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Spain

Really I just like reasons for holidays and celebrations, as evident by my three new years this year.  However I do think it is momentous to celebrate the fact that I have made it around the globe.  Granted 380 days is a lot longer than 80, I’m also taking my sweet time a lot more than that adventure and its lack of stopping anywhere.   Let’s ignore the fact that I already celebrated my 365 days traveling.  So what does an avid eater do to celebrate?

The only way I know how to celebrate: by accidentally taking porn-like photos of tender meat in low lighting.

My last meal in Madrid and in Europe was at Botin, the “world’s oldest restaurant” based on Guinness records and contested by a bunch of other ancient places.  The more important part is they have crackly skinned moist pork and it is in an ancient wooden cellar that managed to escape the bombings of so many wars.  The restaurant is pretty touristy and I got told to return three hours later when I showed up fifteen minutes after they opened, but that’s what you get for not being able to make a reservation online for less than three people.  I had to get some chocolate and churros to bide my time, the horrors of my day.  When I showed up later I got crammed in a corner where the walls crumbled on me occasionally and I was mildly squished next to a giant humidifier disguised as a ye olde wood door.  Yet the tender pork in crisp skin swimming in a pool of its own juices with a couple of potatoes was enough to make it awesome still.  I just wish I had the money and a stomach not full of churros and chocolate to have ordered the roasted baby lamb as well.  Lamb is already tender as a young sheep, is baby lamb extra tender?

This is also a good time to reflect on all the things I have learned over the past year.  I’m oft asked why I went on this trip and one of the answers I give is, “This is cheaper than graduate school and the learning is a lot more fun and practical.”

The big one: Was a Round The World Trip ticket worth it?

Yes and no.  It was a good deal and I had a lot of flexibility in my flights, free changes to date/time and only $125 for changes for location changes.  I even managed to change my flight for free when I missed my flight due to misunderstanding military time was being used.  Who flies at 1 AM?!  That’s the end of the good news.  The other half is that it took an average of 40 minutes of hold time and a week worth of calling daily to make changes.  For LAN I found that LAN America is handicapped and tells you to call back daily just to tell you they screwed up, and it’ll take probably another three days. Call back then, we have no power to change anything without our supervisor!  Calling LAN Chile was much more effective as their call center people could make changes immediately if it was for date/time.  I did get blacked out of the entire summer for going to Europe which was fortunate for my wallet but annoying for flexibility’s sake.  From other travelers’ reports I have compiled that the Latin American airlines (LAN and TAM) seem to be the worst, I’ve never had a good run in with AA even prior to current bankruptcy service issues, and the developed European nations (FinnAir and Lufthansa) had the most friendly and helpful service.  Would I do it again?  I probably wouldn’t have made it around the world in one year without it, but I’m not sure if being in India right now inhaling curries would’ve been a bad thing.

What do you need to carry?

I’m not really sure still, but I can tell you to plan for your weather.  I can also tell you what I really haven’t used.  I still haven’t been in good camping climate so the sleeping bag has only been optionally used.  My clothes have been wrecked after being worn for a year and I’ve had to buy a lot of new stuff.  Don’t buy it in Asia unless you are of their tiny proportions.

My laptop has been a blessing and a curse.  I’ve typed out lengthy e-mails on a phone this trip and it’s a pain in the ass.  You could use the free computers at hostels but I will warn you that I get blocked a lot from website that report the entire router’s IP has been blocked to spambots at multiple hostels.  So it’s been convenient to have a computer of my own and to view travel info on a full size screen.  The curse is that it’s broken three times, changing my travel plans three times, so that I had to hustle to a developed city with an authorized Apple repair center and then sit there waiting in a more expensive city.  And these fine authorized folk in Singapore of all places only managed to break my laptop the first fix so that it caused the second problem.  Oy.  It’s also heavy and the biggest item I constantly worry about getting stolen or losing.  I do carry a PacSafe slash proof bag which has been awesome when I can’t find a locker.

