New YouTube Series Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams Episode 1: Spain

Watch Episode One here or skip to sections which interest you marked below.

A lot of us are getting through sheltering at home by meeting online with old friends.  I thank God for technology that bashes through borders during a pandemic. Looking back at how we’ve navigated change in the past can transform how we handle new norms in the present and future. Being grounded for many has been grounding–even if what we know about an invisible enemy seems to shift every hour. In Nashville we’ve been saturated with spring storms and power outages. Worldwide we’re assaulted with staggering statistics of death tolls and unemployment. So I’m wondering…

How are we doing? Reassessing life’s meaning? Seeking a new job or career? A new life? Needing to reinvent ourselves again?

I’d planned to start a podcast this summer but decided to first launch as a YOUTUBE series since we’re home on computers more than commuting to work or traveling. Welcome to this first episode where we’ll travel to Spain and meet my friend, Monica Fernandez Chantada, master of reinvention and growth, who shows us how she and her country are dealing with months of pandemic lockdown, social distancing, and unemployment. Her journey from a Corporate Human Resources position to International Teacher to Camino de Santiago Tour Guide to Life Coach will inspire you as she shares coping tips, travel go-to places, and the beauty of her backyard. She explains how saying “Yes!” changes challenges into adventures and offers to teach you Spanish online.

Moni will walk us through her province of Galicia, Bucket List worthy for its mountains, coast, Celtic ruins, wine, and wonderful people. Through here pilgrims since the 9th century have traveled to the Cathedral in Santiago on the Camino or St. James’ Way–backdrop for the Martin Sheen movie (trailer below). We’ve walked three continents together and I’m still inspired by her journey and spirit. I think you will be, too.

If you’re planning a getaway for when the coast is clear and up for a Camino or stay in Galicia, check out options at Moni’s company, Spanish Steps, and/or stay in her home in Vigo where she’s a Superhost here.

0.00-3.30 “Travel People” Series Intro. “Come Run Away with Me” by Carole Edwards https://www.reverbnation.com/caroleed… Photography https://cindymccain.photoshelter.com/… and courtesy of Monica Fernandez Chantada

4:15 Meet Moni in beautiful Vigo and learn how Spaniards do Lockdown (started March 14)

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6:20 Memories of Madrid: Attention chocolate lovers!

7:05 How Moni and I met in Nashville, Tennessee

9:30 Moni’s US Teaching and Traveling; Alaska, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas

11:00 The Wanderer Returns Home to Vigo

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11:30 How to Reinvent a Life (Again) From Journalism to Working in Corporate Human Resources Job to Teaching Spanish is the US to Camino de Santiago Guide “I always say ‘Yes!’ Every challenge, I take it!”–Moni

13:30 Effect of Pandemic on 2020 Camino Tourism

14:00 Moni’s Call to Another Life, Spanish Financial Crisis, Realizing in India what she really wanted

15:30 Moni’s Mom’s Advice

17:20 Pandemic Effects on Finances and Family

20:00 How Emergency State in Spain differs from US Lockdown

22:30 Dealing with Solitary Confinement after divorce

25:43 Beautiful Vigo–My visit with Moni and Ale on St. John’sEve/Summer Solstice

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26:28 Meeting Moni in Porto, Portugal

27:28 Cies Islands–one of my favorite travel experiences ever

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28:30 Spain Photos from Other Journeys

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29:37 Eating and Socializing in Spain

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32:15 Toledo –Day trip from Madrid

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34:40 Camino options based on distance, routes, fitness, purpose

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40:08 Photos of Coastal Camino through Galicia; Pilgrims; Goals

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45:40 My journeys with Moni: Morocco and Andalusia, Spain

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48:40 Oregon

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49:22 Moni’s Other Travels for Growth ; Backpacking at 37 in India

50:20 Travel Deals Now

52:30 Moni’s Call; Nashville, Kenya, Japan, New Zealand. What’s on her Bucket List now Moni: “I’m rich because I have freedom.”

