Madrid: On Second Chances

In the middle of Madrid’s historic center, his cab off limits, the driver dropped us off just outside a tree-lined, cobbled street.

tree-lined

Across it is our hostal. Calle Mayor is filled with buildings of centuries past and within walking distance is Madrid’s main squares, Plaza Mayor, and Puerto del Sol.

calle-mayor

hostal-patria-2Hostal Patria

A good place to be, this part of the city is full of sprightly bars, restaurants, and shops, many of which are old and historical selling traditional goods.

traditional-stores

alpargateria

Definitely a perfect choice to get into its verve.

Madrid didn’t always dazzled. On a day trip en route to Seville some ten years ago, the capital of Spain failed to impress. Too cosmopolitan, my first impression was.

old-building

But highly developed as it has become, Madrid’s art, and cultural heritage remains Intact and very much alive. A few days in the capital and I warmed up, I allowed it to dazzle me with its vibrant vibe, the second time around. So how did it change my impression?

 La Plaza Mayor and People Watching

plaza-mayor

Although overpriced, Plaza Mayor is a marvelous place to while away time. We’d order a jug of sangria, a plate of olives and pass the time and people watch.

sangria-and-olives

people-watch-p-mayor

Built during Philip III’s reign (the Habsburg period), it used to be the center of festivities… bull fights, royal coronations, and executions. It is still used today for public celebrations and is one of the famous squares of Madrid. It is a beautiful square that measures 129 by 94 meters. Three-storey residential buildings surround it.

plaza-mayor-arch

A fire led to the plaza’s renovation in 1790. Architect Juan de Villanueva lowered the building fronts and enclosed the square at the corners by building nine archways. The Arco de Cuchilleros with its steep steps leading up to the square is the most arresting among the arches.

In Calle Cuchilleros, you’ll find Botin Restaurant—the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. But more than its world record, do go for their specialty,

botin-restuarant

the Cochinillo Asado (roast suckling pig) and Cordero Asado (roast lamb). Superb.

Delightful Cheap Eats

museo-del-jamon-facade

Museo del Jamon (Museum of Ham). Just by the name, you are lured, yes? Legs and legs of ham hang from its walls, calling us from afar. This was the first place, after checking in, we entered.

museo-de-jamon

It was jamon heaven and an excellent brunch it made. A block away from the hostal, we found it to be a great place to soak in the local scene while sampling different kinds of Spanish ham at very affordable prices. Beer comes with a round of free tapas already.

cerveseria-100-montaditos

Another excellent venue for very affordable eats is Cerveceria 100 Montaditos. A fun place with many outlets across Spain, actually. A pint of beer and most sandwiches sell for €1. And these aren’t shoddy sandwiches either. How can you go wrong with that?

Mercado de San Miguel is my favorite.

mercado-san-miguel

It’s a market and a tapas corner in one roof. Although somewhat of a tourist trap, I was captivated.

mercado-de-san-miguel-building

The vibrant atmosphere, the turn of the century building, which was rebuilt when the Belle Époque fell into disrepair, the tapas and various foods are good enough reasons to be trapped here.

tapas-at-mercado-san-miguel

It is described to be a culinary culture center that brings together the best traders, professionals and experts under one roof and I tend to agree. I truly enjoyed this place.

The Glorious Churros con Chocolate

A favorite of the Spaniards, chocolate and churros, they take very seriously. Made of thick dark chocolate, Spanish hot chocolate is almost always paired with churros. The thickness and richness work well as a dip but to drink it after the churros are gone is not a bad thing too.

churros

Highly recommended in guidebooks and online searches are San Gines Chocolateria. Believed to be the oldest place serving chocolate and churros. We found our way there one morning, a line already forming. The menu, if there even is one, only has a handful of items: café con leche, fresh orange juice, and churros con chocolate caliente. There are 2 versions of the churros – the traditional kind (has 6-7 pieces per order) and the thicker kind called porras. Lighter, I preferred the traditional one.

