Thursday, 21 September 2017

Travel: Valencia, Spain Part VII - Final ~ Missing Pieces...


Hmmm...

128,713 steps...
91.89 kilometres...

According to the health app on my phone that's the distance I walked in Valencia...

Even taking in to account that the maths doesn't quite work out - or I did a lot of walking on the spot that I'm not aware off - those are impressive figure if I do say so myself. And not just me of course, as apart from a couple of solo excursions my family did the same amount of walking, which is especially impressive for my 9 year old daughter.

But we saw a lot, as you will be aware if you have followed the six other blog posts, and considering what we ate on our trip I'm glad we burned off a good few calories. If we hadn't then, I for one would have been put in the hold with an 'Overweight Luggage' sticker stuck to my forehead for our flight home.

Looking through the photos and notes I noticed that I had left off a few experiences that I should have mentioned but couldn't find a way of fitting into the other posts. So here's a short round up of those missing pieces...
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Foodwise I'd like to mention the very cute Bocatería Tandem on Carrer d'en Llop which served us some excellent patatas bravas along with some nice squid, and chicken wings, amongst other bites. Pintxo i Trago on the way into Plaça Redonda, with a nice little beer list and some excellent nibbles set up on the bar. Mamá Delicias on Carrer del Periodista Azzati for its excellent Bocadillos, and finally Ocho y Medio in Plaça de Lope de Vega who served me really tasty Sartén Longaniza with padron peppers on our first day in the city. All of these are worth a look...


Horchata had to get a look in, it's a Valencian speciality made using ground Tiger Nuts. It's strange but likable reminding me of Sugar Smacks cereal from my childhood. I'd recommend giving it a go!


Cafe de las Horas on Carrer del Comte d'Almodóvar is a flowery, baroque-esque masterpiece of a cocktail bar, well worth a visit for a pre-dinner drink or late night cocktail - the coffee looked good too! El Cafetín on Plaça de Sant Jaume is an interesting spot to sit with a Zeta beer and watch the world go by, and at Beer & Travels on Plaça de Manises you can do the same, looking out on the pretty square and enjoying a very good range of Spanish and imported beer and cider - or a glass of wine.


I had to try a Turia beer while in Valencia, originally brewed in the city it's now brewed by Damm in Barcelona. It's supposed to be a Märzen-style beer, and I guess it is although it reminded me of the much maligned Irish red ale. Anyhow, it's a pretty inoffensive beer and worth a shot if you want something refreshing that you don't have to think about too much!


Beer & Travels, mentioned above, also have a bottle shop down the street from the bar that carries a nice range of both Spanish and imported beers, I only got to visit it twice, as it was closed any other time I passed it. La Boutique de la Cerveza is a small but excellent bottle shop on Carrer de Lluís de Santàngel in the interesting and lively Russafa area of the city. They are extremely helpful and knowledgeable and worth a call to if you have a little luggage space or need hotel beers! They carry a great range from Spanish micros as well as sought after Belgian ones, amongst others ... worth a trek out from the city centre.
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So that's it, that's my last post about Valencia! As I've mentioned before it's a fantastic city as long as you're prepared to put some walking and work into your visit, sure it's a little grim and grubby in places but then again it's a real city, not a chocolate box image transferred to the real world. The series starts here if you've missed any of it, and feel free to contact me with any questions - I wouldn't profess to be an expert on the city but we did see a lot of it!

Remember ... 128,713 steps ... maybe...


Thanks Valencia!

Liam

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Travel: Urban Brewing, Dublin - The Return of the Famous Carlow Ale?


Way back in 1799, Saunders's Newsletter carried an advertisement for Carlow Ale, available from Grand Canal Harbour in Dublin for the princely sum of 23 shillings a barrel. As to what type of ale this was we can only speculate, although it's the second time I have come across the words 'Carlow Ale' being used as if it were a specific, local style. The other mention, in a new brewery advertisement in a local paper from 1817 with the phrase 'as it used to be' makes me think that there was perhaps something special about the beer brewed locally in the 18th and early 19th century in Carlow...

Mr. Green's brewery stood on Castle Street in Carlow town and there's a story to be told about it if I ever get my research finished and fill in the blanks in the history of this and the other local breweries. Unfortunately the recipes for the beers these breweries made have long since disappeared so it will be impossible to know with any certainty what it tasted like, although with the county's rich farmland and the noted quality of the malt it produced - and still produces - we can speculate that it was quite good, especially if it warranted shipping to Dublin.

The last brewery appears to have closed in the town in the late 1870s (and strictly speaking that was across the river in Graigue) and for many years after all the beer that was poured in the town was imported from various parts of the country and further afield, although Corcoran & Co conditioned and bottled a few different types for a while in the mid-20th century...

