Thursday, May 6, 2010

Words that start with "S"

Let's see, Spain, San Sebastian (double word score) and Sun! Last nights break in the weather continued through all day today and we took advantage by walking everywhere. After starting the morning with some great bites at one of the bars (egg on baguette and Jamon with blue cheese) we walked up Monte Urgull which was a one point fortified to defend the city and was the site of the french surrender during one of the border conflicts in the early 1800's. Today it's a big park with fantastic views of the surrounding area. We walked all over and around the hill, and then headed across the bay to take the funicular up the other peak that guards the harbor entrance before walking back to find lunch.

Weather is still holding after lunch so we walked the other way and checked out the 3rd beach which is where most of the surfing seems to be happening and it's also the home to some intresting buildings that were inspired by the large granite blocks that are used to build the breakwater on the jetty and along the river that cuts through town.

Tonight it's off to dinner at Arzak and as far as I know the the first Michelin starred place I've eaten, let alone 3 star Michelin although I'm confident that Alinea would be on that list if Michelin covered Chicago. More on that later in a dedicated post, but for now I'm updating pictures as time permits here

So far about 50 uploads and I'll add more as time permits since the free internet access here is a bit slow on the upload.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pamplona and San Sebastian

At this point it's really not surprising that it's raining and cold so I'll spare the repetition. We had a nice breakfast in the hotel this morning and had them hold our luggage while we went exploring the town. Pamplona is mainly known for Hemingway and the running of the bulls which takes place each July. Being that it's May we settled for waling the course and being glad that we weren't' being chased by angry 2000 Lb animals. We collected the car (only 10 Euro for overnight parking!) and got on our way to San Sebastian.

About halfway into the drive we hit the mountains and along with it driving rain, fog, wind and a series of tunnels one of which was an easy 1.5 miles long or maybe more. Arriving into San Sebastian we got a great tour of the small alleyways and side streets while attempting to locate the parking lot and get to our hotel for the next few nights. Just like in Pamplona they have fantastic underground parking here, not so fantastic is the 25 Euro a day for parking but it's still cheaper than a train.

San Sebastian is very tropical looking, it reminds me of pictures I've seen of Monte Carlo and other towns on the French Riveria except it's cold and raining. KMJ found us a great hotel that was literally 100 feet from the parking garage and we settled in for a brief siesta before heading out to find her some warmer clothes since neither of us really packed expecting 45 degree wet weather. After an extended tour of the general area we found an H&M that had what she needed so it was time for dinner.

The tapas here are known as Pintxos and tend to more seafood and small sandwich focused that what we had in Barcelona and Pamplona; they're also very inexpensive at around 1.50 Euro compared to 5,00 Euro in other places. We hit several places and had a variety of local specialties like salmon stuffed with crab, cheese ball, and a personal favorite of onion jam, brie and sun dried tomato. Add a couple glasses of Vino Tinto (house red wine) for 2,00 Euro each and then repeat a few times and you have dinner.

After dinner we walked down by the water where the rain had stopped and lo and behold the sun was shining through on the horizon . Inspired by the moment i pulled off my socks and shoes and walked down into the water which was surprisingly warm.

Tomorrow we have the big dinner at Arzak, so look back for a full report on that in the next day or two.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Barcelona, rain, wind, rain and Pamplona

We awoke on our final day in Barcelona to surprise, rain. It hasn't stopped in about 36 hours now so why break the trend right? We packed our stuff up and checked out of the hotel leaving them with our bags while we went exploring.

Our first stop was the Cafe Vienna down on the Ramblas where one of the NY Times travel writers had said "They have the best sandwich in the world" several years back. The sandwich in question was of course Iberian Jamon on baguette with tomato, and it was really good; best in the world? Sorry Mark Bittman I'll have to disagree with you on that but it was really good.

Heading down the Ramblas towards the water we decided to drop into the Boqueria Market one more time for Cafe con Leche and I'm really glad we did. All of the empty stalls we saw on Monday were packed full of fresh seafood, produce, meats, dried mushrooms, nuts and on and on. There were four of five butchers shops totally dedicated to offal with big piles of tripe, hearts, kidneys, liver and "juevos de toro". After an extend tour in the market including another round of the fresh juices (kiwi orange and kiwi strawberry) along with a pastry we reluctantly headed back out in search of Picasso.

