Joy and I rented an Audi Q3 to drive from Malaga to Sanlucar de Barrameda. On the way though, we passed by Ronda, a beautiful city sitting on the top of gorge that separates the old from the new town. A bridge called “puente viejo” connects the two parts of the town. We did not have the time to visit this bridge but we managed to visit the “puente nuevo” which offered magnificent vistas of the gorge and the surrounding countryside.
We managed to visit the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced Ronda. Unfortunately we failed to visit the The Chapel of the Hand of Saint Teresa in the Camelites Convent and the “secret” bakery. The bakery is where you order your bread or pastry in a rotating cabinet and you never get to see the nuns. On the other hand, the hand which is encased in a golden armour is said to be the uncorrupted hand of Rain Trees which was given to the nuns in Ronda just before the outbreak of the Civil War. It is reported that General Franco seized the relic and kept it in his bedroom during his tenure as the leader of Spain. It was returned to the nuns after his death.
We managed to have a short walk through the old town and meander through its pedestrian area. Walking along Calle Espinel we turned left and found ourselves in the central plaza of the town, called Plaza de Socorro. There we saw the water fountain of Hercules with two lions on his sides that he just tamed.
This is apparently, hallowed grounds for the Andalucians. It was in 1918 when Blas Infante, the “father” of Andalucia unfurled the Andalusia flag on the first floor balcony right behind the fountain demanding the same treatment for autonomy as that of the other Spanish provinces. That building is the Circulo de Artistas (Arts Society) where a great number of cultural activities like flamenco performances take place.
Because we were pressed for time, we did not get to visit the bullring in Ronda. But this is where modern bullfighting is said to have been born, largely because of the Romero family. In particular, according to andalucia.com, Pedro Romero is considered the first matador to truly conceive of the bullfight as an art and a skill in its own right, and not simply as a clownishly macho preamble to the bull’s slaughter. Joy and I love bullfights. So, we will certainly be back to Ronda during its corrida season.
The reason why we were pressed for time was because I had not brought any formal suit or shirt for the baptism of Nadia. So we wanted to make sure we got to Sanlucar de Barrameda while the stores were still open. It would have been lovely to have lunch in Ronda, but we decided to try to hit a town much closer to Sanlucar.
However, just 20 kilometres from Ronda Joy remembered that Setenil de las Bodegas is one of the interesting pueblos blanks so popular in Andalucia. So that’s where we headed for lunch.
Joy and I were on a trip to Sanlucar de Barrameda in Southern Spain. We went there because I was going to be a godfather to the daughter of a good Spanish friend of mine. The baptism ceremony was a short but solemn one. The family of my friend was complete: parents, siblings, cousins and close family friends. Oscar and Edyta Sergio Garcia christened their daughter Nadia. And as they were travelling all over the world, it took them 5 years to finally get their daughter baptised into the Catholic Church. Since I made a promise to be a godfather to their child even before she was born, I had no choice but to fulfil that promise. So on August 18 2018, I became a godfather to Nadia.
The ceremony was performed in a beautiful church of the Parroquia del Carmen. This church was originally constructed by the Carmlites in 1677 and was completed in 1689 through the generous contribution of the Marques de Arizon.
After the baptism, we proceeded to the reception at Patio Los Galanes, a cavernous restaurant with a very beautiful patio built centuries ago. The food was excellent and the wine was overflowing. What really struck me though was how the family members interacted amongst themselves. I could feel the love and warmth among Oscar’s siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
In spite of the fact that many of them hardly spoke any English and we (Joy and I) could barely pass conversational Spanish, we all had a lot of fun. The family made us feel welcome. I was especially happy talking to Eduardo, Oscar’s father. He spoke a bit of English because for many years he was a harbor pilot in Sanlucar and Seville. Most importantly we shared two of the best things in life: red wine and bacalao.
Oscar has two other siblings – Eduardo Jr., and Raquel, a diplomat in the EU in Brussels. She, of course, spoke perfect English, as did Ricardo, a cousin of Oscar who is an investment banker in London.
Having heard and read of how much secularised Spain has become, it was a surprise to me to see, later on, Spanish families going out together. Local.es, an internet-based English news service provider reported that Spain’s tight-knit family unit is not what it used to be. According to its research, the latest study by the country’s official stats body (INE) showed a drop in the average number of members per household from 2.58 in 2011 to 2.53 in 2013. With the population dropping and the the number of homes growing,that meant, according to the report, that the number of Spaniards lving by themselves is going up.
While indeed this may be true on paper, it did not seem that way on the ground. I thought Oscar’s family was an exception. We could sense his family was not unique when we went out later that night.