1:03:00 Healthcare in Spain

1:05:00 What Moni would tell a 20something daughter or her 20something self

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1:06:00 Join Spain’s 8 PM Lockdown Celebration of Solidarity and Spirit

1:09:001:10:00 Closing Contact Moni: mfchantada@yahoo.es or Cindy: cindylmccain1@gmail.com More on Portugal and Spain:

StyleBlueprint Feature on Our Trip to Portugal and Spain

Southern Girl Gone Global Posts on Spain

She Knows Guide to Madrid

 

And for some more Good News, Thank you Feedspot for naming SouthernGirlGoneGlobal.com a Top 30 Baby Boomer Travel Blog or Website to Watch in 2020 !

Global Recipes and Music for Lockdown Comfort Food and Escape

First and foremost, I pray for those fighting the Coronavirus around the world, families grieving loved ones, and all feeling global angst and loss. I pray for protection for those on the front lines, like my daughter and sister in patient care, first responders, and grocery store employees who are caring and kind. I pray for wisdom for researchers seeking a vaccine, leaders around the world, all of us facing something so frightening, evasive, new. 

COVID-19 has stolen income. It has postponed or cancelled lifelong dreams. Instead of graduation and milestone birthday celebrations with families…  honeymoon dinners in piazzas…  spring break escapes overlooking azure seas, we are on lockdown–many in solitary seclusion– practicing  social distancing. We never dreamed going to the grocery (for those of us able) would be our only “getaway” where we hold our breath, swerve to miss other shoppers, and shake our heads at empty shelves.

We need to cook and stay in. Meal planning needs to be strategic so when we brave the store we can get in and get out. But when we can’t find our default foods we’re too overwhelmed with all that is swirling around us to be creative. Sometimes we’re too distracted and tired to even think.

March 2020 proved a 19th century proverb wrong–the one that says if the month comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. Tornados ripped through Nashville March 3 and made global headline news. Since then COVID-19 has ravaged much of the US and the world.

I started the month trying three times to outrun the outbreak. When my travel blogging conference in Sicily was cancelled last minute (thankfully, given the crisis that hit full force a week later),  I considered using my connecting flight to New York City and spending spring break there. When the Coronavirus was reported there, I booked a flight to Florida but canceled within 24 hours because they were being hit, too.  For most of us, there’s nowhere else to run and home is the only place to hide.

But we’re also learning that being grounded can be grounding.

The university classes I teach have gone remote for the rest of the year, and with no more commuting, I have more time and technology to be in touch with those I love.  I’ve traveled via books and movies which I suggested here, and I’ve discovered some new music that sweeps me away.

I’ve remembered teaching English in a small village in Italy one summer and my own childhood where families ate hot lunches together in the middle of the day. I’ve been cooking more and through food, music, and memories returning to some of my favorite places.  It started when I cancelled birthday reservations at an Irish pub and made my first corned beef brisket at home. 

Below are ways to make cooking an adventure, meal planning easier, and eating more fun. I’ve  included links for delivery for those who can’t get out/ feel safer not doing so, such as moms with children in tow.

First, make a space to breathe, a nook for relaxing and enjoying what you cook.

For almost three weeks I’ve gone nowhere except to buy groceries and my birthday present–  plants for my patio — knowing it would become my home office and world.  Spring rains have made everything I see Ireland-green grass and pink blooming trees. As the bulbs push through soil in Italy-blue pots around me, and the natural world comes back to life again, I’m reminded daily to trust God who sees what I can’t… knows what I don’t. 

But this I do know. Neighbors I’d never seen before have come out of their homes. They are walking and playing as families six-feet away. They smile, wave, and nod at Ella (my yellow lab mix) and me. The world–once a blur of motion– has slowed down for many and the value of health, relationships, connection has come sharper into focus. 

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These are some recipes I’ve made during lockdown. I’ve also included cooking playlists–  links from Spotify and Amazon Prime Music members can stream for free. 

