We really don’t need to leave our neighbourhood for great tapas. We have “La Noticia” which is always the perfect choice when we want to keep it local. I will write about them one day soon! But, when we are downtown we always go to “Los Diamantes”. I have been having tapas at Los Diamantes since I moved to Granada. Thirty years ago there was only one location on Calle Navas and the people would overflow into the back and side alleys with beers and small plates in hand. They would close when they ran out of fresh fish. Now, there are seven locations in Granada and in a small adjoining town. They are all equally delicious and will never fail to serve up the best fried fish and other delicacies.
One of my favourites is the half tomato and half “cogollos” salad. Perfectly seasoned with olive oil and salt (more salt, more beer ordered) and the baby lettuce hearts are also topped with crispy fried garlic. Fantastic! It reminds me of the escarole and pomegranate salad I prepare every fall.
The other day we decided to order the grilled tuna to cut down on our fried food intake. The simple grilled tuna is served along with some “pimientos de padrón” which helped kill some my longing for Galicia. We say, ¨pimientos de padrón, unos pican, otros no.¨ Some are spicy and some are not. The padrón peppers were supposedly brought from South America to Galicia by Franciscan monks. The monks began to harvest these peppers at their monastery in the Hebrón, a neighbourhood in the town of Padrón in Galicia. Since 1978 there is a yearly festival dedicated to the pepper and its farmers.
Remember that when you visit Los Diamantes you can survive on tapas alone. With each drink you will be served one of their specialties of fried shrimp, eggplant, anchovies, marinated dogfish or their special rice. But, it is fun to order something extra to share with your group of friends. Belly up to the bar and enjoy the nonstop entertainment and interaction between the servers and customers.
We took the train to Viana so we could begin our walk the next morning. We only had a certain amount of time to get to Santiago and wanted to reserve a few days at the end to enjoy the Galician coast before heading back home. The last time we were in Viana was a few years ago traveling in our van with Luna, and I was excited to walk the streets and relive those memories. One that we especially wanted to relive was the great restaurant that we had stumbled upon that day where we enjoyed a fantastic meal of swordfish with rice!
My door knocker obsession……
Viana do Castelo is not just one of the most aesthetically beautiful towns in the Minho region, but it also offers plenty of history to its visitors. You can take the funicular up to the Santa Luzia hill for amazing views. Once up top you can also visit the Basilica of The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Citania de Santa Luzia, part of the Castro Culture that dates back to the Iron-age.
Another obligatory visit while in Viana is the Gil Eanes ship, named after the 15th century Portuguese Navegator and Explorer. This is actually the second ship with the same name. The first ship was used captured and used by the Portuguese navy in WWl and then sent to Newfoundland to support the Portuguese fishing industry as a floating hospital. The ship you will now find in Viana was built in 1955 to replace the former. It served as a hospital, ice breaker, tug and supply ship for almost 2 years until it was abandoned at the port in Lisbon. Luckily, it was saved thanks to one Portuguese historian and today visitors can enjoy the fascinating hospital museum or stay at the youth hostel which occupies a great part of the ship!
It didn’t take us long to locate the restaurant, Casa Primavera. We were lucky to get a seat quickly as the line for tables got progressively longer throughout our dinner. We ordered the house red wine which is usually a “Vinho Verde Tinto” served in a ceramic jar with small porcelain cups, similar to how we drink the Ribeiro wine in Galicia. You can read about this in the posts below……..
The bread in Portugal is scrumptious to say the least. One of my absolute favourites is “Broa” which is made with corn and rye flour. The result is a slightly sweet bread that is dense and earthy. That night we enjoyed our bread with some local cheese and “Salpicão de Melgaço, a cured and smoke sausage made from the Bisaro pig. The first time I learned about the Bisaro Pig was in Lisbon a few years ago.
Our main course had to be fish with boiled potatoes and cabbage drowned in olive oil. We enjoyed both the swordfish which is called “espadarte” in Portuguese and the black scabberfish. In Portuguese, piexe espada preta.
