Receso a Pamplona

Pamplona is a small town, but there are lots of cute streets for aimless wandering. That’s exactly how we learned our way around town and how we found the best places to have a snack.  Here are two of our favorites!

Pastas Beatriz: the best sweets in Pamplona!  When we arrived, there was a line of locals out the door, ordering sweets by the kilo.  They were all especially fond of garrotes de chocolate and de crema – flaky pastries wrapped around dark, rich chocolate or sweet, smooth cream.  They were shoveled off of the baking tray into our box, still warm and melting in our mouths.  I can remember the taste now, and also the bellyache afterwards (dulce, dulce)…but if you’re in town, you should absolutely make a stop at Beatriz.

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Café Iruña: Impossible to miss in Plaza del Castillo, we both agreed that this was among the most beautiful of cafés we had ever seen.  Decorated intricately, with embossed wallpaper and sculpted wooden ceilings, we imagined it looking much the same when it opened in 1888 as well as in the early 1920s, when Ernest Hemingway was a frequent patron there.  In fact, much of “The Sun Also Rises” was written here!  The coffee was lovely, and their pintxos were cheap and abundant, but the best thing was to just sit and read, sit and write, and sit and observe.  It was our first stop in Pamplona, as well as our last before returning to France.  Dreaming of going back there now…

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Click above for a panorama!

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Pamplona

After an extremely satisfying jaunt into the Spanish Pyrénées, we felt an impulse to continue on to Pamplona, to get a taste of Basque country.  It reminded me so much of what I loved about Seville, Córdoba, Granada, and Cádiz, when I visited with my parents two years ago.  Relaxed, friendly, warmer than France, and delicious!  We strolled the pedestrian streets, rounding corners and stumbling upon many interesting sights: an antique market, a wedding procession, and a bunch of wonderful pintxos – the Basque version of tapas.  We spent each of our four nights in Pamplona, walking up and down Calle Estafeta, stopping in pintxo bars, ordering a couple of tiny plates from the counter, a teeny glass of beer (or a beautiful glass of Spanish Tempranillo..mmm), then walking a bit further down the street, choosing another pintxo bar, et cetera, et cetera!  It was an activity that all of Pamplona was happy to participate in.  The streets were crowded with people and Pamplonés of all ages were out chatting and drinking and enjoying the cool autumn air.  I think we were both a bit sad to leave.  Guess we’ll just have to make a trip back!

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Deshabitada

When we were mapping where next we’d go on our trip through Northern Spain, we noticed that a lot of towns in Huesca were marked as “deshabitada” or uninhabited.  So we kept our eyes open as we drove west towards Navarre, and pulled over when we saw what appeared to be a quaint hilltop town.  A sign read “Escó.”  We started walking up a dirt road and came upon a man herding about a hundred goats, who were roaming free through what we realized were the remains of buildings.  They bleated atop piles of broken stone bricks, and in broken Spanish, we approached the man and asked him if we could keep walking into the town.  The buildings were hollowed out, no floors, no ceilings, and most of the structures still standing looked like they could topple over if the wind was strong enough. The inside of the church at the top of the town I especially wanted to explore, but its roof seemed just too unstable, so I only crossed the threshold by a few steps to take a photo or two.  When I turned back around, I couldn’t find Phillip at all, and started to look for him, recognizing just how strange it was to be in this decrepit town.  I turned down another street, and heard a big, old-man sneeze.  Sufficiently freaked out, and skittering down the road to the base of the town, I found Phillip and we continued on our way.

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When we found an internet connection, we did some research on Escó, and found that there was a lot to know about this creepy little place.  At one time, Escó was booming agricultural town, but the creation of a dam on the nearby Aragon River caused much of the valley, where crops were grown, to flood, and its inhabitants were forced to leave. We also learned that only one family chose to remain in Escó, sheepherders, one of whom we think we met when we first arrived in town.  When we left, he and his sheep were no longer anywhere in sight.

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Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

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We said goodbye to Torla, and a big hello to Ordesa and Monte Perdido!  The parking lot was full of Spaniards decked out in fancy (read: never worn) hiking gear, most of it a bright, bright red, which I imagined was just a bit of homeland fanaticism.  We wore all the clothes we brought with us, mixed and matched with no particular fashion goal in mind, just warmth, and even then, the weather took us a bit by surprise.  But when we started on our trip, we enjoyed mild temperatures and beautiful autumn colors.

