An Unplanned Stop in Burgos, Spain

When we were planning a road-trip in Spain in the summer as part of our three week vacation, Burgos was not in the itinerary. For scheduling conflict reasons, I was flying solo and my significant other had already flown a few days ahead. So I was on the plane, heading to Madrid for a 3 week vacation and I got seated next to a lady who was also heading home to Spain to see her family. We got to talking a little bit, and she told me that she was from Burgos. She described a whole bunch of things from Burgos, and she mentioned that Burgos was selected as the Gastronomy Capital of Spain in 2013. This immediately piqued my interest, because for me, food culture is really good way to explore a city. Burgos has a lot of good cuisine, namely morcilla and Queso de Burgos, but she mentioned that they make really good lamb (cordero) roasts. I got a few tips about names of places, and when I arrived in Spain, I checked the route, and it seemed Burgos was on the way. 

Burgos is a city in the Province of Burgos, and the historic capital city of Castille. The city has a lot more to offer than its cuisine, but for us, Burgos was basically the first stop, just to coincide with the time for lunch (yeah, it was a coincidence, for sure). The name of the restaurant in Burgos we were referred to is Casa Ojeda.


Their speciality is roasted meats, more specifically lamb, along with other regional dishes, like fabada (bean stew). What sets them apart is how they make it, which is in a brick oven, run on wood burning fire. This gives the meat a very specific flavor (very good) and puts them a different category. I have to give it up the lady in the plane - everything was delicious!


After lunch we took a walk around the city center, and the Cathedral de Burgos. The Cathedral was closed due to repairs being made, but it is majestic! It's right next to the Plaza Mayor, so the other side is great for viewing while taking a break. It was also set as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.


Walking around town we found some of the components of a historical town, that we also found on other towns on the road-trip - such as the Plaza Mayor (City Center), an area where people hang out and chill out with tapas and drinks and cobblestone streets. I can never really get tired of these things though, and every town offers a different version of this, so you really have to try them all.


A Day Trip To Potes, Liébana in Cantabria

Potes is a small town pretty close to Santander, the capital city of the region of Liébana and famous for Cocido Lebaniego, a cousin of the more traditional meat/bean stew Cocido Montañés. I'm sucker for stews, and I initially wanted to take this trip just to have the Cocido, but it turns out this little medieval town was also famous for its magnificent views of Picos De Europa. I'm also a sucker for mountain views, so we arranged a day trip. Its a small enough town, and unless you want to hike and camp, you can get by with a day. There is enough here to keep the day pretty full, including a ride up the skyride to get a spectacular view of the mountains.


Potes has hints of being a medieval town, because it used to be a strategic location for the Romans, because its the location where two rivers meet. Because of its strategic location, its economy boomed and it eventually became the capital of Liébana


One of the things I've found interesting about these medieval tourist towns is that these aren't just showroom towns - there are families who live here throughout the year, who have kids that go to school and parents who hang out at the local bars, and have weekend parties, etc. Everyday scenes, like kids playing soccer (and having to fight for the ball with the dog that also wants to play) in this scenic town is sort of contradictory to me - I half-expect some Roman centurians to jump out from some tunnel.


The next part of the trip was to go up the funicular to National Park of Picos De Europa. To do this, you have to drive a little bit from Potes to a small area called Fuente . Fuente Dé is not a town really, its just the area where you take the funicular/cable car to the top. Fuente also has a Parador at the base of the cable car, where you can have an extended stay. Paradors in Spain are old historical buildings converted to be hotels, so they offer a unique experience

Once you take the cable car all the way to the top, you get a majestic view of the mountains. At that point, you are at the peak, and somewhat in the middle of the park. From here you're able to hike to many places for much more awesome scenery, but the views from here are not too shabby.


A Walk in the Historic Town of Comillas, Cantabria

I've been to Comillas once before almost 6 years ago, when I first visited Spain. It was also my first foray into Europe, and we didn't take it easy. Straight into the heart of Cantabria, or "Cantabria Profunda" (Deep Cantabria), as they call it is where we went, away from the big cities and tourist attractions. One of these towns, Comillas, was the perfect stop. I remember we went on a weekday, and it was a quiet little town that I always wanted to come back to. Last year when we visited Spain for Christmas, we got a chance to go again with Cristina's brother, who is a childhood friend of the "Primer Teniente de Alcalde" (Deputy Mayor) of Comillas. A walk with the Deputy Mayor of the town. It's about 1.5/2 hours from Santander, so it was too good to pass up.

