Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 365 - Stick a fork in me I'm done

Wow! I can't believe this is the end. It has been quite a journey. Although it felt like a marathon at times each day was its own special blend of interesting sights and fun adventures.

Photographing something different every single day did help keep my mind off cigarettes (one year smoke free) and it was a great way to get off the couch and out of the house.

From a technical standpoint my skills didn't improve much but I do think my vision sharpened. The project required me to slow down, study subjects more carefully and try different perspectives. Daily creative exercise is quite addictive.

Thanks everyone for the kind words and encouragement along the way, I really appreciated it. I'd like to thank my wife Leah in particular for her patience and creative input during this project.

Now that Project 365 has finished I'm going to rest for a bit. I will likely start up another project someday but for now I need a break.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 364 - Sangria

Sangria is a wine punch made for sunny afternoons and patios. It normally consists of a light, fruity unoaked wine; sliced fruit; sweetener; spirits; ice and in some cases carbonated soda. In spain we had our fair share of good sangria, though on the whole found them a tad too sugary. The ones we liked best had less sugar or were sweetened with spirits.

Day 362 - El Mercado de San Miguel

One afternoon we stumbled across El Mercado de San Miguel, a fantastic market in downtown Madrid. The market is essentially an enormous tapas bar with a fine bodega that sells wine by the glass. And mist machines to cool down. Nice. The rest of the afternoon turned into an impromptu tapas/wine tasting.

The bodega had a good selection of interesting bottles covering broad price points. Staff were friendly and helpful, and let you behind the counter to look through their selection.

We settled on a 2007 Garnacha from Bodega Alto Moncayo. Located in Campo de Borja, Alto Moncayo is known for making high quality wines of limited production. This 2007 Garnacha had a lovely nose, intense and layered, bright fruit, long finish, matched a wide variety of food.

We secured a seat at a standing table (not an easy task) and took turns bringing back food. One surprise came in the form of a pickle stuffed with tuna and olives on the side. Basically, it was a tuna sandwich without the bread. Simple. I've never been a fan of tuna spread but this combination was quite good. The Garnacha and dill pickle were surprisingly compatible.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 361 - Museo del Jamón

Spaniards have a serious obsession with pork. Everywhere you look, there is ham. A fun place to sample yummy cured spanish ham is at the Museo del Jamon. When we first saw their sign we thought it was an actual museum of ham, but on closer examination found out that it was in fact a store. It is part restaurant, part bar, part butcher, and 100% serious about ham.

The atmosphere in this ham utopia is quite vibrant. It offers exceptional value, the place has a wide selection of cured ham and beer that is among the cheapest in Madrid. It's a great place to grab a sandwich and beer, but is not really the kind of spot to have a sit down meal. The place was packed when we went for lunch.

Day 360 - Tapas

One of our favorite activities while in Spain was enjoying tapas. Tapas (derived from the Spanish verb tapar "to cover") is the name given to a wide variety of appetizers in Spanish cuisine. In Spain dinner is usually served quite late - between 9-11pm. This leaves alot of time between work and dinner. To fill this gap Spaniards often go to a bar or restaurant and eat tapas.

Bars and restaurant typically have a dozen or so different kinds of tapas on display. Ordering tapas takes some getting used to as it is self serve - just go up to the counter and get it - and the bill is derived at the end from counting the number of toothpicks on your plate. Once we got the hang of it, sampling tapas became a regular part of our daily routine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 359 - The Hunt for Vega Sicilia

On our third afternoon in Madrid we went wine shopping. We were interested in finding a wine or two to 'lay down.' A friend told us to keep an eye out for any wines from Vega Sicilia, one of Spain's most iconic estates. A google of 'where to buy wine in Madrid' lead us to Lavignia, a huge store with an enormous selection of wines from across the globe. The bottom floor space is dedicated to Spain (displayed by region) and the top floor, all other countries.

