Madrid: El Rastro, Plaza Mayor and Chinese Food, Finally!

We were totally exhausted from the day before. We had just taken a train from Seville to Madrid, visited two museums and then went to bed late because we wanted to soak in the air of festivities on a Saturday night in feisty Madrid. There are so many things happening that we just did not want to retire to the hotel early.

Compared to Madrid, Vancouver does seems like a ghost town. So we have our Granville Entertainment District but it is nothing like what we see here.


With another exciting day ahead, we woke up early. The traffic was really light on Gran Via. I think it was because it’s Sunday morning and most people would have still been sleeping after partying on the Saturday night before.

It was a good respite too from the heat. The morning air was surprisingly chilly. Most restaurants are closed but there were a few that remained opened.


We decided to just go to the restaurant that was just around the corner of our hotel. The name of that place is Zahara and it is quite spacious. It does seems like a tourist restaurant because most of the customers we see are tourists. And a lot of them are American tourists too, or so it seems to us from the way they are dressed and their English.

The waiter spoke very good English and so we had no problems here. We were asked if we wanted to be seated by the bar or at the table. It appears that it is cheaper if you eat at … (more…)

Continue ReadingMadrid: El Rastro, Plaza Mayor and Chinese Food, Finally!

Madrid: Art Museum and “Ham Museum”

It was slightly after 2 PM when we finished the meal at McDonalds. We could have taken it easy for the day but that is not like us.

We are typical kiasu Asian tourists who would rather run ourselves to the ground going to as many places as we can rather than just laze around. Yeah … vacations to beach resorts is such a waste of time to us.

So, 2PM is a long way to 10PM when we will go back to the hotel to sleep. Until then there are lots of things to do.


We hoped onto the Madrid Metro again. The Madrid Metro is very extensive and is one of the largest in the world. They run underground for the most part and is pretty clean and well maintained. We felt safe using the Metro and that is the important thing.

The Madrid Metro fares are simple. It is 1 euro for a one-zone fare. Most of our travelling was within the inner core city zone and so it was pretty much 1 euro each trip.

We headed back to the Atocha station which was where we arrive at the train station just a couple of hours earlier.


It was a Saturday afternoon and on Saturday afternoons entrance to the museums are free. So we got to do the museums on that day.

We first headed to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. It is a long name but we just call it the … (more…)

Continue ReadingMadrid: Art Museum and “Ham Museum”

Seville to Madrid on RENFE’s AVE High Speed Train

Last day in Seville.

We woke up very early. We had to catch a train to Madrid later on in the morning, and we wanted to go have breakfast in one of the neighborhood restaurants.


There are many such sidewalk restaurants all over Seville that finding one is very easy. The problem is getting back to where we came from. You see Seville is a very old city. It is at least 2000 years old … yes, it is founded at about the time of the birth of Christ.

So it is a very unplanned city. Maps are useless here. We get around by walking in circles and trying to spot landmarks to know the general direction. Yes, we got lost quite a few times and asking for directions is quite hopeless too because not many people speaks English here.

We decided to take a short walk to the Alameda de Hercules which is a delightful tree lined plaza. It is quiet in the morning but at night it is busy. At each end of the long plaza was two tall columns bearing the statues of Hercules and of Julius Caesar.

Not knowing which is best, we went to the oldest looking restaurant we could find. It is called the Badulaque. In the cold crisp morning we wanted to sit outside but did not.


You see, people smoke a lot in Spain. It was bothering us and so we decided to move indoors. This place does not speak much English too but it was not much of a problem. After 10 days already in Spain, we know enough words to get breakfast. Words like cafe con leche, jamon, tosta …


Cafe con Leche everywhere in Spain … (more…)

Continue ReadingSeville to Madrid on RENFE’s AVE High Speed Train

Continuing The “Cultural and Gastronomic” Vacation Series of Spain

Better late than never. LOL!