Then along came O'Hara's - Carlow Brewing Company - in 1996 and once more there was a brewery operating in the town, brewing in The Goods Store near the train station. As part of its expansion the brewery moved to Bagenalstown, they added an O'Hara's-centric pub to the Kilkenny bar scene and have since gone from strength to strength - acquiring Craigies Cider and the old Minch-Norton malthouse outside Bagenalstown.

Their latest (joint) venture is a stylish and sleek brewhouse and restaurant in the CHQ Building on Custom House Quay, across the Liffey ([Edit - see comments] and further west) from where Mr. Green was storing his ales 220 odd years ago. His beer came from Carlow via the canal but I arrived on this side of the river via a quicker train and Luas, having been kindly invited to the official opening of Urban Brewing. The entrance to the brewhouse is a little anonymous in a way but that suits the general feeling of classy-chic meets urban-modernity that the ground floor level of the bar exudes. Brick and grey metal combine with the wonderful glass roof hung with Edison-style bulbs to give a stark but comfortable feel. On a gantry above the bar sits the brewhouse where the house beers are made before being dropped to storage tanks downstairs where the beer is then pumped to the taps at the bar.

As well as these in-house beers they also stock the full O'Hara's range from the Carlow brewery, some guest brews and also a huge bottle list - plus cocktails, wine and spirits. Foods run from tapas for those wanting to graze a little, to a full restaurant offerings. (I was very happy to see rabbit on this menu!) We got to sample some tapas including a fantastic swordfish carpaccio and some beautifully cooked prawns from the 23 listed on the interesting tapas menu. The vibe and buzz in the place was great, helped by the army of liggers like me who had turned up, but I could also see myself sitting here - equally happy - on a quiet afternoon with a beer, a book and a bowl of something tasty.

And of course I tried the four here-brewed-beers on offer - Urban Wit is a bog standard Belgian wheat beer, that didn't excite or disappoint; Paradisi, a grapefruit IPA, tasted - well - like grapefruit juice and was a little harsh for my palate, as it's not a style of which I am overly fond; Denali IPA was a strange one ... I thought I had been given the wrong beer, as it tasted very like milder version of O'Hara's Freebird a wheat IPA, but after a brief argument discussion with the barman we decided to agree to disagree about it and I just enjoyed it for what it was ... or what I thought it was.

My favourite was The Forager's Wife, a saison with elderflower. I'm not sure I really picked up the elderflower but I did get a lovely dose of barnyard funk up my nose and a really nice meaty, hop-floral taste that I quite liked.

All the beers were fine really if a little hazy but as it's a pretty new system I think the brewer is still finding his feet with it, as you would expect ... and from what I hear the place is very busy so the beers are not getting much time to rest and condition. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what's produced over the coming months, and I'm hoping quietly for a brown ale to appear...

It's pretty much impossible to describe in words or show in pictures how wonderful the subterranean part of the brew pub is ... but I'll give it a shot. A gorgeous corridor stretches off into the distance with large alcoves running off from it filled with seating areas, a room for wooden barrels full of sleeping beers, and another full bar. It's all moodily lit with low level strip lighting and uplights showing off the vaulted brick ceiling. It reminded me of somewhere in Belgium or France, or some Kellerbar somewhere in Germany - it really did put a huge smile on my face as I poked around.

As I made my way back up the stairs it struck me that this was a place to be experienced not just visited...

So, it's great to see some Carlow Ale back on the quays of Dublin and I'll be back in Urban Brewing as a paying punter fairly soon. It's a fantastic spot and as I ran off once again to catch yet another stupidly early last train back home, I felt a little pride that maybe Carlow brewing had come almost full circle...

Liam

(Please Note: At the opening all the food and beers were free, although I didn't overdo it. I haven't been paid to write any of this, and as usual I paid for my own train ticket. Yes I live in Carlow, and yes I sort-of-know the O'Hara's - take all of that into account if need be, but remember I am an honest guy!)

The history bit is with thanks to the local studies room, Carlow library.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Thoughts: My 20th Century Pub ... 1988



At the pub…

Sticky marble and condensation rings
The feel of the counter at your back
Pints of stout, drank with King crisps
At the pub…

Snow-washed denim and nearly-famous bands
A wandering gaze and getting a Look
A hand on you shoulder, leaning in to order
At the pub…

Smoke in your eyes and shouting in your ears
A real phone ringing somewhere close by
Newspapers on a table - used, torn and jumbled
At the pub…

Talk about Cocktail and A Fish Called Wanda
Red Dwarf and China Beach
Real, meaningless conversations
At the pub…


(For Boak and Bailey's #20thCenturyPub Competition)

Liam

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Travel: Pearse Lyons Distillery, Dublin - Out of my Depth...