The ISYT (youth travel) card I bought hasn’t been used once.  Being under 26 would’ve been more useful for youth discounts and my almost decade old university ID worked just fine most places.

Is Couch Surfing a good idea? / How do I find a good place to stay (Couches and hostels/guesthouses)

Yes, this is a definite yes for Couch Surfing.  Even if you are feeling timid about staying in a stranger’s house it’s one of the best and most reliable ways I’ve had to find locals in the big cities I’m going to even if just for a coffee, drink or meal.  And big cities are the hardest places for me to connect with locals so it’s a boon.  As for finding good places to sleep/eat/drink, it’s really pretty similar on any website.  You start getting used to filtering by places with lots of reviews and what is really important in reviews.  At some point you realize all the reviews about “the best hostel breakfast ever!” and “the best meal I’ve had in my 3 weeks in Spain!” on every location you look at cannot be real.   As with anything new you find, your experience may rock the socks off a place with no reviews or even a great reviewed place will be terrible.  Smart filtering will still up your chances.  So far the only bad hostels I’ve had were because they were party hostels, not because of any terrible dirtiness or anything.  I personally filter for clean, just out of tourist area but walkable, not a party place, and family run.  As for couch surfing, I’ve met a few people I didn’t click with, amazing people that keep in touch more often than friends from back home, and one cult who made intelligent conversation and great Thai food.

This does lead me into how do I find good eating places.  Sadly backpacker joints are generally overpriced for the area and mediocre to terrible.  Apparently backpacking means you have bad taste.  My general go to websites have been Chowhound and Simon Seeks however both are more skewed towards people with money and less towards your budget traveler.  Lonely Planet and other guides tend to value cleanliness and comfortable (read: tastes altered to your pansy tourist taste buds) over actual good taste.  Also there is some strange curse of success where once in a guidebook many places know they can stop caring because a constant stream of one time visitors will come in.  Otherwise I find local food blogs the best spots to find pertinent budget information for eating tasty local foods.

So there’s my thoughts on traveling and eating my way around the world for one year.  I’m not stopping just yet as I’ve landed on my feet in Ecuador so I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more on the way.  Every continent operates a little differently and South America should be a fun challenge.

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I really like trying new foods.  A lack of fear for things like offal and funny things means I often spend my time sniffing out the weirder parts of a culture’s cuisine.  In Spain though, I had a much more normal obsession.  I ate as many chocolate with churros as I could find.  Much like how I eat gelato in Italy, except I fortunately never made it to twice a day for churros.  So to make myself feel more productive and less like I ate a billion donuts, here’s a breakdown of churros.

First, let’s start with Madrid.  San Gines is the obvious big attraction here, open til way into the night for those late night post drinking churros.  When I went during the day the line was just too much to deal with and I left it for another time.  Instead my first stop was Chocolat, off a random side street close to the museum area.  It’s a small diner manned by a few brothers with some slightly out of place chairs covered in fabric like a wedding.  Lest the reserved signs lead you astray, they were totally friendly and I was thrilled when they asked if I would wait five minutes when I ordered.  Of course I’ll wait so I can have the freshest fritter possible!

Not the prettiest set up, but a damned tasty one. Here I got a mix of churros and porras, thin star shaped donuts like most people are used to and fatter almost Chinese you tiao like ones. I prefer the thinner ones.

Not one to miss out on churros I went back to San Gines and waited in line.  Then while I was eating there were periods of no line mixed with huge ones.  The interior was beautiful in a classic way befitting such an old institution.

The chocolate was a bit chalky on its own and the waiters efficiently brusque. The churros were barely warm as they just fry them constantly like a factory. I prefer warm service and hot churros thanks.

That’s a lot of chocolate. I want a jug of chocolate.

In Seville I stopped in Cafeteria Dona Carmen and rubbed elbows with lots of senior citizens enjoying their afternoon porras. I prefer churros but this was the donut of the day. Not the best of either item but the atmosphere was charming with the local old folk.

