A hellishly long journey to Barcelona from San Sebastian (via a few other places in the opposite direction) gave us the opportunity to have some down time to write. It has been a busy last couple of weeks.
We arrived in Prague on a Friday night because we were only in Prague for 2 nights we decided to focus on the street food offering as well as sampling the very traditional Czech food. This was no small task as the more we walked Prague the more we realized the street food was everywhere and exceptionally good. Multiple places had big joints or whole pigs glazed and crackled turning over coals, gourmet hot dogs galore and every sort of sweet treat. Our favourites were the Trdelniks which are a Czech specialty a type of yeasty bread dough cooked by turning over extremely hot coals and dusted in cinnamon and sugar or rolled and filled with ice cream.
The offering didn’t stop at food and we came across multiple trendy street drinks offerings, the favourite was the “South African rooibos iced tea” stand, we almost shed a tear at the familiar taste and thank whichever Czech angel brought it into the country. The traditional cuisine in Prague is very stew/goulash orientated which is not normally the first food of choice in 35-38° weather but we went ahead anyway.
From the traveling experience as a whole we have realized that South Africans love and ‘do’ meat better than anyone else. We have been missing a good pork belly or a rump steak and this was probably evident to the man selling his glazed pork hock. We arrived just as the clouds burst (we seem to have this effect on the European weather). Poor man probably thought we were in Prague with pounds as he told us he only sells 500g portions which was way more than our budget could handle and two very shady as all portions were advertised in 100g portions but we were desperate and agreed. This was a major counting coins as well as a too-lazy-to-walk-to-an-ATM in the rain moment. The look on our faces when we realized we were short obviously conjured up some kindness in him allowing us to pay the difference in South African Rands so that he had a ‘souvenir’ from South Africa. We left out the part about our currency being worth less and less these days (thanks Zuma) and left with our seriously big chunk of glazed pork guarding it from the rain with our lives.
After an extremely uncomfortable 16 hour overnight bus ride from Prague to Paris, thanks to the stubborn teenager in front of me who thought the bus was a business class emirates flight extending her seat to almost flat on my legs, loudly skyping with her mother and playing music out loud at one stage. It felt good that the flight, I mean, bus attendant had a mutual dislike of her, at one stage threatening to kick her out the bus at the next stop and leave her there. At least it provided for some sort of mild entertainment for our long journey. In Paris we were staying in our own apartment so we loved being able to cook for ourselves, at this point we are both itching to get back into the kitchen! So we decided to focus on the pastry side of Paris, which was just pure indulgence for 5 days. When you start adding the Belgian beers and waffles, the ice cream in every city and what we ate in Paris its understandable why we are both growing a ‘boep’.
Before I left Johannesburg I had torn out an article about Paris from the Woolworths TASTE magazine and thrown it in the bottom of my bag, it was a range of recommendations throughout the city. This was pulled out and albeit a bit torn we used it as sort of a food treasure hunt stopping at all the places and putting their recommendations ‘to the test’. We bought something from every store and had a complete feast at the Eiffel tower. Highlights were the passion fruit and chocolate choux a la crèmes (we proceeded to go back and eat these every day while we were there), tomato and basil macaroons and the truffle, onion and Pomerol marmalade (oh.my.gosh) From that moment, we ended up putting this marmalade on everything we ate from scrambled eggs to sandwiches to carrots and tomatoes, cheese- this may seem desperate I realize that now.
We tried to do a romantic bike ride to the Eiffel tower to see the shimmering lights, this evening probably started at about 8 30pm. Darren jumped on the hired bike and was cruising along gracefully. I was huffing and puffing and losing my balance my legs were on fire. I kept telling him there was something wrong with the bike not me and only when we eventually switched bikes so he could prove the bike was fine did we realize I had been riding with a flat back tyre. Not just a little flat, flat almost falling off the bike kind of flat. I was basically trying to unicycle up the Champs-Elysee dragging my back wheel behind. I shudder to think what the hundreds of people we rode past thought. Then it was Darren’s chance to huff and puff through the streets (HAHA) while I rode ahead. We spend the next couple of hours stopping at the bike rental stations which were either empty or the bikes had problems trying to replace the flat bike (see, other countries have problems too). We managed to get to the last shimmering session at 11pm. All in all so much fun, exquisite food and we probably drank too much- what’s new- it didn’t help that the next stop on our list was wine country!