Dessert was an easy choice. Pão de Ló. You may find Pão de Ló translated as a spongecake. However, depending on where you enjoy this dessert, that may or may not seem to coincide with what you are actually eating. The origin of this dessert crossed many cultures and centuries before it evolved to the version you will find in the northern region of Portugal today. You can enjoy variations in Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Romania and Turkey. The Portuguese explorers even introduced this type of cake to Japan and you will still find it under the name of Castella, “a cake from Castile”. The Pão de Ló from Ovar that you see below is made with mostly egg yolks, sugar and a small bit of flour. It is a common Easter sweet throughout the country and the amount of flour is what marks the difference.
Happy and full from our amazing dinner we were lucky to catch some of the “marchas populares” before heading off to sleep like good pilgrims. In the videos (not the best quality) you can see the illuminated Basilica at the top of the hill. Enjoy and buen camino!!
So many times during the pandemic and throughout the time recovering from surgery I would close my eyes and walk parts of the Camino. All I wanted to do was put on my backpack and lose myself in its paths, food and community. Last summer I was so lucky to find my journal from my first camino on the French route and it brought back so many memories for me. Almost 26 years ago. Wow! I will share bits and pieces of it here in the future. I am still very sad that my photo album disappeared somewhere. Very sad.
My journal from my first camino!!!!!!!!!!!!
We have been wanting to do the Portuguese Camino for quite a long time now but had a hard time deciding on whether we should do the Coastal Route or the Central Route. Finally, we made our decision and made the dream real this past July. It was mixed partly with work but mostly it was just us and our camino, the way it should be.
I always tell my groups about the miracles that happen along the Way, sharing with them my many stories to back this up. El Caminho Portuguesa Da Costa did not disappoint. We arrived in Porto on a wing and a prayer thanks to RyanAir and their constant strikes (miracle number 1). Our first stop was the Cathedral to pick up our pilgrim´’s passports. As we walked up to the main entrance I spotted two walking sticks propped against the facade of the Cathedral. Taking a closer look, I saw they each had a small note attached. Written in Portuguese and English each note said, “This pole made the Camino 2x. It belonged to …….. who left it first, in this same place, where it was found by …….. who leave it here now. For you. Enjoy”. There was no doubt in our minds and hearts that we had chosen the correct path.
Check out the bread and spicy oil!
Pilgrims need fuel and there is no better place than Porto to have some great food! I had walked by this restaurant a few times the week before and I knew that Filipe and I needed to eat here! When a restaurant is filled with workers and people from the neighbourhood, like the the older gentleman who is served his meal without even having an order taken, you know you are in the right place. I have grown to have a serious weakness for “frango asado” in Portugal. Nobody does grilled chicken better than Portugal and many African countries. Btw you must read, and if you can, eat here…. https://mooninspain.com/2019/06/12/spice-bcn-must-do/
Obviously I had the grilled chicken, served with rice, fries and black beans (my favourite part). Filipe couldn’t pass on one of the most traditional dishes from Porto, Dobrada. Dobrada or Tripas à Moda do Porto is a stew made with white beans and tripe. It is said that this dish originated in the 14th century. Supposedly the people of Porto gave all of the meat to Henry the Navigator´’s Armada when he left to conquer Ceuta and all that was left in the city was the offal. There is also a Portuguese saying, “Fazer das tripas Coração”, which basically means to bend over backwards for someone or something.
The lunch was perfect, showered with great Portuguese wine. A pitcher of wine here costs 3 euros and 60 cents. If you are in Porto and need a great meal, check out Churrasqueira Moura on Rue do Almada. You won’t ever regret the experience.
Porto on the right and Vila Nova de Gaia on the left.
With tummies full and after a nice walk through Porto, we set off to Viana do Castelo where we would actually begin our Camino the next day.