In Malaga I managed to go to Casa Arandas from the nearby market just in time before closing at noon. This was the only place I went where they let you order churros by the stick and had a takeout counter for them. Both chocolate and churros were good here.

In Granada I went to Churreria Alhambra in a touristy plaza. I found the donuts to be greasy and chocolate ok but again chalky. At least they were fried fresh though.

I got around to Cafe Futbol also in Granada. The donuts were almost densely solid here. I found both chocolate and churros between ok and good.

In Cordoba I stumbled on this stand outside the Alcazar while starving for breakfast in-between running to catch the free entrances. The dough tasted funnel cake like and dense. While not particularly churro like to me it was one of my favorite donuts fresh off the fryer and greasing up the paper.

Back in Madrid before my flight I stopped at Chocolateria Valor where they make chocolates as well. Accordingly, the chocolate was good but the donuts perhaps the worst and greasiest I’ve had in Spain.

My hostel serves chocolate and churros in the morning so it is fitting that the last thing I will eat in Spain is my most obsessed dish.  Far superior to American (Mexican) churros of cinnamon and sugar, I will longingly miss the Spanish version as I travel onward.

After starting my eating adventures in Madrid, a center of all the regions, I didn’t know what to expect in Andalucia.  Fresh seafood due to proximity?  Tapas?  Tortillas?  It was a delicious place to learn as I went.

My first stop was Seville where they claim to have invented the tapa.  I went to the oldest taperia in town, El Rinconcillo, where they claim this distinction.  It’s still jam packed and delicious today, centuries later.

Some classics of Seville: spinach with chickpeas, braised pork cheeks, and bacalao (cod) fritter. The first two were amazing and the latter was a meh fish without chips.

In Seville, it’s still common to see them write your tab down on the bar or wall. As you can see, mine is nothing compared to the lingering large groups eating, drinking, and mingling.

While not on the ocean, Seville had the lovely Feria market so I stopped at La Cantina on the side of it. The tiny fried fish and prawns are common tapas all over town but extra fresh here where you point at what you want in the glass case.

Post flamenco show I found myself at Bodeguita Romero for some more Seville treats.

Another common dish is tortilla camarones, a Spanish egg/potato dish with lots of tiny shrimp. Wonderfully crispy but pretty salty.

This place is known for their pringa sandwich. Pringa is popular in the region and consists of pork, sausages, and blood sausage all slow cooked together.

I love albondigas (meatballs) of all forms and these choco (cuttlefish) ones hit the spot. While I usually prefer pork ones, these might’ve been the best meatballs I’ve had in Spain.

After Seville was Ronda which is a bit of a tourist day trip pit stop for most people so the food was aimed towards that.  Mostly sadly mediocre and overpriced, it took me some effort to find some affordable palatable fare.  My first meal was Bar Maestro, a charming local looking tapas bar run by a gruff old couple.

Since I did not have time for Valencia I didn’t really eat much paella on this trip. However I heard it was good at this place and got the world’s smallest paella. It’s pretty cute and delicious.

How does one make kidneys delicious? By sandwiching fat between it and making sure it’s real tender.

My other meal was targeted at trying the specialty of the city, oxtail.  Sadly my visit to another local friendly looking place was fine, but not great.  I probably would give it a pass if I was there again.  Working against the restaurant was the fact that I was so full of meaty products that I was slightly sick of heavy food, which is what traditional food of the region is.

The restaurant’s specialty was the “Pork Special” which was a hedgehog looking meatball with toothpicks all over it.

In a town of bullfights I was sad to find a lackluster oxtail.

I’d been so obsessed with chocolate with churros that I didn’t make much time for anything else.  Breakfast time in Ronda seemed like a perfect time to branch out.

A chocolate napolitina which is quite like a croissant topped by two chocolate shortbread like cookies. Hello diabetes breakfast.

The next stop was Malaga which was actually on the sea.  While the seafood at the market was impeccably fresh and sold by amusing shouting men, the prices were as high as America so I did not stock up.  Instead I partook in the city tradition of eating sardines grilled on a skewer over driftwood on the beach.