I know very little about whiskey...

So I was a little surprised to get an invite to one of the official openings of the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin a few weeks back. It obviously came on the back of being part of the blogger pack at Alltech Craft Beer Festival earlier this year, and writing a broadly positive piece about it. Regardless of why, I was delighted to receive the invitation and even more delighted to be able to attend, a rare occurrence where some free time in my real life intersected with my imbibing life as a blogger.

The weather was warm and the sun was shining brightly as I made my way from Heuston Station up Steeven's Lane before hanging a left onto James' Street towards the old church of St. James which houses the distillery. The newly built visitors' centre - a sleek glass and stone building that sits extremely comfortably in its surroundings - is just up the street a little, but as I looked through the darkened glass my heart sank a little and panic set in. There were many, many beautiful people dressed to impress thronging the foyer. I looked down to the gate where an equally well dressed gatekeeper was checking in more well-dressed, well-heeled guests. I looked back through the window and caught my own appearance, with my open shirt over a t-shirt, jeans and my ever-present travel bag, all topped off with a pair of scuffed Skechers...

I turned to go, thinking I'd hit a few haunts in the city instead, when I caught site of a few guys with polo-shirts among the well dressed folk. Ah, I though so perhaps I won't be the most casually dressed person here after all? So with a quick pat-down of my hair and holding in my stomach I marched up to the entrance gate, where I was warmly received and pointed towards the entrance doors - without being turned away in disgrace, or being handed a tie to wear.

As I entered the foyer I must have looked a little like a startled rabbit, as I realised that the guys in the polo shorts were actually part of the distillery crew, and actually quite smart looking...

I was indeed the worst dressed person here...

I was the last one ushered through to a small auditorium, where we watched a short film about the history of St. James's and the reasons for creating a distillery here. I lurked at the back, acting nervous and looking shifty I'd imagine, as we watched Dr. Pearse Lyons tell us the story of the church, his connections to it and what it had now become. The history of the site was interesting and Dr. Lyons had a great patter that will certainly appeal to the throngs of tourists they hope to attract to the site.

Afterwards we were directed out towards the church itself, through a graveyard freshly planted with groundcovering pachysandra and I received a grateful drink as we waited for the ribbon cutting ceremony. The church itself gleamed as if newly built and with its new glass spire, it reflected beautifully in the newly built entrance building on such a lovely evening.

Without too much pomp the opening ceremony was performed with the usual scissor escapades, joking and speeches, and then we shuffled into the church to see what it had become, and how a working distillery could be shoehorned into a relatively small building.

It is very clear that there was little or no expense spared in the restoration of the church and the fit-out of the distillery, and Dr. Lyons was quick to point out that this was a project that was wholly in the hands of his wife Deirdre and her team of builders, planners and craftspeople. Everything gleamed and shone, with the two stills taking centre stage - so to speak - on the altar and an extremely expensive looking and impressive brew system from Salm sits to one side, looking hungry for malt, with its tanks sitting open. The new distillery-themed stained glass window glowed in the evening sunlight, with images of coopers and distillers doing their thing. Displays of whiskeys, bourbons, books and beer-scented candles(!) lined the wall in cases made to look like shopfronts, and tables of whiskey samples were laid out for trying and tasting, as gin, beer and water - followed by canapes and sweet treats -  were offered to the invited guests by well dressed waiters.

And so the evening progressed with speeches, singing and schmoozing ... and as one not used to this ligging-lifestyle I must say I found the experience a little surreal. Tenors sang Irish ballads and a piano player gave us a rendition of Happy Birthday in numerous different musical styles, as those waiters wafted by with those gorgeous nibbles and more drinks. Writers of whiskey blogs, drink reviewers from newspapers, other whiskey making people and those who helped create this place all laughing, talking and asking all the right questions - enjoying themselves. I felt out-of-place, awkward, still underdressed and more than a little bemused by all the touristy-touches, songs and stories...

But then it dawned on me ... this place wasn't about me nor was it aimed at me, so I should feel awkward, as I'm an outsider in every way. This is about the Lyons family, it's about the history of the church, it's about the people of this area of Dublin, it's about whiskey lovers and most importantly it's about tourists and those who will pay to visit. I don't think it's even about the money spent or revenue to be gained ... as my overwhelming feeling was for the passion injected into the project and of all of those involved wanting to do the right thing by the building, the local area, the local community and those visitors who would soon be welcomed.

