tapa of the week: bar el alcazar, ciudad real

I passed the place at least a handful of times over a few weeks before I finally went in. It was always packed. People inside at the bar. People outside at the walk-up window. More people inside on the little perches on the opposite side of the bar.

I knew that was probably a good sign, but… I just didn’t have the nerve to bust up into a narrow, packed bar and be met with open stares of confusion and curiosity. I just wanted a snack. And a beer.
Then one day, I happened to be walking past the place with a Spanish-speaking friend, and I suggested we pop in and check it out.

“Dan comida aqui?” My friend asked of the bartender, who was propped up just inside the walk-up window.

In a gruff voice, the bartender replied, “Aqui damos todo excepto dinero!” eliciting a round of laughter from the bunch of patrons gathered outside,

Bar El Alcazar has a better selection of tapas than most of the other bars in Ciudad Real. There’s a wide variety, and the portions are hearty for tapas. My first time out, I really didn’t know what many of the things on the menu were, so I just selected something that I thought sounded good: rejos. My friend opted for huevo roto con gulas.

Here’s what showed up:

Rejos – or fried octopus tentacles – along with fries
Huevo roto (‘up’ egg) with gulas (imitation baby eels), served along with fries

The food was perfect. I’m a lover of any kind of fried seafood, so the rejos were right up my alley. I tasted my friend’s gulas, and even though the look of them kind of freaked me out, the salty taste with the creamy, runny yolk was right. So right.

Since that day, I’ve become almost a regular at El Alcazar. I even refer to it as ‘my bar’. The gruff bartender? Knows my order before I ask for it now. And though sometimes the quality varies, I still end up there fairly often.

Bar El Alcazar

Calle de Palma, 12, Ciudad Real, Spain 13004

Average Price per Tapa: Free tapa with drink. Drinks range from 1.60 (beer) to 1.80 euro (wine).

My Rating: One of the most popular tapas bars in Ciudad Real for good reason. Repeat visits encouraged.

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spanish word of the day: caber

Caber (verb) – to fit, to have room for.

As is my usual habit on Thursdays, I go have a coffee and a churrito in the cafeteria at school after my first and only class of the day. Today, the churritos weren’t yet ready when I arrived and ordered my coffee. The guy who runs the cafeteria set out a mini muffin for me to eat while the churritos finished cooking.

“Oh, no…” I protested, “Yo puedo esperar por el churrito.” (I can wait for the churrito.)

“Tu eres grande,” he replied. “Te cabe!” (You’re big. You have room for it!)

Sir!!

how to do valencia

What better thing to do on a long holiday weekend than visit and explore a new city? Desperate to escape the chilly early December weather of Spain’s interior, I settled on Valencia. I’d already had a brief, enjoyable visit to the Costa Blanca, and I’d heard good things about the bigger city to the north. Without much of an itinerary at all, I set off on a Thursday for a 4-day excursion to Valencia.

How to Do Valencia: Stay With a Great AirBnB Host

No guide book or self-researched travel itinerary beats the hands-on help of a capable and compatible host. Luckily, I found both in Guillermo, my AirBnB host in Valencia. Not only did he meet me at the train station on arrival, he was kind enough to share his lunch with me after showing me the way to his flat.

Home-cooked lunch at Guillermo’s
As we chatted over lunch, I learned that Guillermo was a native of El Salvador, and was studying urban planning and development. He’d lived off and on in Valencia for 16 years, so I knew he was well qualified to give me some good advice on what to see and do around town.
Guillermo’s surprised face when he’s not expecting to be photographed.

Before I headed out to do some exploring on my own, Guillermo provided me a selection of maps to use during my stay, and quickly gave me the lay of the land.

Where I Stayed: AirBnB Private Room in Ruzafa, Valencia

How to Do Valencia: See the Sights in Ciutat Vella (Old Town)

After resting up a bit, I decided to head out and walk around the historic area of Valencia, otherwise known as Ciutat Vella. Despite Guillermo’s map and explaining, I managed to get a little turned around during my stroll, but still found my way to the following points of interest.

