Mama Travels: Marqués de Riscal

July 29, 2015

What is the best way to spend a rainy day when in San Sebastián? Wine tasting. It had been raining all morning and I was originally planning on going to Biarritz but my plans changed. That’s the great thing about spontaneity. My well trusted local guide took us to Marqués de Riscal, a winery designed by Frank Gehry.  I was chomping on blood sausage pintxos when I saw the picture on the internet and I was sold immediately.

The drive is about 2 hours away and we all took turns playing DJ with our ipods. My friend Laura, aka Miss Buttercup, could lip sync to almost all of the songs including rap with all the profanities. Go Laura! The winery is majestic. The story is that he wasn’t really sold on building a winery until he tasted a bottle of Rioja 2001. Definitively a great way to persuade people to do things for you. This super modern building that looks like it was made out of metallic ribbon is perched on top of the gorgeous vineyard. The juxtaposition of old and new is really well played. You have to sign up to go on the tour and more importantly, taste the wine. The only tour available was in Spanish so it was easy for me to tune out and wander around taking photos.

The tour was a bit serious, classroom like. There was a video about the history of the vineyard and all I could think of was that this tour would be so much more enjoyable with a glass of Rioja in my hand. After about an hour of touring the various cellars, bottling and corking machines, we were finally able to get our hands on the wine. The red wine was good, the white not so much. And they know this too.

After the nice wine tasting (driver not included here), we headed back towards the center of San Sebastián. My rainy day plan couldn’t have played out better than this and I am so grateful we went.

p.s. thanks to the best local tour guide/driver/coffee delivery

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Mama Travels: Biarritz

July 22, 2015

I finally got a sunny day in San Sebastián and decided to head to Biarritz, the new bohemian surfing hot spot that’s located 12 miles north of San Sebastián. I have been to the South of France, but the southwest is a new unexplored territory for me and I expected a different, rustic vibe. Crossing the border to France from Spain was anti climactic.

During my Freshmen year in college, I decided to drive to Canada for a night out since the drinking age there is 18. Getting to Canada was not a problem but on the way back I was busted for not carrying a green card and had to call my parents at 2 am to verify that I’m a US citizen (they loved that!). I then had to track down an ATM in the middle of night to retrieve money for my fine. I now carry all my ID’s and take no chances since that time.

On our way to Biarritz, my traveling buddies and I grabbed lunch in the town of Guéhary at this charming restaurant with turquoise picnic tables by the seaside.  We ordered razor clams, Burrata salad, watermelon and feta, the catch of the day, and of course a bottle of rosé to start. After the feast with a slight rosé buzz (driver not included), we headed to the town of Biarritz.

Biarritz is a charming little town. Lots of tourists but then again we are tourists too. I was immediately drawn to espadrille store where I bought red striped espadrilles. I found out later that red is the color of Basque. Perfect choice!

We headed toward this amazing castle on the water and admired the surfers. It was time to take a plunge into the icy waters. I love that in Europe there aren’t fancy chairs, coolers, umbrellas, and other equipment. It’s just people in their bathing suits with a towel. I could do this for a long time. Maybe the entire summer. I am definitely scheming for the future. Anybody want to come with me?

 

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Mama Travels: San Sebastián

July 15, 2015

San Sebastián also known as Donostia in Basque, lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, 12 miles from the French Border. It has mountains that gradually meet the ocean and people say you can experience all four seasons in one day. I have been to French beach towns before but this place felt different despite its proximity to the French border. If I can say a French beach town is like pretty boy Brad Pitt; San Sebastian is like Russell Crowe, rustic hunk.

I started my day at La Concha beach which is amazing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a beach day. It rained and was chilly, so instead of taking a dip, I took a long walk on the beach and headed over to see the wind combs in Peine Del Los Vientos. These manmade combs were installed on the side of the beach to break the winds. This massive metal structure against the ocean gave it a feel of being at a sculptural park. The structure was blocked off to protect people from the mudslide, but I crawled under to get closer look and a photo. Thoughts of getting arrested and going to the Basque jail flashed through my mind, but other than a scraped knee, I got in and out quickly. The things I will do for a photo opp.