I had been utterly selfish and foolish in my thought process...

I came to the conclusion that maybe it's not always just about the whiskey, or beer, or whatever ... and it's not really about people like me, and nor should it be.

Once I realised all of this I let my nagging negativity wash over me and started to enjoy myself. I tasted all the whiskies and listened to the spiels, preferring the Distiller’s Choice of the four whiskeys offered. There are enough reviews of the whiskies out there from brighter minds and better palates than mine so I'll leave it to them to discuss the finer points of flavour, age and provenance ... but I can say than anyone I talked to was quite open with their information, and this is now a working distillery.

Unsurprisingly my most interesting chat was with one of the distillers, with whom I talked for a half an hour about beer, sampling both the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale - which seemed to have more body and flavour than how I remember it - and the Bourbon Barrel Stout - which had less than I remember. Both of these are brewed up in Station Works Brewery up in Newry, which I must admit has never excited me with their varied offerings - but as here, I doubt I'm the target audience...

Just as I was getting comfortable and enjoying the wonderful building and the people, I realised that I had to leave or I'd be late for my train, so with a quick goodbye to Tracey Flinter the manager of the distillery I went looking for Dr. Lyons or Deirdre to thank them for the evening, but both were in deep conversation. I hopped from foot to foot waiting but eventually had to run for my train, luckily it was all down hill to the station. The doors closed behind me as I dragged my dishevelled, puffing self inside and collapsed on a seat, wheezing and thinking hard in equal measure as the train pulled out of the station and began its journey back to Carlow.

I'd learned a little about whisky ... and a lot about myself.

Many thanks, Pearse Lyons Distillery!

P.S. Huge, huge thanks to the guy in the NASA t-shirt who arrived in late and relegated me to second worst dressed at the opening.

Liam

(Full disclosure: Yes, all the samples were free. No I wasn't paid to attend and write this, and yes, I even paid my own train fare - gladly!)





Friday, 1 September 2017

Travel: Valencia, Spain Part VI - Horse Meat, Ocean Life and the Future...


Okay, so I'm sure by now you are getting sick of Valencia but I do need to be thorough don't I?

So stick with me...


I've grouped together three of the main sights together here, size-wise and time-wise they deserve that, but also because I have more than the usual amount of images to include in my brief description, and yes I will keep this one brief.

Here we go....


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First up is the Central Market (Mercat Central) which is situated exactly where you think it might be, acting like the hub of the city. Everywhere should have a market like this, thronged with buyers, sellers and - admittedly - annoying tourists like us. It was an education in every way as we wandered up and down the huge number of stalls selling practically everything food related...

The building itself is huge too, with its high ceilings giving it a wonderfully airy feel, reminiscent of a brightly lit cathedral more than anything else, and this is quite an appropriate analogy as it really is a temple of food, thronged with worshippers. Tomatoes the size of ostrich eggs, and ostrich eggs the size of - er - ostrich eggs take pride of place with super-fresh seafood plus huge cheese and baby cheeses...

Meat lovers are not ignored with many stalls selling cured meats of every shape and make as well as glass cabinets full of aged beef. Want some rabbit? Six varieties of snails? How about a little horse meat? No problem, this is the place to find it...

If you are interested in food and have an hour or two to kill some morning just go and wander ... grab a coffee, munch on a bocadillo and just take it all in...

You won't be disappointed.

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As with zoos, this is a controversial one I know but the Oceanogràfic in the south east of the city is another must visit, especially if travelling with kids. Many ocean habitats are recreated here and there is a deep sense of both welfare and education as you wander around the ultra-modern buildings looking at the exhibits.

And yes it does have a dolphin display...

Much of the time you are wandering underground looking into huge aquariums and in some cases walking through tunnels with fish swimming over your head. It's a surreal feeling when a Great White or a Stingray swims past, half a meter from your scalp! There's a Beluga whale, penguins and every manner of creature from crabs to starfish to see as you wander through the subterranean world, quite literally.

It's not just fish and sea mammals, there a also a spherical aviary holding exotic birds and a few turtles, and a wonderful butterfly house, which also held fascination for the kids as they flitted around from flower-to-hand-to-flower.

One of the highlights for me were the many tanks of jellyfish, as you could appreciate their beauty close up, as they billow about in their tanks ... unlike the anonymous blobs that are usually seen washed up on our shores.

Plants abound here too, and most corners of the park have interesting and clever planting, with a brightly budded Brachychiton catching my eye in particular, but then again how could it not?


I guess you make your choice as to whether to support these places or not - and I'm not without my reservations about the whole concept - but if there is an educational aspect and money is channeled towards research then it's hard not to support them in my opinion.