Porta de la Mar – at the eastern end of Ciutat Vella
Christmas lights and shopping on Carrer del Pau
The Valencia Cathedral, or, the Metrpolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia
Torres de Serranos at the northern end of Ciutat Vella, El Carmen
Torres de Serranos – front view
Christmas lights at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in Valencia
Plaza de Toros, Valencia

Sights to See in Ciutat Vella, Valencia (Spanish)

How to Do Valencia: Wander Around the Ruzafa Market

Saturday morning on a holiday weekend. I wake up early-ish, and the only thing on my mind is, “Gawd, I hope the market is open.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, visiting the local market is one of my favorite ways to get a sense of the culture and flavor of a Spanish city. The Ruzafa market was a treat, and I spent at least an hour strolling through, peering at the fresh items on offer at each of the stalls, and trying to stay out of the way of the old folks who were out early getting their shopping done before the official start of the holiday. I was even able to try a few free samples – 1 was of some amazing roasted pumpkins (I bought a half to take home for a snack later), and the other was of a really nice cava on sale at a wine shop in the market. Guillermo joined me at the market later and showed me to a coffee shop in the market that serves coffee for free (tips accepted) – since they make their money on bulk sales of beans. A great way to start the day!
Free samples of cava? Why yes, thank you.
roasted pumpkins – you get to try before you buy

Ruzafa Market Hours & Info

How to Do Valencia: Taste Authentic Argentinian Italian Pizza

I had no idea that there was a significant Italian community in Argentina, but I found out when I visited La Nonna – an Argentinian Italian restaurant in Valencia. The owners hail from Argentina, and the restaurant’s menu boasts a mouth-watering selection of brick-oven Italian pizzas along with some Argentinian steak and meat dishes.
The pizzas are top notch – crispy but tender crust, fresh topping, and the gooiest of cheeses. La Nonna features a daily menu that allows you to select a salad or small plate as a first course, your choice of pizza, along with drink and a dessert for about 12euro.
Carpaccio de pulpo – La Nonna
Veggie pizza at La Nonna

La Nonna
Calle Puerto Rico, 16
Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Hang with the Hipster Set at Calypso

We enter the smallish bar and order a couple of beers. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I wonder not only where I am, but when. The music is a non-stop selection of 60s surfer and ska tunes .The DJ, who for some unexplicable reason is wearing a Mexcan luchador mask, seems thrilled to be providing the ambience for the evening. He bobs his head and does a little funky two step to the music. I scan the rest of the room, taking in the scene. The decor is best described as retro tiki chic. Overhead, a tiny tv is showing original versions of the Super Friends cartoon. I am the only one paying it any attention, however. The rest of the steadily swelling crowd at Calypso presents varying shades of hipster as they chat and sip their drinks. Skinny jeans, wallet chains, lumberjack shirts, carefully ungroomed beards, blunt-cut bangs, cat eye glasses, red-as-red-can-be lipstick… all the expected accoutrements are there. Well, all except one. There’s a total lack of irony among the patrons, instead there’s an easy, genuine feeling of ‘hey, we’re just here to have a good time, not to pose and look cute.’ As I approach the bar for my second round, the bartender holds up a vintage camera and captures me with a flash. The luchador-DJ points and nods his approval.

Calypso Russafa
Carlos Cervera, 9
Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Have Sunday Paella with a Valencian Nationalist

Guillermo invites me out to have beers with him and his friend, Vicént. “He’s very nationalist,” Guillermo warns. I’m not sure I like the sound of that. “What exactly,” I cautiously begin, “do you mean by ‘nationalist’?” “Well, he only speaks Valenciano. When a Spanish team is playing a football match, he roots for the other team. When he tells people where he’s from, he doesn’t say I’m Spanish, he says, I’m Valencian. If he could, he’d prefer that his passport said that, but since he can’t change it, he’s stuck with it saying he’s from Spain. But don’t worry, he likes to practice his English.” Well, I think. This should be… fun. As it turns out, Guillermo was exaggerating a bit. Or, maybe Vicént was on his best behavior. Throughout the night we shift as easily between English, Castellano, and Valenciano (them, not me) as we do from 1 bar to the next. At the second bar, after Vicént explains to me over the loud music that he lives in a neighborhood not far from the beach, I jokingly quip, “Oh, so you’re going to make a paella for us tomorrow?” As Guillermo had hipped me earlier, paella is typically eaten by Valencians for Sunday lunch, often just before or after a relaxing stroll along the Mediterranean. To my surprise, Vicént replies with barely a pause, “Yes! You should both come over around 3!” Wait. What? Guillermo had already offered to show me to a restaurant serving authentic paella that would be much better and cheaper than the touristy options along the beach. But, this? This was more than I could have expected. I turned to share the change in plans to Guillermo. His face instantly registered his shock. “Wow. That was fast!” he says
Vicent prepares what he says is not truly paella, but octopus rice. Guillermo supervises, beer at the ready.
Shared salad to accompany the main course
Vicent’s ‘octopus rice’
“This right here? Is how you do pumpkin,” says Vicent.
All smiles! An after-lunch coffee at the cafe on the corner