Several of these ingredients are used in more than one dish. I shop multiple groceries–especially now when some shelves are bare–but have linked to Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh organic products for health and convenience. Those with Amazon Prime can get groceries delivered free–important to many during self-quarantine but also a reason why they may be out of some of these products periodically and locations/terms of delivery may change. 

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from an Amazon link in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost but helps a bit to keep this blog going.

One more thing…I’m also a big believer in improvisation. While living in Morocco without a car and some ingredients I needed for recipes, I learned to substitute or do without. When I wanted to make clam chowder, one of my go-to comfort foods, I couldn’t find clams. No worries–I used shrimp which were plentiful and inexpensive. Thankfully my grandmother taught me that cooking isn’t an exact science. It’s “a little of this, a little of that.” 

With the right music while cooking… a dance in the kitchen… and a pretty place setting (pun intended), we can exhale calm. We can taste escape… and hope.

Switzerland

Playlist: Music to wake you up and want to dance on Amazon

My first trip to Europe was with my students in the early 90s, a Grand Tour of England, France, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.  Standing on my balcony in the Swiss Alps between snow-capped peaks and Lake Lucerne, I drew in a long breath of cool, clean air to the jingle of cowbells.  I wondered later as I climbed under the crisp, white down duvet if I’d stay warm enough–it was so lightweight!–but I did and have slept under nothing since. I met the group in the regal dining room the next morning where sunlight streamed through large windows spotlighting a sumptuous spread.  We’d been told we’d have only “continental breakfasts” on our tour so not to expect eggs, bacon and biscuits, staples in the southern US. In London we’d had dinner rolls every morning, in Paris croissants served with butter and jam. But in Switzerland at a hotel/hospitality training school, waiters in white served fresh fruit, marmalade, and plates of delicious cheeses and cold meats– sausages, salami, hams. It was the beginning of a love affair I still have with charcuterie served anytime of day. 

Breakfast (Zmorge, Swiss German for “in the morning”)

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Spain

Spanish Guitar and Pablo Segovia Gardel on Amazon Music and Soundtrack of Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Spotify  

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Above: Sangria with lunch here

If you have shifted to a later sleeping/waking schedule, you can imagine you are in Spain. There breakfast starts around 10 AM, lunch at 2 PM, tapas (appetizers) and drinks late afternoon/early evening, and dinner at 10 PM. I love the food culture, climate, people from Vigo to Madrid , across Andalusia and Catalonia … everything about Spain

Tapas and Sangria

Using items above on another night, make a charcuterie board for a light dinner.  Add nuts, like Marcona almonds, olives, hot peppers and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cut brussel sprouts in half and place on a roasting pan.  Sprinkle with minced garlic (3-4 cloves), salt, and paprika, then drizzle with olive oil. Back at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until tender. Pair. with Spanish wine or sangria (recipe below).

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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Italian variation added: prosciutto and cantaloupe

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Sangria in Barcelona

Red Sangria (our family favorite for summer and Christmas, too)

Ingredients

  • Bottle of Red wine (Spanish wine recommended but I’ve used merlot or cabs, too)
  • Orange and Mango Juice
  • 1/4. cup of brandy
  • Dash of club soda
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • And if you like, throw in a few strawberries, blackberries, and a dash of cinnamon, too.

Morocco

Playlist: Morocco, Traditional Music Around the World and Berber Musicians of Morocco on Spotify

In Morocco, I taught at the American School of Marrakesh which had no cafeteria. Students’ hot lunches were delivered by drivers or they packed cold ones as I did. All produce was organic and sold in the grocery markets, hanuts (Moroccan form of minute markets) and on fruit and vegetable carts. Fresh produce  coupled with having no car and walking everywhere made me feel more fit than ever. Lunches were salads and clementines ( peeled and eaten like candy or sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon). Oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and mint for tea (or for expats, mojitos 🙂 were available year-round. 