(One other point about our visit was that the price of food is quite high so I'd recommend bringing a packed lunch, although the pizzeria on site is relatively reasonable...)

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Last of the big three is the most imposing and surreal ... the City of Arts and Science -  Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias - right beside the Oceanogràfic and the end of the Turia park. These group of building were used as film sets and for tv shows such as Tomorrowland and Dr. Who (Thanks Beernut...). Viewed from a distance you can understand why ... but up close they are even more fantastical as they leap from the shallow water of pools or hunker down into the grey and white landscape.

The combined site has a science museum, an IMAX cinema, an opera house and a convention centre. The museum is great again for kids as there are loads of interactive experiments, virtual reality trips, dinosaur fossilised and petrified plants! Keep an eye out for the pendulum clock!

... and the dark side of the moon.

I truth if you just went here and walked around the buildings you would consider that a justifiable reason to visit Valencia.

Its an astounding site, and sight...

(Don't forget that Burger Beer is close by too if you fancy a bite and a drink!)



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That's it from my penultimate post, last up will be a round-up of a few places and things that didn't quite fit in with any other post!

Liam

The series starts here and the final part is here.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Travel: Valencia, Spain Part V - Oranges, Sloths and Doors...



I do like a good door...

I'm not sure where the appeal comes from, and I'm sure some discredited Freudian analysis could probably come up with some sort of reason for this attraction, but I think it's down to my appreciation of their simplicity of use versus the possibility of intricacy of design, and well thought out engineering. Therefore when I'm away I tend to snap more photos of doors than would be normally considered healthy, and I've been known to stand admiring a well made handle or ornate hinge for minutes as I marvel at the detail, finish and materials used.

And don't get me started on knockers...

Valencian Doors
There are plenty of doors to choose from in Valencia in varying states of decay or splendour - old, new and somewhere-in-between, and - humour me - it's with just a few of these images that I start a round up of some of the sights we enjoyed in the city, with a post about some of the major places such as the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, Oceanogràfic and the Central Market still to come. I'll try to keep the words to a minimum in this post and let the pictures (Click into them if need be...) do the explaining, but as you know I tend to ramble...

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Trunks, Walks and Gulliver!
One of the more interesting plant sights for me were the Ficus in small park called La Glorieta, east of the city centre. The Game of Thrones-like trunks looked like tendrils from some monster, stretching out to catch an unwary tourist as they pass. From here you can cross the busy  Plaza  Porta de la Mar with its impressive gateway and wander along Carrer del Justícia to get down on to the Turia Gardens, the winding park that was created after the town diverted the river that ran through the city. It's a nice cooling walk under bridges and trees, past pretty flowers and ending up at the superb Gulliver's Park, a gigantic prone figure of the man himself that is also a playground for kids - a must see and do for kids.

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Cathedral & Views
The Gothic-styled cathedral at the heart of the city centre is well talked about in many guide books but if you don't fancy forking out a pretty penny to see the interior and the alleged Holy Grail(!) you can just climb the tower and get some fabulous views for a couple of euro. The long and winding stairs operate on a green-light/red-light system, as they are quite narrow, but don't account for little legs or tired older ones! Be quick or you'll meet someone coming the other way...


The Freshest Oranges
The square on the north side of the cathedral - Plaza de la Virgen - has a large fountain and plenty of places to sit and people-watch while enjoying a cold drink or a bite to eat. Don't miss the lovely little garden just west of the square, as it's a little oasis of calm and cool, away from the crowds and heat.

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The House of the Cats
Somewhere you just have to go if travelling with kids, or even if you're not, is the The House of the Cats on Carrer del Museu. This area is slightly off the beaten track for tourists but is full of restaurants if you get there via Carrer de Roteros. It's a tiny house built into a wall, and if your child has an imagination like my daughter they'll be talking about it for weeks afterwards ... I will say no more, just go!

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Fireworks on Plaza de la Virgen

If you are lucky you might catch a fireworks display ... we were! These type were firmly secured to the earth but the spun, crackled and sparked, and there was no risk of sprained necks, just singed hair!

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Platja Del Cabanyal
What can I say about the beach? Well it was large and well tended but extremely crowded ... not really our kind of thing but we did visit out of pure interest. There's plenty of places to eat closeby and if lying in the sun bumping extremities (Not like that!) with your neighbours is your thing then you'll probably like it. We were told that there are nicer beaches to the west of the port but didn't have time to check them out, maybe you should!?