The Picasso Museum is in a large building down a narrow alley which was packed full of people with umbrellas trying to avoid the dripping water from the dozens of balcony's that overhang the street and do their best to be sure no one escapes from getting soaked when it rains. The Museum was interesting, they have a good collection of Picasso's work from the very early years through to the end of his life including some ceramics, cartoon like sketches done on magazine covers. It was one of the more interesting museums I've been in and well worth checking out should you have the chance.

Not to far from the museum you run into the beach which despite the rain had a big collection of surfers trying to ride some decent sized waves. We got our fill of the beach and headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and catch a cab out to the airport to pickup our car.

Driving in Spain always brought images to my head of the cars I'd seen careening around in Rome and Paris; just on the edge of in control and I was admittedly a bit nervous about joining the masses on the road but ready to give it a go. We rented a little Toyota and the first thing to get used to was the 6 speed transmission which to me seems a bit odd but once we hit the freeway to Pamplona it was nice to just drop it into 6th and roll down the road.

The best purchases I made in advance of this trip were 1. A Nikon 18-200MM VRII lens and 2. A Garmin Nuvi 1370 GPS which came loaded up with all of Europe in addition to the US/Canada/Mexico. This thing has been a lifesaver and got us through several wrong turns, round abbots and even found a parking lot once we got to Pamplona.


We finally arrived around 6:00 PM and found our small hotel on the edge of the old part of town. The temperature had dropped from 12 C down to 4 C as we walked out to the main plaza to find some dinner. A couple more great rounds of tapas and we hit the room for free WIFI and updating blogs, email, etc… Planning on walking the town more tomorrow before we head over to San Sebastian in the afternoon which is about an hour away.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rain in Spain

Finally time for vacation!

KMJ and I took off for Barcelona this past weekend and following a long but uneventful flight we arrived in Paris. I could be wrong, but I think we taxied for about 20 minutes before finally getting to the gate and moving off the plane. A few more hours of waiting and we got on a flight to Barcelona where I promptly fell asleep.

Arriving in Barcelona we took a few minutes to admire the airport; it's a really interesting building in that it's essentially one big room that's sub-divided by half height walls, like a really stylish version of the 747 plant in Everett. A quick cab ride later and we were at our hotel which is about 3-4 blocks from Plaza Catlunya and the Ramblas. I was hitting the wall from all the travel and essentially having been up for 24 hours but a shower does amazing things and we were soon changed and on our way to explore.

We walked down towards the Ramblas to have a look at the Cathederal of Barcelona and the surrounding area which dates back to the Romans. Lots of narrow alleyways with balconies full of hanging plants and small t-shirt shops all selling the same 10 shirts.

Heading back towards the hotel we stopped a few blocks away to look at the Gaudi apartment buildings and grab some tapas. All together I think we had about twelve different tapas but the stand outs were the croquettes, Jamon Iberico and one I don't remember the name of but had sardines with some gr.een onion and citrus. We actually went to another bar near the hotel for several more tapas and vino tinto on the way back. Again the jamon and croquettes were the stars but a sweet cheese dish was excellent. For desert there was gelato from the shop next door and a crazy lemonade beer mixture that tastes better than it sounds.

Finally headed back upstairs and despite best efforts to stay awake I'm told that I fell asleep within minutes of sitting down on the bed and didn't awake until this morning.

Barcelona day 2

Rain!! There was rain of all sorts today, from light mist to heavy dripping rain the soaks you to the skin. The only consistent thing was that it didn't stop all day. Fortunately we're from Seattle so a little rain is hardly going to get in our way. We started the day out walking down the Ramblas to the Boqueria which is a large public market. We were there early and many of the vendors weren't there yet however we did get a couple of excellent fresh juices (raspberry pineapple and strawberry pineapple) for only a euro each. This was chased with a sandwich and coffee.

The next stop after figuring out the in's and outs of the subway was the Sagreda Familia that was designed by Gaudi and has been under construction since 1883. They are projecting that the work will be complete within the next 15 years but this year they should have the interior completed after several years of work to repair damage caused by vibration from the subways that run beneath the building. Next we hopped in a cab in went to the Parc Guell which is another Gaudi project that would have been a planned community but instead is a fantastic park with amazing mosaic work with tile and stone.

