy is not really a good way to describe the group of people of this heritage because of all the negative meaning associated by its use. We know now that Romani or Roma people is probably a better way to describe this ethnic group that settled in this area in the 15th century. They brought with them their distinct culture that is reflected in this part of the city.

To get to the cave museum I turn down the street I visited last night for my zambra flamenco show – another distinct Sacromonte thing. The mostly white washed buildings are built into the hill. I climb up a couple of groups of stairs to eventually get to the museum at the top.

A few feet from the entrance there are some poems on the wall.

Granada is hot but the inside of the caves is a comfortable temperature. You see why they were used.

Some of the caves are decorated as they would have been used for living. Individual caves are also used as mini-museums of their own, for instance there is one where they talk about the history of flamenco and another where you learn about the plight of the Romani people in Spain; It is very hard to read how they were mistreated as a group over time. There are also caves that show different skills like weaving and pottery.

Outside of each cave there are plants with diagrams explaining their medicinal use.

I walk along the side of the hill of the museum and get a spectacular view of Granada. Along the hill sides you can see it is almost desert like with plants you typically see in dry and hot climates.

For only 5 euro I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth. I am glad to have marked this off my to-do list.

I walk back down into another part of Granada in search of an authentic tapas place. Again the streets are quiet. It is the warmest part of the day. Most people probably are indoors at this time.

When I get to the major business district of Granada I admire the shades installed along the shopping street – they are very much needed in hot Granada. I need to send a photo of these to urban planners in Florida (hint hint….might be a good idea).

I finally find an authentic tapas restaurant, La Sitarilla, and it serves free portions with each drink you order. I probably could have sat there for hours trying a good number of dishes; but I only try two today because the servings were a good size.

There are still more things I can do in town but I have already visited everything on my must see list. I head back to my hotel to chill there for the rest of the evening.

I finish my evening with the dessert I have been eyeing (Casa Ysla Pastelería) and finishing off the bottle of wine I bought a couple days ago. Tomorrow I fly north to begin another adventure there.

Out to fancytown, my Michelin experience

Today I spent the day exploring Ronda but tonight I have fancy dinner plans. I am dining at Bardal, a two-star Michelin restaurant.

I return to my hotel to prepare for the evening. Not important but it is a chance to display the cool hallway.

hallway in my hotel
Puento Nuevo again

Bardal is close to my hotel. I arrive early so I walk the surrounding area and look at the bullfighting ring. I take a picture from the outside but that is the extent of my visit. I am not a big fan of using animals for sport anymore in fact I’m not sure why I am not a vegetarian….perhaps because I like the taste of meat too much to give it up totally. Maybe someday I’ll evolve.

Plaza de Toros (bullring) near restaurant
bardal restaurant

I still arrive a little early for my reservation that was made well in advance. I am a solo diner but they don’t make me feel like I am a freak as some places often do. The staff defaults to speaking English, I assume because it is a high end restaurant and most of the guests around me are English speaking. I usually take opportunities like dining out to practice my Spanish vocabulary but this meal will be too complicated for me to understand every item and I really want to know what I am eating.

I have been to only a couple Michelin starred restaurants and those were in NYC. What I am experiencing tonight is a bit different from those experiences. Dining here is expensive and I expect that but this is a once (or rare) in a lifetime experience; I am willing to pay the money for it.

Chef Benito Gomez specializes in small dishes concentrating on ingredients found regionally. There are two menu choices and I order the smaller menu with the accompanied wine pairings. The smaller menu is a good choice; even though the dishes are small in size, the sheer number of them still leave me quite satisfied at the end of the evening.

The dishes and style of serving are very unique. It is like I am looking at individual works of art as each one arrives at my table.

We begin with a long line of starters and their wine pairings.

The first course came out with 3 items…..The mushroom course

I am instructed how to eat each each item. I don’t pay attention enough to the instructions so when I try to bite down on the mushroom bun the insides explode all over the place. I’ve made a mess and it is only the first course. I like this course very much and enjoy the different ways the mushrooms are prepared.

Starting top going clockwise: Pine nuts pudding and sour juice of mushrooms, creamy mushroom and cadiz blue cheese bun, mushrooms and pine nuts infusion

There are three more courses of appetizers. Many are served on top of interesting platters that are not meant to be consumed along with the item. Fortunately I am told what I can eat and what is decoration only. This meal needs an instruction manual! For the Rossini picanha I eat in what I later learn is caveman style: I grab the bone with both hands and eat the meat out of the middle. Also in this course a tuna is served on a bed of rocks surrounded by non-edible seaweed and a sea urchin is served in stone bowl to be scooped by a wooden spoon.

From the bottom left going clockwise: tuna and seaweed, rossini picanha, sea urchin and raifort

The next starter is another type of meat I have never tried, a cock crest. I had to do some research on this afterwards; the cock crest, or comb, is the fleshy part on top of a chicken (or turkey’s) head. I read it is hard to prepare because is both a hard to clean and rare to find. In this case it served over a bowl of dried corn (not edible). No complaints with this unique course.

cock’s crest with bernaise sauce

The last starter is the “salad”. It is a tasty inner piece of lettuce with a creamy beef sauce.

