tapa of the week: el tio pepe, valladolid

On a cloudy, chilly Saturday afternoon in Valladolid, one of my travel companions – let’s just call him, ‘Tio Pedro’ – suggested we stop into a bar for a quick drink and a tapa. 
Tio Pepe (No, the irony was not lost on me) is a fairly nondescript-looking bar in an equally nondescript neighborhood – in fact, my host repeatedly referred to the area asthe ‘Queens’ of Valladolid. But the tapas on hand at this unassuming bar are an unexpected treat for the senses.
On display under a glass case that spans the length of the bar, is an array of tempting bite-sized delights that look as good as they taste. 
My travel mates and I started off with a glass of Cigales – a rosé wine from Castilla y Leon that’s effervescent and smooth, but not overly sweet. 

Next came our shared tapas: 
Chipirones (or baby squid) ‘hamburger’ – a slider-sized sandwich served on a squid ink bun…
tiny baby squid on tiny baby sandwich

…And tosta con jamon y setas. A salty, savory bite of thinly sliced jamon topped with a portion of fried wild mushroom, roasted pepper and garlic. Um. YES.

I sometimes forget that there’s more to tapas than just getting a free bite with a drink. There are tapas out there that are intriguing and creative; tapas that make you feel like it was worth spending your money on. Thankfully, Tio Pepe reminded me of that, and also showed me that great tapas don’t have to be accompanied by a lot of frills and fuss.

Bar El Tio Pepe

Calle Embajadores, 54, Valladolid

Average Price : We paid 8 euro for 3 wines and 3 tapas. An unbelievable bargain.

My Rating:  A low-key neighborhood tapas bar with surprisingly high-quality selections. 

 

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how to do lisbon: people watch at the port

At the south end of Rua Augusta is the Port of Lisbon which overlooks the river Douro, and provides a spectacular view of the April 25 bridge. The large adjacent plaza and the riverside promenade produce an endless parade of locals, tourists, and street vendors. Grab a table on the terrace at one of the nearby cafes, or cop a squat on the wall ledge at the edge of the river to soak it all in.

port of lisbon

 

Once you’ve gotten your fill of gazing at the passersby, head up the Rua Augusta, browsing the shops and street performers, before heading over to have a look at the Santa Justa Elevator. Push on a little further, and you’ll run into Rossio Square, with its picturesque fountains and always lively pedestrian scene. The nearby Rossio train station is worth a peek for its uniquely designed facade. A hint: It looks even better at night.

rua augusta

 

fountain – rossio square

 

santa justa elevator

 

 

rossio station

 

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

 

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how to do lisbon: skip the #28 and explore alfama on foot

When researching things to do in Lisbon, I saw tons of recommendations for riding the #28 tram. While seeing the city’s oldest neighborhood in this manner makes for a memorable experience, the tram is often literally overflowing with other tourists who also want to have this experience. I waited for 3 go-rounds of the #28, and was never able to get on because there wasn’t even room to breathe on board. The way I see it, even if you do get a coveted spot on the tram, you’re going to be packed in there like… well, like sardines. Not my idea of fun.

how to do lisbon - explore alfama
se de lisboa – lisbon cathedral

Though it’s an uphill climb, making the trek from the Lisbon Cathedral (Se de Lisboa) up through the Alfama neighborhood is a treat for the senses. Cute shops, tiny traditional bars, crumbling buildings, winding staircases, and some fine street art will give you plenty of opportunities to stop for a look-see or a quick photo. It’s the perfect place to get lost for a few hours. The best part is, you can take the #28 on your way back down – it’s usually much less crowded going the opposite direction.

how to do lisbon - explore alfama
seeing the sights in alfama
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
overlooking lisbon from alfama
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
alfama street art
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
alfama street art
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
colorful alfama

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

 

how to do lisbon

Lisbon is one of those places where it’s hard to capture the beauty with a camera. You have to stop often, pause, and soak it all in. Let the breeze sweep over you, turn your face up to the sun, smile a bit to yourself and then push on up the next steep hill, over the buckling cobblestone sidewalks, down the time-worn stone stairs, and around the next bend, where you’ll spy something else that makes you stop in your tracks, exhale sharply, and pause to admire it all over again.