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Porta de Serrans
Two gates of the city walls survive and given my predilection towards doors these had to be seen. So I dragged my family north of city centre first, to see Porta de Serrans with its Moorish look. You can climb all the way to the top for a small fee and it's well worth it for the views looking back towards the city centre. Check out the dragon-like door knockers on the first floor, and just be careful of the pools of saliva I drooled as I admired these doors and ironwork...

Torres de Quart
Torres de Quart is west of the centre and on the way towards the botanic gardens which sadly we missed, but this walk does bring you past much of the wall art I wrote about previously. This gate is in a more European style and again I urge you to check out the huge doors, and don't miss the channel for the portcullis cut into the entrance -excellent for squashing kids into!

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Round Squares and Sloths
Just a quick mention for all the wonderful squares that suddenly appear when you turn almost any corner in the city. Most have lovely bars or restaurants, some spray you with water and some have, er, sloths hanging from vines above your head! Regardless, they are all excellent decompression zones to get your bearings and take a breath.

Some aren't even square, such as the peaceful Plaza Redonda with its beautiful and simple fountain, and interesting design. A word of warning on the fountain, the locals wash their dogs in this one so don't drink the water!

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La Lonja de la Seda
Last but far from least is La Lonja de la Seda one of the main tourist attractions in the city, and close to the central market. This impressive piece of Gothic architecture is full of history and I'd recommend getting the audio guide and doing the tour. It really gives you all the information you need and highlights loads of interesting features ... including the downright bizarre and disturbing stone carvings, many of which must be seen to be believed and were too disturbing to show here without a NSFW tag!

The high vaulted ceiling is stunning and even the small courtyard garden is very pretty and filled with those ubiquitous orange trees, neat hedging and showy flowers like agapanthus.

Take your time here, let the history seep into you...

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Playing in Plaza de Manises
So those were a few of our favourite places, or sights to look out for, but just a final word on how child-friendly everywhere is in Valencia, you should have no hesitation in bringing them here, exploring the city and staying out a little late. We had no hassle at any of the sights, restaurants or bars - or walking back to our hotel.

It's a great city for those of any age, easily walkable and nicely proportioned. Taxis are cheap if you need them and their drivers refreshingly grumpy!

Enjoy ... more to come...

Liam

(As you can see I've swapped between Spanish, Valencian and English place names depending on which I feel is more appropriate.)

The series starts here and Part VI is here.




Friday, 11 August 2017

Travel & Food: Valencia, Spain Part IV - Tapas ... and More


Food and the act of eating out seems to be a major part of Valencian culture, which might go someway to explaining the thousands of restaurants, cafes and bars that seem to occupy every second property in the city. We obviously couldn't visit all of them during our week, but apart from the burger joints I previously posted about we did manage to fit in some more - or less - traditional places too.

Eating out is always a big part of our holiday as we all love our food, although the boys seem less fussy than the girls in the family - and more carnivorous. So my youngest and her mother tended to pick the plainer, safer foods while my son and I were a little more adventurous in our choice of dishes. Eating late is the norm in Valencia, and southern europe in general, which suited us as the intense heat of the day had started to abate when we headed out for food around 8 or 9 o'clock at night, after a nice shower and a cooling off in our hotel rooms. Bringing kids out late at night wasn't a problem anywhere we went and tapas-size food is ideal for small people - although my son the almost-teenager is eating portions close to my own at this stage!

It's worth remembering that the food itself should be as big a part of a foreign holiday as the sightseeing, and something that a little bit of extra money should be spent on, without going crazy of course.

Remember, spend your budget on experiences, not 'things'...

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El Rall

El Rall on Calle de Tundidores was the exception to the food places I mention here, as we ate here one lunchtime, having been coaxed in by a smooth talking head waiter as we wandered past one day. Tired and in need of both food and rest for weary feet of all sizes we gave in and sat down in the small square outside the restaurant. A couple of legs of ham were perched on a side table along with some other preserved meats and some local cheeses, which didn't seem to be the most hygienic way to display them but this seems the norm in these parts.

Not in the mood for the paella that was being pushed by the waiters, or that selection of hams and meat we instead choose a few dishes from the tapas section of the huge menu, with our youngest opting for a burger and chips! That was when the waiter eventually arrived to take our order, as it appeared that the main activity of the waiting staff was to try and draw people into seats with the promise of superb paella. Indeed at the table next to us the waiter had brought out a live lobster to try and tempt the people sitting there into a seafood one! I presume that the cost versus retail of a paella is enough to warrant such a hard sell, crustacean waving display.