Our hostal host, on the other hand, recommended to Cafeteria Los Pinchitos. It is, to him, the best churros con chocolate in town. “A secret among Madrileños,” he said.

los-pinchitos-churros

The churros are light, the outside crispy while the inside soft. The chocolate appeals more to my taste – not as thick as San Gines’ but creamier. The place lacks ambiance, typically traditional, and the service leaves much to be desired. But the food besides the churros and the chocolate are excellent.

roasted-pork-earsOreja de Cerdo a la Plancha — Roasted Pork Ear 

Treasure Hunting at El Rastro

rastro

Unless it’s a flea market, a traditional market or a specialty market (for affordable art / conversational pieces that are easy to carry home), I try to avoid the shopping scene. But in Madrid, Sundays should be reserved for the flea market.

entertainment-at-the-rastroEntertainment at the Rastro

rastro-knick-knacks

The rastro is a street market from the medieval time.

rastro-antique

rastro-chairs

One can spend the whole morning looking at find practically anything, from books and toys, clothes, flowers, handicrafts, to antiques, paintings, and other works of art.

sievert-blow-torchA blowtorch made by Anton’s descendant.  How likely is that?

Held every Sunday and public holidays from 9am – 2pm, it takes up a large triangle area between Calle Embajadores and Ronda de Toledo, along Plaza de Cascorro and La Riberia de Curtidones.

 And suddenly I am charmed.

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Alfama: The Home of Lisbon Blues Music

“Alfama” recommends Hossein. For an authentic fado vadio, our “unofficial” guide guaranteed that this place is it, writes down the name and address of the bar, then points it out on our map.

A-Tasca-do-Chico-signage

On Rua Dos Remedios, we found A Tasca do Chico. It was Fado Vadio (amateur fado singers) night.

A-Tasca-do-Chico

The small joint only had a few tables, perfect for intimate and informal performances.

tapas-and-sangria

Dinner was simple but we were there for Fado anyway. It was an absolutely enjoyable evening of soulful music. A must in Lisbon.  Really.  Don’t leave Lisbon without a live experience of Fado music.

Fado

So what is Fado? I too, have  never heard of it until I read up on Lisbon. It is a music genre traced back to the 1820s and 1830s at best. Although difficult to trace, it seems to have its roots in the merging of Portuguese, Moorish and African culture. Fado songs can be about anything but it is a traditional form of urban folk music. The Portuguese language has a word, saudade, which roughly means nostalgia or homesickness with a bittersweet longing. Fado music is exactly that. It often conveys a yearning for what could have been or what cannot be. Most of its lyrics are about lost or unrequited love, jealousy and passion, death, and the lives of the Fadistas (fatalists).

There is no better place to experience the nostalgia of Fado than in Lisbon’s oldest district, Alfama. But it is not only famous for its Fado music as to visit Alfama is to visit the architecture, sound and smell of old Lisbon.

And so we went back the following day. Alfama is Lisbon’s most symbolic quarter. The oldest district of Lisbon spreads down the southern slope from Castelo de Sâo Jorge to the River Tagus. The Mouraria and Alfama (both old districts) were relatively spared during the Great Earthquake,

narrow-street

thus remains the charm of winding narrow streets and crumbling walls.

castelo-de-sao-jorge

A walk through the old-fashioned residential neighborhood is like stepping back in time.

Alfama

It’s a village still made up of tiny spaces, whitewashed houses with iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers and drying laundry.

The best way to get to know Alfama is to wander around.

view

The outstanding views, the churches, and the breathtaking panorama of the city from the castle were worth another trip back the next day. Some scenes from our wanderings:

from-castelo-de-sao-jorge

Although we didn’t have time to explore, Castelo de Sâo Jorge is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic center of Lisbon and Tagus River.

IMG_9367As in from Baixa.

It can be seen from almost everywhere on the city.

Miradouro-de-Santa-Luzia

Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a romantic terrace by the church of Santa Luzia with a view of the river and Alfama. On the outside wall of the church are 2 tiled panels, one of Gomercio Square before the quake and another showing Christians attacking the castle.

Miradouro-das-Portas-do-Sol

A few steps away from Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a balcony that opens to the river offering spectacular views over Alfama.  A statue of St. Vincent holding a boat and 2 ravens also stands proud watching over the district. Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol.

Sao-Vicente-de-Fora

From the balcony, one can spot Sâo Vicente de Fora Monastery, an exceptional 16th-century monument located outside the city walls. “De Fora” means on the outside.