How to Do Valencia: Take a Stroll Through El Cabanyal

After lunch, Vicént offers to show us around El Cabanyal – the neighborhood he grew up in and the same neighborhood his family lived in for several generations. “It used to feel like a little village,” he says. Originally a working class neighborhood of fisherman and port workers, it’s now plagued by urban blight. Kids play in the street right across from the older boys hanging out in front of the corner store. The older ones don’t go inside to buy anything. They stay outside all day to sell.

Vicént stops at regular intervals to point out one crumbling, dilapidated building after another. “My grandmother was born there. We used to go pick up huge chunks of ice over there. My uncle’s house was here. My first job was washing cars in that place over there.” I can feel the mix of wistfulness and pride in his voice. 

Guillermo and Vicént share that the state of the neighborhood is an intentional move on the part of the local government. They want to expand a nearby avenue so that it connects with the beach further to the south – El Cabanyal is right in the path of this proposed throughway.

We leave El Cabanyal and stroll along the beach, catch a batucada group practicing their moves, watch the sun set over the waves. After our walk, Guillermo and I bid Vicént thanks and goodbye, and catch the metro back home.

How to Do Valencia: Have a Farewell Dinner for a New Friend

My first night in Valencia, while Guillermo and I were grabbing some eats in a nearby Cuban restaurant, I met Tanya. Tanya  was a native of Brooklyn, and was currently living and teaching English in Madrid. We all chatted cordially, and I invited Tanya to join Guillermo and I for bar-hopping after dinner. Tanya shared that she’d only just decided to come to Valencia for the holiday weekend last night. She was an experienced solo traveler, and could easily enjoy exploring a city on her own or with newly made friends wherever she happened to find them. Of course, we hit it off instantly. We exchanged contact info at the end of the night and hung out again for several hours the next day.
 
On Tanya’s last night in Valencia, we met up for a Moroccan dinner at Restaurant Zakaria. I’d read online about one of their more popular dishes, Cordero con ciruelas (Lamb with prunes), and decided to order it. Tanya ordered a couscous dish and we shared. While both dishes were delicious, the lamb dish was certainly more memorable. Sweet, smoky caramelized onions, well-spiced lamb, and tender prunes made for a warm, comforting blend of flavors – perfect for the slightly chilly evening weather. Portions and prices were quite good at Restaurant Zakaria. A must-visit if you like North African cuisine.
Cordero con ciruelas at Restaurant Zakaria
Chicken and vegetable couscous at Restaurant Zakaria

Our after-dinner plan to find a bar or club with some cool tunes was mostly a bust and ended up with Tanya and me going on a Google search-inspired wild goose chase around the city center that lasted ‘til the wee hours of the morning. But, in the end, it was all good. We had just as much fun getting lost, people watching, laughing like giddy teenagers, and even singing the hooks of old funk and soul tunes on the streets of Valencia. Sometimes it’s not so much about where you’re going, but who you’re travelling with.

Tanya and I outside of Havana, the Cuban restaurant where we met in Valencia
Carrer de Puerto Rico, 26, Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Head Down the River to the City of Arts & Sciences

On my last day in Valencia, I head out to explore the ‘river’, which is what the locals call the continuous band of recreational green space that snakes through most of the city. Many decades ago, it was an actual river, but after repeated floods, it was drained and turned into a park. The weather is as perfect as it can be, and there are tons of people enjoying the day – running, strolling, biking, or just soaking up the sun.

At the south end of the river, I encounter the City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of museum buildings, each one dedicated to a specific area of scientific discovery and exploration. For the sake of time, I opt not to go inside of the museums. The buildings themselves are breathtaking works of art. The combination of futuristic architecture, glittering water features, and the shifting light of the sun makes for a unique visual feast. I take far too many pictures as I walk.

How to Do Valencia: Watch a Revolutionary Screening at Recordshop

When I return to Guillermo’s, he asks if I’d be up for seeing a free documentary screening at a nearby bar this evening. “Sure. Which documentary?” I query. He shows me the flyer on his computer. I nearly squeal with excitement. Turns out it’s Wattstax. I’ve been wanting to see it for years, but have never gotten around to it. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity now. We head out a little while later to Recordshop, which is part bar, part ‘cultural association’ with lots of vinyl on display. The owner regularly screens films in the space that is about as big as a large living room. 