El Rall
Service was quick once we got our order in and we received our food all at the one time. We had chosen the ubiquitous patata bravas, which were proper chopped and fried pieces of potato - not the frozen, coated cubes we had elsewhere - nicely seasoned and covered in garlic mayonnaise and sprinkled with paprika, not a hot sauce. These I really enjoyed as the flavour of the potato still shone through. The game stew - mostly boar I think - was a gorgeous, slow-cooked blend of rich meaty flavours and smokiness...

But the star of the show was the Esgarraet - roast peppers, garlic and salt-dried cod served cold with a little radish and olive oil. It was a fantastic blend of ingredients and I was raving about it for days afterwards.

So, the waiting staff might be a little pushy but the service in general was fine and the food very good, although we only had a small taster of the range. Prices are reasonable enough, and it's a handy location ... make sure you try the Esgarraet!

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Las Cuevas
Our next spot is Las Cuevas, which sits in the lovely, quiet Plaza Cisneros. I had come across this place on my research of the city so one evening we made the short trek from our hotel to the restaurant, which would be hard to come across if you didn't know about it as it is slightly off the beaten track. We took a seat under an orange tree and were promptly handed menus as the sun began to drop behind the tall buildings of the square. It was again an extensive menu, with an option of picking tapas from the counter inside as well as what was on the menu itself. We again went for a mixture of dishes to suit everyone - a bean dish, cheese parcels, patata bravas (again), a kind of meatloaf and a type of crepe which were all delicious. I was a little braver going for a black pudding parcel - Rollito de Morcilla, snails - Caracoles, and rabbit roasted in garlic butter - Conejo al Ajillo.

Las Cuevas

The black pudding parcel was served like a spring roll - the velvety pudding encased in crispy, deep fried pastry and then drizzled with a rich chocolate sauce - and it was excellent! The snails were a bit of an issue for me as the were a little small and I didn't seem to have the knack for getting them out, also the sauce was quite bitter and not to my taste, so I left half. The rabbit was beautifully presented in a heavy iron pot, with the meat and some potatoes swimming in the garlic butter and just a few bay leaves for company. It was slightly underseasoned for my palate but that was easily rectified and the meat was tender and moist from its bath - I made a mental note to try to make this dish at home...

The black pudding was the star here for me with the rabbit a close second, but everything apart from the snails was a hit with all of us. The laid back atmosphere in the square here was part of the experience too, and it's a place I'd come to again if ever back in Valencia.

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Bodeguilla del Gato
We had spotted this place on Calle de Catalans a few times during our meanderings around the city but we usually weren't hungry, or it was closed when we passed. The cat name - Bodeguilla del Gato - and image on the door was a draw for our youngest ... although in fairness a pug would probably have had the same effect! So one evening when we didn't really know what we wanted to eat and after looking at a few other places, we ended up outside its doors again. It looked very busy but we took a chance on getting a spot. We were just in luck as a table for four had freed up just inside the door. This was a traditional looking place with lots of posters from the early twentieth century on the walls and a homely, comfortable feel that made us relax and settle further in to our seats.

In the mood for wine, and as this spot seemed to be very much a wine-kinda-place given the chalk written list and the emphasis on the rotating house wine on a board at the bar we ordered a bottle. Our local Caprasia Bobal Merlot was excellent value and really suited the food. I'm not a wine expert and hadn't come across the Bobal grape before but I'd certainly seek it out again, as this was just the right blend of medium-dry berry and chocolate flavours to keep us both happy.

Bodeguilla del Gato

Foodwise we went for spiced and cured deer sausage, the house croquettes, house tortilla, marinated and roasted ribs, chorizo cooked in red wine, more patata bravas - of course, and pork rolls called Flamenquines.

Every dish was superb with the standouts being the huge chunk of tortilla and the flamenquines, and that's probably being unfair to the rest of the dishes. The whole family loved it here ... with the deer sausage being my son's favourite.

Combined with the wine and the busy atmosphere this spot really ticked a lot of boxes for us. It appears to be very much on the tourist map but that's not always a bad thing. The prices were good too, possibly because there seemed to be a good few locals eating here too.

I only wished I could have smuggled home a huge wheel of that tortilla!

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L'Ermità
Finding L'Ermita on Carrer del Bisbe En Jeroni was an accident in truth. We were wandering towards the north of the city centre to look for somewhere to eat and I took a wrong turn ending up on a street parallel to the one I wanted. Half way down, and still cross with myself for my error, I looked left and spotted a small bar with a familiar pink elephant on a plaque outside the door. Delirium Tremens beer is one I'm well acquainted with from the beer side of blogging so I went to investigate and discovered that this place also served food. (That's the menu at the top of this post.) It looked more of a drinks bar than a foody bar but we liked the look so we wandered in. It was an interesting spot with plenty of old movie, music and drink paraphernalia on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. A lady nursed a very placid dog at the bar and a guy was sketching in a corner near the back. I could really see this being a local hangout - an escape from the tourists ... that we were now gatecrashing.