Santa-Engracia-Church

Church of Santa Engracia or Portugal’s National Pantheon. This 17th-century monument was converted in the 20th century into the National Pantheon. It is now the burial-place for a number of Portuguese personalities.

approaching-alfama

entertainment

IMG_9665

Useful Info:

Getting There: 

tram-28

Walk from Rossio or take tram no. 28

A Tasca do Chico (Alfama)
Rua Dos Remedios, 83
+351 965 059 670
 
 
References:
Portuguese Fado Music 101 – About. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://worldmusic.about.com/od/europeanjudaica/p/PortugueseFado.htm

Good Eats: Portugal

Portugal-EatsCredits: Quickpage from 4EVER kit by Sarah H.

Not as famous a cuisine in my part of the world, my first encounter with Portuguese cuisine was in Macau. Technically, what I had was Macanese food—more like a mix of Portuguese and Chinese with influences from cuisines of other Portuguese speaking nations but this sparked an interest in Portugal (and of course its cuisine).

So we made our way there last year. Little did we know that this land offers more than just an awesome cuisine but boasts of picturesque landscapes, colorful cityscapes as well as a rich history.

Lisbon

The primary goal, however, is to delve deeper into its cuisine. And as soon as we arrived in Lisbon, we immediately solicited advice on where to find authentic Portuguese restaurants around the city.

touristy-restos

And thanks to Hossein, we found our way to some unforgettable good eats even though eateries catering more to the tourist crowd dominated the area near his hostel.

Portugal’s colonial possessions influenced the use of spices and ingredients that are today widely used in their cuisines such as chilies from Angola called piri-piri, black pepper, as well as cinnamon, vanilla and saffron. The result is rustic and robust, often described as peasant food. Portuguese restaurants run a broad spectrum from rustic eateries to fancy hotspots.

Lisbon has left an indelible impression on me and a lot of it had to do with the food.  Here’s why I know I’ll be back.

Chicken Piri Piri at Bonjardim

Chicken-Piri-Piri

Chicken Piri Piri. One of Portuguese’s simple pleasures. This chicken is roast to perfection with a blend of potent small chili peppers. Top on our list, the first thing we did was head to this unpretentious eatery where locals go for the charred and plump piri-piri spiced roast chicken.

Bonjardim

Just within walking distance from the hostel, in a side street east of Praca Restauradores is Bonjardim Cervejaria.

On a rainy day, it was comforting to be enjoying chicken cooked to perfection – moist in the inside, skin crispy and gently spiced.

Piri-Piri

For added heat, a piri-piri sauce comes on the side and should be taken with caution. Hossein’s first recommendation, I give it a two-thumbs up.

Maritime Bounty

Being a seafaring nation with a well-established fishing industry, fish and seafood dominate the menu. Often relying on a traditional repertoire of grilled fish, meat, hearty stews and the ubiquitous salted cod, the cuisine is best when simply prepared.

The Ubiquitous Bacalhau

Codfish is a staple and is almost always used dried and salted because this is how this fish was preserved pre-freezer days. Today, they say that there are 365 different ways to cook bacalhau—one for every day of the year. The strong flavor of this salty fish represents the real taste of Portuguese food.

bacalhau-riceBacalhau Rice

Sardinhas

sardinhas-de-escabeche

Another popular sardine dish— Sardinhas de Escabeche, fried sardines marinated in olive oil, vinegar, onions and bay leaves.

Next to adorn the tables of rich and poor are the Portuguese sardines. The country’s 6-8 inch long “slave of the sea” is found off the Atlantic coast of Iberia and France.   They are known to have layers of fat content that melts when cooked (usually grilled), giving it a unique flavor.

Caldeirada

This very Algarvean dish is a stew consisting of a variety of fish and shellfish with potatoes, tomatoes and onions and usually served at the table from a large pot, usually from where it was cooked in.

caldeirada

It is a Portuguese bouillabaisse that calls for a generous splash of white wine and lots of herbs, resulting to a hearty one pot dish often served with crusty bread to soak up the delicious soup.

Porco

From fried pork cubes to the national favorite—roast suckling pig. Portuguese love their pork.