At some point while you watch the kids on the tire zipline, the waves crash, and people wander by, you realize this is the perfect place to eat sardines.

Seriously, these chiringuitos grilled ’em up inside of old boats.

Everything else at the shack was awful but the sardines, while not cheap, were tasty. I didn’t even know Spain contained wine this bad.

My first meal was a disappointment as the old town of Malaga is pretty touristy and stopping in a random ceveceria was apparently not a good idea.  Most of these places valued cheesy decor and cleanliness over affordability and taste.

Not actually from Andalucia is fabada asturiana, a rich bean stew with sausage chunks. My continuing aversion to heavy foods will never be fixed here.

My hostel in Malaga was more like a bed and breakfast and served a wonderful spread of homemade desserts every morning.  It also had the benefit of being around the corner of what was supposed to be the best tapas bar in town, El Tapeo de Cervantes, which serves a mix of new fusion and traditional classics.  Everyone in town wanted to do fusion but it looked more like bad 90’s California fusion than anything really interesting.  The restaurant is also known for game meat but I found the boar overly sweet and not something I would get again.

They really love salt cod out here and they stuffed it in some peppers here. Pleasant but not thrilling.

One of the specialties of the bar is sea bream with goat cheese and carrot puree. This was the best thing I had here.

Out on the street you could find guys with tables covered in paper and almonds.  While they have quite the markup, the market does carry delicious Malaga almonds as well.

These are a steal compared to America. I should’ve gotten more tasty fried Malaga almonds.

My next stop was Granada where I Couch Surfed with an Indian man who helped my unmet traveler’s spice cravings.  Amusingly, he made me the same Indian dishes I used to cook at home: chicken tikka masala, tomato cauliflower, and chickpea curry.  Granada has the benefit of tapas bars that give you a free tapa with beer but otherwise are not well known for their food.

This was one lucky cat being served leftover paella outside a church by a nun. Even the cats eat well here.

The jewel of Andalucian cuisine is Cordoba, oft overlooked by travelers who stop only in Seville and Granada.  I still found it slowly being creeped up on by mediocre tourist restaurants trying to charge more but I had better luck finding great food.  My first stop was Taverna Salinas, another ye old place that was flooded with tourists due to recommendation in guidebooks.  Luckily the food was still good.

No, that’s not milk next to my wine.

I caught up on ajo blanco, a specialty I missed in Seville.  I think I prefer salmorejo as I found this to be one noted and grainy.  The raisins hanging out in the bottom of the glass could’ve helped had they not been in a weird glass.  The oxtail was superb! I was worried I just had to give up on it, but no here it was perfect.  Melty and saucy, I inhaled every bit.

Bar Santos right outside the Mezquita is known for their world’s tallest tortilla.  I also took this chance to try morcilla, blood sausage.  Served cold, it had an unpleasant consistency.

Them’s some tall tortillas.

For second lunch I headed over to La Cazuela de La Espateria to find a few more Cordoban classics.

Found everywhere in Spain so I had no idea it was from Cordoba is salmorejo, a cold tomato soup thickened and made creamy by bread. It’s then drizzled with olive oil, jamon, and boiled eggs.

If I wasn’t feeling heavy food, this would be the nail in the coffin. Cordoban specialty flamenquin is pork rolled in jamon and then fried and served with chips and mayo. My this was heavy!

For dinner I headed over to Taverna Gorgona.  I walked by thinking it was closed before I spied an old man eating at the counter.  I’m glad I stopped in and the place quickly filled with locals after I arrived.

After all this time in Spain I finally got around to getting a plate full of Jamon Iberico. I wish I had more but at least I tried it in a region known for great jamon.

Another Cordoban thing is fried eggplant covered in molasses. It was tasty but much too big a portion for one!

While certainly not San Sebastian, Andalucia was tasty on its own.  I don’t know how a vegetarian would survive here but I certainly enjoyed the porky goodness.  I will have to return to Spain again to try all the other densely packed yet vastly different regional cuisines.