Grilled lettuce hearth and beef emulsion

Soon the main courses begin. We start with a lobster with split peas and caviar. A piece of bread accompanies the dish with a spicy Spanish salad spread.

Next is the sea anemone with green sauce. It is my first time trying a sea anemone and I am quite pleased. Look at how gorgeous this plating is?!?

sea anemone with green sauce

Next is the calçot with payoyo cheese (a local cheese). A calçot is a type of green onion (also similar to a leek) that is grilled. It is a simple and small but very enjoyable course.

The next course is the bread course. I normally don’t get excited about restaurant bread but the two different types of breads with the accompanied olive oil and butter are amazing. I forget the story behind the butter but I love butter with a story. The calories and fat don’t count as much when the butter has a good origin story, right?

For the next four courses, the two standouts are the aubergine fricando and the baby goat. I am not a fan of the consistency and accompanying sauce for the hake cheek with corn, coriander and vanilla. I find it strange this course doesn’t work for me because I normally like fish cheeks and the flavor of coriander; perhaps the corn and vanilla combination is a turn off for me. The monkfish a la espalda is good but not one of my favorites from all the courses. The final savory course is a baby goat with spinach and a kidney with perigordine sauce. They were both very good. I’ve had goat before but never this way and this is my first time trying kidney. I’ve read it is healthy to eat organ meat. This is a good alternative since I do not care for liver.

Finally we reach the dessert courses and the first item is a celeriac cake with fennel. I am not a fan of fennel but I don’t mind this dish. Celeriac is a turnip like root vegetable sort of related to celery. I am not sure I’ve ever noticed it in supermarkets in the USA. The cake has a nutty flavor and the fennel compliments it. Also it isn’t too sweet. I don’t care for desserts that are overpowered with sweetness.

The next course of chocolate and almond is not overly sweet as well.

The final course it is a collection of petit-fours or smaller items. Being very full from all the food and wine I take a bite out of each one but I don’t completely finish this course.

At this point in the evening the generous wine pours kick in and the conversation volume levels get louder in the room. One of the servers brings out another piece of art, but no it is the bill only. I am also given a list of all the dishes served this evening. This is a nice touch because there is no way I can remember all that is served. I do really wish I had the wine list though because I loved most of the pairings and would have liked to share them with others. Probably the only improvement on my experience would be including the wine list at the end.

I am very glad I booked dinner at Bardal. It was worth every EURO.

Spain: Toledo

Today I am taking the train from Madrid to explore the city of Toledo. Toledo is a city in Castilla-La Mancha known for its history of Arab, Jewish and Christian influences. Toledo is about a 30 minute train ride from Madrid from the Madrid Atocha station. It is easy to get a last minute ticket since there are about 15 trains a day that do this route. I have a little delay on finding where to buy the tickets initially but I eventually figure it out. I’ve decided to sign up online for a RENFE card. I earn points I’m not sure how to use but most tickets I buy from this day forward are in advance using my phone where I can log in and all my info automatically gets populated to save time.

I arrive in Toledo and follow the crowd towards town. There are a couple routes to get into the city, I choose the one with many stairs. Starting my day breaking a large sweat seems to be the theme of my traveling the next couple weeks. I like hitting the shoulder seasons when I travel but it seems I’ve hit Spain at the beginning of the hottest time of year.

On the walk into town

As I get closer to the old city I feel the need to take some photos with my fancier camera. I haven’t used it extensively for a while. It immediately starts acting up. The after market batteries I bought in Southeast Asia in 2019 are no longer holding a charge and the battery gets stuck in my camera. I can’t seem to get the stupid battery out. I eventually get it out with my room card but I vow to toss that battery later. I put the camera away for now and continue to the old town.

After I climb many stairs I end up in the main thoroughfare where there are shops and cafes. I am enjoying the shade cloth they have along the street. It is a very hot day and every little counts. I note this in another city days later. I think it is a fantastic idea.

I head first to the church Santo Tomé, a small church that is famous for its El Greco The Burial of Count Orgaz.

Toledo is all about El Greco and by the end of the day I am El Greco’d out but this is a nice start. It is a quick visit.

Toledo had a view large Jewish population in the 1400’s until they were expelled in 1492. The Tránsito Synagogue and Jewish Museum shows the history during that time. I enjoy looking at the wooden ceiling and Mudéjar architecture.

I wander over to San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio built by catholic monarchs as a tribute to the victory at the battle of Toro. It is said to have been originally designated as the resting place for Isabel and Ferdinand (Note: They are in Granada). It is another great example of Mudéjar style. There are again some really impressive wood ceilings.

Nearby is Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca a Jewish synagogue built in Moorish style that was later converted to a Christian church. It is once more an example of the melting of three religious cultures in this city.

I stop for a couple minutes and eat my bocadilla I bought in the morning then head over to the Museo del Greco where I observe the unhinged looking personalities in his paintings and the paintings of people who studied under him.

I’m getting el sicko of el Greco but I have one more stop on the El Greco tour, the Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo or Toledo Cathedral.