Suanne is so tired of asking me to finish off writing the our “cultural and gastronomic” vacation to Spain last summer that she doesn’t say it anymore. She just bump the drafts of these posts right up to the top of the queue just to remind me, it’s there.

Last summer we had a great time in Spain. “Last summer” as in 2009, not 2010. We toured three cities. Barcelona, Seville and Madrid. That trip opened our eyes to the Spanish culture and how the world could have been different today if the English Armada did not destroy the mighty Spanish Armada … o de otra manera estaría escribiendo esto en español.

La Boqueria on La Rambla
La Boqueria on La Rambla

We started off in Barcelona the Barcelona series here. There was not a lot of planning on our part for the trip. I was so busy at work that I only got to think about this a couple of days before leaving Vancouver. Yeah, that created a bit of anxiety on Suanne part.

We made the trip using the company’s travel passes which is one of the best perks I had. The trip costs less than $500 per person and it included flights and hotels too. Can’t beat that, can you?

Christopher Columbus Monument
Christopher Columbus Monument

Without a lot of planning, the first leg of the vacation was more than we bargained for. We went up the Christopher Columbus Monument that marks the very spot where Columbus made his triumphant return from the New World and was officially greeted by Isabel and Ferdinand.

Stage 6 of Tour de France in Barcelona
Stage 6 of Tour de France in Barcelona

It was a total unexpected bonus to learn that the Tour de France had a stage ended in Barcelona on the second day we were there. Many years ago I was an avid cyclist and ride to work almost everyday. I also followed the Tour de France every July on TV. So it was a dream come true to catch not one but TWO stages of the Tour.

Yeah … I got a fleeting glimpse of Lance Armstrong!

The Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia

Our jaws dropped at the magnificence of The Sagrada Familia. I had been to many many churches and cathedral throughout the world but this one is just simply the best. Gaudi started building this in the year … (more…)

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Seville: La Alqueria Restaurant in elBulli Hotel, Hacienda Benazuza (Part 2 of 2)

This is the continuation of the Tasting Menu in La Alqueria. Yesterday, I blogged about the first 4 of 12 courses. Following the first 4 snacks and tapas courses, the next five courses are called simply dishes. This is considered the mains.


The 1st Dish is called the Avocado Cannelloni with Crab and Pumpkin Seed Oil Cream.


They brought the bread as they start the Dish courses. We had a choice of three bread, all warm. Suanne is so modest. When they brought it, she just took one. For me, I told them I wanted one of each. Guess what. Just as our server was about to leave she quickly said she wants the others too. We love the bread.


I had always thought that elBulli’s dishes are small. Some of them are as small as just a spoonful. So, it was a surprise that the Dishes are full mains.


It looked too pretty to eat. It does remind us of … (more…)

Continue ReadingSeville: La Alqueria Restaurant in elBulli Hotel, Hacienda Benazuza (Part 2 of 2)

Seville: La Alqueria Restaurant in elBulli Hotel, Hacienda Benazuza

Suanne took a really long bath that afternoon before the dinner at La Alqueria. She was hogging the bathroom wanting to be the prettiest she could be for THE dinner in Spain. She is very inconsiderate. What about me? I want to look handsome too. I need to wash my hair and if I don’t dry it properly, my hair would stand out and look horrible.

Dinner was at 8:30PM. That is when they open for dinner. Dinner at 8:30PM is considered early for people in Spain. The hotel is about 18 km from Seville. 18 km only … remember that.


So we called for a taxi from the hotel as the restaurant is located virtually in the middle of surburb. The ride took longer than we expected. It was because it was a Friday afternoon and people were heading to the beach. The highway was jammed packed with cars.

We thought we get there early so that we can check out the grounds of the five star hotel that La Alqueria is located in. Turned that out we got there right on the dot because of traffic delays.


La Alqueria is located in a hotel called the Hacienda Benazuza elBulli Hotel.  The hotel is definite exclusive with room rates starting at €400 for low season! I almost wanted to stay at this hotel (OK, for just ONE night) to make sure we get a table at La Alqueria but as usual Suanne knock senses into me.