Leitão

leitao

Or suckling Pig is served throughout Portugal. Rubbed with garlic, pork fat, rock salt and pepper, then traditionally roasted in a spit. The result is usually crisp skin and succulent meat.

Bifana

TendhinaTendhina, a hole in the wall in Rossio serving lovely sandwiches.

It’s a simple pork sandwich, really. A humble combination of grilled pork sandwiched on a hard roll that pairs perfectly with a few squirts of tart honey mustard.

Bifina-sandwichMay not look very appetising but this sandwich is heavenly.

A deliciously simple meal to grab when busy or while exploring the town.

Caldo Verde

Caldo-Verde

A hearty soup more common in the north but is found in menus all over Portugal. Made from a thick creamy base of onions and potatoes with very finely shredded collard green (sometimes substituted with kale) and chouriço (Portuguese sausages).

Feijoada

Our kind of dish—hearty and full of flavor.

Hossein pointed us to an address in Rua do Norte. No name, just a number and a street name. Small restaurant with a few tables, the signage inconspicuously positioned somewhere on a window revealed the restaurant’s name—Cantinho do Bem Estar. It was still closed. Someone from inside came out to tell us to come back at 1 (pm). So we walked around, had a few beers and by the time we returned (at precisely 1pm), there was a table already occupied.

IMG_1866

And no sooner than we are settled, it was full. And by the time we were done, there was a line.

Because it came highly recommended by the server and almost everyone had this dish on the table, we went for Feijoada.

feijoada

A dish consisting of beans and pork braised in a sauce of tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage to which traditional sausages (we had a mix of blood sausages and chorizo) and bacon are also added. Definitely a great meal to have on a rainy day.

Cantinho do Bem Estar. Thank you, Hossein, for this marvelous find.

Doces

I’ve always looked forward to Macanese / Portuguese desserts when in Macau, not only because I love sweets but also because they were all divinely addicting. Portuguese love their dessert that’s why.

portuguese-sweets

Convent made cakes and desserts introduced in the 15th century brought forth this fascination for sweets. There is an abundant list of Portuguese desserts from cakes, pastries and tarts to mousses and puddings. And of course, I can’t end this post without mentioning some of my favorites

Pasteis de Belem

As it is in Spain, eggs especially the yolks were in abundance (Portugal being Europe’s largest egg producer).

pasteis-de-nata

Pasteis de Nata became Portugal’s favorite sweet treat. So good that it has made its mark in other countries, Macau being one of them. These are small open pastries with a sweet custard filling and a caramelized sugar topping.

pasteis-de-belem-2

Available in every coffee shop in the land but the best can only be found in the Belem area of Lisbon called Pasteis de Belem. A carefully guarded recipe since it was introduced in 1837. The lines are long and I hate lines.

pasteis-de-belem

But when you bite into the flaky pastry shell, and tasted the sweet, creamy filling dusted with sugar and cinnamon, you know that however long the wait, it will be worth it. Believe. You. Me.

Sintra’s Travesseiros and Queijadas

After touring around this magical UNESCO World Heritage Site, our guide pointed us to A. Piriquita to cap our simple yet beautiful lunch.

sintra

As we walked in, the smell of the buttery goodness of freshly baked goods greeted along with a display full of heavenly sweets. The café though is known for Sintra’s delicacy, the travesseiros, a puff pastry filled with custard and almond, and dusted with sugar. The looks do not prepare you to the light and flakey crust and the moist, creamy almond filling that oozes out when bitten.

Piriquita

Along with this, the jewel of the crown is the famous cupcakes / cheesecake called queijadas. It is essentially a small round custardy tart wrapped in pastry, unlike the cupcake / cheesecake we are familiar with.  It is made with simple ingredients of cow’s cheese, sugar, flour, eggs and cinnamon. With a pronounced cinnamon flavor, these simple ingredients gave rise to an exquisite dessert not quite a cupcake or a cheesecake.

Impressive recommendations, which suffice to say, left me longing to go back.