We had dinner at a local restaurant where we listened to some flamenco music. And there we saw local families enjoying the dinner together. Then we went around Plaza Cabildo close to midnight for tapas and drinks and we saw children, young parents, and grandparents frolicking around the fountain in the plaza.
Of course we never got to talk to them, but definitely Spain is far from being an individualistic country. The happy faces I saws among the parents, and the impish smile and laughter of the children made me conclude that Spain is still very much a family-centered country.
This was a short trip for me and Joy. Thanks to Oscar, Edyta, and Nadia, this trip opened our eyes to how God continues to bless humanity. Indeed what we have seen in this short trip serves as an inspiration for us back home to continue to safeguard our families, our values, and our tradition.
The smartphone is the epicenter of my travel apps and gadgets. From getting directions to making reservations, the smartphone does all the work. Of course this comes at a price. I subscribe to Globe’s roaming fee. There is a cheaper way though, albeit inconvenient and you will need as second phone. You can buy a local SIM card and transfer your Globe SIM card to another smartphone. This way you can get the full use of your iPhone with the local data plan and at the same time not lose any important call that may come to your Globe phone.
A second way to get around the problem of having data roaming is to buy a Mobile Wifi. I have a Huawei which allows many devices to be connected to its wifi. This way, if you travel as a group, you save a lot in data charges. The challenge of course is the group splits into two or gets lost in a crowd. A second problem is some countries, like Canada, do not allow prepaid SIM to be used for data plans for Mobile Wifi. The solution there, of course, is to make one of your phones a hotspot and share that with the rest of the group.
I used Maps of the iPhone for direction. And if I use a car that has CarPlay installed, Maps is a very convenient app to use as it is Siri-enabled. It gives suggestions of locations to go – restaurants, shops, etc. It also has a “Significant Locations” service that learns significant place to me based on my location. This is convenient because I do not have to re-enter places I go in a city. Lane information also is given by Maps to make sure you do not miss exits.
The one drawback Maps has it that it cannot share directions with others, unlike Google Maps. Sharing directions is useful when you have two cars or you are a passenger and you just want to direct the driver where to go without having to dictate to him the address. I also use Waze, but for this recent trip to North America, I thought Apple apps would be more accurate. I do not know that for a fact, it is just an impression.
Of course, because of the App Store, almost anything you need would be available in the store. You need find a Walmart Store closest to you, there is an app for that. You want to know the best Parking to where you are going, there is an app to that. It will even tell you. These are opportunistic apps, I call them as you call on them only when needed. The same goes for Viber, Skype, and, of course, Facetime. These are VOIP services that almost comes along naturally with your smartphone.
I usually leave this in the hotel when I travel. I used to bring around a Macbook Pro. Ever since I gave mine away to my son and started using the iPad Pro, I have found increasingly less need to carry a laptop in my travels.
Primarily I use the iPad to answer emails and respond to chats. I find the. Small real estate of the iPhone too small to do these tasks except if they are urgent and requires immediate response. My other use of the iPad is to edit photos and share them in Facebook or other social media.
The iPad is also the gadget I use for writing my blogs. The Smart Keyboard obviously is easier to use than the screen keyboard of the iPhone. The iOS 11 drag and drop utility is also very powerful when I share photos and files between apps. In the remote possibility I need to edit photos,
The split view on the iPad is especially useful when I write my blogs with the Photo app. With the photos on one side of the screen and Day One 2.0 on the other side, I can write and drag down photos I want included in my journal. The floating apps also maximise the real estate of the iPad Pro. This especially convenient when I want to search for information in Safari while I am writing on one app with another app in the split view.
I do a lot of reviews of restaurants, hotels, and interesting place in TripAdvisor. I use the app primarily when searching for good places to eat.
The app has a filter so you can choose the restaurants by cuisine, rating, cost, and even neighbourhood for certain cities. There are several main categories: “Cheap Eats,” “Best Restaurants,” “Cuisine,” “Breakfast”, etc. If you are like me that looks for local cuisines that locals go to, your best bet is always the “Cheap Eats” category. You then go to “Best Restaurants” and if the same restaurant listed in “Cheap Eats” is also listed as one of the best restaurants, then I would choose that restaurant.
I find it useful to read the “Terrible” ratings to check whether the rating (up to 5 “stars”) is justifiable. Remarks on the restaurant can be on the food, or the the service. One can discern if the remarks are consistent with the other “Terrible” remarks and if they are, then maybe it is not a good choice.
To double check TripAdvisor’s ratings, I use CultureTrip app. CultureTrip has professional curators of specific interests in food and travel. For example the app can point to “Most Romantic Restaurants,” or “Best Restaurants with a View.” If the choice I make in TripAdvisor cross checks with CultureTrip, then most likely I will choose that restaurant.