La Alqueria is a 2-star Michelin restaurant. To put things in perspective, there are only four 3-star and ten 2-star Michelin restaurants in Spain. The real elBulli in Roses near Barcelona is 3-star. This one is 2-star.

When we got there, the taxi driver said the total ride was €53. But the meter was saying about €40. He said that he gotta to charge extra because the elBulli hotel was out of the way. I wasn’t in the mood to challenge him but I should have. You will know why we were overcharged later on this post. After all it was just a 18km ride.


The La Alqueria is not a very big restaurant. We counted about 12 tables only. It is undoubtedly exclusive because despite the low number of tables, they only have 1 seating a night. They don’t turn the tables at all.

Alright, I know I mentioned this to death but I will mention it again for our reader who stumble onto this post. The elBulli near Barcelona had been the #1 restaurant in the world for many years. It is run by Ferran Adria who is the man who had the biggest influence on modern gastronomy of any chef in the world. The Times had said:

To describe elBulli as “a restaurant” is like describing Shakespeare as “a writer”.

The La Alqueria is opened in 1998 about five years after the original elBulli was built. elBulli achieved it’s 3-star Michelin rating a year before La Alqueria was opened.


We have a server assigned to out table. Oh boy, she is one serious no-nonsense dude. Very prim, very proper. Whatever you ask for she will say “very good”, “of course” and “immediately”. The thing is that her English is not too good. I had a problem understanding what she was saying and she had difficulty with my questions.


As soon as we got seated our server gave us cold towels. We … errr … did not know what to do with that. Wipe the hand? Wipe the face? What? So with our nose held up high, we used the towel to wipe our hands … but it would have been nice to wipe the face too.


The sommelier came next talking with us for … (more…)

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Seville: A Slow Day Before the elBulli Dinner


I am just so affected by what Brian said in the earlier post about bullfighting. I remember our tour guide at the Bullfighting Museum saying that it is a very passionate topic even in Spain itself. I really think Spaniards are cool people despite the bull and all. So I am not going to respond anymore to the rights or wrong of bullfighting. I have stated enough times my position.

Anyway … I had given way too much weight to this topic on chowtimes. I need to explain this. It is NOT that I wanted to glorify bullfighting. On the contrary I do not. Silly as it may seem, the truth is I wanted to show off the photos I took. You see, there are not many opportunities that I get to use my 70-200mm and I thought some of the shots came out well. That’s why there are so many posts and pictures.

Up until last night, I had wanted to publish one more on bullfighting. It is the one on about the matador who was gored on the neck. From the impact and the precious lost seconds before help came, the matador was completely motionless while bull went at him again and again. I hope the matador survived but it did not look good at all. Anyway, I had decided against putting up another post and instead had embedded the pictures at the bottom of the post here. The password is iagree if you want to see them. Be warned OK?

Changing gears …


Today is our last full day in Seville. There is not a lot of places we wanted to visit. Seville is not really big, certainly not like Barcelona in any sense. There are other places like Isla Magica and all that we could visit in Seville. However, Suanne is not keen on theme parks and neither was I while in Spain. So we took it easy.

This is also the day we will be having dinner in an elBulli restaurant. It is not elBulli but it is the closest to the real deal. More about that later.


Brunch was at a restaurant called Al Alcantina which was recommended by the hotel conceirge. This is located around the central square in Seville historic city center.

We had a table outside the restaurant. Our waitress was really friendly and helpful. No bread here … they served us those thingy above. It was rock hard and definitely on the dry side. We took a couple and then left it alone.


The waitress recommended the Ensaladilla La Alcantina which she said was the prize winner of the Best Classic Tapas in the 2003 Seville Fair of Tapas. Sure, we said … it was worth a try.

€8.70 is how much it costs. It was creamy, served cold and refreshing — absolutely marvelous. We had never had these before. I think it is made with mayo with potatoes and some vegetables.

The puzzling thing is how could this have been classified as tapas?  So I did some research and indeed it is considered as SPANISH tapas despite the Russian word in the name.