L'Ermità
Our youngest went for the Spanish equivalent of a Toasted Special - a ham and cheese toasty and the rest of us went for the bravas again (I know, I know..), goat's cheese in olive oil with rosemary, squid in tomato sauces and thick slices of cured pork loin - Lomo Embuchado.  The squid - Calamares Salsa Americana - didn't go down so well with the others but I enjoyed them. Looking around I spotted a little selection of tinned produce in a lit counter top display. The tin of squid looked suspiciously like what I had just eaten... This didn't bother me, as there's nothing wrong with tinned produce as long as it's good.

I really liked this place, I would have stayed here all night moving from beers to cocktails, while picking at food and chatting to the locals that wandered in and out. It's a comfortable place ... like that sweetspot on your couch, that well-worn fleece or those threadbare slippers. I'd urge you to visit if you're in the city, even if its just to have a drink and pet the dog.

Unfortunately my family dragged me back out into the warm night, as I mulled over what might have been an even better night...

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Deli_Rant

Towards the end of our trip I realised that we hadn't really explored east of the city centre, and felt that this should be rectified. My research had thrown up a strange-food place called Deli_Rant on Plaça del Col·legi del Patriarca, yet another little orange-treed square. All the outdoor tables were occupied and we had to wait for a while to be seated. To occupy my time, as the rest of the family wandered around the square, I had a look at the beers on the shelves inside, which held an impressive range from the US as well as a good few spanish and other european bottles. The three taps on the bar had a good variety of styles too, from different countries. Soon a table freed up and we were seated again under orange trees with the sun setting.

We looked at the menu and even with my much-used Spanish translator it made no sense, so we had to wait for the waiter to translate them - and what they meant - but with her descriptions curiosity got the better of us and we ordered way too much...

Deli_Rant
  • Torrija de Tomate - Iberico ham on a tomato paste laden bread
  • Pakoras de Tramussos - A fried ball of polenta-textured beans in a spiced yogurt sauce
  • Gnocchi Bravos - A clever twist on patata bravas
  • Churros de Rabo de Toro - Oxtail wrapped in pastry and deep fried, served with a beef soup
  • Costillas Bar Bao Coa - Rib meat served in a steamed Japanese bread
  • Fizz & Chips - Battered fish with popping candy (I kid you not!) served with fresh crisps
  • Tagín de Tajá - Couscous with fruit and nuts, and a pastry tower
  • Macdalena - A meat filled muffin, served with a syringe of tomato sauce to squirt inside
  • Postre de Hoy Mismo - Layers of mousse and wafer thin pastry
  • Shock Oh Late - Chocolate fudge, and squares of chocolate and mallow with a dipping cream
  • Crème Chûfeé con Fartons - A kind of crème brûlée using horchata - a milky beverage made from tigernuts - and a base of fartons - a sweet bread-like confectionary.

I'm not doing them justice with my descriptions and something may have been lost in translation but everything was a little strange and designed to amuse or surprise. An interesting take on tapas indeed...

All the dishes came out over the period of an hour or so which suited us perfectly, as there was a lot of food even before we greedily decide to go for desserts. Everything went down well and we all had or favourites, with the ox tail the only dish that we thought was only okay - I suspect it was slightly over cooked. My favourites are hard to chose but I enjoyed the fizzing sensation of the fish and also the rib meat in the wonder fluffy, moist bread ... but in reality I really enjoyed it all!

The service was excellent - although there was a bit of a delay when a table of around twenty were seated - and when our waiter found out we were from Ireland she chatted with us about a recent trip she had here. The square where we sat had a good few passers-by so it was great for people watching too, with plenty of activity and strange but harmless goings on.

So this was by far the most expensive of the places we visited but that was down to the crazy amount of dishes we ordered more so that the actual prices themselves. A normal family would probably just have the Fizz & Chips between them followed by the Shock Oh Late!

If you are going to Valencia and you are looking for something a little different to amuse your palate then this is definitely the place to go...

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These were the better of the traditional (I use that word loosely.) Spanish food places we visited, but we thoroughly enjoyed everywhere we went. They were all pretty diverse, which was good, and all very attentive to the kids - and child friendly from a food point of view too - even though we were out pretty late on a few nights.

The food scene in Valencia is a big part of any visit and getting to try places like these really made our trip feel more complete ... as we appeared to be doing as the Valencians do...

Eating out.

(And no, we never tried a paella!)

Liam

Part V is here, and the series starts here