We had our fair share of ups and ‘downs’ (transport and location related) in Bordeaux. Neither of us having been to Bordeaux before we both expected the entire town to be rolling fields of wineries so we thought it doesn’t really matter if we are not staying right in the centre because our walk will be beautiful and scenic. In hindsight we were probably a bit ignorant. Bordeaux happens to be a beautiful, and rather built up town. Our accommodation even though clean and comfortable was way outside, I still do not really know where it was but there was a McDonalds nearby which shamefully was sometimes helpful for mid-journey ‘padkos’. I am not sure if we can say we stayed in Bordeaux? If you had told me I had crossed the French boarder into another country I probably would have believed you.
Onto bigger and better things… the Sunday market in Bordeaux is every food lovers dream, set along the river it’s a heaven of fresh produce (truffles included) giant paellas and fish skewers and that’s just the beginning.
We had an incredible day out in St Emilion tasting wines and exploring the old medieval town. It has a fascinating lay out as it sits on a network of underground ‘caves’ used these days to store wine! Every shop along the old cobblestone streets was either food or wine orientated to another level it was incredible to see- we definitely needed more than one day and have said next time we will go back for at least two weeks (this may differ for different people- it is most likely a result of our obsessive food and alcohol tendencies).
An equal highlight was our day spent in Cap Ferret, a small coastal town near Bordeaux. We found an oyster ‘shack’ on the beach for lunch. We didn’t need much time to ponder over the menu it was small: oysters, sea snails, prawns, white or rose wine. Naturally, we settled on the entire menu. The seafood was fresh and delicious, the oysters were like non other. I have not seen or tasted oysters that are nearly comparable! Served with just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, no Tabasco no black pepper, no nonsense it was pure class! Our ferry came too quickly and we had to say goodbye to the little piece of heaven Cap Ferret.
We probably should have stayed longer because from here started a string of delayed or missed transport issues. To top it all off I (without knowing) insisted on staying for a minute in the train station to get wifi back in Boredaux to check the results of the no confidence vote which led to us also missing the last tram out to our hotel (again- thanks Zuma). We consulted Google maps for a route and in our, mistaken, opinion Google maps gave us the wrong route back- we thought we knew a shorter way. This meant our journey back to our hotel included a lot more walking, running across highways, trying to jump over fences, thorns, stinging nettles and almost tears in the end.
We managed to make (narrowly) our bus to San Sebastian and despite the severe sun burn and leaving booking our train to Barcelona too late putting us in a pickle with no available transport options we are all in one piece, well fed and loving Spain! San Sebastian was an indulgence marathon of Iberico ham that is not only exquisite in taste is also produced in a very interesting way.
These last couple of weeks we have learned so much, but here’s a couple of our favourite food/wine related facts:
- Along the vineyards in St Emilion we noticed there were always roses planted. Why? Apart from the aesthetic appeal the roses play a vital role in vine safety. Because they are from the same family as vines, but much more fragile, if any disease or pest were to attack the area the roses would be affected first. This allows the farmers to take swift action before their yields are lost.
- We’ve always heard about the exceptional quality and taste of Iberico ham, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some in South Africa it can cost an arm and a leg! We always thought it was ham just made in the Iberian region (much like champagne from Champagne). Turns out it has more to do with the breed of pig Iberian pig and the food in which it feeds off. Among other grades, the best quality is black label these pigs are pure bred and are fed acorns! The ham is then cured and can be treated for up to 4 years!
- Oysters take up to 3 years to grow and only 5 seconds to throw down your throat!
That’s it for now- we are working on our self-created transport related issues. This evening we head off to Camp Nou to watch Barcelona and Real Madrid in the final- what a life!