We had Paella the previous day but got this again. The waitress was persuasive saying that their Paella is different. OK, we said.

The name of the dish is Arroz en paella marinea del dia. €8.70.

We like this paella better. It was drier than those we had earlier which had sauces at the bottom of the plate which makes it so mushy. It was also flavorful. Suanne said the rice was cooked al dente. I thought the word al dente refers only to pasta.


Bill came to €21.60. It is considered OK given that things are more expensive in Spain. If  I convert this to Canadian, this is over $30. Now that is expensive, right?


We tried to use the Sevilla Card which is supposed to give us a 10% discount. It took a while before our waitress sorted this out with the card issuer. It appears that our card has the “cultura” on it and that does not come with restaurant discounts.

Don’t get the Seville card.  It was not worth it.

After the lunch, we went to this church. It was nothing to shout about really after having seen the Cathedral of Seville. We did not spend a lot of time here.

Let’s talk about el Bulli.


I think I shared about this in chowtimes before. The book above is … (more…)

Continue ReadingSeville: A Slow Day Before the elBulli Dinner

Seville: Bullfighting

Should I or should I not blog about bullfighting?

I had been mulling this question over the weekend but decided to just go ahead. Suanne and I had no idea how bloody this sport is until we actually saw it. So, a word of caution before you proceed reading this post. Some of the pictures are graphic.


We went to the bullfight event on the night of the second day in Seville. The event started at 10PM and stretches until past midnight. The seats are numbered and so we just arrived about 15 minutes before the show.

I noticed that people do dress up for bullfights. I hardly see anyone in shorts or T-shirts. We were kind of under-dressed because we were in Ts and jeans!


We were kind of lost and thought we should just enter by one of the many side entrances. The people at the side entrance took a look at our tickets and pointed us to the grand entrance. He he he … we had choice seats and so we get to enter through the grand entrance.


We love our seat. It was just on the second row and just under the main box. We rented a couple of cushions for an euro each. The cushion sure was useful because otherwise we will be sitting on hard concrete for two hours.

The bad thing is that we were sitting just above a couple of chain smokers. Suanne was quite mad with them. But for me it was perfect spot for photos. I handily brought along the 70-200mm lens along with a 1.6x extender. I had a great time taking pictures.


The arena was not full at all. After all, it was off season. I still do not know why there is an event planned. Maybe it is for tourists? *shrugs*


The night started announced with trumpets … (more…)

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Seville: Self-Service, Toothpick Tapas

This was to be a long day. It was because the Bullfight was to start at 10PM. We went back to the hotel to nap before heading out again late at night. I can see now why people tell me that the people in Spain sleep really late.


We went out at 7PM for dinner. There is an East Indian restaurant near the hotel. I wanted to try that because I seriously need real Asian food after so many days in Spain. Paella does not count, even though it is rice. Suanne kiboshed my idea saying I am crazy to want to eat Indian food, of all places, in the middle of Spain. Suanne said Tapas … but one that has toothpicks.

You see, we read that traditional tapas are served with toothpicks. You are charged by the number of toothpicks left behind. It was not hard to find.


This place we went to looked quite traditional. It has low tables and stools.  It is also very smokey. We can’t win … if we wanted traditional Spanish Tapas Bar it will be smokey.

It is kind of a self-service place. We take the tapas from the bar on our own and go find our own table. The tapas are replenished with new types every now and then. When they have a new tapas, they bring it to each tables asking if anyone would want them.


Other than that, the only table service is for drinks. We ordered beer and orange juice. It was real strong … it went right to my head immediately. My face flushed up immediately that the tapas server laughed at me when he saw how red my face was.


Besides tapas, they also cook to order. I showed them my list of Spanish food and ask them if they make any of them here. They do!

So we had the Polbo A Feira which is translated as market fair style octopus. It does look spicy, does it? It is not at all. The redness you see is from paprika. It is served with boiled potatoes. The best part of this dish are the … (more…)

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