If I could turn back time I would love to see the look on my face when two amazing people invited me to lunch at the 3 Michelin Star Arzak in San Sebastián. Even better, the look on their faces when my original response was a no. I must have had some type of momentary mental lapses or something of the like. Good thing I quickly came to my senses and accepted their extremely generous invitation.
Juan Mari Arzak celebrated his 80th birthday on July 31st. I still can’t believe that just a few months ago I was actually standing in the kitchen of his restaurant. Arzak became the co-innovator of New Basque Cuisine after taking over his family’s business. In 1897 his grandparents opened a wine shop and tavern from the same building where Arzak stands now and his parents turned the tavern into a local restaurant. He earned his first Michelin star in 1972, when I was just barely a 1 year old. I don’t think you can talk about the Basque Country or Basque Cuisine without thinking of Juan Mari Arzak. He learned how to cook from his mother who would take him to the market to select the very best products. This is the prime principal of Basque cuisine. Juan Mari then spread his love of cooking to his daughter Elena who now co-runs the kitchen at Arzak. It’s also nice to mention that 80 percent of the team at the restaurant are women.
Eating at Arzak felt like being in someone’s home. The atmosphere is relaxed and humble. It also felt like a dream come true, because it was exactly that for me. When Juan Mari showed up in the dining room I was completely star struck. Luckily my extremely generous hosts shared the feeling with me or they were just kind enough to not make me feel like a total nerd.
We had the degustation menu with the wine pairing. It was like a finely tuned symphony of traditional Basque cuisine seasoned with the heart and soul of Elena and Juan Mari Arak. I really could not think of a better way to spend an afternoon in San Sebastián. We relished in every course while enjoying great conversation and laughter.
Just in case I wasn’t at my highest nerd level from meeting Arzak, one of the desserts was a medley of chocolate columns and ruins, a history dork’s dream!
After our first two desserts our server asked if we wanted to go down into the kitchen to have a photo with Juan Mari!! IN THE KITCHEN!! I had tears in my eyes, I have to admit, when I met him. He looked me straight in the eyes and said to me, “Contigo me iría al final del mundo”. I would go to the end of the earth with you. Our server was taken aback and said, I have never heard him say that to anyone. It was definitely love at first sight. A moment I will never forget and will always be truly grateful for, thanks to my wonderful hosts who quickly became friends.
I do regret not taking a photo with Elena because she is a true star. Maybe I will run into her in the market or walking through the streets of Donsoti one day. Here is a photo of the menu in English. Thank you from the bottom of my food nerd heart to my lovely hosts!
Last August we had a 50th birthday celebration for one of my dearest friends in Granada. It was very special on many levels. We celebrated her 50 years on earth and also celebrated being together for the first time in so long! Darn Covid . My close friends, Javier and Charo, made the trip from Reus in Catalunya to be here for the occasion! Javier greeted me with his huge smile and hug as always and he also held two bottles of golden Vermouth in his hands! He had brought the best of the best. Vermouth from the town of Reus, where this beverage was introduced by the Italians in the 19th century. Reus is only two hours south of Barcelona and at one point it held at least 30 Vermouth distilleries. With time, the beverage began to spread further into Spain and has become an important aperitif in many cities and towns.
When we feel like enjoying a vermouth here in Granada, we have a few places that we head to immediately. Our favourite is Bar Albergue. It is a classic in the center of Granada, just perfectly located outside of the main tourist area. I went to this bar for the first time over 26 years ago as an innocent and probably clueless student. At the time, in my mind, vermouth was an ingredient in the many martinis that I served working in restaurants and bars in the US. Who knew that I would learn to enjoy vermouth as an aperitif in so many different bars and cities?