During my entire time there, I found myself repeating two words over and over: impressive, and picturesque. But there was also this feeling of welcoming ease. That is, unless I found myself in one of the heavily crowded, tourist-oriented areas of town. Even then, though, popping into a shop, I’d be met with a friendly bit of conversation, or be greeted with a familiar ‘bomdia nena’ as I passed one of the restaurant hawkers standing out in front of the rows of cafes, attempting to lure non-locals in for a slightly overpriced bite to eat.

Before I left to visit the city, more than one Spanish associate of mine had used the same word to describe Lisbon: decadente. Upon hearing the word, I’d wrinkle my brow a bit and wonder if I was heading to some place that would be characterized by overindulgence or questionable morality. After arriving, however, I realized that what my associates had intended was the definition of decadence that I’d all but forgotten – that being a place characterized by decay or decline, a place that is now a faded vision of its former glory.

one of Lisbon’s many winding staircases

 

a peeling oled facade interplays with modern street art

 

urban decay never looked so good

Indeed, Lisbon is peppered with faded, dilapidated buildings, aged streets and sidewalks in need of repair, neglected and peeling facades, and a thin layer of grunge that seems to have lightly settled over almost everything. Yet, at the same time, the city manages to feel extremely modern and cosmopolitan. The efficient transportation system, the trendy shopping and bar districts, the amusing and provocative street art and performers, the cultural mishmash of colors, styles, nationalities, and cuisines you can see and smell as you stroll through the streets. Couple that with the fact that the city is located next to a huge river and not far from the Atlantic Ocean, and you get the sense of constant flow – an unhurried busy-ness that imparts energy that keeps the city renewed and young despite the obvious fact that it is so very, very old.

forever portugal
feelin’ the love in lisbon

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my insights on what to see and do in Lisbon . Here’s a preview of what’s to come:

  1. Take Up Residence in Pena
  2. Eat Grilled Sardines
  3. Skip the #28 and Explore Alfama on Foot
  4. People Watch at the Port
  5. Use the Metro
  6. Sample Affordable, New Portuguese Cuisine
  7. See the Monuments in Belem
  8. Take a Day Trip to Sintra or Cascais
  9. Have a Bifana
  10. Learn How to Say Thank You in Portuguese

If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon, these travel tips will help you make the most of your time in the city. Bookmark this post, or sign up below to receive the latest posts in the series as soon as they’re published! Read the first post now….

how to do lisbon: eat grilled sardines

The abundance of fresh and expertly prepared fish in Lisbon made me one very happy girl. Grilled sardines is one of Lisbon’s most iconic dishes, so if you’re a fish lover, you have to experience it at least once.

grilled sardines served with typical accompaniments: potato and salad

how to do lisbon: take up residence in pena

Just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle (and higher prices) of the city center is the Pena neighborhood of Lisbon. It’s accessible by either:

  • a long walk up a steep hill,
  • a long walk up lots of old stairs, or
  • a brief ride on the Lavra funicular.

Either way, it’s worth the trouble. Pena offers lodging options that strike the perfect balance of location, comfort and price. Staying here gives you a break from the busy-ness and lets you experience a more intimate side of the city. Friendly neighbors who smile and say good morning as you pass them on the street, and cheaper, less crowded restaurants are a part of the package.

Where I Stayed: NEW! 2patios&parking; center Lisbon

photo source: AirBnB
Dinner at Restaurant Cerqueira in Pena – All this for a little over 5 euro.
Perfectly prepared caipirinha at Terras Gerais, a cozy Brazilian restaurant in Pena

More About Lisbon Neighborhoods

This post is the first in a series on How To Do Lisbon.

tapa of the week: cafe quijote, ciudad real

After a full morning of window shopping in the commercial district of Ciudad Real, I needed a bite to eat. Cafe Quijote, with its green neon sign, beckoned. The place was pleasantly packed with a mostly older, well-heeled crowd – a good sign, I thought. Plus, if you’re gonna name yourself after the region’s most famous person, you’d better be good, right? Right. I’m goin’ in.