I also check the restaurant’s website and browse their menu. Again, you can cross check what is being said in the website versus the remarks made in TripAdvisor or other apps like Foursquare or Yelp (discussed later).
Finally I check the restaurant’s location. You want to choose one where it will be easy to go to from the last location you intend to go. It is also useful to check whether parking will be available. Normally if it is for dinner, I take public transportation and I avoid driving.
While TripAdvisor has some reservation capability for restaurants, it is geared more for hotels. Their link to restaurants for reservation is not as extensive as OpenTable.
This app manages your reservation efficiently. It helps you find a table, and tell you the times when the tables would be available. You can enter the number of persons as well and of course you contact details. The app then send you a confirmation and later on, a reminder, of your reservation.
The app allows you to modify or even cancel your reservation. With modification, though, you cannot do it as hour before your reservation. You would need to call the restaurant by then.
This app has similar functions like TripAdvisor or OpenTable. However I find Yelp more useful in finding shops other than restaurants. I used it to find barber shops. It can tell you the location and the opening times as well as the telephone number of these shops. You can input “cheap luggage” in the search window and click “open now,” choose the location or neighbourhood, and it will show you the shops associated with that search pretty accurately.
Yelp has categories for plumbers, electricians, and all other crafts, but it is a very helpful app when traveling. When you need to find a shop for your luggage, or have your shoes repaired, Yelp does the job.The comments are also very useful as they can tell you from real people how you would expect the place and service of the shop you intend to visit. It even has pictures giving you an idea of whether that is the shop you want.
Tripit puts together the details and timeline of your trip. You create a trip in the app and soon as you get email confirmations of your flights and hotel bookings, the emails are automatically retrieved by Tripit and recorded in the app. Tripit send you SMS for flight information like gate assignments, flight delays, and directions to your hotel, among others. The app even provides you alternative flights should you experience a delay or cancelation.
One important service of Tripit is that you can share the trip details with others. This is very convenient if you are traveling ina group or you want your office to know your travel schedule in case they need to make changes from back home.
The app also can connect your you iCal calendar and this subscription will show all your trip details there. Tripit is useful also when you go through immigration. Normal questions like “when is your next flight,” or “which hotel are you staying,” or even “who is traveling with you?” can be answered by showing the app to the immigration officer.
GroupMe is a chat app that allows you to post messages, pictures, documents, or show your location. This app useful when traveling in a group. Group announcements can be made here, as well as sharing interesting photos. One facility GroupMe has is polling. Have you ever had the problem of deciding what restaurant to go to when you are in a group? If you have a very democratic way of choosing restaurants, the polling utility in GroupMe can be very useful.
These are just the essential apps I use. Of course I use other apps occasionally but I find that these gadgets and apps are enough to make one’s travel convenient and even safe. One piece of advice though, it is best to make all hotel or AirBnB arrangements before you leave and prepay them if possible. With so many variables that can change in a day’s travel, the last thing you want to happen to you is to sleep in an airport or bus station because your reservations went awry.
Finally make sure you have your personal information in your smartphone. There are apps that can keep your passport details or even scan your passport which is even better. Tripit can keep this information plus all the reservation details in your smartphone.
A really final reminder – an old school one – keep hard copies in the remote chance you lose your smartphone!
Ferrera was a random place we chose as it was closest to the time we were being pelted with rain from the heavens. One particular local delicacy was called aranchina. What we had was the small version. Salvatore promised a real aranchina the following day.
The Duomo, a small one by Italian standards, is located at the center of the town. Despite its size, it still gives an imposing and beautiful presence in the piazza. Taormina is a very small town but since the 17th century has been catering to tourists from all over and from all walks of life.
Seafood. That pretty much sums up what Croatia cuisine is for me.
Well, I think they have meats and exotic dishes like rats, wild boar, and other game, but we never experienced them, and even if it were available, I limit myself to seafood. So, seafood it is.
Let’s start with their cheese. The most famous of Croatia’s cheese is called “Pag” cheese as it comes from the island of Pag. In Croatian, it is called “Paški sir.” It comes from sheep, and it is somewhat hard but perfect to start or end one’s meal. The cheese comes from a specific breed of sheep called Paska Ovka found mostly on the island of Pag. The interesting thing about Croatian cheese is that animal rennet is not allowed in the cheese making in the country. Only microbial rennet is allowed, thereby making Paški sir technical a vegetarian cheese.
As the main courses are seafood, the appropriate wine was naturally white. We had the Malvasjia variety most of the time, but occasionally we had the Grašvinja as well. Both wines are dry and fresh and perfect companions to the sweet, fresh grilled delights from the sea.