Lunch today was good, typical ham, olives, croquettes but for dessert there was hot chocolate with churros. The chocolate was like a hot pudding and really hit the spot. I was finally able to convince KMJ that a siesta would be a great idea and turns out I was right since we both passed out for several hours before heading back out for dinner. Aside from what's become the usual tapas for us tonight we got some razor clams and octopus both of which were ok, but not my favorites. More gelato and off to bed. Tomorrow is the Picasso museum and then off to Pamplona and beyond.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The cheapest way to Mac

When I moved a few months back I had the "opportunity" to renegotiate with Comcast and as a result ended up with a bundled deal of some sort, and a free Dell Mini 10v. As I just recently hit the magic 90 day mark on the cable service the netbook arrived on my door. I had been looking forward to this, a super small notebook for travel etc.. and even better that it's free! However after powering it up and playing with it a bit I just can't deal with Windows XP. Vista's been out for a few years, Windows 7 is released (and a great OS) but they still ship these things with plain old boring XP.

Some searching around for other OS options that would run well on the netbook platform led me to where they have some fantastic guides on quickly and easily turning the Dell into what I suspect is the worlds cheapest Mac. It took me longer to restore my OS X 10.6 install DVD to an external hard drive than it did to wipe the XP nastiness off the Netbook and get OS X up and running.

So far so good, it's been stable, quick and plays nicely with the other computers on the home network.

Off to make Christmas dinner, happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


A couple weeks KMJ and I went to a new gourmet hot dog place up on Capitol Hill for some pre-Thanksgiving weekend chow. Po Dogs is over on East Union and claims to be Seattle's first gourmet hot dog shop. Fresh off a weekend excursion to Chicago in October where I gorged myself on a variety offerings at the infamous Hot Doug's I was excited at the prospect of something even faintly similar here in Seattle.

So we walked down there and found a decent crowd of around 12 people waiting in line(s) around lunch time which was a good sign, not so good was the lack of direction on where the actual line to order our lunch was. The cashier was nice enough but not overly helpful in directing traffic.

After about 15 minutes we got to place our order (Chicago dog, Dub-t dog and Texas dog) and took a seat. The service was pretty quick and we had our dogs within about five minutes or so.

My thoughts on the food:

Chicago dog - The brioche bun is fantastic and the presentation is good. Sport peppers? Check. Celery salt? Check. Spicy Mustard? Check. Tomato? Check. Neon green relish? MIA. But what kind of hot dog is this? The true Chicago dog is made from a Vienna Beef Hot Dog but Po Dogs are using the same hot dog for each of the menu offerings and honestly the Chicago dog just isn't right without the snappier Vienna Beef sausage.

Overall the dog was pretty good, minor gripe is that dogs don't really sit in the buns so all the toppings are piled up over the top of the bun and tend to be a bit messy. Also the price is in my opinion to high for what you get. $6.95 is just excessive. By way of comparison the Chicago Dog at Hot Doug's was not only better (except for the bun) but cost $1.79.

Dub-T dog - A hot dog with crushed potato chips and cheese sauce. Nothing less than fantastic, sloppy, drippy and delicious.

Texas dog - I didn't actually try this one, but KMJ seemed pleased with it

Fries - Excellent! The house made potato chips on the Dub-t dog were also great.

Final thoughts:

Po-Dogs is good concept but needs to really consider expanding their meat horizons and focus on sourcing the most appropriate hot dog type/brand to compliment each of their offerings rather than standardizing on one hot dog and trying to make it work. The big kosher dogs are good, but they are not a Chicago style hot dog. The hot dog buns on the other hand are out of this world and I would buy them on their own if they were available.

Price, price, price! Po-Dogs is offering up a good product but the pricing is in need of adjustment. We got 3 hot dogs, 2 drinks ($2.50 for a can of diet coke) and an order of fries for $25. That's about what it would cost at a Mariners or Seahawks game.

Despite that I'll be back at some point, a good dog is hard to find.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moved in, sort of

Damn the internet, it's so much harder to actually focus on getting things unpacked and put away with email rolling in but I'm making progress none the less. It will be a huge help to get all the empty boxes out of here tomorrow once the recycling get's picked up and there's room in the dumpster.

On the bright side it's a good time to put the iTunes on random and listen to music I'd all but forgotten about. Off to the garage to tidy up the storage locker so I can jam more stuff in there.