Before the movie, the owner plays Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ album (on an actual record player), while Guillermo and I sip beers. Soon, the movie begins. I settle into a worn couch and immerse myself in the sounds of a soulful revolution.

Recordshop Cultural Association
Calle Sevilla, 31
Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Savor Handcrafted Burgers at Slaughterhouse

For my last meal in Valencia, Guillermo and I head to Slaughterhouse, a popular burger restaurant that actually was a slaughterhouse in a previous incarnation. We’d walked past the place on my first night in town, and the smell wafting out onto the street had instantly grabbed my stomach by the nose. Online reviews and Guillermo’s own personal recommendation confirmed that this place made some really tasty burgers, so I was glad to have a chance to sample one before heading home. 

Each of the burgers on the menu at Slaughterhouse gets its name from a fillm or book that is also listed as a recommendation on the menu. All the ingredients on the burgers are fresh and/or homemade, all the way down to the ketchup.

I don’t always eat burgers back in the States, but when I do, I want it to be a damned good burger. Here in Spain, I’ve tried burgers a few times, but they’ve always been ‘off’ somehow, falling short of my expectations for a well-prepared, proper tasting burger. Thankfully, I found redemption at Slaughterhouse. The Movska burger that I ordered was everything I’d been missing from home.  By this time, I wasn’t even surprised. After all, in just a few days in Valencia, I had already found so much that made feel right at home. 

Slaughterhouse menu
The Movska burger at Slaughterhouse
A disco ball and a meathook – part of the eclectic decor at Slaughterhouse

Slaughterhouse
Carrer de Dénia, 22
Valencia, Spain

How I Got There: AVE High Speed Train (Spain Pass)

I’m a heavy user of Spain’s discount railway pass for non-Spanish travelers. It’s called Spain Pass, and I’ve used it several times to visit cities that are far enough away for me to want to avoid a bus ride (my bus limit is about 3 hours). The trip to Valencia from Ciudad Real took a little over 2 hours on the high-speed train. The same trip would by bus would take about 6 hours, and cost about the same.

 

Have you had a chance to visit Valencia yet? Share your favorite finds in the comments!

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how do you say ‘mercury retrograde’ in spanish?

Maybe it was ‘cause Mercury was in retrograde. But yesterday was rough. Much harder than it needed to be. It started out well enough. My 2 classes at the high school where I teach English went well. The students were engaged – which is all I can really ask for most days.
But then I realized that I’d booked 2 private lessons back-to-back that day and hadn’t allowed myself enough time to get between the 2 locations. No worries, I thought. I’ll just ask the first student if we can shorten the lesson to 30 minutes. Since it’s our first class, we’ll just use it as a ‘getting to know you / setting expectations’ meeting and I won’t charge for it. That’ll leave me enough time to bike to the nearby bus stop, tie up Roci, and catch the 5:15 bus to the next town for my 2nd lesson. I got this.
Except, I didn’t had this. Not at all.
My first class ended up being a little further than I’d originally expected, but I still made it to the lesson on time, and had a good chat with both the parents and the teenaged son I was to tutor. Although I did feel the son was a little undercover flirty with me. Who suggests that we can “sometimes meet in your bedroom” because you have a computer in there?
Anyhow, I ended the chat right on time, and as I was preparing to leave, the mom offered to give me a ride to my next place. I was just about to accept when I realized that I’d need Roci when I got back if I was gonna make it to my 7:00 class at the Escuela de Idiomas on time. If I left her at their house, she’d be too far from where the bus would drop me. “Nah, I’ll be ok,” I told her, and set off to catch my bus.

