Tag Archives: tapas bars in spain

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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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. 


highlights (and lowlights) of granada

For my first weekend excursion from Marbella, I chose to head to Granada. It’s less than 3 hours away by bus, and there were a couple of other girls from my CIEE orientation heading there for the weekend as well, so I figured it was a good time to check out what the city had to offer.

When I arrived, I had the good fortune of bumping into my friends as soon as I got on the bus to head to my room for the weekend. We made plans to meet up for tapas and drinks later that night, and they headed off to their hostel nearby, while I went to go check in with my AirBnB host.

Lodging / Accomodations

Highlights: My room was right in the center of Granada, located almost directly behind the Cathedral, and with easy access to all the city buses. Lots of shops, restaurants, and bars were right out the front door, and since it was in the historic area, the architecture of both the room and the surrounding buildings was a beautiful sight to see while moving about. My host also had maps, and information on popular sights and attractions in Granada already in my room. And the nicest touch of all? She had a hot water bottle available for my use – a lucky stroke since I’d decided to leave mine at home. Did I mention how cold most Spanish homes are in the winter months?

Lowlights: All that historic architectural charm – close-together buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, high ceilings – also meant that noise from the street below could be heard as clear as a bell in my room. There was more than 1 time that I thought someone was in the apartment with me, but it was actually sound coming from the street below.

Sights, Tastes, and Sounds

After checking in to my room, I met up with my two colleagues I’d seen on the bus – Allison and Nicole. We headed straight for nearby Calle Elvira, a main artery running through a network of alley-like streets filled with tapas bars, teterias, kebab shops and vendor stalls tightly packed together, giving the whole area the look of an old Moorish marketplace in the middle of modern-day Spain.

We made our first stop at La Antigualla for our inauguration into the free tapas phenomenon we had all heard about but had yet to experience. Another auxiliar, Laura, who lives/teaches in Granada met up with us later. The four of us spent the rest of the evening bar-hopping and getting our fill of copas and tapas while catching up on our experiences-to-date as new auxiliars.

The Alhambra

The next morning I was up early (well early-ish) to head to the Alhambra. After a quick walk to catch the bus, I arrived at the Alhambra gates, purchased my 15€ ticket, grabbed a quick croissant and coffee in the snack bar, and headed in to get started on my self-guided tour.

The Alhambra is an ancient palace and fort built for Moorish royalty in the 9th century and subsequently added on to by different Muslim and Spanish rulers up to the 14th century. There are four major structures to see within the Alhambra:

  • The Palace of Charles V,
  • The Alcazaba,
  • The Palacios Nazaries,
  • and the Generalife.

Over the next 4+ hours, I strolled throughout the massive complex, taking in the ancient beauty of the place. The original theme for the Alhambra was ‘paradise on Earth’, and it certainly feels like that when you’re there.

Unfortunately my phone (and hence, my camera) died just as I reached the Generalife, so I have no pictures of it to share.

After leaving the Alhambra, I caught the bus back to my room for a quick rest and a phone charge, then headed out to meet Allison and Nicole, and a different CIEE auxiliar also living and teaching in Granada, Brit.

I linked up with the 3 ladies in Plaza Nueva, and over a quick bite to eat, we decided to head to the Albayzín. Since Brit had been before, she would serve as our unofficial tour guide.

The Albayzín (Albaicín) 

The Albayzín is a maze-like neighborhood in Granada. It’s yet another slice of Spain’s ancient Moorish past that still exists today. The neighborhood is built in the style of a North African medina, with winding streets so narrow that, in certain places, cars can’t even pass through. The neighborhood extends up into the hills overlooking the city of Granada. My AirBnB host had told me that gypsies lived up in the hills in a sort of shantytown, and that on some evenings, if you went walking through at the right time, you could see them performing flamenco in the caves up there. I wasn’t all that sure about how I felt being caught with some dancing gypsies in a cave after dark, but I was game for a pre-sunset excursion.

