Tuesday, March 21, 2012
Last night Rich suggested we go out for dinner at a new place he had seen on his bike travels. Of course, I couldn’t refuse. We found Bin 68 – a tapas/wine bar – was having its Grand Opening! What a neat little place. Rich thought it would put me in the mood for Spain. We enjoyed a glass of wine and a market board of various meats and cheeses that were awesome. (especially the Point Reyes blue cheese and the cana de oveja cheese). A perfect start to my journey – thanks, Rich!
Today is travel day. I am all packed and sitting on go. A quick trip to the gym to blast it out one more time and then off to the airport. I am bringing an whopping THREE bags this time (very unusual for me). I am taking one medium bag for Spain/Italy, one carry-on that is already pre-packed strictly for Morocco since we will be leaving the morning after I arrive in Spain, and one large duffel that is currently stuffed with items for Janel. There is method to my madness, I promise. The duffel will be emptied at Janel’s place and then will be carried EMPTY to Marrakech. If you are scratching your head and asking “why in the world would she carry on EMPTY bag to Marrakech?” then you obviously don’t understand one of Marrakech’s main attractions. (Janet, I know you understand.)
Delta First Class (with points, thank you very much) to Salt Lake City is uneventful and peaceful. Actually, I have never flowen into SLC and it is really beautiful with the snow-capped mountains. I have an hour or so to kill so I visit the Crown Room and relax before my flight.
Delta Business Elite (with points, again) to Paris is in another category altogether. Sweet. The flight attendants are unbelievably helpful and gracious. The food is actually very good (we get a menu to choose from complete with wine pairings) and the champagne upon being seated is welcomed. What a pleasure to sit and sip while watching the “riff-raff” board the aircraft.
I watch a movie (the Descendants) I eat (panko crusted halibut) and I end with port and a cheese tray. After that it is nighty-night. I think I slept pretty good for a solid 3 -4 hours of the 9 3/4 hour flight.
Paris was uneventful. The only view I got was of the outer areas of the airport – not the prettiest site in this city.
Finally onboard my AirFrance flight for the 2 hour jaunt to Madrid. I am once again in First Class (yeah, points) and am surprised to see that I am almost the only one in my section! Kind of weird, but I enjoy the solitude.
I nibble, I drink tea and very soon we touch down in Madrid. I am so excited that I end up leaving my phone on the plane! (I had tried to text Janel with my Spain cell phone, but it wouldn’t find the network). Oh well, I hope she is waiting for me.
I am feeling pretty good and we decide to take the Airport Express bus to a stop that is very close to my B&B – Artistic B&B. Very easy transport and with Janel’s knowledge of the city we quickly make our way to Artistic. The only snag was the 3 flights of stairs, no elevator and 3 heavy bags.
Artistic B&B is a really cute, homey place in the Las Letras district. Paola has decorated it with many pieces of artwork including handmade sinks and tiles. I love it immediately.
I chose Artistic B&B due to its great reviews on TripAdvisor combined with the fact that it is about a 7 minute walk to Janel’s piso. The only drawback is that it is on the 3rd floor and there is no elevator. We fully discovered this drawback as we hauled my 3 heavy bags upstairs and then brought 2 of them back downstairs to take to Janel’s house. My back had been bothering me before we left so Janel did the brunt of the work. Thanks.
We set off for Janel’s house in the drizzly cold weather. (She claims that the weather had been nice for the past couple of weeks and it is just today that it is kind of nasty). I don’t really care – I am in Madrid with my girl! Janel’s neighborhood is really cute and very “barrio” like – close knit and comfy. I can see why she likes it here. Her new piso is fantastic – nice salon, great bedroom for her and the part she especially likes is the wonderful, well-organized, bright kitchen!
We had planned to go out for a coffee but Janel surprised me with a special treat that she had brought back from her recent trip to Oporto, Portugal – pasteles de nata. She brewed up so aromatic coffee and we sat and devoured our treats. They were so good that I can see why she brought some back.