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Clementines

I no longer make coffee on the stovetop in an expresso maker, but I have still squeezed oranges for fresh juice since living in Marrakesh. I use an older model of this Juiceman (see photo below).

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Acima in Marrakesh

Salads

(Left) Strawberries in season, avocado, and balsamic vinegar

(Right) Sliced Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Cucumbers with Vinegar and Olive Oil. 

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Olives

These guys are ubiquitous in Morocco, found in bowls on restaurant tables beside loaves of bread. At school, the elementary teachers loved the shade of the olive trees at recess but had to keep watch over students tempted to pelt each other with olives. I’ve thought a lot lately about a  Thanksgiving spent at Peacock Pavillions when Maryam Montague decorated the table with olive branches, symbols of simplicity and peace. She spoke about another global crisis–that of refugees and displaced people groups.

Moroccan Tagine

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A tagine is a traditional dish named for the the clay pot in which vegetables, fruits, and meats are cooked on a stovetop or open fire. It is loved for its savory-sweetness in modest homes, restaurants, and palaces  throughout the country. I ate lamb, chicken, and vegetarian tagines with friends from Marrakesh  (where our  favorite waiter at Chez Joel and favorite manager at Riad Mur Akush uncovered the dish with ceremonious flair) to the Sahara desert gathered on the ground family-style in a Berber tent. 

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While living in Marrakesh I made only one tagine because my housekeeper, Sayida, made the dish for me often.  I did enjoy the lesson at the La Maison Arabe Cooking School, and when a former student and friend visited me, they enjoyed learning from the ladies at the Amal Center. Last week I craved comfort, so I made my first tagine unsupervised. Sayida would probably roll her eyes at me with a grin, but I spiced it up and loved it.

Maison Arabe Cooking School

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Tagine at the Amal Center

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Sayida always made me enough couscous and tagine to last me a week.

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Sayida and I had already said goodbye when I heard the doorbell ring. She surprised me with a parting gift and a mischievous smile–the same grin I’d get for making a crockpot tagine.

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My first unsupervised Moroccan tagine

Ingredients:

*Optional: 

  • Add lamb, beef or chicken. I used 2 chicken breasts, skin removed cut into square pieces
  • Serve over Couscous –made on stovetop or in microwave

Spray or rub lightly the inside of the crockpot with olive oil. Layer vegetables in the bottom of the crockpot. Place meat (optional) and prunes on top. Mix seasonings with garlic, tomato paste, and broth, then pour over all. 

The best couscous I’ve ever had was at Riad Hikaya. Making it like they do is on my Cooking Bucket List.

Italy 

Playlist: French and Italian Cooking Music (one of my favorites of all time) on Sptofiy

Tuscany

The first recipe below I learned in a cooking class with Chef Paulette who just published The Easy Italian Cookbook: 100 Quick and Authentic Recipes. I’ve been a fan of hers and of Italy for decades. Sicily would have been my ninth trip. When lockdown is lifted, if you are anywhere near Nashville, take one of her classes.

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Anchovy Butter (with slight variations–I used gluten-free pasta, added shrimp and red pepper flakes, and halved original recipe.)

Boil the pasta. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in hot, melted butter and oil in a saute pan.  Cook for 2 minutes and add 2 Tablespoons of pasta water. Add tomatoes and cook until they pop. Drain pasta and mix with other ingredients in a saute pan. Add shrimp and red pepper flakes (if desired) and parsley until all is heated through. 

*For another easy, super-fast pasta dish, mix a jar of pesto and 8 ounces of pasta. Eat hot or cold.

Tuscan White Bean Soup (for those last rainy spring days)

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1/2 onion minced 
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots diced
  • 5 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans white or cannellini beans
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • Pepper to taste (or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you want more heat)
  • Improv: add a cup of chopped baby spinach, 4 ounces of diced pancetta or bacon , splash of white wine

Heat 1 T olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion until soft for about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery, then garlic. Add a splash of wine if desired. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, and stock. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender (about 10- 15 minutes). 