Commillas is a sleepy little town in Northern Spain, in the Province of Cantabria. It is designated a historic-artistic site, and It has all the charateristics of such a site - cobbled streets and squares with ancestral houses, and has pretty well preserved medieval architecture. It's also known as the "Town of the Bishops" - as five prelates were born here who later went on to be the heads of several different dioceses in the Middle Ages. It has been modernized a lot, just like Segovia and Pedrazza, and there are a lot of modern amenities. Most of these towns all have a "Plaza Mayor" (Like a city center, or city center square) where there is usually the church and lots of restaurants and bars. We met Pedro, the Deputy Mayor of Comillas and he took us for a personalized walk around tour of his town.


Comillas is home to Comillas Pontifical University, which used to be a religious university, but it has since reformed and moved to Madrid. The institution in Comillas now serves as a foundation for research. It also has a lot of different programs for exchange and international students. Its an awesome place to spend your summers, with the beach as your backyard and say to sheep as you walk to your classes.


The Comillas beach is near the Oyambre Natural Park, and is very well preserved as well. You can go fishing from the pier, or chill out on the beach. It was a little cold to be frolicking on the sand, and the summer town was a little bit empty in January.


After the walk around, we went a place recommended by Pedro for some really good tapas, Restaurante el Pirata. Lunchtime is late in Spain, so we had some caña and tapas to hold us off till lunch.


In town square is the parish church of San Cristóbal, dating from the seventeenth century. The town is a stop along the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago, so you'll see signs all along the town. The church and town hosts all sorts of events when the participants of the pilgrimage arrive.


Pit-stop in Vitoria to Meet Friends

Today was the last day on the road trip. After a rest at the Parador in Santo Domingo de La Calzada, we made our way to Vitoria-Gasteiz, a mid-sized town in the Basque Country. We didn't really plan to visit this place a destination, but we thought it would be a good meeting point for a few friends that we had planned to meet. They were already in San Sebastian for Christmas, so it was easy enough to get here. It was the second last stop before going home (last stop being Frias) so we were looking forward to relaxing a little bit.

Vitoria-Gasteiz is another medieval town in this mini road-trip of ours. Its a grungy town, with a lot of street art and old world architecture intertwined. Basque country is a pretty popular tourist destination, but whenever people visit this region, San Sebastian is usually their primary destination, so Vitoria is a little bit off-the-beaten path destination. There are plenty of things to do here, but with time being short, we decided to walk around Virgin Blanca Square, and then visit the Artium Museum, a modern art museum where they have a collection with works from some of the most important Basque and Spanish artists.


We met our friends around noon, just in time for some 'txikiteo' - if you didn't know already, 'txikiteo' is a Basque tradition similar to a pub crawl, the focus being mainly on drinks and pintxos/tapas. The Basque Country is one of the areas with the most bars per capita, so it seems fitting that this tradition started here. Our friends also brought their daughter along, and even though she seemed to not be too happy with the camera, I managed to get some snaps.


A Taste of Porrón

A porrón is a traditional Spanish wine vessel, used to store and drink wine. It is no mistake that the word, pronounced “pour-OHN,” contains the word pour, because that is exactly how you drink from it. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and watering can; the top is narrow and ends in a spout. Since it is also used to store wine, the top usually has a cork or a stop - its almost like wine ready-to-go. To drink from it, you tilt the porrón with the spout pointing at your mouth really fast, drink and then tilt it straight really fast again. The wine jets out really fast from the spout, so you never have to touch it with your lips. You really have to do this with no hesitation whatsoever, otherwise you can expect to have a lot more wine on your shirt than in your mouth. It is a festive device meant to facilitate communal activity, so you pass it around in a group and drink together - a little bit like how the Native Americans used to pass around the smoke-pipe around the fire. Its an awesome ice-breaker in a big group and a lot of fun. It’s nearly impossible not to not enjoy a porrón pour, unless of course, you're George Orwell.

Porróns mainly hail from Catalunia and Aragon, but they can be found all over Spain. They were designed originally to take the place of wine skins or bota bags and made with ceramic, but at some point switched to being made with mouth-blown recycled glass. This vessel originated in the middle ages and was used when there weren’t enough glasses for the guests. The design has a logic as well - It’s shaped this way so that the wine will have minimal contact with the air, which quickly ruins it. Porróns are most commonly filled with regular wines, either white or red, but are also used to drink Cava. Because you ingest a mouthful at a time, young wine is most suited for the porrón.

