Madrid, Te Amo!

Siestas are much needed. I know this now. Large lunches in the afternoon and tapas at night are a way of life in Madrid, or at least it was my way of life when I visited over the holidays. I ate so much during lunch that I needed a nap (didn’t take one though), and by night I wasn’t that hungry so, I ate small plates, or tapas. Totally get it now. Here are the food highlights during my stay:

Cañas y Tapas

I visited this tapas hotspot in the Sol district of Madrid where you can order a beer and get a free pre-set tapa. That’s right, free with each purchase of a drink. Talk about your 2 for 1 special! Unfortunately, I am a vegetarian but my carnivorous friends got to benefit from my meat-happy tapas. They do have vegetarian tapas, which I ordered: Verduras Fritas (fried vegetables) and Tortilla Española. Yum!

Chocolatería San Ginés

Within walking distance of Cañas y Tapas is this wonderful churro mecca. There is the sit-in café as well as a take-away shop directly across the street if you don’t want to wait for a table. The procedure: order at the register, get your receipt, find a table, provide waitress/waiter with said receipt, and patiently wait for churros with cups of chocolate. These are traditional churros, so you won’t find them sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, instead, you get plain churros with mugs of chocolate. You then dip your churro in the mug and bathe it in chocolate deliciousness.

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Café Irlandés

I also ordered an Irish coffee, because why not? (Café Irlandés on the menu). And woah. It was like whiskey with a hint of coffee. It was so strong that my waitress saw that I drank it all and patted me on the back for my accomplishment. Needless to say, after the beer at the tapas place and the Irish coffee here, I was a little drunk. #WorthIt

El Caldero

Along the Barrio de las Letras is this A-MAZING paella restaurant. Cards on the table: I got drunk here as well, but to be fair there was only two of us and we shared a bottle of wine, and to top it off, our waitress surprised us with aperitifs at the end of the meal. For appetizers, I ordered artichokes that were breaded, fried, and bathed in garlic. It. Was. Delectable. My friend ordered jamón ibérico, which you can compare to prosciutto. Most of the main courses are for two as the paellas are large and a waitress will serve you at the table. We ordered the vegetable paella and it was glorious! I couldn’t even finish my half. It’s also served with three different types of aioli. If you are planning a trip to Madrid, this paella place is a must.

La Casa del Abuelo

Located just outside Plaza Mayor is this tapas place established in 1906. We ordered una jarra de sangría (jug of Sangría) and patatas bravas, which is potatoes covered in a hot sauce. It was delicious and I was keeping my buzz going from visiting El Caldero earlier. Don’t judge.

Markets and Macarons

During my Christmas trip to Paris, we stayed in a super quaint Air B&B in the Latin Quarter. Lucky for us, there was a small cobbled street lined with markets and cafes within walking distance. If you find yourself near the area, please pay a visit to Rue Mouffetard.

Walking through this pedestrian only road, you’ll find bakeries, delis, a seafood market, cafes, fromageries (is that right?), and wine shops that also sell local craft beer. It was such a lovely surprise going out looking for breakfast and coming back with jam, fresh-baked bread, and cheese, which I ordered in broken French. Yummy!

Next was the battle of the macarons: Pierre Hermé v. Ladurée.

We first stopped for dessert at the Ladurée on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We opted for eating outside as the line for inside the restaurant itself was quite long. If you wanted to stop by for just macarons, the shop is also located in the restaurant itself but expect long lines for that as well. We had various cakes for dessert, which were so decadent and amazing, but a friend also ordered macarons to go. They were a delicious assortment of coffee, hazelnut, vanilla and other flavours.

On a separate day, on our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, we stopped by the nearby Pierre Hermé shop and ordered more macarons. It offered more varieties and odd flavours like foie gras. In the end, we agreed that Pierre Hermé was the better of the two. If you would like to judge for yourself which is better, you can visit both places without much of a crowd, along Rue Bonaparte, which is on the way to the Luxembourg Gardens. You will find both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé along this road. You’re welcome and happy eating!

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Post-Camp Breakfast

20160821_122730Please, if you ever find yourself in Big Bear, California (either camping in the summer or snowboarding/skiing in the winter), do yourself a favour and visit the Teddy Bear restaurant.

I first visited this delightful, tiny, and family-owned place, in August 2016 after a great weekend of camping at Hanna Flats. Expect a long wait, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

Wine Me Up Before You Go-Go

Once upon a time I blew through the remainder of my student loans to take a quick trip around Europe after I completed my Master’s back in 2013 #NoRegrets. I started out in Paris, flew to Verona, then took a train to Florence, and finally Rome. The highlights of said trip were definitely an open air opera in Verona, a restaurant in Florence, and a wine tour in the breathtaking surroundings of Tuscany.

By some miracle, I looked at events in Verona prior to flying over and saw that the Arena di Verona was performing Romeo and Juliet. Can you say fate? I quickly purchased a ticket and it became my only planned activity, as I don’t always like to plan everything in advance. It was amazing! While Romeo and Juliet is no longer playing, I definitely recommend booking a ticket to see one of the Arena’s open air operas. And what do you know, they have a festival in the summer of 2017. Did I mention this Arena was built in the first century? Bring comfortable cushions to sit on!

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During the Romeo and Juliet Performance

After Verona, I took a train to Florence. Once I dropped off my things at the hostel (Ostello Santa Monaca), I quickly headed out to hunt for some food. I was walking in the rain so I stopped at the first restaurant I saw which happened to be Osteria Santo Spirito. I took a seat outside in their sheltered patio and began salivating as I saw and smelled all the dishes pass me by. This was, hands down, the best place I ate in all of Italy and all I had was a simple pasta pomodoro. I actually didn’t take photos of my food because I was too busy getting my culinary world rocked. But please, if you find yourself in Florence, eat at this restaurant!!!! (Multiple exclamation marks for emphasis)

When I returned to my hostel I looked at their tourist brochures (as one does), and saw they worked with a local travel company that organised day trips to Tuscany. Um yes please, sign me up! The hostel staff assisted with booking for the next day but feel free to do so on your own here. I opted for the San Gimignano, Siena, and Chianti tour. The tour included pick up and drop off at the main train station in Florence, a visit to medieval towns and monasteries, and of course wine tours, complete with grappa (the Italian tequila).

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