Useful Info: 

Bonjardim
Travessa de S. Antão 11
+351 213 427 424
 
A Tendinha do Rossio
Praca Don Pedro IV, 6
Rossio, Lisbon
+351 212 468 156
 
Cantinho do Bem Estar
Rua do Norte, 46
Bairro Alto, Lisbon
+351 213 464 265
 
Pasteis de Belem
Rua de Belem, 84-92
1300-085 Lisbon
+351 213 637 423
 
A Piriquita
Rua Padarias 1/7
Sintra
+351 219 230 026

The Way to Initiate the Novice

trekking-to-lighthouse

I’m with some novice trekkers, not that I mind, it is an easy trek after all.  I am thrilled, in fact, to have them experience the joy of summiting after an uphill struggle that seemed never-ending and pointless, and to realize, after all that trouble, that the reward is usually at the peak.

Named the 3rd best beach and island of the Philippines by CNN Go April of last year and just like that, Palaui caught my attention.  I’ve been going back and forth to Sta. Ana for a few years now, but Palaui was never on my radar.

rough-sea

Maybe because it takes more work to get there and that includes braving the (sometimes) treacherous sea.

approaching-palaui

A protected area, the island lies between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  It boasts of a nice long stretch of white pebble beach, abundant marine life, a century old lighthouse, a waterfalls hidden somewhere and a scenic rugged terrain.  It is pretty much uninhabited, with only a small community living in the island.  No electricity and accommodation to speak of.

jump-off

So one fine day, along with the same people I spent several Sta. Ana weekends together, we took off from the shores of Sun City in San Vicente and headed to Palaui.  An hour, perhaps more on the boat and we arrived on the island.

Palaui-beach-front

We paid for a guide and started our trek on the beach,

forest

which lead to a short forest walk before we emerged on the other side to beautiful rolling hills reminiscent of Batanes.

like-batanes

steps-to-lighthouse

We then climbed (more than) some steps that would eventually lead to the summit where Cape Engaño stands.

closer-glimpse-of-lighthouse

cape-engano

The view along the way took my breath away.

beach-from-the-top

It may not be the best beach as it is not fine sand as that of Boracay or even Palawan

beach

but the island dazzles at every turn,

dos-hermanas

glimpse-of-the-beach-on-the-way

from the beach to the top of the lighthouse… all I can say was SPECTACULAR.  And the new recruits were enjoying themselves too.

half-way-to-lighthouse

Not that difficult to get to, we took the Lugunzad trail, which took all of just 30 minutes from beach to lighthouse.

P6300834

There is a waterfall somewhere, said our guide, but all this walking made the others hungry.  And so the initiation is over, we will take baby steps and insist on the waterfalls some other time.

gotan-beach

At a beach named Gotan, lunch was already being prepared.   A private beach, we had to arrange to use a few days earlier.  We had a sumptuous meal of everything grilled.

agoho-in-gotan

There, we lounged around, enjoyed each other’s company amidst beautiful Agoho trees.   That’s how to initiate novice trekkers.  Yes?

Best of 2012

Forgive the silence… would you believe that I ushered in the New Year with colds and fever?  But that didn’t stop me from having friends over for the count down. No.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.

This-is-forever

Credits:  Quickpage from JSprague’s 4ever kit, created by Brenda Neuberger

2012 has been good to me.  Even with much less travels this year, I’ve managed a few unforgettable firsts.  Here they are; some I have not even posted but will pre-empt:

1.  The Bus Ride to Vang Vieng

bus-to-VV

A 4-hour bus ride from Vientaine on a sleeper bus made for petite Laotians.  Worst was the bunks were meant for (yes) 2 petite Laotians.  We’re definitely far from petite.  So imagine the trip.

2.  First time on a Hot Air Balloon

vang-vieng

Soaring high in Vang Vieng, watching the town wake up.  You get the best view in town, if you ask me.

3.  The Boat Ride to Y’ami

boat-ride-to-Y'ami

An idea that came to fruition had us journeying to the northernmost island of the Philippines on a grueling 3-hour boat ride off Itbayat Island in Batanes.  Why?  I ask the same question many times over.  An experience hard to topple.

4.  A Night in Siayan

siayan

We had to break the grueling boat ride and stay overnight in an island about 1 hour away from Itbayat (the farthest inhabited island of Batanes) because the waters along the Bashi Channel can be treacherous particularly in the late afternoon.  Getting to the island, beautiful as it is, is an adventure in its self.