I get burned out easily when I see tons of cathedrals but this one is definitely worth the stop. I’m glad I am here in the late afternoon since I’ve seemed to miss the crowds of all the day-trippers….yes I am a day-tripper too but I’m not in a group that crowds up the place.

The cathedral is Spanish Gothic style with a hint of Mudejar architecture inside. I especially like the main chapel with its over the top pictorial of new testament scenes.

Behind the main chapel is a pretty spectacular display that goes all the up to the ceiling where it appears heaven itself has so boldly provided the lighting.

I love this and can’t believe its the first time I’ve heard this story of the giant that carries people across the river.

A visit to the chapter house shows a display of portraits of its Archbishops as well as some nice frescos.

Soon I’ve hit the El Greco’s again. I admit they are nice but I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten my fill of El Greco for a lifetime at this point.

My favorite by far of the church is the choir. I am delighted when I notice the odd bottoms of the choir seats. The seats also contain wood carvings of various battles.

I am tired since this is my first full day of sightseeing, I am about to call it quits after the cathedral even though I still have some hours to go before it is time for my return train to Madrid. I walk by the Ermita “Mezquita” del Cristo de la Luz which is still open. Here I see a small Catholic church that was once a mosque.

With time to kill I wander a bit more. I am looking for a cafe to have a snack and a drink but I’ve hit the dreaded siesta time and there doesn’t seem to be much open that fits what I need.

I find an outdoor park with a limited menu cafe and order a beer and some mass produced patatas bravas. I am not really a big fan of potatoes in my every day life but they seem to be a staple here so I dive into a plate.

It is almost time to go so I head to the train station and catch the 7:20PM train back to Madrid. I leave town a different way than I’ve entered so I get a different perspective.

Its a short ride back to Madrid and somehow I still have energy stores. I clean up and try to check out Calle Cava Baja in Madrid, a place popular for tapas crawls. I’m still early but the place I have chosen, La Perejila, is already very busy. I insert myself into a small spot at the bar and order a vermut and a pintxo. I’ve been here before but I wanted to return since I found it charming last time. Eventually a table clears and I am offered the table. I much rather sit at the bar but I am in an awkward spot so I take the table. I mean to stop at another spot but I am exhausted and head back to the hotel. After all I have another busy day scheduled tomorrow.

Calle Cava Baja

Flying to Madrid

I am starting my Spain adventure in Madrid. My last trip to Madrid was ten years ago. I feel like I got to see most of the city last time. The goal in staying in Madrid isn’t really to visit Madrid, the goal is to use it as a home base for some day trips: Toledo and Segovia.

My international flight from the USA is out of JFK. I try to schedule padding between my international connections in case of flight delays. Unfortunately this time my international flight is delayed. This time the plane is at the airport but there is a delay to taxi the plane out of the storage area where it has been sitting for the past few hours. We are delayed hours waiting for the plane to be brought to the gate. In addition, the Delta terminal at JFK has seen better days; the airport has broken bathrooms, broken ipads, and very slow staff. The terminal is crowded and having that extra time in the airport is not a comfortable experience.

Eventually we board the plane and fortunately the flight is pretty pleasant. In the past I slept well on long flights but find it hard the past couple years. I probably have a total of an hour’s rest on the flight. Luckily I have nothing planned the first day.

Metro Station at airport in Madrid

I make it to my hotel early so I drop my bags and go walking nearby. This is my first time staying at a hotel at the Room Mate chain (Room Mate Mario Hotel). It isn’t the cheapest stay but I’m happy with what I get for the price point I pay. I am near the big opera house. It is a central location and close to a metro stop.

Opera metro station and theater in the background

I walk over to the Royal Palace of Madrid and take a stroll. It is not on my agenda to go inside but I do take some pictures of the outside and the nearby Catedral de la Almudena. I walk a little further into the nearby area which mostly seems new to me because I don’t recall the area much from my last visit to Madrid.

Royal Palace of Madrid
Gotta love Europe in the summer. Look at this weird bear.

Soon enough it is time to check in so I return back to the hotel to check in and get cleaned up from my flight.

I get the wifi password and it doesn’t work. One of the symbols looks like a variation of the British pound symbol. I try different iterations and nothing works. I am too tired to go get a new password and decide to deal with it later; plus my Spanish is rusty (even after a month of Duolingo reviews). I dislike defaulting to English. I don’t like being that type of traveler I like to at least attempt the primary language of the land. I give it my best effort.

After cleaning up I wander to one of the favorites of my past the Mercado de San Miguel where I order myself a nice glass of Vermut (Vermouth). Nothing compares to the vermouth I get in Spain. The market is a nice and easy place to try different types of pintxos (pinchos or small tapas) and regular size tapas. It isn’t cheap and it gets crowded in the evening but vendors at the market are used to dealing with tourists so it is an easy way to jump into the Spain tapas experience. It is also perfect for my first jetlagged evening.

It is still early but I am tired so I slowly stroll back to my room to go to be early. I have my first day trip scheduled to Toledo tomorrow.