I slide up to the bar, slyly eyeing other people’s plates and the selection of tapas on display under the glass. When the bartender approaches, I point to my neighbor’s half-eaten plate of food.

“What’s that?”
“Champinoñes” he replies.
“Si,” I respond, giving him the go ahead to serve me up some of that.

Moments later, he places a small plate in front of me filled with thick, garlicky slices of ‘shrooms accented with little slivers of bacon and red pepper in an olive oil-based sauce. It’s a lovely few mouthfuls of meaty, savory, umaminess.

Champinones at Cafe El Quijote

Alright, Cafe Quijote, well done. What else ya got? As I order my next caña, I ask the bartender what he thinks their best tapa is. He smiles and nods, and tells me he’ll bring me something he think I’ll like. A short while later, out comes… migas. Uh-oh, I think. Migas can be a hit-or-miss dish for me. It’s so simple, so good ingredients and good seasonings are absolutely necessary. Cafe Quijote obviously knows this. Their version of tapas is well seasoned, and comes with a ‘huevo roto’ on top. The addition of the egg takes this rather pedestrian dish to another level. The egg helps to moisten the otherwise dry breadcrumbs, and the savory, slightly spicy chorizo (which they didn’t skimp on), plus the little bits of sauteed garlic added so much flavor. This is definitely the best version of migas I’ve ever had. 

Migas en estilo Quijote

I didn’t have any room left for other tapas that day, but I was impressed with the ones I saw on display. Each one was artfully presented in a martini-style glass, with elaborate garnishes on top. More than I expected from a place that doesn’t look as fancy as some of the other places in downtown Ciudad Real.

Cafe Quijote

Calle de la Paloma, 2, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.40 for a caña

My Rating:  Cheap beer, better than average tapas. A must-visit for the best migas tapa in Ciudad Real.

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tapa of the week: volapie, ciudad real

I’d been hearing a lot of good things about Volapie from another American friend who lives in Ciudad Real, so I was excited to try out another more upscale tapas bar in town.

On Thursday nights at Volapie, the crowds pack in to hear live flamenco performances from local groups. My first visit was on one such Thursday.

I settled into one of the cozy tables, and ordered a glass of wine, eagerly anticipating what tapa would come out along with it. Since I’d had a long, busy day and hadn’t even had a proper lunch, I also ordered a couple of menu items  – berenjenas con miel and a rabo de toro burger – to line my stomach in preparation for a few rounds of drinks.

The tapas that appeared that evening were quite disappointing. Small in size – even for tapas – and not very inspired. The skimpy size also carried over into my ordered items. The portion of berenjenas was so scant, that I wondered if they’d run out of ingredients before filling my order. And the rabo burger was more like a little slider. While it was very tasty – tender, well seasoned oxtail on a fresh, grilled bun – the 5 euro price tag hardly seemed worth it.

You can’t fool me – that tapa is just Vienna sausages with mayo. No way, Volapie.
Wait. Where’s the rest? [Berenjenas con miel]
Points for creativity – Volapie’s menu is made like a newspaper

Rabo de toro burger – tasty but pricey.

Thankfully, the wine I ordered was a redeeming high point. And the live flamenco? Absolutely amazing! I felt like I was back in Andalucia for a few hours. And the crowd that gathers at Volapie on Thursdays is not just there to sit and watch – they clap, dance, stomp, and sing along with the performers, filling the place with a delightful energy that does my spirit good.