After we’d walked for a while, I noticed the sun was getting lower and lower, and we weren’t showing any signs of turning back. The cobblestone streets had ended, as had any signs of a real neighborhood. We were entering shantytown territory and Brit was steadily leading the charge. I put up a futile protest as we started a short, but steep climb up a gravelly path that would take us deeper into shantytown. Not only was I already pretty tired from my all-morning tour of the Alhambra, but I also kept thinking to myself, “It’s getting dark. And there are gypsies.” Yet, we pushed on.

In the end, I was glad I didn’t let my tiredness or wariness get the best of me. The views from the top were amazing. We arrived just as the sun was beginning to set. With the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the impressive Alhambra in the foreground, and the beautiful city of Granada below, it was a view so stunning that my poor little camera could never do it justice.

After lingering about for tons of pictures and a quick rest to watch the sun go down, we started our descent back through the Albayzín to the center of Granada. On the way, I saw some nice works of graffiti.

Botellón and Bars

I returned to my room for a disco nap, then met up with 3 of the ladies for a quick taps before heading over to Laura’s apartment where we would join her and her roommates for a night out. It all unfolded something like this:

Before: Gracias por tu visita. After: Gracias, puta! 
A quick copa before heading to Laura’s. A free tapa too, cuz… why not?
Pre-gaming, botellon style. Try it at home! Banjo optional.

My loose interpretation for botellon, is ‘bring a bottle and some of those cups‘. Though they usually occur outside of the house in a plaza or park, I think it’s far to call anything a botellon that involves more than 1 person bringing more than 1 bottle to share with the intent of drinking as much as possible before the night is over.

First, to Chantarela for a few rounds of tapas and copas… what else?

Our next stop was a crowded, energetic bar where this guy ogled me in the bathroom. I didn’t mind.

After a several hours of making the rounds, we night creatures all headed back to our coffins. By the time I made it back to my room and collapsed, it was a little after 4am.

La Morena Comes to Visit

“Oh crap, what time is it?” was my first thought upon waking the next morning. I was supposed to be meeting up with Dominique (aka, La Morena de Andalucia), who I had pestered until she agreed to come into Granada so we could hang out for the day. We strolled around Granada catching up on everything until it was time for me to head off to my appointment at the nearby hammam.

afer-coffee stroll through the market in a nearby plaza
kids playing at plaza nueva

2 for tea – Dominque and me at a teteria on Elvira

spice vendor near granada cathedral

Hammam Al Andalus

After all the walking at the Alhambra and the Albayzin the previous day, followed by a long night of ‘botellon and bars’, my poor body needed some rejuvenation. The Hamma al Andalus was right on time.

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No pictures allowed inside. But I managed to sneak this one of me with my shoe shower caps.

Inside the hammam are 3-4 ‘baths’ or large soaking pools – each has a different temperature (from ice cold to warm-but-not-hot). There’s also a steam room and a massage area. My entry fee of 25€ included admission to the baths for 2 hours and a 15-minute massage. The massage was pretty good, and I felt the price was fair, especially because I needed it so badly.

After the hammam, I met up with Dominique, Nicole, and Allison (aka, the out-of-towners) for tapas at Bella y la Bestia.

I’m giddy from an excess of carbs and a lack of sleep.

Soon, it was time for Dominque to head back to Huelma. We hung out a bit more around Elvira, and then I saw her off to the bus station.

Shisha and Bars

Saturday night. Last night in Granada. So I start it off by meeting up with Brit for shisha and a nice cup of tea. We’re both a little hungover from the night before, and before we leave the teteria, Brit throws in the towel and heads home for the night. Fare thee well o Hiawatha. Fare thee well, O mighty warrior.

I went on to meet up with the rest of the girls for a couple of bar stops:

First, at Chantarela (Yes, again. Cuz it was that good.)…

Then, at Poe, where Allison had her first taste of absinthe…

And finally, at one of these interesting Spanish drinking establishments I call ‘shot houses’ – a bar that’s really popular because they serve a dizzying array of shots for about 1euro each.

All in all, it was a nice way to wrap up the weekend.

And it was a good thing I booked my return bus for the afternoon. I definitely needed to sleep in.