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After a couple of hours of hiking, we chose this spot at the Gradas de Soaso to set down our packs and break for lunch.  We may have gotten odd looks walking along the trail with a bottle of wine, roll of Principe cookies, and juice boxes spilling out of packs, but we quite enjoyed our picnic on the rocky banks of the Rió Arazas.  In case you’re concerned about the apparent lack of nutritional value of our meal, we also ate wedges of tortilla española, bits of bread with jam, cured meats for Phil, and I had a random mix of fruits and veg.  The wine we brought across the border was especially worth its weight!

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We wound our way up the trail, passing by more and more falls, before being spat out into the Circo de Soaso, which offered us huge, expansive views of the Ordesa Valley.  We went on for another hour or so to La Cascada Cola de Caballo, where we admired yet another incredible waterfall.  Most of the hikers were only in the park for the day, and turned around here to start the four-hour-long return.

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Before leaving Torla, Phillip and I had secured a reservation at the only open refugio in the park, and after a few minutes to take in our surroundings, we started our ascent, por clavijas.  For the non-Spanish-speakers among us (myself included), “por clavijas” means that we scaled the mountain on steel “pins” which stuck out from the mountainside in areas where the climb was too steep.  We were aided by a chain bolted into the rock, but at times we were climbing straight up the face of the cliff with almost nothing underneath to catch us in case we fell.  Nothing plush and fluffy, anyway.

We arrived at the top unscathed and after another half-hour of walking we caught our first glimpse of the Refugio de Góriz, where we’d be spending the night.  It was nearing dusk when we finally checked in, and we happily unstrapped our backpacks and slipped into our standard issue pink crocs: a bit of relief for our tired feet, a way to keep the refuge clean of muddy boots, and who on earth would think to steal a pair of these ugly things (theft prevention!).

With a few cookies left in our pockets, we bought tiny cups of coffee and sat down to read and write and warm up.  Slowly but surely, the refugio started to fill up with more and more Spanish hikers, just in time for dinner.  All seventy or so of us shared the two tiny communal rooms of the refugio for a couple of hours, before heading upstairs to sleep early.  By the time we turned in, everyone else in our dorm was already knocked out.  In the dark, lighting our way with head lamps, we tiptoed past thirty snoring Spaniards (not an exaggeration) to our spot.  We slept on the second of three tiers of beds, long planks with ten thin mattresses and ten woolen blankets.  It wasn’t my most comfortable night of sleep, but it was one of the more interesting ones.

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But before we went to bed, we stepped outside to brush our teeth and found snow!  And in the morning, even more had fallen and we got to see Ordesa Valley in a whole different way on our hike back down.  Most of our fellow dorm-mates planned to climb Monte Perdido, and we would have joined them if only we had been equipped with more than just jeans and sneakers.  So we bade farewell to Góriz and started our descent through the snow, past great herds of Pyrenean chamois, all the way back to where we started.

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Tired but invigorated, I really felt lucky to have had the chance to explore this part of the Spanish Pyrénées.  A week before, I had no idea that I’d be in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, and now I count it among my best adventures.  Hasta la próxima, Ordesa!

Torla

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Once we finally crossed the border into Spain, we noticed two things: the Spanish side of the Pirineos is just as beautiful as the French Pyrénées, and gasoline is about twenty cents less per litre than in France.  Welcomed into España with such good news, we got really excited about spending the next few days exploring Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido.

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Our destination for the night was the tiny town of Torla, deep in the Ordesa Valley.  We made a reservation at the refugio in town and explored while the sun set.  It was quiet and we saw only a few other travelers on the streets, so we tucked into our bunks, setting our alarms for a (relatively) early start the following day.

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We didn’t know if we’d be spending the night in the mountains or back in Torla, so we stopped by the supermercado to load up our packs with a variety of non-perishable snacks.

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I never thought I’d say that one of the best croissants I’ve ever eaten was in Spain, but qué sorpresa!  In the back of the supermercado they had racks of fresh bread and pastries that were being rolled out right as we were walking in.  When we first bit into these, they melted in our mouths and quickly gained us the attention of a friendly, but hungry admirer.