Many people go the Bar Albergue for the vermouth and their fried salt cod. Bacalao frito. As I’ve written before, my Italian Nana would use the word bacalao when she joked about giving us a “spanking”. I’m going to give you a “bacalao” she would laughingly say as we imagined a huge dried fish in her hand. In Granada, neither of these words are a laughing matter. We take our vermouth and fried cod very seriously and in Bar Albergue you can enjoy the best. Luis is always behind the bar ready to serve you. Each tapa here is different. You might be served fried hake or fried cod, fresh fried anchovies, or “callos”, a traditional tripe stew. They also serve some of the best “fritura mixtas” in Granada just in case the tapas aren’t enough for you!
Fun fact. The word vermouth comes from the German word wermut which means wormwood, the important ingredient that gives vermouth its bitterness. Salud!
Before the pandemic I had started my own little tradition of taking early morning walks in all the cities where I sleep. I love the peace and the silence at this time of day. Each city has a unique feel when it is empty, and it takes on a different personality. A few weeks ago I went for a long walk through the empty streets of Bilbao. There was hardly a soul on the street and none of the bars or cafeterias were open yet. It was so pleasant that I walked for much longer than I had planned.
As I walked that morning I was bombarded with different memories from my countless visits to this city. My thoughts included nights out with friends in the Casco Antiguo, walking to the Guggenheim for dinner with my groups, getting a cast put on my leg in the local hospital, drinking Txakoli with colleagues and sharing my love for this part of Spain with so many people.
I have been blessed to travel with many people who have touched my heart in different ways. Many have repeated tours with me or have come back to visit. We communicate through email and I receive holiday cards from them by snail mail. Several have become close friends and I think of them often. Throughout the pandemic so many of these people went beyond what it means to be caring and generous and it brought me to tears on occasions. I have thought about my guests and prayed that they have were healthy and safe throughout the past two years and I get worried when I don’t hear from them.
In Spring 2016 I had a mini group within one of my groups. During the welcome dinner in Lisbon they came up and asked me to guess which of the six of them were blood related. From that moment on we had a permanent connection. On one of our free nights in Bilbao they invited me to dinner at one of the Michelin star restaurants, Extanobe. Unforgettable doesn’t even begin to describe that evening filled with laughter, friendship, storytelling and amazing food. There are some guests that seem to emotionally adopt you and you are connected for life.
After each tour is over I receive many emails from my guests. This email is from one of those amazing people who I shared dinner with in Bilbao.
Margaret, None of us will ever forget you. Nancy and I had been to Spain four times to Spain before that trip. Yet you took a wonderful trip and made it the trip against which we we measure not just trips to spain but all others. So to us, you are unforgettable. We all hope to see you, your husband, and beautiful daughter someday in San Antonio. Nancy says she gets hungry every time she reads one of your stories. Con abrazos,Al and Nancy Karam P.S. I still remember the first words I said to you, “I already don’t like you because you live in Granada and I don’t!”
On my birthday last week I received a message that Al had passed away. My heart broke in two as I took myself back to the memories of his kind smile, laughter and all of the stories that he shared with me. We had a special connection.
“Margaret, here’s a little thing you may find interesting. We first arrived in the evening in Granada on our first trip to Spain summer 1994, our 25 anniversary . Since it was our anniversary, we had a room in the Hotel Alhambra…uh…what was the working class Leb. boy doing in this hotel? Since we were just relaxing we went to the grounds and started walking around for about an hour or so. There was hardly a soul there. We later learned that the place was closed and how were we able to sneak in? No sneaking, just walk into, I think, the Fatima gate. Ah… to be young and unknowing.” Al Karam
A small miracle occurred in the month of July! I actually had the opportunity to organise and accompany a group throughout Andalucia. It is hard to explain how good it felt to plan visits and excursions to the places I love. Calling my local guides (friends) to let them know I would need them for a visit was absolutely the best! I am so grateful for this opportunity after all of this time “off” the road.
One of my favourite parts of traveling with others is sharing the local foods. Gastronomical history is my passion. Through this history we learn about the people and their lives and customs. I love receiving emails from guests who have travelled with me that contain photos of the dishes they learned about while we traveled together. They get to relive beautiful experiences by preparing these dishes at home!