From the cold grip of Madrid I escaped southward to Andalucia, a land carved by the histories of so many groups.  I wanted to see Moorish architecture and hear the lapping of the sea.  It did not take long to find.  As soon as I landed in Seville I found myself inundated with broad leafy avenues, bright white stone buildings, and enough tourist shops selling Flamenco dresses to make one blurry with polka dots.  Seville is the modern hub of Flamenco so I attended a show at the cultural center.  I was expecting more sexy dancing and instead got mostly soulful music and some insane hard tap dancing.  Thoroughly confused, I later took a free flamenco class that my hostel/cultural association offered in Malaga to learn the basic steps.  I am still confused exactly what flamenco is supposed to be but it is fun to watch and one hard workout.

After Seville I decided I wanted to check out one of the small hillside villages.  I get the feeling that much like Vietnam, that I may have liked Andalucia a lot more if I had my own means of transport and spent most of my time in the countryside.  Ronda is a beautiful hill top castle with Moorish roots.

The surrounding farms and countryside are absolutely stunning.

It may perhaps not be a perfect example of the quiet countryside I sought as it was overrun with day trippers.  Luckily wandering just outside of town was a quiet reprieve from the high prices and terrible quality of tourist aimed goods and lodging.

Any minute now an old guy with a beard will appear telling me I need to accompany some hobbits and a ring.

After Ronda I wanted to head to next closest town Cordoba but only found an expensive high speed train.  So the next thing I know, I’m in the coastal city of Malaga.  It is not in the trifecta of stunning Andalusian culture cities but has a charm all of its own as it mixes old and new under its thick veneer of tourism.

The industrial dock cranes cast long shadows as the sun sets over the water.

On the hill next to the old part of town are a castle and fortress complex with beautiful views of the town.

It’s a bit of a steep climb but I think it is well worth the view.

The two complexes are separate and are connected by a no longer used medieval walkway.  Now you get to climb up the windy hill with a view of the bull ring instead.

The fortress still looks pretty impenetrable today, particularly when there are so many easier high rise targets around.

Malaga also had an interesting Roman theater and a lovely local market filled with delectably fresh goods.  I recommend grabbing some Malaga almonds if you visit, they’re much cheaper and delicious there than the much pricier street vendors.  On my way out I discovered there were free audio guides available in the form of an iPod you can get at the tourism office.  Another time I suppose, but why not just make it an app?

Next I headed to Granada where the grandest of all the Andalucian buildings, the Alhambra, lies.  On this hill complex are multiple palaces and endless gardens.  Continuing the effort at being high tech but falling a few years behind, the Alhambra had free bluetooth guides for download that only appeared to work on Blackberry phones.

I really enjoy the Moorish geometric patterns that mix straight lines with more sensuous curves and fun shapes than I’m used to seeing in Christian wall decoration.

These interesting patterns could be found all over the place.

I always had this mental image of blue and white horseshoe arches but I will gladly gaze at blue and white stalactite dome ceilings instead.

I find Arabic writing to be quite bubbly and stylized in a way even cursive writing never fully attains, especially in stonework.

What a view you got from the windows!

It must’ve been such a peaceful palace in such tumultuous times.

Right after my scheduled visit to the Nazares Palaces I lost my ticket, which is a tough position when they want to scan it every five minutes in the complex.  Luckily after lots of poor descriptions in Spanish they got me a lost ticket to continue my wanderings.

I really enjoyed the vast gardens, farmed flowers and vegetables, and bodies of water everywhere.

The famous jumping fountains in a courtyard.

The land right outside of the castle was beautiful as well.

Being from Los Angeles, I am constantly amazed by this seasons business. Leaves change color you say?

I wandered out to the Sacremonte neighborhood where Roma gypsies once lived in caves on the hillside and helped invent flamenco. This is a statue of their king with a fun hat.

They claim it to be a city full of graffiti but I had to do some searching to find more than some monochrome scribbles of names. This guy is quite famous and includes fortune cookie looking quotes next to beautiful women.