France 

French Playlists by Charles AznavourJacqueline Taieb, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf,  stream free on Amazon Prime

Coq au Riesling

Coq au Riesling has been a “Cooking for Company” dish since 2013 when I posted about it.  It was created by Nigel Slater –check out other delicious dishes on his website (and yes, he is English, not French)–and was reprinted on the Simply Delicious blog . I’ve changed measurements below to US equivalents, and rather than use parsley, I use rosemary and thyme. I’ve often used Sauvignon Blanc rather than Riesling because I’m more likely to have it on hand.

  • 2 ounces butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 4 bacon/pancetta sliced into thin strips (I dice.)
  • 4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 8 chicken pieces on the bone (thighs or drumsticks)
  • 8 ounces portabella mushrooms sliced
  • 500 ml (⅔ of bottle) Riesling or dry white wine of your choice
  • 8 ounces cream (heavy or half and half)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • handful chopped parsley (I use rosemary and thyme instead.)
  1. Melt the butter and oil together in a large pan.
  2. Brown the chicken pieces all over and remove from the pan.
  3. Add the onions and bacon and allow to fry until the onions are soft and translucent and the bacon has rendered its fat.
  4. Add the garlic and allow to saute for another 30 seconds before removing the mixture from the pan (leaving the fat behind).
  5. Add the mushrooms and allow to fry for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the onion and bacon mixture along with the browned chicken back to the pan.
  7. Pour in the wine and allow to come up to a boil. Turn down the heat and cover. Allow to simmer for 15-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  8. After 15 minutes, uncover, turn up the heat and add the cream. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
  9. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste.
  10. Serve with rice, pasta or crusty bread.

If the only recipe or ritual you take from this post is to peel an orange and let its juicy goodness run down your wrist while sitting  in a spot of sunlight… mission accomplished. From Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who inspired me to make the leap and live abroad… a word on the art of cooking and eating from her Eat, Pray, Love

There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich…

I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I’d picked up yesterday from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert—a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.

And as Easter, time of rebirth, nears, my prayer for us all is…

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!–Romans 15:13

Vineyards in Montepulciano waiting with Italy and the world for spring to finally come

Madrid Food and History Tour a Must-Do

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Madrid is a proud city—from colossal buildings of monumental magnificence to curious culinary corners where locals gather. While living in The Dominican Republic, I quickly noticed the neighborhood’s most precious food imports were from Spain, sangria was sipped in cafes daily, and the local families I knew traveled to the Mothership often—a rite of passage of a hallowed heritage. 

Though I’ve enjoyed eating in Madrid on previous solo trips, this time I went with the pros—Devour Madrid —and am so glad I did. As promised, on the Tapas, Taverns, & History Tour I learned more about the capital’s history, ate my weight in four family-run- century-old tapas bars, and walked and talked it off with an amazing guide, Eduardo Munoz, and some very nice people. 

At 6:30 we met at Plaza de la Villa– Medieval landmark/former seat of Madrid’s city government and site of The Casa de Cisneros, built in 1537 by the nephew of Cardinal Cisneros, advisor to Queen Isabel. By the time we parted four hours later, I’d met new friends—a couple from Arizona, another from outside London, a mom and son from North Carolina, and a woman from Washington, DC who also enjoys solo travel.  

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At our first stop, we enjoyed jamón ibérico de bellota and cured meats from several Spanish regions.  As a southern girl who lived two years in Morocco with almost no pork available,  I was in “country ham” heaven. We also enjoyed cava (similar to France’s Champagne) and award-winning organic olive oils.

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We each had to try drinking wine the traditional way. The no-spill secret was to pour into the mouth without hesitation, then extend the arm fully to allow a steady stream.

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On we walked to the Royal Palace (above) and Plaza Mayor (below).

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In the Plaza de Oriente is a statue of D.Pelayo Rei D Astu, leader of the Christian kingdom called Asturias. He is credited for starting the Reconquista which saved the Iberian peninsula from the Moors.