My colleague and I went to lunch in Córdoba the other day. I took her to one of my favorite places, Casa Rubio. I always have a hard time deciding on a place to eat in Cordoba because there are so many amazing bats and restaurants.
Córdoba is known for salmorejo! You can read about it in the attached biog posts above. I love salmorejo and I prepare it a lot at home. But, when I’m in Córdoba I have to order MAZAMORRA, especially if I am with someone who has never tasted it before.
Long before the tomato arrived to Europe, people were preparing dishes that involved the mashing or creaming of many products, like almonds and bread. The word mazamorra either comes from Arabic or the Greek “mâza” just like in the word mazapán (marzipan). Amasar in Castilian Spanish means to mash or to knead. Different types of mazamorra are also prepared in different South and Central American countries. It can be a salty dish, dessert or a drink depending on the country. The mazamorra cordobesa is completely different from these. In Córdoba, it is a cold cream served with bread or sesame breadsticks. It is simply prepared with almonds, olive oil, salt, and garlic. There are also different variations. More than likely this dish dates back to the Roman times when a dish was made using bread. It is a cousin to “ajo blanco”, “porra” and “salmorejo”. Please read about these in the attached posts above.
The preparation at Casa Rubio is perfect. It is very light in garlic (although I prefer it with more), and it is garnished with almonds, apples, and raisins. The texture is smooth as silk.
Córdoba was very quiet but it was nice to see some people traveling again. I am so grateful that I was able to be on the road for a few days! We need to stay safe and take care of each other to keep moving forward.
If there is one place I don’t like spending my time, it is at a hospital. I doubt many people do. Going to the hospital is not usually a joyful experience unless you are having a baby or receiving the “you are cancer free” news. Those are my only two truly joyful hospital experiences up to now. I have spent quite a bit of time in hospitals in the past 11 years and I am happy to say that the majority of that time was spent in Spanish hospitals, except a brief experience in Switzerland. Spain has an exceptional healthcare system. It ranks extremely high both in Europe and worldwide. I realize that there are many different opinions about universal healthcare and also people who may have had negative experiences when dealing with the system. However, this is about my experience and I only have positive comments to make about Spain and its healthcare system. I am happy to say that my daughter has had minimal reasons for care except for her birth, a pulmonary stenosis that cleared up in a few years and her random visits for a common illness or vaccinations. That pretty much sums up her experience until now and I hope it stays that way. With an exception to this past Covid filled year, we are always able to get an appointment either the same day or the next at our local health clinic. My daughter only had two different pediatricians in her 14 years here in Granada and we loved them both! This year she has now moved up to a general practitioner. How did that happen so soon?
I am a freelancer so I pay Social Security through my monthly “autonomous” payments. However, let me state that healthcare in Spain is socialized and FREE! During the times when I was either unemployed or too ill to work, my healthcare was completely and 100 percent covered. The only exception to this was when I chose to do necessary treatments with a private doctor so I would be able to keep my promise to one of the companies that I worked for and have available dates to be working. In retrospect, I would never do this again. Our health should always be number one and most of the best medicine practice exists at the public hospitals, many of which are connected to the university medical school which is the case here in Granada.
Healthcare is a touchy subject for many people so I am only going to share my personal experience. Thanks to our lovely pandemic my last necessary surgery was put on a waitlist a year ago. Basically, if you were not going to die without it, all procedures and operations were waitlisted and with good reason. I had been told that I would probably have my surgery in July or August of 2021. In my mind I imagined receiving the call that I would finally have my regular job again and receive a call from the hospital on the same day. Murphy’s Law. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. My last doctors visit set off an alarm of urgency and I was called in much sooner. With just two days to prepare I notified friends, filled the refrigerator for my daughter, received my negative Covid test and took my last long walk for awhile making my way to the hospital. You are not allowed to have a companion unless completely necessary and if you do, the companion must be “admitted” and “discharged” with the patient. I was not about to subject anyone to sleeping in one of those chairs for who knows how many nights even if they are fed three meals a day and able to choose the “diet” of their choice. And in the end the care I received was above and beyond what is expected.