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We took one last moment to enjoy the warmth of a coffee before trekking into the mountains of Ordesa.

Goodbye Barça

Somehow I was already on my last day in Barcelona, with a flight that took off at four.  Needed to make the most of it.  And quickly!

Stopped for café solo and an ensaïmada at Demasié Café and read Le Monde for an hour or so before moseying on over to Gràcia, where I found myself in the midst of a parade!  Trucks drove down the street and people were throwing bags upon bags of candy to the children lining the sidewalk.  Some kids turned their umbrellas upside down, their gains exponentially greater than their peers.  Even so, everyone got more than their fair share of candy.  Not two minutes after the last truck passed, there were uniformed workers hurriedly sweeping up the remains, along with a few grandmothers who studied the ground carefully before reaching down and extricating a piña or a fresa flavored candy from the mess.

I met up one last time with my friend for a very special lunch: calçots!  Ah, you didn’t see the episode of No Reservations when Anthony Bourdain went to a calçotada (calçot-eating party) in rural Catalonia?  Allow me to explain.  Calçots are what sprout up when garden onions are but back into the ground and covered with lots of soil so the emerging stems grow long, almost like a small leek.  Plucked out of the ground, thrown onto the grill, then tossed into a heaping pile on your plate (or in our case, a clay roof tile)!  A bit of romesco sauce on the side…qué rico!  I couldn’t have been happier!  Or messier…

So that was it!  Hands still covered in charred calçot (it gets under your fingernails), I got on the bus back to the airport, late again, and ran all the way to the gate.  I arrived out of breath, and I left out of breath.  Twas a good trip.

Six days in Barcelona and all I have to show for it is a single bag of choco booms.

Desde la Barceloneta a Montjuïc

I headed east to La Barceloneta to finally get a glimpse of the Mediterranean.  And it was magnificent!

Besides the sea, you’ve got to go to Bo de B!  It seems like every single American in Barcelona lined up outside the shop for one of their massive sandwiches.  Mine came with tortilla (omelet)…and about five hundred other things, including tomato, lettuce, onions, bell peppers, corn, lentils, fresh herbs, two sauces – I’m sure I’m missing a few dozen other ingredients.  It was definitely worth the wait…I love sandwiches!

Next on the itinerary was Montjuïc – a long walk from Barceloneta, but a quick, fun ride by way of cable car!  A bit expensive, but it offered a great view of the city, mountains, and sea.

Fondació Joan Miró, the art museum honoring the fantastic Joan Miró, was a real highlight and reason enough to go to Montjuïc.  I’ve been studying Surrealist art in one of my classes, so it was interesting to get to see some of Miró’s pieces up close, not to mention to see how his style evolved over the course of his long career.  Finished up the day with a café con leche and what looks like some Miró-inspired latte art!

Buenas migas

Buenas Migas is really the perfect name for this small Barcelona chain, specializing in focaccia and scones (vale, vale).  And it’s the perfect place for a quick breakfast on a weekday morning.  After quite a few sugary breakfasts, I couldn’t pass up the focaccia de verduras.  Though inarguably Italian, my focaccia was topped with some lovely Spanish olives, with which I’d first fallen in love two months earlier in Sevilla.

But let’s not overlook the café con leche!  Smooth and warm, it was wonderful accompaniment.  Far superior to most of the café crèmes I’ve had in France.  I wish I would have had time to go back and sample some more treats.

Gràcia

Without a doubt, Gràcia was my favorite neighborhood in all of Barcelona.  It was all bistros and cafés and markets and children playing soccer and dogs chasing behind them.  I had the best pan tostado con tomate here, watched El discurs del rei (The King’s Speech) in a small theater with elderly barcelonés, played in original version with Catalan sub-titles!  Really, if I had to choose a place to live in Barcelona (could we all be so burdened…), I’d pick Gràcia.

Treats are never too far from my heart, nor my stomach.  Gracias, Gràcia.

Handheld Barcelona

Barcelona was all too good at shoving treats in my hands periodically throughout the days – good thing I’ve got two!

Raspberry Pineapple juice from La Boqueria.

Caffè and stracciatella gelato in La Ribera district.

Cacaolat – anytime, anywhere.

An apple tart filled with cream in Barceloneta.