San Sebastián  is known for food, specifically Michelin star restaurants and pintxos. Pintxos are small snacks laid out on the bar and typically eaten at the bar with friends and family. It’s a great way to socialize while eating great food before dinner. To prepare for this glutinous, indulgent afternoon tour of pintxos, I starved myself all day and more importantly made sure my outfit involved rubber band pants.

The first stop on my food tour was  La Mejillonera. This place is known for their delicious mussels. My first lesson learned was to eat the mussels and then chuck the shells down a little tunnel that’s installed under the bar specifically for this purpose. It’s fun to eat the meat and throw the shells down! I threw the shells a little too aggressive and all the locals laughed at me. The mussels went perfectly with the local cider. There’s a well-known trick when drinking cider, bringing me to lesson two, which is to break the stream against the glass for more fizz and taste. It’s sour and an acquired tasted but a few glasses in, it goes down all too smoothly. After a few dishes, I am ready for the next joint!

We move along to the second stop, Ganbara, which is bustling with people. I made my way in, rolled up my sleeves and started grabbing at cold pintxos. Hot pintxos that need to be cooked are delivered to you outside. I tasted Foie Gras with turnips and almost fainted! It tasted so good that I immediately ordered 2 more. Another that had my taste buds dancing was the fried cod with green peppers. And can I mention the local wine that costs 3 euro, but tastes like a $22 dollar glass of wine back in New York? Amazing.  The best part of it all was that we weren’t done with our tasting tour and my pants still had room to expand!

The third place, La Cepa, although a local favorite, was quiet. We missed peak time as everybody was home for siesta. I tried a few more dishes including frittata, cured meats, and other typical dishes. Each bite danced in my mouth and made me smile at how wonderful the flavors and the pintxos eating experience truly is.

Walking home, I couldn’t help but think that I would love to replicate this style of eating in New York. It is so much better than sitting for 2 hours waiting for a giant meal. It was now time  to take a little siesta and then head back out for more pintxos and squid ink risotto for dinner. Calories don’t count during vacation, right?

Best Pintxox in San Sebastian

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Mama Travels: Prague

July 7, 2015

Praha! Going back to Prague was like going back to my old room in my parent’s house; Full of memories and preserved more of the same.

The water is just as serene, the Charles Bridge is still packed with tourists, the bubble blowers are still the main entertainers in old town, and there are still tons of German bachelor and bachelorette groups being rowdy in the squares. You can’t take a bad photo here. It’s just that gorgeous.

I was having some repeat experiences until I found a beach. I couldn’t believe that there is a beach! It’s not blue waters w/ stripe umbrellas, but it’s a true Prague experience. Everyone from all ages hang out.. literally and figuratively. Locals play ping pong, water sports, and sun bath. I didn’t find any tourists there, especially an Asian one. And the fashion here can be described as Mad Max meets Beavis and Butthead.

I was eating a spicy sausage and was chasing it down with a beer, when the sky turned dark and started to pour. I took cover under the tent along with locals. Thanks to a new addition in Prague, Uber, I got home safe and sound in an uber pop driven by a tattoo clad fellow wtih a mullet. This is business in front and party in the back.  He didn’t really speak English but thanks to Uber, I just popped in the hotel address and got home safe. I swear Uber is taking over the world.

Change for worse? There were so many selfie sticks and segways! Seeing Segways in the old square made my blood boil. As a protest, I took an old style carriage around the block hoping to get Segway clones with some horse poop.

My favorite moment was sipping on Aperol and watching the sun go down from the roof top of Hotel Prince in the old square. This time, I got 2 fireworks going so it was extra magical.

Read old entry on Prague, 2012

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