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The sign of a good tavern–literally–is daily specials on the chalkboard rather than laminated posted photos of food.

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Here we enjoyed Tosca Cerrada Palomino Fino en Rama 2016 made from grapes of Cadiz region of Spain stored in barrels which give it the flavor of sherry. Different and delicious.

 

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No food tour would be complete without giving The Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, its due. On another trip to Madrid I made an evening here (more on that later).

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We also passed this popular Irish pub in Madrid.

Next stop was Meson del Champinon, a local institution where the stuffed mushrooms and pimentos (grilled peppers) are legendary. The sangria was excellent as well.

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Our final stop, a boutique hotel and bar in a building dating to the 14th century, was my favorite part of the evening. Eduardo said here we’d relax and talk over more food and wine. He added:

“Wine is like people. You have to give it time to express. It is about feelings. The older the wine the longer it takes to know it. It is more complex.”  He added we get to know each other over good wine. Certainly over our four hours together we enjoyed cultural and personal exchange.

We discussed the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The Londoners said the princes marrying brides they met at university makes the monarchy more accessible. With big smiles and protective pride they added: “They lost their mother and the country loves them. It’s exciting!” We also revised our Bucket Lists based on suggestions of members of the group. I asked them about Sark, an island in the southwestern English Channel off the coast of Normandy which is reached by ferry and traveled by horse-drawn carriages because cars are not allowed. A friend says we should visit. They said they have been there and often travel to nearby Guernsey. By night’s end we discussed pros, cons, and principles on topics as varied as Uber vs Taxi, Hotel vs AirBnB and grocery dairy vs milkman delivery.

I was first drawn to Europe years ago by not only what was served on the table but by what transpires at table. Lingering over food, wine, and thoughtful perspectives makes my heart as full as my stomach. As we all parted, Eduardo gave us a curated city guide to navigate the rest of our stay, and when I return to the “real world” and face hard challenges or circumstances, I’ll remember his words: “Poor soil makes the best wine. The roots have to go deeper which makes it richer.”

 

Thanks to Devour Madrid for the tour. As always the opinions here are my own.

Additional Gallery of Northern Portugal and Spain: Camino/Travel Inspiration

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If you missed my article above which explains the gallery below, please read it HERE.

In seven days this Southern Girl Gone Global Goes Home.  After living in Morocco and The Dominican Republic for the last three years, I’m excited to return to Nashville–a city I love–where StyleBlueprint is bringing women together locally and globally.  Recently I described in the article above my adventure in Gorgeous Galicia with old friends, Moni and Ale, who I met in Music City years ago.  Today they teach English, host an Airbnb, and are El Camino de Santiago guides.  Below are additional photos of our time together in Portugal and Spain.

If you are interested in seeing this area for yourself, meeting new people, and doing the Camino with us in 2018, email me at cindylmccain1@gmail.com for more details.

Porto, Portugal

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View from our Airbnb in Portugal

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My girl, Moni, beach-loving soul sister, loved showing me around Portugal and her home, Galicia.

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After a hike down the beach and a long wait for lunch, it finally came.

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Served on my china pattern no less…seafood worth the wait.

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Galicia, Spain

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I so loved meeting Monica’s sweet sister, Loli, who treated us to amazing fresh seafood in La Guarda including my favourite dish, Octopus.

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The Pinta

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Moni’s hometown, Vigo

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Monument of Spanish Civil War which I taught this year in the DR as we read Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls

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(Below) Not to be missed next week, St. John’s Eve–story here. 

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Loved meeting Moni’s friends, sisters Ana (left) and Susana

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LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Camping and hiking the Cies Islands.  Until next time…

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Spanish Steps Offers Camino Tours and Beyond

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Photo by SpanishSteps.com

When in doubt, just take the next small step.

–Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

Whether wanting to explore Spain (and other countries’ roads that lead there), pursue a personal dream, ponder in peace, practice wellness through hiking or yoga, learn language, hear stories from travelers around the world, Spanish Steps leads the way in offering options.  I fell in love with Spain last year, and experiencing that gorgeous country with Spanish Steps is now high on my Bucket List.

After hiking with Mònica Fernàndez, a talented Spanish and English teacher, through her native region of Galicia, in Southern Spain, and in the Sahara, I am excited to learn she will co-lead tours below with other dedicated members of Owner Judy Colaneri’s  Spanish Steps staff including co-guiding with her husband, Alessandro Martinez,  October 12-19.

All Camino tour dates in Spain, France, and Italy can be found here. Tours fill up fast so if interested take the step that leads to more here.

May 12-19, September 4-11, October 12-19 Camino 100

May 29-June 5 Camino Portuguese

June 6-12 Camino Finisterre 

June 25-July 2 Walk & Talk at Fuentes de Lucía

 

 

 

 

 

Girona Gem for Solo Travel, Romantic Getaway, or Group Retreat

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View from Balcony of Hotel Santa Marta, Lloret de Mar

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused. —Rainer Maria Rilke

When drowned by stress, I go to one of my Happy Places which is often the ocean. 

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In my 2015 travels one of my happiest solo travel stays was at Hotel Santa Marta  –a beauty break amidst botanical gardens winding down, down, down to the shore. Sheer. Bliss.

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The near 15-acre (6-hectare) estate is located on its own private bay, Santa Cristina, and was chosen for the opening night party of this year’s European Travel Bloggers Exchange. I had already booked a stay there for a restful retreat after the networking/workshops of the conference ended, but by the time the ship reached sand I was in love with a wonderland lit by sunset.

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Costa Brava

The Spanish Mediterranean coast is as beautiful as beaches in Southern Italy and France.  I was there in spring when, like late fall/winter low season, a single sea view room can be as low as 115 Euro per night. I love boutique hotels for their privacy, but plan ahead because this paradise stays booked, particularly by Europeans who vacation along Costa Brava in high season.

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.— Kate Chopin

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The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea. –Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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I loved swimming in the pool and sea, writing on the balcony,  and sleeping to the sound of waves in the ultimate room with a view.  It’s the perfect solo, group, or romantic retreat in Lloret de Mar.

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I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.-Anna Quindlen

For more on the beauty of Girona and the Costa Brava Coast, see my 5-Part Series (links below) and go here for more information.

Discovering Costa Brava: Spain’s Medieval Coast, Part I

Discovering Costa Brava’s Medes Islands, Part II

Discovering Costa Brava’s Bounty, Part III

Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages, Part IV

Discovering Costa Brava, Part V

St. John’s Eve in Vigo: Midsummer Night’s Dream

He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.–Isaiah 61:3

Trust your heart if the seas catch fire; live by love though the stars walk backward.—E. E. Cummings

Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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When I met my friend, Monica, in Nashville many years ago, she invited me to her hometown, Vigo, Spain. She visited me last fall in Morocco, and I met Alessandro and her in Tarifa in March, but I saved my visit to their city for this week. I wanted to be here on June 23 for La Noche de San Juan (St. John’s Eve). This year it finally happened. As we picnicked in the sand before bonfires blazing, flames dancing to the tide’s tempo, I joined a celebration observed throughout Spain and in much of Europe and Latin America– a night to remember and release what we need to forget.

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St. John’s Eve and Day June 24 commemorates the birth of John the Baptist, born six months before Jesus that first Christmas. John said he baptized Christ with water but his cousin would baptize believers with fire and the Holy Spirit. The event of water and fire coincides with Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which begins my favorite season—summer—a time of freedom. In Italy celebration for Saint John, patron saint of Genoa, Florence and Turin, lasts from July 21-24. Likewise, last Saturday when Monica and I met in Porto, Portugal, the city was starting what some say is the world’s biggest celebration with live music echoing through the hills surrounding the Douro River.