My First Big Mistake

There was some after-school traffic that delayed me a little bit, so I wasn’t exactly sure how I was doing on time when I pulled up to the bus stop and saw a bus there, getting ready to close its doors and pull off. “Is that my bus? No, that can’t be my bus. Is it?” I signaled to the driver to open the door. Slightly out of breath, I managed to ask him if this was the bus I should take if I needed to be in Miguelturra by 5:30. He seemed to indicate that this was probably the best one. But when I asked if he would wait a minute – since I still needed to tie up Roci – he told me he was leaving right away. The next bus would be along at 5:15, he said. Oh! I thought. That’s the bus I wanted anyway. I’m good!
Except, I weren’t good. Not at all.
I quickly tied up Roci, and settled in on the bench to wait, eyeballing the 2 Ferrero Rochers that my 1st student had given me. I imagined enjoying them later as a delicious reward for successfully completing all my running around for the day, and even earning some extra cash in the process. I silently patted myself on the back. Look at me, getting things done, making things happen. That’s alright! Go me!
A few minutes later, the bus pulls up, I pay my fare, have a seat and we take off. After a few stops, I notice that it’s about 5:26, and we’re nowhere near my stop yet. Why is this driver taking so long? C’mon. Let’s move it! After a few more stops, I prepare myself to exit. I’d sent a quick message to my student’s mom letting her know that the bus was running a little behind, but I was on my way. After yet a few more stops, I realized I no longer had any idea where I was. I had never seen these buildings or streets on my route before. I’d been paying attention the whole time, surely I hadn’t missed my stop? Then it dawned on me.
Joder. I’ve taken the wrong bus.
There are 2 busses that go to Miguelturra, but only 1 of them stops near my student’s house. I, obviously, was not on that bus today. I got up, walked to the bus driver, and asked him if I could get off somewhere and get back to my stop. He suggested I get off at the next stop, but was pretty vague about how exactly I could walk from there to my intended destination (I just love it when Spanish people say, take this street, walk to the end, and then ask somebody else. HUH? Dem ain’t directions!). I got off, and headed in the direction he suggested. I asked the first people I passed – two older ladies – how I could get to Parque del Sol, right across the street from where I was going. Their response clued me in to just how off-the-mark I was. Heads thrown back in mock tribulation, hands gesturing and waving that I would need to walk, and walk, and then walk some more, perhaps to the end of the earth, perhaps until the end of time until I got to my destination. I thanked them kindly for the specificity of their response, and trudged on. After a few paces, I realized that I needed to abort this mission. If I had to walk as far as the ladies had said, I’d pretty much have to turn right back around to catch the next bus by the time I got there. There would be no time for a lesson. Which also meant, there would be no extra cash in my pocket today.
Joder.

My Second Big Mistake

I made an about face then set off to look for a bus stop where I could catch the bus headed in the opposite direction. I found the stop, checked the schedule, seeing that I’d probably just missed the bus (unless it was running late) going back to Ciudad Real, and had almost 30 minutes before the next one. I waited for a few minutes to see if the bus was, in fact, running late. At 10 minutes past its scheduled time, I gave up waiting and battling the cold and wind, and sought refuge in a bar a few blocks away. I needed something to warm my bones quickly. I ordered a shot of rum. After finishing, I reached into my wallet and discovered my second major mistake of the day. I’d been expecting to get cash from my lesson, but since that hadn’t happened, I now only had enough money to pay for the shot I’d ordered with a few spare coins left over. I had no way to pay for the bus. No problem. I thought. There’s still plenty of time before the bus comes, I’m sure I can find a cajero nearby.
As my sitcom-life would have it, however, there was no cajero nearby. I ended up walking almost 15 cold, frustrating, muttering-angrily-to-myself minutes to the town center until I found one and extracted money. Luckily, there was a bus stop right across the street, and a few minutes later a bus came along, and I headed back to Ciudad Real. With nothing to show for it, I might add. Actually, with less to show for it, given the money spent on 2 bus trips and 1 rum.
Well, at least I’d make it to my 7:00 class on time. I got back to town, reclaimed Roci and headed to the Escuela de Idiomas, pulling up a full 5 minutes before my class was to start. When I arrived at the classroom, the door was closed. An unusual sight, since my students are usually coming back from a break when I arrive, and the door is always open. I peeked in the little porthole-shaped window. The class looked fully engaged in some activity. I lightly tapped on the door and peeked my head in, getting the attention of the lead teacher. “Oh, hi, Kisha!” she smiled and hurried over to me. “Do you need me today?” I asked. “Welll… not really,” she replied. Of course. I should have seen that coming.
Feeling more than a little defeated at my overwhelming lack of accomplishment for the day, I collected Roci one last time, and headed home to sulk it off. I reached my piso, de-bundled myself, and tossed my bag on the couch. Reaching in to extract my laptop, my finger brushed across something unfamiliar. It was the Ferrero Rocher from earlier.
“Well…” I sighed to myself, “…at least the day wasn’t a total loss.”

tapa of the week: bar acuario, ciudad real

After the so-so experience I had at Meson de Ocatvio, I decided to ditch the idea of following a tapas guide. I figured it would be better if I went maverick, trying out and recording notes on tapas bars I happened to encounter on my own.