Porrón drinking is a pretty old tradition - and even though the ritual remains a symbol of Spanish sociability, as well as fine evidence of the country’s characteristically unpretentious approach to wine - being an old tradition in a modern world, it is dying. The young generation in Spain don't really drink from a porrón much, and if you go into a regular bar and ask for a porrón, they may look at you funny. I first saw a porrón being sampled by Anthony Bourdain while he was traveling through Northern Spain, and ever since then I've been wanting to try it. So my last trip to Spain, Cristina's Aunt Mili and Uncle Alejandro decided to take us out to an off-the-beaten path place, Bar Ruiz. This was really out of the any tourist zone and embodied what I would think would be like to drink at one of these places. The patrons were all local, and they all knew each other. The place was no-frills, but had a soul, like it had seen many things. It didn't pretend to be anything other than what it was. The only food you could get there is embutido, or charcuterie and cheese. We ate a bunch of chorizo, salchichón and manchego and enjoyed the experience of drinking from a porrón.


Some places to drink porrón in New York City:

157 E. Houston St.
(between Allen and Eldridge)
New York, NY

El Porron Restaurant
1123 First Avenue (btw. 61st & 62nd Streets)
New York, NY


A Drive through La Rioja to Parador Santo Domingo de La Calzada

After a stop in cold (warm in other ways) Pedrazza, and a break in Lerma, we headed towards our final destination for the day, to the Parador Santo Domingo de La Calzada. Santo Domingo de La Calzada is a small municipality in the La Rioja region. La Rioja region is well known for its wine, and we were hoping to tour some vineyards, but we were pretty late, and in the end we didn't even get to see any of them on our drive.

However, on the way to the Parador, we passed some of the farming country of La Rioja which when basked in the late light from the sunset, looked gorgeous.

The country side of La Rioja is pretty much all we could get while the light was out. We made our way through the dark meandering roads of the region, occasionally running into wondering cows from the near by farms - and eventually reached the Parador.

The town of Santo Domingo de La Calzada does not allow cars. You can go in there to drop off, and then be out of there. The Parador has special parking, so they allow you take your car into their own special lot. We were pretty thankful for that, because we were exhausted. We didn't really get to see anything at night, because the town pretty much shut down. 

The Parador itself is pretty cool. It's housed in a building that occupies a former 12th-century hospital near the cathedral, erected by St. Dominic to take in pilgrims traveling on the Camino de Santiago. It has a regal, elegant style, with majestic function rooms and a lobby filled with Gothic arches and wood coffered ceilings. We relaxed in the lobby for a bit and then it was off to the room for - room service! We ordered some of the traditional food of the region,  Pollo a la Riojana and Riojana Potato Soup and rested.

In the morning, we took a walk around town. The town is really small, and the main draw of the town is the Cathedral de Santo Domingo. This cathedral was built dedicated to Santo Dominic, who dedicated his life to this region. The town is a stop along the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago, and during the summer it comes alive with all sorts of festivals and events. All along the streets, you'll also see the sign for the pilgrimage, to guide you along your way.

A Break in Lerma

After the rainy stay in Segovia and a cold and freezing pit-stop in Pedrazza, we made another little stop in Lerma to take a break. Lerma is a small town in the Province of Burgos, known for its bread and morcilla (blood sausage), and the Parador de Lerma, which is housed in The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace is of course the most interesting construction of the city. This beautiful Palace was constucuted over the ruins of and old XV castle, and was designed by the Architect Francisco de Mora in the traditional Castilian style with four towers. The building is situated at the Plaza Mayor, a huge plaza surrounded by arcades. This building is now the Parador de Lerma. Paradors in Spain are special hotels, that are housed in heritage buildings. It so happens that a lot of these historic buildings are in towns that are small and without much economic activity, so the Parador is a novel source of income for the town. There are Paradors all over the country, in mostly remote locations, so its a destination in itself. Not to mention, staying in one of these is a very cool experience, which I will get into when we stay in Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

An Even More Freezing Day in Pedrazza

After a cold and rainy day in Segovia, we were headed to Pedrazza, a smaller town in the same province, but not quite as popular. A lot of people have heard of Segovia, and the Alcázar of Segovia, but not too many people have heard of Pedrazza. Segovia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Pedrazza is not. Its not too big, and not very populated, which makes it a perfect little town to visit for a non-touristy feel. I really wish we had stayed over, but this was a pit-stop in our road trip, and we could only spend a few hours. But I think we will go back for sure.

An approach to Pedrazza via Bandas Sonaras

Like a lot of the cities in the world heritage site list, Pedrazza is also a Medieval Village. The village really was almost abandoned in the 70s and 80s, because there are no jobs nearby (other than tourism related) and so a lot of the younger people left to go to bigger metropolitan areas. Recently the economy took a upturn, as a lot of the urbanites have come back to purchase homes and have renovated them to be weekend escapes. 