I didn’t feel like I spent enough time in each town nor did I spend any time at all between them.  This was a rushed trip, or a normal speed trip for most people.  It involved a lot of time on buses.

The view from buses is endless olive groves spread over the otherwise quite deserty landscape.

After the grandeur of Alhambra in Granada I was finally ready to go to Cordoba.  Somehow left off of the fast itineraries, this may have been my favorite city in the area just because it is less frequented by tourists and therefore quieter.  I am not usually a church lover as my head spins trying to see how they are different after a couple.  Yet in Cordoba I have seen the most beautiful one I feel I have ever seen, converted from a former Mosque.

The darkness only contributes to the mood of gazing upon the endless striped horseshoe arches.

Once upon a time, all the religions lived together peacefully in this region.  They even studied together.  It is interesting to see the similarities and differences in their architecture particularly as many churches in the area are converted mosques.

Domed roofs aren’t just for churches, as this one is embellished with the geometric shapes of mosques.

The courtyard of the church is covered in lovely orange trees.

I enjoyed Cordoba continuing the trend of having many free things with the Mezquital church and Alcazar both being free in the early half of the mornings.  Once in you could wander at will, just watch out for the large hordes of school children.

I ended up seeing the large scale structures of ancient splendors that I came to this region to see but I did tire of my fast travel and the hordes of tourists even in low season.  Now I am inspired to return one day upon wheels of my own so that I can see all the nooks in between and the beautiful national parks sprawling over the province that many, like me, seem to pass right over.

When I got on a plane to Ecuador one year ago, the announcements in Spanish terrified me.  I haven’t even left Los Angeles and I felt a slight sense of terror at what I was about to get myself into.  My few semesters of Spanish in high school and university weren’t going to save me now.  A year in, after so many countries where I don’t even know a little bit of the language, all of a sudden Spanish is comforting.  At least I can say the basics, count, and ask for things.  That only left the culture shock for me. This is a land of both ends of the spectrum.

The crest of Madrid shown of varying quality on the sewer covers. No other cities’ crest makes me think of a pudgy Pooh bear reaching for the trees.

It is a country of strong family and social ties.  One could hardly imagine there is a recession if you just walked around, the cafes and bars are constantly full of hip young looking people.  Much like when I lived in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I constantly want to scream “doesn’t anybody work around here?!” Except unlike in America, the answer is probably no, they don’t.  Once you talk to the Spanish, that is when you realize the cutbacks many of them are making.  How many of them live with their parents?  Many wonder if they’ll have to leave the country soon for work.

It is both a relaxed, joyous city and a depressing place.  Madrid is full of streets of designer stores and yet it is a glorious town to be in for the art inclined but wallet light.  There are so many free things to do in this town if you time it right.  The sunday morning flea market is a great place to stroll and people watch, stop for a drink and a bite, or just buy all sorts of junk.  The top notch museums are free for a few hours in the evening and some for whole days on the weekend.  Boscos, Picassos, Dalis, Magrittes, and Kandinskys for free?  Oh my!

Line for the most awesome rock concert? Nope, it’s almost free hours at the Prado!

This was a place where I tried to meet more than one Couch Surfer.  In big cities, I find it harder to get my head around what it’s really like there.  Standing in the Plaza Mayor with a brass band blasting as tourist swarm into cheesy restaurants, info offices and posing for pictures with dirty looking Puss in Boots, one can hardly imagine this was a site of the Spanish Inquisition.  The slice of every day life did mean a glance into the harsh realities of belt tightening but also the creative speed of the city.

A globally live streamed guitar and classical Spanish instruments concert. I’ve never seen a square pandeiro or the mortar and pestle looking bell before.

I wandered the twisted streets not knowing where to go as I didn’t understand Spanish hours.  Lunch is between 1-4 and dinner from 8 or 9 onwards.  This meant I was hungry a lot as I couldn’t find food when I wanted it except in the touristy spots.