Flamenco Thursdays at Volapie

I’ve been back to Volapie a few more times, and the tapas have been considerably better than on my first visit. Still, they’re not exactly my favorites. But the combination of the quality wine selection, the attentive service, the live entertainment and the energetic Thursday crowd make it one of my favorite places to spend a evening out in Ciudad Real.

Taberna Casa del Volapie

Calle Hernan Perez de Pulgar, 2, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.50 for a cana; 2.20 – 2.50 for most wines. 

My Rating:  Not a place I’d really recommend for tapas, but a sure bet for a lively start to the weekend, and great wines!

tapa of the week: doña croqueta exprés, ciudad real

When I first arrived in Ciudad Real, I asked around about places that served the best tapas. Several people mentioned Doña Croqueta. Needless to say, my expectations were pretty high when I finally got a chance to visit.

It’s worth noting that there are 2 Doña Croqueta (DC) locations in Ciudad Real (strangely enough, only 1 is listed on their website). The ‘downtown’ location near Calle La Mata is called Doña Croqueta Exprés – which I assume is because it’s much smaller with fewer tables, and even a walk-up window outside. The menu at each location is also a bit different, with the ‘uptown’ location (near Calle Toledo) serving slightly more upscale (and pricier) dishes.

For my first visit, I met some friends at the DC Exprés, and we proceeded to order several rounds of cañas, each of which was accompanied by some truly gourmet tapas. The variety and quality of each dish was impressive and I could clearly see why DC was in the top of many people’s list for best tapas in Ciudad Real. This is not to say that I enjoyed every item that came out, but I chalk that up to more of my personal tastes or dislikes, not necessarily any problem with the food itself.

DC’s namesake: croquetas
Grilled ribs with a raspberry sauce
One of the tapas I wasn’t thrilled with – still pretty to look at though!

Aside from the free tapas, DC Expres offers some delicious and affordable options on their regular menu. Since that first visit, I’ve been several more times, and have tried one of the artfully presented massively large sandwiches, and one of their gourmet tostas. Both are filling, expertly prepared, and a deal at around 5 euros each – especially if you share with a friend.

A simple chicken sandwich gets upscaled with a perfectly cooked egg, crispy bacon, and artisan bread
Tosta featuring caramelized onion, goat cheese, arugula and bacon – riquisimo!
This little lady is going places.

Doña Croqueta Exprés

Calle Hidalgos, 13, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.50 euro for a caña.

My Rating:  Good service, amazing gourmet tapas. Regularly crowded – especially on weekends. Go early. Go often.

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tapa of the week: el trokanto, ciudad real

I passed El Trokanto the first day I took my new route to school. The place caught my eye because it looked a tad bit fancier than most of the other bars on the block. After school, I stopped in for a closer investigation.

I ordered a caña, and the bartender asked me which tapa I wanted to go with it (I love it when I can choose my own tapa). After I selected, she then asked me which ‘frio,’ or, cold tapa I wanted. Wait. I get 2 choices? Oh, hells yes.

My cold tapa was a simple tostita of tuna and tomato. And the hot tapa – a revuelto (scrambled egg dish) with potato and huge chunks of savory (not super-salty) ham. Delicious! I usually don’t like scrambles, but this one was light on the egg and heavy on the tater and ham, so it was just fine with me.

Rear: tuna and tomato tosta; Front: ham and potato revuelto

While I munched and sipped, I was pleasantly amused by the nusic selection playing over the speakers in El Trokanto. In the time I was there, I heard Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, Mc Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in The Mirror’, and Donna Summer’s ‘What a Feeling’. It was when Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’ played that I silently gave the soundtrack selecta a mental hi-five.

On a second visit, I tried pisto manchego for my hot tapa, and a pate tosta as my cold tapa – while neither were life-changing dishes, they were both enjoyable.

Rear: pate tosta, Front: pisto manchego

El Trokanto, Taberna Selecta

Calle Palma, 9, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.80 for a cana – 2 free tapas with each drink.

My Rating:  Decent tapas, and a nice selection of 90s throwback music. A good spot for a quick snack.