Pedrazza falls in the province of Segovia and autonomous community of Castilla y Leon, but most of the visitors head towards Segovia; so when we went, it was almost empty. Not to mention, it was raining very heavily with a lot of wind and so most people were indoors. Nevertheless we got to walk around and take in some of the medieval architecture. Towns like these have always appealed to, because they are very different than what I am used to - growing up we heard many fairy tale stories about princes and warriors from medieval times, and walking through these town I can imagine what it would be like to live in one of these towns. They've been modernized since then with indoor plumbing and such, but the old school charm is still there.

After walking around a little bit in what turned out to be almost a ghost town, we got a little hungry. There aren't many restaurants around town, and it was off-season, and cold and rainy, and we didn't think any place would be open. But then we wondered into a small side street, and lo behold, we saw one small place with steamed windows, which could only mean they are cooking inside.

Restaurante Reberte sighted!

We found Restaurante Reberte, which looked like it just opened. It was small place, family owned, it looked like - it felt exactly like what you would want to find in a small medieval village. Spanish lunchtime - especially on a weekend - is really late, around 3PM, and it was still about 2PM, so when we walked in, we were still pretty early and they didn't look prepared. We asked nicely if they could feed us still, and Señor Reberte himself said "of course!". So then we sat down for a nice hearty meal of cordero (lamb roast), sopa castellana and flan. Reberte tended to us himself, all the while roasting and fetching.At the end of the meal (even though we couldn't really stand) he even agreed to take a picture with us. 

After the meal, we were warmed up a little bit, but really full. We walked around a little bit more to see the rest of the town, which included the town pharmacy, some other small bars, and the town prison (yes, a prison).

Sights around Segovia

When we visited Segovia, it was just bad weather all around. Drizzle and rain mist covered almost everything, and the cloud was just overcast and flat. It gave us time to visit a lot of restaurants and cafes, admire the establishments and enjoy some good food. 

Because of all the rain, I saw umbrellas everywhere. So - here is a collection of pictures of one of the main sights of the trip: Umbrellas!


Street Signs

Segovia being a World Heritage Site, its pretty touristy. There are signs all over the place, making sure the tourists don't get lost. Given that the tourists come from all over the world. I guess you expect the signs to be various languages. In Spain, almost everything is translated, and there are hardly any signs in english. So in Segovia, you would expect to see all the signs in Spanish, right? Yes, and also in - Japanese! My friend Francesco explained to me why that is - it seems Japanese tourists are crazy about World Heritage Sites, and they visit them places in this list more than any other destination. So it would make sense to cater to the Japanese. 



Starting with this post, I've decided that I want to incorporate some of my iphone pictures into this website. Sometimes the phone is just handy enough to capture a moment that I might have missed with the big dslr. So, throughout the site, expect to see SNIPPETS! in various areas.


Stalked Locals

Tapas at Duque Maestro Asada

At the top of the Aquaduct

The lobby of our hotel - 

Princess sighting at the post office

The view from the hotel balcony

Alcazar of Segovia

Wine from Restaurant Jose Maria

Cochinillo - cooked so soft, it can be cut with a plate

A Rainy Day in Segovia

Segovia has been on my bucket list for a while now - ever since I saw the picture of the Alcazar of Segovia - so it was pretty awesome when I was finally able to go there. Segovia is one of the cities in the World Heritage Sites from UNESCO, so we expected it to be crowded, but less crowded in December. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative. It rained the entire time we were in Segovia and it was freezing. It was the drizzly kind, and not torrential downpour, so we were able to walk around a bit. When we first got there, we could see the aquaduct from the street approaching. We stopped for a bit to walk around the famouse Aquaduct of Segovia for a bit, climbing all around it, and getting a nice view of the city.

The next day wasn't any better. Drizzle/rain mist all day, and overcast sky. We walked all around town, and it was a good day for some cocido and bean stew. We walked all around town, admiring the architecture and town center.Amongst the aquaduct, which is one of the most important Roman construction in Spain, the architecture is influenced by Romanesque style.

Alcázar of Segovia

Call it indoctrination of Disney, or just childhood fairy tales, but castles are yet another obsession of mine, that I just wasn't used to while growing up. Seeing castles up front is major treat and often it feels like when kids see their superheros in real-life for the first time. Supposedly the Cinderella Castle in Disneyland was inspired by the Alcázar Castle in Segovia and Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, but I think most castles would like to claim that credit. 


The interior of this castle is just as gorgeous and luxurious. I can only imagine what it was like to live in one of these castles in its heyday.