Jackpot. Vega Sicilia's two traditional wines, Unico and Valbuena, were both available to taste at Lavinia - a '99 Unico and a '04 Valbuena. The '99 was well out of our price range to buy so we tried a nip of the Valbuena 2004, a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and Malbec grapes.

We liked it. Lots of juicy fruit. The tannins are smooth yet have plenty of grip. It had an open, airy mouthfeel. This seems like a subtle, refined wine that will age nicely. We bought a bottle and look forward to seeing what it tastes like on our 10 year wedding anniversary.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 358 - Plaza Mayor

One of the most popular and pretty squares in Madrid is Plaza Mayor. Since its creation, the plaza has hosted bull fights, held royal coronations and even had executions. The square today is largely used for public celebrations. It is very popular among tourists as a resting place for lunch or dinner.

At the center of the square is a bronze statue of King Philips III, constructed in 1616 by the Italian sculptors Giovanni de Bologna and his apprentice Pietro Tacca.

The square is a popular place for artisans and buskers to sell their work. It is also a fantastic place to sit back and people watch.

The most prominent building on the Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panaderia. Its current design with symmetric towers dates from 1790. The colorful murals were only added recently, in 1992.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 357 - Royal Palace

The Palacio de Madrid, aka the Royal Palace, is one of the most popular tourist sights in the city. The Palace is the the official residence of the King of Spain. There are many interesting sights around the palace, and we particularly enjoyed strolling around the west side gardens and hanging out in the Oriente Square. The picture below is the east facade of the Royal Palace seen from Oriente Square.

Below the palace are the gardens of the Campo del Moro (Field of the Moor, named because a Moorish army camped here in the 12th century). The gardens were made into a public park in the 19th century, and includes interesting plants, fountains and curving paths.

Day 356 - Retiro Park

Retiro Park is the most popular park in Madrid. Located in what is now the heart of the city, the park was originally designed as a retreat for the royal family in the 17th century. The park was later opened to the public in 1868. The park covers 320 acres and offers ample space for a stroll, lovely gardens, restaurants, a crystal palace and an artificial lake, among other things.

The 'lake' is close to the north entrance of the park. You can rent a row boat for paddling around the lake. We were going to rent a boat and stroll through the rest of the park, but the weather was just way too hot. At 35 degrees plus humudity about all we could handle was a nap in the shade near the lake.

A pretty feature in the park is a statue of King Alfonso XII, which overlooks the lake. The monument features a semicircular colonnade and an equestrian statue of the king. This also makes for a great napping spot in the shade. Did I mention how hot it was?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 355 - Puerta de Alcalá

In the center of the Plaza de la Independencia in Madrid sits the Puerta de Alcalá, a large granite structure that used to be the main entrance gate to Madrid. The structure (in its current form) was rebuilt in the 18th century by KIng Carlos III.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 354 - Gran Via, Madrid

For the last leg of our trip we flew to Madrid, Spain's largest city and capital. After coming from small villages in Mallorca (i.e. Deia had 850 residents) the hustle and bustle of this city of 3.5 million took some acclimatizing. But it was well worth it, we loved this city, which has much to offer in terms of sights, shopping, eating and drinking.

We stayed in a hostal on a side street just off Gran Via, one of the main streets running through the downtown. Sometimes referred to as the broadway of Spain, Grain Via has theaters, plenty of shopping and is the main route through the downtown. The main feature is the architecture, which showcases an incredible array of 20th century architecture. Walking down this magnificent street for the first time is a jaw dropping experience.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 353 - Cala d'Or

Our last destination on Mallorca (before flying to Madrid) was Cala d'Or, on the east coast of the Island. Cala d'Or is a slightly larger resort town that offers fine sandy beaches and plenty of accommodation choices, restaurants and shopping. The town is more crowded than the places we stayed on the west coast but the beaches were still quite nice.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 352 - Cala de Sant Vicenç

Cala de Sant Vicenç is a tiny resort town on the northwest coast of Mallorca. Although largely a tourism destination the town retains a great deal of charm given its small size. The area consists of three small coves with crystal clear blue water. We spent a couple days relaxing on one of the three small beaches in town.

