Posts tagged tapas bars in spain
tapa of the week: el tio pepe, valladolid
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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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tapa of the week: cafe quijote, ciudad real
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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
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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
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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
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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.

tapa of the week: la marimorena, ciudad real
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The last day of Carnival (aka, Dia de Piñata) in Ciudad Real was festive-level 10. I'd been on my feet for a couple of hours watching the big parade passing through the center of town, and since I'd skipped breakfast, I was inching past hungry into 'howngry' territory. So, I set out in search of nearby sustenance.

 

I chose La Marimorena because it offered a quiet refuge from all of the parade madness and it had a sunny outdoor seating area. A sunny Sunday afternoon calls for sparkling wine, so I ordered, and my accompanying free tapa arrived a few moments later - migas. By now, I've had both good and bad migas. This one was the bad kind. It actually kind of made me sad. It being Sunday, I couldn't help but think that my folks back home were probably having really good Southern Sunday dinners, while I was here eating stale bread sauteed with pork. Oh, the inhumanity.

My second tapa was a serving of potato salad - I expected to be disappointed, but the addition of olives and diced veggies gave it some character. Not grandma's tater salad, but pretty tasty nonetheless.

One interesting note was that the tapas were served on flimsy plastic plates. Maybe it was because of the big crowds expected from the parades, but the place looked rather upscale, so plastic seemed out of place. Service was pretty good, but when I went to pay the tab, I was a bit shocked at the 2.30 euro price tag for a glass of sparkling wine.

Sad to say, nothing about my experience at La Marimorena would make me venture a return visit.

La Marimorena

Calle Ramirez de Arellano, 2, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 2.30 euro for sparkling wine.

My Rating:  Decent service, but not much else.

tapa of the week: la hormiga II, ciudad real
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Ok. So technically, this isn't a tapa. It's a dessert. Or... maybe it's a breakfast? No. wait. It's a snack. Whatever it is, it's still worth writing about, so here goes.

Remember Emilio? My knight in shining cardigan? Well, Emilio's son, Angél offered to show me around town one day back when I was still figuring things out in Ciudad Real. After a delicious lunch (more on that in a separate post), Angél suggested that we have some churros and chocolate at one of the most popular churrerias in town.

And this is how I ended up at La Hormiga II.

This is also how I ended up learning that not all churros go by the same name. La Hormiga specializes in porras - a type of churro that is made in a large spiral shape which is later cut into smaller portions that can easily be dunked into a cup of warm, melted chocolate. These churros are different from the ones I usually enjoy in the snack bar at school, which are called churros en lazo or churros madrileños, and are formed into little loop shapes. Of course, both of these are different from the Mexican churros that I'm more familiar with from back home - that come in short, tube-like sections and are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and sometimes filled with chocolate.

Now that that's settled.

As we munched the light, crispy, fried treats and dipped them into the small cup of delicious chocolate that we ordered as an essential accompaniment, Angél and I discussed all of these differences. In the end, we decided that the only thing that mattered was how good you felt after eating a churro, whatever its name.

As you can see in this video about La Hormiga, there are more than a few tricks the restaurant uses in making the perfect churro con chocolate. Apparently, there's also things other than chocolate that you can dip your churro in, as demonstrated at the end of the video.

Churreria La Hormiga II

Calle Cruz, 8, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : .40 euro for a serving of porras. 1.40 euro for a small cup of chocolate.

My Rating:  Nice decor and service for a churreria. Good for an occasional visit to sate your sweet tooth.

tapa of the week: bar california, ciudad real
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"Kisha, a few friends are going out to celebrate a birthday on Friday. Would you like to join us?" The invitation came from Pablo - the dad in my adoptive family here. I gladly accepted, eager for the opportunity to meet some new people.

When the day arrived, I was a little bit apprehensive about the fact that I might not be able to understand the rapid-fire Spanish conversations that were sure to ensue. But after sufficiently lubricating ourselves at Bar Acuario, I found my ears were up for the challenge.

After finishing our first round, the birthday girl suggested we head to Bar California for more substantial tapas. We entered, copped a table for 5, and I listened as they ordered, not exactly sure what was going to show up on the table.

What arrived a few minutes later was this:

Gambas in garlic sauce. Basically a well-prepared version of shrimp scampi. Served still sizzling in a mini casserole dish. The shrimp were fresh and perfectly cooked. The sauce - perfect for mopping up with pieces of crusty bread.

Lomo con queso. Tender slices of pork loin cooked with herbs and caramelized onion, and topped with little piees of what I think was goat cheese. In my head, pork and cheese shouldn't go together. But in my mouth? Magic.

 

 

"Oh. What's this?" I ask. Pablo responds, "Orejas de cerdo." Wait. Did he just say 'pig ears'? Like the ones my grandma and her grandma used to make? Like the ones I never eat 'cause I think it's gross? Hm. Well, I suppose I should try just a little bit, so as not to be rude.