I was asked to arrive at 11 am the day before my surgery in order to have some necessary tests done and to speak with my group of surgeons. Apart from that I was free to enjoy the view of the mountains, eat when served, and binge on Netflix. In the public hospitals the rooms are shared. The number of patients can vary. A few years ago I spent a week in Cardiology in the old hospital and shared a room with three other women. This room was for post op and had only two beds. During my stay at the hospital this month I was blessed to share my room with 4 different women with 4 different stories. (they came and went during my stay) We shared our fears and pain and life stories. There is something about being nervous and alone that really unites people.
As I read my book and played with my bed remote on that first day watching the various hospital staff come and go, I was reminded of an important word in Spanish. Convivencia. Convivencia means living together or coexistence. However, this word has a different significance here since it is often used when speaking of the time in history when the Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together on the Iberian Peninsula. I don’t add the word “peacefully” to this statement because that would be incorrect for many reasons. For me this word also represents a very important aspect of the culture here and the healthcare system is a big part of this. Sharing a hospital room when you are very ill or about to go into or come out of an operation can be a delicate situation. I am happy to say that my experiences have been nothing but positive and enlightening. A genuine interest in helping one another and taking care of others becomes the most important concept. Not only was the hospital staff extremely attentive and kind at all moments but my roommates were also a crutch of empathy and kindness in my weakest moments.
My surgical team was outstanding. My operation was extremely difficult and had complications, 7 hours instead of the usual 2 hours. Everybody in the room introduced themselves kindly calling me by my name and reassuring me before the anesthesiologists sent me off to la la land. In the public hospitals you don’t choose your doctors or surgeons. I had met three doctors the day before but the other two I met just before surgery. Being a university hospital and my case being quite unique, I had extra people in the operating room to learn and observe. Everyone in the post operation recovery room was equally compassionate as they kindly injected me with “ALEGRÍA” , otherwise known as morphine. That part is all a bit hazy.
Lucky me! I had some minor complications in the days after surgery so I got to spend some extra time in my 5 star hospital room. This also meant that I finally graduated from a liquid diet to a “semi-bland” diet. These are the moments that I always remember for some reason because they remind me of where I live and why. My liquid diet consisted of decaf coffee with whole milk, juice boxes and clear broth. But, my semi bland diet was a major improvement. Many dishes that are served seem like they came out of someones Grandma´’s kitchen, like the great soups and meatballs! Actually, the meatballs were served to me the day before surgery. But, my other “bland” meals consisted of different vegetable purees, a garbanzo, potato and spinach soup, fish soup, grilled fish with parsley and olive oil, grilled chicken breast, grilled tuna with peppers and onions and a cute little omelet shaped like a cupcake. Oh, and we cannot forget the late afternoon snacks of “Galletas Maria” served with decaf and whole milk of course and breakfast with decaf and magdalenas “mini muffins”. And, every night at about 11 pm you are always offered a cup of tea or a yogurt as a good night snack.
I am now home and recovering. I still have a bumpy road to travel but I am seeing a bright light that I have not seen in many, many years. I am grateful to the healthcare system in Spain and all of the amazing people who give all of their energy everyday to the care and wellbeing of the people they encounter. Especially after this past year. They should be exhausted and over it all! But, what I encountered was only true kindness and professional healthcare workers who are dedicated to what they do. The aids who took care of me when I was passing out and seriously sick were attentive to every detail. They even arranged my flowers carefully in water and placed them where I could enjoy the view! Of course I am even happier to be home with my gorgeous daughter. Soon, I will be making new Youtube videos for you all and eventually back to travel and life as usual. It is important to remember the idea of “convivencia” and to learn to live together and take care of each other. Hopefully what we have lived in the past year has helped many people to take a deep look at how we coexist with others.