5.  Hiking Up to Cape Engaño

Palaui-view

Beautiful sight, up there.  That’s all I will say for now.  Watch out for my post – coming soon.

6.  Enjoying an Onsen Bath

hirayu-onsen

While it snowed too.  A totally exhilarating and liberating experience, I dipped in those pools two nights in a row.  Awesomeness.

As for 2013, I’ve got some exciting plans already in the pipeline. I’ve been working hard to get that to fruition over the holidays, truth to tell.  It is going to be an exciting year.  I feel it in the air.  How is your 2013 looking so far?

Basco Jaunts: Quaint Little Café in Naidi Hills

Heard one of the bunkers in Naidi Hills is now a café.  Open only after office hours because the owners have day jobs.  So I noted to self: to have dinner there tonight.

Naidi Hills used to just be a nice spot to chill and to watch the sunset, nothing there really except for the old bunkers.

These bunkers, forever a fixture and leaves much to be desired, sits atop stunning rolling hills with equally stunning views of the town, Mt. Iraya and the bay.

They couldn’t have picked a better site for the café, finally making good use of the old bunkers.

When I returned in 2007, a 6-storey lighthouse with a viewing deck on the 5th level was a new addition to the vicinity, adding to the Naidi Hills charm.

Built next to it is an Ivatan inspired house that was a guesthouse then, a souvenir shop now.  Guess the guesthouse didn’t pan out so well.

Rows of flowers grown near the house brightens up the already pretty site.
Mt. Iraya peeking out of the clouds as seen from the plaza.

Just a short hike from the town plaza, we walked to dinner passing Sto. Domingo de Basco Church along the way.

Established in 1783, making it the oldest church in Batanes, and perhaps one of the oldest in the Philippines.

Having had our share of coconut crabs in Itbayat already, lobsters were next on our list.

Kinilaw na isda (fish cooked in vinegar), a pako (fiddlehead fern) dish, and inihaw na baboy (grilled pork) complemented the sweet lobsters, steamed to perfection.

When evening came, the mood changed.  The spotlights puts focus on the dinner tables outside and the lighthouse dramatically provides the backdrop, bringing al fresco dining into a whole new level.

Setting ambience aside, Bunker Café is a delight in the food department.  Put pack ambience and the café is definitely a winner.

A must visit when in Batanes.

Of Cabanas and Good Books

A free day to lounge around, we got tips from Mang Rudy and the guests next door.  Corong Corong Beach, south of El Nido, came highly recommended.

Las Cabanas Beach Resort, we told the tricycle driver and we got dropped off a dirt road.

He said to just walk down till we end up on the beach.  Las Cabanas will be on the left side.  He will pick us up in the afternoon.

Just 3 kilometers south of El Nido town center is a gorgeous stretch of white sand beach, not quite Boracay-fine but fine enough for me.

Still part of the Bacuit Archipelago, the panoramic view of the distant islands and the peaceful environment makes for a relaxing get-away from the hustle and bustle of town.  It is definitely more private, a lot quieter, unadulterated still.

We followed the driver’s instructions, we walked pass a resort which looked charming enough for us to want to stay.

Orange Pearl has a few beachfront cottages and a restaurant that served simple Filipino food.  I was happily considering pancit.  We, however, decided to walk the rest of the strip and alas, we arrived at Las Cabanas.

So much more cozier with beachfront cabanas calling our names.  There were hammocks too.  What a find… perfect place to chill with a good book.

I snooped inside and was impressed with the lushly landscaped grounds.  I catch sight of what seemed like well-appointed cottages.  A nice, quiet place to escape the crowds, if that is what’s preferred.  Lunch was quite good – served family style.

Guests leaned towards families – tranquil waters and a secluded beach plays a big part for sure.

Facing west and unobstructed, Corong Corong is known for its glorious sunsets the same way the town isn’t.

We however decided to miss the sunset and head back to town early, take a nice shower, enjoy a shot or two of the ginger-flavored rum at La Salangane before devouring a delightful “brick-oven” pizza.  A good reason to miss the sunset, you think?