There is little in the way of nightlife in Cala de Sant Vicenç apart from a handful of small restaurants. The mantra of this town is relax, relax, relax. If you're looking to get away from it all the village is well worth consideration.

The hostal we stayed at was named Los Pinos. It was the best value hostal we found during our entire trip: cheap, overlooking the beach and it had a pool. Sweet! Hard to beat in terms of value.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 351 - Serra de Tramuntana

The Serra de Tramuntana is the highest mountain range and the most impressive natural feature of Mallorca. The range is approximately 90 km long, stretching through the various towns we visited on the northwest coast. The Tramuntana is an outdoor aficionados dream - wide open spaces, tranquillity and magnificent scenery.

Driving was a mixed blessing of incredible views and jaw-clenching, nerve-racking moments as we navigated the many twists and turns up and over steep, ragged cliffs. There was a scary moment or two but overall the experience was worth it.

According to the guide book the mountain range is one of the training grounds for the Tour de France. In fact we did see quite a few (professional looking) bikers huffing their way around the trail. There were also some interesting tunnels through the stone cliffs (safety reminder: before you start driving a rental car be sure you know how to turn the lights on).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 350 - Sóller

Sóller is a small town on the north west coast of Mallorca. The town is 3km inland from the Port de Sóller, in a large valley. We stayed in Sóller (the town) for the night and visited the port during the day, which is connected via a tram (the Orange Express). In hindsight we would have done it the other way - stay in Port de Sóller overnight and visit Sóller during the day. Parking in Soller, a town made up of endless, narrow one way streets, proved to be a hastle.

The center of Sóller has a pleasant square, the Plaça Constitució, which is surrounded by cafés and restaurants. The tram regularly passes through the Plaça on its way back and forth from the main station to the port. It seems that relaxing, sipping wine and watching the tram ramble by is the order of the day in this town.

In the afternoon we took the Orange Express down to the Port de Sóller and strolled along the waterfront. The port basically feels like a giant resort, comprised of many restaurants, bars and shops strung out along the bay. That being said it is quiet and has a peaceful feel, it does not have the same feel as the concrete jungle and heavy tourist areas seen elsewhere on the island.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 349 - Deià

Deià is a coastal village on the northwest side of Mallorca, nestled in the Tramuntana mountains. The village is known for its idyllic landscapes, olive groves and nearby cove. The beauty of the landscape, and the relaxed vibe of the village, has made Deia a popular place that has inspired many writers, poets and musicians over the years.

We only stayed here for a day, but it was certainly one of our trip highlights. Although the town, traditionally dedicated to agriculture and fishing, has increasingly become a tourist destination, it has not lost its simple charms.

Deia has a small accommodation choice. We stayed at the Hostal Miramar, a 19th century farmhouse converted into a guesthouse. The simple yet tranquil pensión style hostal is set in in a lush jungle-like setting, high above Deià. Sitting on the terrace, sipping wine, listening to the sounds of the birds and water, inhaling the smells of fresh flowers, admiring the view of the village below as the sun broke through the clouds, was a moment we'll always treasure.

Deià also has a nice but small selection of bars and restaurants, mostly in the middle of the town. A stroll down the hillside brought us to a funky fusion style sushi restaurant (cannot recall the name). We passed on sushi and went with the chef's suggestions. Best sea bass and home made gnocchi ever.

The next day we drove down to the 'Cala de Deia', the cove where fishermen still go out at dawn to cast their nets, and locals go to swim during the day. We ate at the restaurant Can March (above the rocks left in the picture), where we had another delicious meal of fresh fish caught by the fishermen of the cove.

We quite enjoyed Deià, easily a trip highlight. Any visit to Mallorca would be incomplete without a stay in this lovely village.