The fancy meats display at Mercado San Migeul, an upscale but still affordable on the Western scale market full of ready to eat goodies.

It usually takes me a little bit to hit my stride and find the good bits anywhere and big cities just make that more difficult.  At least Madrid was tasty as I worked my way around it.  Much like in Vienna I discovered there was often menus of the day that were the most affordable option to try many things.  So I stopped in La Botilleria de Maxi and tried to understand the untranslated daily menu.  I stopped to try the main entree of Cocido Madrileno and my eyes caught on the duck ham.

Well, I guess this is duck jamon. Man, I should’ve ordered the other soup or salad options, this is dinky!

OH! That was an aperitivo! I ordered a duck jamon and grilled artichoke salad! Awesome.

Cocido Madrileno, or Madrid stew, also known as why I came to this place. Much like a pot-au-feu, this is a deconstructed bunch of meats including a big old block of fat and blood sausage with a sea of chickpeas. It was heartily delicious.

Getting to Madrid involved a full day of two buses, two trains, two subways, two planes and lots of walking so I had managed to catch a vicious flu from the people who kept sneezing and coughing on me.  I really wish I didn’t mean literally on me, but that seems to be ok here to infect others openly.  So with this phlegmy mess, it was probably good i didn’t realize wine or another drink came free although I did partake in a lackluster dessert.  Luckily Spain has amazing desserts I will cover in another post.  Onto the many other savory goods!

On a lazy weekend afternoon, I wandered into a bar well over a hundred years old with vermouth on tap. Seems like a good place to try the fried croquetas as this would be as good a place as any to find the cheesy goodness fried in lard.

Although my Spanish dreams of food were the expensive San Sebastian fresh goods of the north, I am equally pleased by the heavier simple fare I found.

Spanish tortilla is an egg and potato pie that I think could use some hot sauce.

On Sunday afternoon after strolling around the flea market I attempted to go to a popular local tavern.  This is perhaps the only time on the trip I’ve had to walk out of a restaurant as it was so crowded I didn’t really have any place to stand.  I felt bad waiting around with the groups to take up a four top when everyone was eying every available seat like vultures.  I skipped on the huevos rotos and round sandwiches and decided to investigate patatas bravas, or potates in spicy sauce.

This is what I wanted the tortillas to be in! Spanish food can be oddly salty. Multiple Spanish people have told me it’s so I’ll order more beer but it’s so bad it can ruin the taste.  Luckily these cripsy on the outside and fluffy on the inside potatoes sucked up all the salty goodness.

The Las Bravas mini chain is known for more than delicious spicy red Bravas sauce.  Tapas are difficult for one person or even small groups as they are most affordable and fun when split among large groups so you can try a little bit of everything.  Luckily Las Bravas has 3 and 5 plate tapas degustations for the solo traveler.

The Galician octopus was tender, croquettes good but not as great as the day before, and the pig ear on the left is the best I’ve ever had.  I’ve only had Asian pig ear before this which is solely crunchy whereas this was a combination of crunchy and tenderly melty.

Sadly my last meal in Madrid of a calamari sandwich was pretty dry and awful.  Skip El Brillante and go next door where they’ll at least put some spicy red Brava sauce and charge you a good Euro or two less.  This place reminded me a lot of Canter’s Deli back in Los Angeles.  It’s open later than most and people rave, but I just find it barely acceptable for the overpriced goods.  Luckily I’ll need to fly out of Madrid so I can make sure my last meal is better.

The Madrid your average tourist does not see.

On the last day I attempted to catch a bus to Seville and experienced the joys of Spanish efficiency.  After I finally got to talk to the aloof clerk after the bus I wanted had already left, I wandered outside and discovered the observatory and IMAX park.  This was the south end of the city and although not a particularly sight filled area, it was fun to see the people scurrying around the business park and out on their daily runs and walks in the tree lined park.  After the chill of Madrid I head south to Andalucia.  As one Couch Surfer I met put it, “You just got here and you’re headed to the most exotic part of Spain?”  Yup, the Moors liked better weather.