The small bite I take is fatty, a little chewy, with just enough meatiness on it to make it worth eating, The pieces of meat have been chopped small and cooked so that the fat has rendered out a bit and left some nice charred bits on the edges. I try at least one more bite before deciding that this dish is best left to my dining companions.

Chuckling at the similarity of this dish to the Southern one I'm used to, I share with Pablo that we have a saying back home that we eat everything on the pig 'from the rooter to the tooter'. Pablo laughs and shares that Manchegos have a similar phrase.

So much for not being able to understand.

Bar California

Calle Palma, 12, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price per Tapa: Prices vary according to menu. Since I was treated to the meal, I can't say for sure :}

My Rating: High-quality tapas. A good place to go for sharing a few plates with friends. 

 

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tapas protocol 101
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Since I've been on my one-woman tapas tour for the past few months, I've noticed quite a few unwritten rules of behavior that are common in many if not all of the tapas bars here. So, I thought I'd share a few:

  • Ask 'Se dan tapas aqui?' or 'Se da tapas con consumicion?' before ordering. You don't want to be unpleasantly surprised or disappointed when your drink shows up without a free, tasty little morsel to accompany it. 

  • Throw your napkin on the floor. The first time I walked into a tapas bar and saw the crumpled up, used napkins scattered everywhere, my Southern sensibilities were a bit offended. 'Is this ok?' I thought to myself. I'm still not sure that it is ok, but it is certainly standard practice. I still haven't been able to bring myself to do it without sort of letting the napkin happen to 'accidently' fall from my hand as discreetly as possible. In some bars, there will be a small bin under the bar or the table, so, in those cases, it's expected that you'll dispose of your used napkins in them. Ditto if you see a sign posted somewhere that reads, 'No tirar papeles' or 'No tirar servilletas'.
At Bar El Alcazar in Ciudad Real - the floor is your wastebasket

Other tapas bars are more 'fancy'. If you see a wastebasket, use it.

  • Order your next round by gruffly (or sweetly) yelling, 'Cuando puedas' at the bartender. At least that's how most of the old fellas I  usually find myself surrounded by do it. The universal signal of raising your empty glass and pointing to it while eyeballing the bartender also works pretty well.

  • Learn the difference between a caña, a tubo, a botellín, a jarra, and a copa. These are all different sizes of draft beer or other adult beverage, that obviously range in price. And, just to keep things confusing, all of these names (with the exception of caña) may vary depending on what city or region in Spain you're in. No matter what shows up after you order, just drink it.

  • Figure out the rules to that dice game that you'll sometimes see the fellas playing at the end of the bar. It's usually accompanied by loud shit-talking.

  • Perfect your not quite perfectly pronounced drone of  'Ha luwayooo...' (hasta luego), as this is the most acceptable way to exit the bar and say goodbye to both the bartender and everyone else within earshot.
Have you noticed any other unwritten rules of tapa etiquette?

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tapa of the week: meson las brasas, ciudad real

On a rare sunny and slightly warm day I decided to mount Roci and go for a leisurely ride down to my favorite park in Ciudad Real, Parque del Pilar.

I'd noticed on previous visits to the park that there was a sizeable bar / restaurant near the center, but I'd never had the good fortune to find it open. At least, not until today. So, I parked Roci, headed to the outdoor bar and ordered a glass of wine.

Meson Las Brasas - Ciudad Real

With my first glass came a simple but fairly tasty tapa of chicken stewed with onions and peppers. Not a bad start. And the little bit of sauce on the plate was quite nice when 'sopped up' with the bread that came alongside the tapa.

My first tapa - simple mix of chicken, onion, and peppers

I decided to order a second glass... you know, for research purposes. This glass was accompanied by a decent portion of deep fried chicken strips that had a slight coconut flavor and a little bit of a balsamic glaze drizzled on the plate. With the unseasonably warm weather, the mild taste of coconut seemed just right, and, for a moment I imagined that I was in some more beautiful, more tropical location than a park on the south side of Ciudad Real.

My second tapa - Coconut fried chicken strips with a balsamic glaze

Service at Meson Las Brasas was quite good. The bar staff was friendly and attentive - not something I'm used to at Spanish eateries. Due to a private event, I wasn't able to see the inside of the establishment, but with the huge patio that lets you look out over the park and soak up the sun, I doubt I'll ever want to see the inside.

I have a feeling that this place might be in regular rotation once warmer weather is here to stay.

Meson Las Brasas

Avenida de Europa, 1, 13005 Ciudad Real (inside Parque del Pilar)

Average Price per Tapa: Free tapa with drink. Glass of wine set me back 1.50.

My Rating: Great service. Amazing patio. Quality wine and decent tapas. 

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.