I had my very first tapa in Ciudad Real at Bar Acuario, located in the center of town in Plaza Mayor. Acuario is well-known for its ample and inviting patio, but moreso for its signature tapa: huevo con bechamel. This is something that has to be experienced at least once if you come to the capital of Castilla – La Mancha. 
It’s essentially a boiled egg, enveloped in a rich, creamy sauce, dipped in breadcrumbs, and deep fried. 
Cholesterol be damned.

huevo con bechamel at Bar Acuario, Ciudad Real
While it doesn’t exactly sound like the most appetizing of items, it was suprisingly tasty. When cooked just right and served warm, the combination of crispy and creamy, along with the unique texture of the egg makes for a delightful few mouthfuls. Washed down with a cold cana or nibbled on between sips of a vino tinto, it’s a filling morsel that sticks to your ribs. Though, seriously, I wouldn’t suggest eating more than one of these every couple of months.
Bar Acuario has a number of other tasty tapas to select. I’ve tried a handful of others, and haven’t been disappointed with any of them. All of the tapas come free con consumicion, so it’s a good place to have a filling lunch or snack without spending too much.

Bar Acuario

Plaza Mayor, 11, Ciudad Real, Spain 13001

Average Price per Tapa: Free with drink. Drinks about 1.50 euro

My Rating: Solid. Worth a visit and worthy of being in regular rotation.

tapa of the week: meson de ocatvio, ciudad real

One day whilst sitting in my little apartment in my little town of Ciudad Real, bored as bored could be, I decided to take matters into my own hands. “What…” I asked myself, “…could I possibly do to keep myself entertained and inspired in this smallish city where I still haven’t quite found my ‘scene’?”

Before long, an idea struck. The weekend I’d arrived, there was a tapas festival, Tapearte, going on in Ciudad Real. Dozens of restaurants in the city were participating, and each restaurant had created a special tapa for the week of the festival. The idea was that residents and visitors could do a sort of ‘ruta de tapas‘ by visiting all of the different participating restaurants and sampling their tapas. There was even a printed guide with a map of all the restaurants and their featured tapas that I’d snagged from the hotel I’d stayed in my first week. Unfortunately, since more pressing matters like finding an apartment and figuring out my school routine were higher priority at that time, I didn’t get a chance to visit any of the restaurants, but I’d held on to the guide and map.

“Why not do your own personal ruta de tapas?” I thought to myelf. “You could visit all of the places on the guide and sample whatever they have on offer. It’d be a great way to get to know some new places while keeping your belly full.”

Inspired by my idea, I whipped out the Tapearte guide, quickly perused the list to see which place sounded most appetizing, then decided it was best to just start at the beginning. And that’s how I found myself at Meson de Octavio, the very first restaurant on the list.

When I walked into the restaurant / bar located just north of the Puerta de Toledo in Ciudad Real, there were only a few other people inside. I greeted the bartender and asked if there was anything to tapear. At first he acted as if I’d invented the word, Then after I’d explained that I’d found this place from looking at the Tapearte guide, he suggested a tapa of risotto. I figured if he knew what I was after, he’d recommend something good.

What I got was slightly undercooked, slightly oversalted rice in a creamy sauce with a little drizzle of oil.

I think the bartender saw by looking at my face that I wasn’t exactly pleased with the dish, so he quickly recommended 3 other things. I opted for ternera (beef) en salsa.

Ah, that’s more like it! The dish was simple, but the meat was very flavorful and very tender – like a really nice beef stew. It even went really well with the crunchy risotto.

Along with my caña, the two tapas came out to 3.60 euro. Not a bad deal. But not a great deal either, considering I wasn’t pleased with my first selection. Ah well, there’s always next time!



Meson de Octavio

Calle Severo Ochoa, 6, Ciudad Real, Spain 13005

Average Price per Tapa: 1.20 euro

My Rating: Meh. Probably not worth a second visit for tapas. 


