Archive | Travel

Mallorca: Lost and Found

The GR221 trail is easy to follow, but only in some places.

My friend Guillermo and I are hiking the GR221, a trail that follows the northern coastline of Mallorca. At least we hope we are. We’re definitely hiking the coastline of Mallorca, but whether we’re on the GR221 is impossible to know. What is incontestably true is that we’re in a densely wooded valley and not where we want to be. It’s been a long day. We want to be in a town. Any town. Any town with a bar, I mean. One that serves cold beer and hot food and has a patio, preferably with a view of the Mediterranean since that’s why we came here, after all.

Instead of finding a town, however, we find yet another mountain. Worse, our mystery trail goes up it. We’re tired and sore and sweaty and so the thought of yet another uphill slog—there have been many—can only properly be described in language that I never use in public, but you get the idea. The only upside is that we must be fairly close to where the trail meets the road.

It takes us an hour to trudge up the mountainside. When we finally reach the top we can hear the traffic on the road–so close!–but there is one very big, very disconcerting problem. There’s a giant gate blocking our way, about twenty-feet-high and framed by two stone pillars equipped with a thicket of barbed wire.  Continue Reading →


Gone to Blazes

 Buy a limited edition print of this image

[Last year I was asked by the editor of Men’s Fashion, a popular Canadian magazine, to write a feature about Las Fallas in Valencia. Since tomorrow, March 19th, the fiesta comes to a spectacular end with the cremà, or burning, of the giant statues, I thought I’d post the article that appeared in last December’s issue. Here it is.]

It takes a little while, but during the fiesta known as Las Fallas, in Valencia, you eventually get used to the sight of four-year-old boys walking around with pieces of burning rope. At first I didn’t know what the ropes were for, but then I saw one little guy run up to his father and jump up and down imploringly until dad produced a few firecrackers. The kid then ran off to light them with the rope and then throw them pretty much wherever he pleased. Oh, I thought. I see. The ropes are fuses. Of course. I mean, you can’t exactly let a four-year-old play with matches, can you?

Ah, Spain. It’s fun for people of all ages! While the kids amuse themselves by lighting firecrackers in bars, in restaurants and throwing them at the feet of unsuspecting tourists (“Wow, that old man jumped a lot higher than I thought he could!”), some of the adults busy themselves with the final touches on the mascletás. Whole sections of streets are cordoned off and rigged with Continue Reading →


Slippery Business at the Port

In the Mercado de Bailén, in Malaga, a fishmonger gave me the lowdown. If I wanted to see the boats unloading fish, I had to go to Caleta de Velez. In Malaga, only a few boats come in every day. The port of Malaga is too expensive, he told me, so the fishermen go to Caleta, only a short drive up the coast.

By the time I got there, many of the boats were already tied up to the dock and more were coming in; big boats, motors chugging in a throaty diesel rumble as they shifted into reverse, gunned it for a second or two, and glided gently up to the dock with unerring precision. Continue Reading →


Back to School

Vacation is over. Of course, like many Spaniards, I took the entire month of August off. I added Labour Day, because in Canada that’s sacred and well, why not. But time to get back to writing posts. (I took time off from writing but not from taking pictures or doing things that will hopefully provide some entertainment to my faithful followers. (Okay, there were a few days there that I really did take off but who’s counting?))

Here’s an image from one of my recent culinary adventures, a tapas lunch at Dani Garcia’s Manzanilla bar in Malaga. Garcia’s restaurant Calima holds two Michelin stars and Manzanilla borrows some of his famous dishes. I chose to eat over the glass tapas counter, which I thought was a good idea at the time but really it just made me hungrier…and cost me more money in the end because of it.

This is a Hot Dog Malaga style. Sausage made of pringá (pork, chorizo, pork fat) with caramelized tomatos and a mayonaise made with macadamia nuts. This, for less than five Euros.


Calatrava’s City

Buy a limited edition print of this image

Not every architect gets the chance to transform a city. But Santiago Calatrava did. Even better, the city he got to transform was Valencia, the city where he was born and trained.

The City of Arts and Sciences is a massive complex of eight buildings that look like they’re from another world. A project of that size was possible in the heart of the city only because the Turia River was diverted to another route around the city after a devastating flood in 1957. So suddenly there was a lot of space available, and Valencia made good use of it. The upper reaches is all parkland, and the lower reaches were essentially handed over to the imagination of Calatrava. There is an opera house, a planetarium, a science museum, a futuristic landscaped park, and the largest aquarium in Europe.