Foremost among the seafood favorites is the sea bass. Although sea bass is now farmed in Croatia, sometimes you can get lucky with one that is fished from the sea. We were lucky to have this in Slovenia in a restaurant called Wine Bar and Restaurant Sova. Located along the shores of the Lake Bled, it is an excellent place to have a quiet meal with best Slovenian and Croatian wines of the region. The owners are hospitable and very helpful. Although we got in a bit late, as soon as a table with the lake view became vacant, they came over and offered to transfer us to this table with a scenic view.
A word of warning though regarding terms like “for one” or “for two” in menus in restaurants. For the Asian stomach, always multiply these numbers by two. This is true for most of Europe, I guess. Second, if the restaurant has an English menu or, worse a multi-lingual one (with flags to boot), you can be sure the restaurant is frequented by tourists. The implication, of course, is that the price are likely to be higher than it should be. Take that as a given and just order what you want and forget about converting to your own currencies.
In this regard, I have always wondered whether finding a good local authentic restaurant where locals go is like chasing rainbows. The more a place gets noticed in various fora, the more tourists go, the higher the prices go, and the more locals stay away from these restaurants. In the end, there is only the restaurant that has excellent cuisine and excellent service where only tourists go. What a conundrum!
We went to a restaurant in Ljubljana, Slovenia. While it is not Croatia, allow me some leeway. The restaurant is called “Luda.” They have two set menus: a 5-course menu for €34 and 3-course one for €22. Excellent execution, this is a gem just off the tourist area of Ljubljana.
The wines of Croatia are certainly world class. I do not want to describe the different varieties found here but what has been established is that the Zinfandel grapes of California originated here. According to Wikipedia, “DNA analysis has revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, as well as to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia (the “heel” of Italy), where it was introduced in the 18th century. The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became known by variations of the name ‘Zinfandel,’ a name which is probably of Austrian origin.”
My favorite was Malvasjia. Fresh and cool and dry, Malvasjia is perfect with the Croatian seafood cuisine. I enjoyed it most with the fresh mussels and oysters we had in Mali Ston. Out in a floating platform, our host pulled out the oysters from the sea, opened it, and with just a dash of lemon, slurped it up and concluded with a sip of Malvasjia wine. Everything just fresh!
One of the places we visited was Restaurant Beom in Portoroz, Slovenia (Belokrishka cesta 68, Portoroz 6320 Slovenia). As we were traveling from Slovenia on our way to Rovinj, We had lunch along the way, at this restaurant owned by a couple who are friends with Jerry, our guide.
The restaurant has an unassuming facade. When Jerry’s friends, Nena and Marita started whipping their dishes, it felt like we were in a Michelin restaurant. The couple had an excellent local pasta which I remembered was just called “Istrian” pasta. The family had sea bass, John Dory, calamari and mussels. All these wonderful seafood were partaken with a Batic Malvasjia 2016. Truly refreshing lunch. And to cap the lunch, Marita went out of her way to get the famous cream cake done by a local baker. Zizola, a digestif, made sure our lunch was complete!
One of the highlights in our culinary agenda was the dinner at Monte, probably the only One-Star Michelin restaurant in Croatia. The experience we had there was almost like being in a theater. The movements of the staff were flawless, precise and the dishes were presented creatively. As we weren’t hungry when we went to the restaurant, we didn’t do the 5 or 7-course menu. I started with the risotto with shrimps. The shrimp was so fresh; it literally melted in my mouth. For my main dish, I had the monkfish in olive oil. With the local cava to accompany our meal, it was just heavenly.
Monte is located on Montalbano 75, Rovinj.
The restaurant I loved most in Rovinj though was Snack Bar Rio. Located along Obala Alda Rismonda – Riva Aldo Rismondo 13 in Rovinj. This is a long time favorite even of locals. Service here is very friendly, and one feels at home almost immediately. Seafood is king here. I had their tuna steak while my two sons swear by their mussels. My wife had seafood kebab which, according to her was the best she has ever had and the most creative way of cooking seafood.
Because Rovinj is a tourist destination, one will never be short of choices for restaurants. Really, the question as I have asked earlier is how do you find one that gives you value for your money. And that value comes in three ways: the food, of course, then the service, and then the cost of these two wrapped around the ambiance. The ambiance for me becomes only important when experienced with the food and the service.
At this point, we were just halfway through our trip. So I still have quite a number of restaurants to talk about. On one hand, while this trip was very taxing, I thoroughly enjoyed the trips to the restaurants, the tasting of the wines, and the company of the people you love in this world.
Until next time…