A quick note to Rich to let him know I arrived and we are out the door to explore her neighborhood. She is so lucky to have a fabulous Mercado right around the corner along with her fish guy, chicken guy, and olive monger. I must admit I am a bit jealous of her access to such fresh and beautiful food items and the relationship she has develop with her “mongers.”
Our first mission is to try and find me a cheap phone. I don’t really need it yet, but when we return to Madrid (after Marrakech) I will need it to be able to meet up with Janel etc. I also wanted to get an Italian sim card so we would have it to use in Italy. We hit up several phone places (they are rampant), but everyone seems to be out of stock on the cheapo, prepaid phones – “come back tomorrow.” We give up and decide to postpone the purchase until our return from Morocco.
Done with errands. Great! We wander through some areas of Madrid that I remember as we make our way to the area where we plan to have tapas. Timing is perfect. It is about 8:30 and we are getting hungry. There is a tapas place that both of us have heard/read about and we set out to see if it lives up to the hype. Janel has absolutely no trouble navigating what looks to me to be the convoluted streets of Madrid. This is her town and she knows it well.
Juana la Loca is our chosen first spot of the night and it is a winner. Small and cosy inside (and nice and warm) with friendly bartenders/servers that welcome us immediately. They have an array of gorgeous, gourmet pintxos (it is a Basque-ish place) that are lined up on the bar and then other hot items that you can order. We have both heard that they are known for their Tortilla Espanola so we place an order for that and then proceed to read the menu. We don’t get very far when we spy that they have Kokotxas! If you have been a loyal reader of our previous foray into San Sebastian, etc then you already know what Kokotxas are and why we are so giddy to find them again. You can read about our first encounter in Getaria Spain last year here. I never thought I would ever see or eat them again. These particular Kokotxas are from Bonita Tuna and are deep fried with a panko crust. We asked the bartender how their kokotxas are and he says “ricissima” (super tasty) You KNOW we ordered them.
First things, first. Two glasses of cava, please. My cava meter was completely depleted. NOW it feels like I am in Spain.
Tortilla Espanola is a very typical dish in Spain. It is kind of like a frittata with potatoes and onions in it that is sliced and served room temperature. It is usually very good, but not really anything super special. When this one arrives we can see why it gets raves. The onions/potatoes have been carmelized and it is oozy with egg and onion confit. Wow. Just as we start to really dig in, the kokotxas arrive.
The server sees us dilly dallying and taking photos. He is quick to tell us that we need to eat the kokotxas while they are hot. Oh yes. These are the stuff of dreams.
There is a bit of a concern that we have found a gem of a place and should stay here and try more of the menu. However, we tear ourselves away and decide that we will come back again another time.
Onward to an old favorite – Tempranillo. I come here at least once everytime I come to Madrid. Janel comes here when she has a chance as well. It is a beautiful bar with a slightly modern feel and is always very lively with customers. The bartender(s) recognize Janel and she orders her usual wine – a Toro called Romanic. It is wonderful. We peruse the menu and she convinces me to try the salmon/banana (really) tapa. We also order one of my favorites – the Huevos Revueltas con Setas (soft scrambled eggs with mushrooms).
We press on after leaving Tempranillo for our final destination of the night (remember that I have been up for who knows how many hours and now it is around 10:30pm). I recognize this street (Cava Baja) and see our favorite little bar El Siete. Janel told me that the bartender asked her about me the last time she was in. He is standing out front (since there is no one in the bar) and does a double take when we walk up. After welcome hugs and kisses we enter El Siete. Due to a futbol game between Madrid/Bilbao the place is empty. Just like we like it. Janel orders us a glass of wine from the Cuenca area – it is delicious.
I am slammed into Spanish and find myself coming up with phrases I didn’t even know I had. It is so deep in there, but it shows up. The bartender is super friendly and slices us some requisite jamon for munching. We enjoy mixing it up with him and could have stayed for one more wine, but I am starting to wane and we have a flight to catch tomorrow. We promise to return and start out on the 15 minute walk back home.
What a fantastic start to this trip! It is so great to be with Janel again. I am very excited to travel to Morocco with her and for us to explore the unknown area together. I get back to my room around 11:30 and end up staying up another hour or so to blog (dear readers). Tomorrow will show up early.