Buy a limited edition print of this image

Buy a limited edition print of this image

Buy a limited edition print of this image


In Spain, Life’s a Beach

It’s Sardine Week here at Spain By Mike Randolph! Discovery Channel has Shark Week, I have Sardine Week. I don’t have any video of sardines jumping out of the water to chomp down on, well, whatever it is that they eat, but how can you not get excited by the prospect of an espeto de sardinas? Okay, maybe I won’t write every single day about sardines, though I could and I really don’t think it would be too much. Let’s settle then on Chiringuito Week. It’s holiday time, summer is in full swing, and in Spain, summer is not summer without a trip to the beach, and having lunch at a chiringuito–the beachside huts that serve cold drinks and seafood–is a fundamental part of the package.

Espetos de sardinas are a specialty of Málaga. The city even has a statue to honor the espetero, the man who spears the fish onto a spit of cane, tends the fire, and brings joy to many. The smaller the sardine, the better. They’re grilled whole, and you eat them with your hands. Salty, crispy skin and rich, oily flesh. They’re not only delicious, they’re also good for you. Order the house salad, a pitcher of tinto de verano, and hunker in to enjoy.


Exploring Catalonia: A letter to my friend Chris

Dear Chris. I’m hoping we can make it up Barcelona way to take you up on your offer of inviting us out to dinner. Especially since you mentioned that you really feel like doing it up in style! Hold on to your wallet. I know just the place.

It’s not actually in Barcelona but you mentioned you also want to explore Catalonia a bit. While you’re zipping around here and there you might find yourselves in or near Gerona. It’s a great place, a mid-size town that has enough to offer on its own for a pleasant afternoon stroll through the casco antiguo. (Don’t miss the iron bridge by Gustave Eiffel. It looks like his slightly more famous tower, but smaller and red and, obviously, horizontal.) But the outskirts of town are also home to the world-famous, undiscovered Celler de Can Roca. I know that sounds contradictory, but let me ask you this: Have you ever heard of it? Not only is it a three-star Michelin restaurant, last year it was voted number 2 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. I thought I’d put dinner at Celler de Can Roca right at the beginning because you have to have your priorities in order. One last thing: make a reservation ASAP. It’s not exactly a secret in Catalonia.

I’m going to jump around here and there because I know you’re a busy guy and plus, you have probably already thumbed through a few guide books, so here are some highlights.

So for now, let’s get back to the big city. I know you mentioned you wanted to walk down the Ramblas. Okay, do that and get it over with. It’s famous, one of those things you have to do, but really it’s not a big deal and the throngs of tourists can sometimes be overwhelming. On your way down to see the statue of Chris Columbus, tick off another classic and explore the Boquería market. If you sharpen up your elbows a little you might be able to get a bite for lunch at the also-classic and very popular Pinotxo Bar. You might even get served by Juanito himself, in which case, don’t bother trying to order anything. He’s the owner, an older gent usually in a bow tie. He’s just going to size you up, and start serving you all sorts of delicious things. The beef stew I’m not that fond of, but the mongetes y chipirones (beans and baby squid) are outstanding. He uses a type of bean called Alubia de Santa Pau, which you can buy at a few stalls in the market. Get some to take home, they are buttery heaven.

Other quick and random things in Barcelona: I don’t have to tell you to go and visit the Sagrada Familia or other Gaudi buildings, because that’s a given. But also leave some time for the slightly less-well known (and not Gaudí but Lluís Domenech i Montaner) Palau de la Música. A masterpiece of modernista architecture and a memorable place to take in a performance. The Born area is an interesting spot for a tapa or some shopping. It used to be a sketchy barrio but now it’s home to ultra-chic stores and bars. Another very cool area you won’t want to miss is the Gracia neighborhood. Lots of great shops and the restaurants range from stand-up Chinese noodle places to muy elegante candle-lit parlors. The heart of the barrio is the pleasant Carrer de Verdi–don’t miss it.

One of Gaudí’s masterpieces, the Casa Batlló, Barcelona.