7 things you must see in every spanish city

Since moving to Spain last year, I feel like I’ve gotten around quite a bit. I try to take advantage of my light work schedule and frequent holidays to travel either within the country or to another place in Europe. In the 9 months that I’ve lived here, I’ve visited roughly a dozen Spanish cities (It would likely be more if I could stop myself from making repeat trips to Barcelona!), and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of exploring the distinct flavors that the various regions in Spain have to offer.
I rarely have a thoroughly planned itinerary when I set foot in a new Spanish town, but I’ve found that even if I have absolutely no clue what to see or do, I know that I can safely say that I ‘did’ insert-Spanish-city-here, if I hit the following sights.

1. Its cathedral

Why: The design and history of its cathedral are a core part of the history and culture of any Spanish town. To me, the cathedral and how it looks is a reflection of the city’s personality. A Spanish city’s cathedral is always located in the center of town, so if you find your way there, you’re guaranteed to stumble on some other sights and shops worth visiting – though they’re probably going to be a little more touristy (read: pricey).
spain travel - toledo cathedral
The Cathedral in Toledo
Christopher Columbus’ remains – inside Sevilla Cathedral
In Cordoba – the Cathedral is located inside of a mosque

2. If it’s on a coast, its beach. If not, its Plaza Mayor

Why: Even in winter, I feel it’s an absolute requirement to at least see the beach if I’m visiting a coastal Spanish city. There’s also usually some pretty good (though not always budget-priced) seafood to be had from beachside restaurants and bars. For cities away from the coast, I’ve always found that a visit to Plaza Mayor makes a decent substitute for a beach visit. Here, you’re sure to find big groups of locals and visitors gathered in cafes and bars, and, during seasonal periods (e.g., Semana Santa, Christmas, etc.), there are often impressive decorations or displays of pageantry to be seen.
Waiting on fresh catch at a chiringuito at Malagueta beach
Plaza Mayor in Ciudad Real at Christmas
Picture-perfect view of Marbella’s beach and Paseo Maritimo in winter

3. Its most popular tapas bar or cervecería

Why: While it’s not always easy to find, you can generally tell which bar in a particular neighborhood is the best by the large number of people packed inside and often spilling out into the street from around 1-3pm, or from about 9-10pm. If you’re lucky enough to find it, you’ll also find really cheap beer and wine and tasty, equally cheap tapas. Usually because the place is packed to the gills with regulars and serviced by overworked staff, it can be a little intimidating figuring out exactly how and what to order. But, just be patient, and watch what everyone else is doing. If all else fails, just point to what looks good and hope for the best.
Complimentary chupitos in Granada
Ciudad Real’s El Alcazar – always crowded, always good.
At Malaga’s Antigua Casa de Guardia, the waiters chalk up your tab on the bar.

4. Its ethnic neighborhood

Why: The ethnic communities in Spain offer a whole ‘nother experience when visiting a Spanish city. Visit one of these diverse havens, and you’ll be treated to a mélange of different languages, colors, sounds, and smells that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. And if you’re craving something other than tapas, this is the place to find anything from Indian curries to Cuban sandwiches.
At Baobab, a Senegalese restaurant in the Lavapies neighborhood of Madrid
In Valencia’s vibrant Ruzafa ‘hood, new restaurants seem to pop up every day.
At A Tu Bola, in Barcelona’s Raval district, fusion albondigas are on the menu.

5. Its municipal market

Why: Because you learn a lot about a people by learning about their food. The municipal market is a hub of activity – it’s the perfect place to see what the locals eat, what products are native to the area, grab a quick bite made with fresh ingredients, overhear some good conversations, and even get some good recommendations on other places in town to go and get your culinary fix.
Atarazanas Market, Malaga
The central market in Cadiz is a bustling bar scene at night.

6. Its Casco Antiguo

Why: Because photo opps, that’s why. The casco antiguo (or, old town) of any Spanish city is generally its most picturesque area with old, architecturally-inspiring buildings, fountains and bridges, narrow, winding streets and quaint little cafes and shops to duck into.
The most breathtaking views in Ronda are found in its old town
Even in modern Marbella, there’s a charming casco antiguo to get lost in.

7. Its lesser known park

Why: Most Spanish cities have a large park somewhere close to the city center. But if you ask around a bit you can usually find a park that’s less well-known, but is also more off-the-beaten path, less crowded with tourists, more uniquely designed / intimate, and an ideal place to rest yourself after a long day of sightseeing.
Ciudad Real’s Parque del Pilar
Though Park Guell gets top billing, Barcelona’s Ciutadella Park is definitely worth a visit.
Jardin el Capricho – Madrid’s other park
What are some of your must-see tips when travelling throughout Spain or other locales?
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