Eating and drinking: things to try include vermut de Reus, butifarra, escalivada. Place to try them plus a whole lot more is one of my favorite tapas bars, the superb Cervecería Catalana. It’s on the Calle Mallorca, number 236. Be prepared to wait if you get there right at lunch or dinner time. (More on this later.) While the Cervecería Catalana offers outstanding yet simple fare, for food unlike anything you’ve ever eaten, try to get a reservation at Tickets. It’s not easy, though. The Adrià brothers of El Bulli fame serve up their greatest hits from one of the greatest restaurants of all time (now closed, sadly). If you can’t get in, you can always drown you sorrows next door at their swanky cocktail bar 41º, which is a pretty good consolation prize if you ask me.

Barcelona is a big place with lots to see and do, but you don’t have a ton of time so let’s move on to the beaches of the Costa Brava north of Barcelona. You might want to pull out a map or have Google Earth handy because this might see a little confusing.

So. Which would you like first, the good news or the bad news? Let’s start with the bad news, I guess. You’re going in August, so it’s going to be crowded. On some beaches, you might not be able to see the actual beach itself, but you’ll know you’re there when you get sand in your shoes. Okay, it’s not that bad, but keep it in mind. The good news is that the Costa Brava is drop-dead stunning and with a little effort you can still find some quiet spots to lay down a towel. A lot of the coastline is studded with rocky, imposing cliffs with villages tucked into small coves. Near the town of Begur, there are hiking trails along the coast that go from one village to the next. They see very little use and even better, many of them lead to small beaches where there is no road access–as in, delightfully secluded.

Two towns a little farther south come to mind in the “must see” category. Tossa de Mar and Calella de Palafrugell. Tossa de Mar is in one of the most spectacular settings imaginable, and the winding mountain road along the coast is a treat for everyone but the driver, who won’t get a lot of chances to look at the scenery. There are some spots to pull off the road and take some pictures, however.

They called it the Costa Brava for a reason.

Smaller and less crowded but also every bit as worthwhile is Calella de Palafrugell. It’s the quintessential Mediterranean fishing village. If you can tear yourself away from there, also visit the nearby town of Pals. It’s not on the beach, but it’s worth the trip. They also have excellent rice there, so plan to take a kilo’s worth back with you. It’s sold in most of the shops.

You mentioned you were thinking of going to Roses. There’s a big beach there, but the town is not particularly interesting in and of itself. But if you want a really big beach, go to Sa Punta. From Sa Punta to L’Estartit, the beach is a nearly ten kilometers long. Even on the busiest days, the sheer size of the beach defeats the crowds. For a cultural break, north of L’Estartit near the town of L’Escala, wander around the impressive Greco-Roman ruins of Empúries.

If you do go to Roses, you might consider a detour to Figueres to see the Dalí Museum.  Walking around the Dalí museum is like a tour of his mind. Decide for yourself whether he was crazy or a genius, but it’s time well spent. On the coast, farther east of Roses, Cadaqués is tempting. All the good things they say about it are true, but keep in mind it’s a torturous mountain road to get there and it will take longer than you think.

Some final thoughts. I promised more on lunch and dinner times. Here’s the thing. In Spain, everyone does stuff at more or less the same time, and that includes eating. My best advice to you is to get on the Spanish program. You won’t be able to eat lunch at any decent place at noon, and you won’t be able to have dinner at seven. Lunch starts at two o’clock and dinner is served from nine until eleven, sometimes later. So have a tapa or two at midday and then sit down for a big, long lunch at two. Most stores close from two to five and it’s too hot to be outside anyway. Then you can work in a nice siesta, do some shopping in the evening before tapas again at eight, and then walk around a bit to work up an appetite for dinner later on.

This is far from a comprehensive list, just places that I like. If anyone else has suggestions for Chris, please share them in the comments. I hope to see you there, amigo. Have a great trip.

P.S. Yesterday’s Photo of the Day was Besalú. Add it to the list!

[nggallery id=4]




Exploring Catalonia

My friend Chris is off to Barcelona in August. He’s never been to Spain before and he’ll be travelling with his wife and kids. He wrote to me and asked for suggestions on where to go, where to eat and anything else I could think of.

Stay tuned Chris. I’m working on a raft of suggestions and travel tips for you. You’re going to have a great time. Coming soon!

In the meantime, does anybody know where the above photo was taken?

Photo ©Mike Randolph


Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

google-site-verification: googlee2ce5b69ea52abb1.html