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Moni, Ale, and Vesa, a UK student studying/living with them in Vigo

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Staring into the flames and glowing embers that warmed us, I thought of fire as a symbol of passion and a means of purification. I thought of the healing powers of the sea’s salt and was warmed by old friendships and the night’s invitation to new beginnings. By tradition some jump over bonfires for good luck or swim in the ocean after midnight for cleansing, renewal, and energy. Students burn school notebooks to celebrate the end of the school year.   Participants of all ages write on a slip of paper what they want to purge from their lives—something holding them back or pulling them down– and throw it on the fire. I watched as the flames turned the napkin I’d written on into black, curling crepe paper, then devoured it completely. I thought of God’s promise in Isaiah 61:3 to make beauty from ashes. He has, and He will.

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Discovering Costa Brava: Part V

The best thing for being sad…is to learn something…That’s the only thing that never fails… That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting…Learn why the world wags and what wags it…Look what a lot of things there are to learn.― Merlyn to Arthur, T. H. White, The Once and Future King 

Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will; it is always interesting.— Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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A secret buried beneath the floor, a scene from Ghost (though first it felt more Lucille Ball than Demi Moore),dungeons and dragons, and a magical meal.  I expected beauty and adventure from Costa Brava but was surprised by Catalonia’s hidden treasures, creativity and community.

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When exactly St. John of Bellcaire (Sant Joan) was built is a mystery given the Roman exterior but nave’s architecture which dates earlier.  For the whole story on churches and history in the area, free lance expert Nik Duserm (below) is the guide to get.

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Beneath its floor lies the remains of a Roman temple built before Christian missionaries came to Spain. We were invited to explore the ancient base in the earth’s belly.

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The parking lot outside was built on a former cemetery.  Though the remains were supposed to have been moved, it is thought that human bones are mixed in the gravel.

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Around the corner and up the hill is the 13th century Bellcaire Castle. Within are government offices and the Parish Church.

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Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.--Sarah Ban Breathnach

War, famine, and floods once plagued the area, but proud of their survival, locals now share stories of their ancestors’ tenacity.

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Above, behind the houses of Bellcaire under fog is the Montgri castle (below). Feudal lords from both castles kept an eye on the sea and each other for attacks.

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A cannonball hole patched in the Bellcaire Castle.

At La Bisbal, capital of Emporda, Girona bishops lived and ruled. Touring the castle of a Medieval Square, tourists learn history and see education in action–children’s artwork displayed.

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During the Spanish Civil War, the castle was a prison. Above is the dungeon.  A region known for wine, below is where wine was made within the castle.

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Where I create, there I am true.Rainer Maria Rilke

At the School of Ceramics of La Bisbal we were shown how to take a spin on a potter’s wheel.

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A man practices the art of adventure when he breaks the chain of routine and renews his life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies and adopting new viewpoints. — Wilfred Peterson

Our amazing trip culminated with our last night together at Mas Masaller, a 13th century farmhouse owned by Joan and Marta, veterans in the restaurant industry. They offer half-board (European for breakfast, bed, and dinner) and picnic lunches on order. A decade ago I fell in love with agriturismos in Italy and escaped yearly, my first solo travel experiences, to a B and B called The Edgeworth Inn  in Monteagle, Tennessee.  The iron bed and quilts reminded me of their and my home.  Being at Mas Masaller with a group was fun; we watched soccer in the living room, then laughed around the huge table at dinner.

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After a delicious salad, Cocina de la Tierra, greens picked from the garden that day and cooked with sausage (what we call “country sausage” in Kentucky and Tennessee), was served. Seasoned and smoky, it was the best vegetable dish I’ve had since moving abroad last August.

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It was so good we assumed it was the main course. When Marta (below) brought out a huge kettle of chicken and we told her, she said of her husband, Chef Joan, “Not in this house! We have to  have plenty of food.”

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Joan also showed us how to drink the local wine properly.

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So Nick tried.

And then there were four…desserts.  A fitting end to a sweet trip!

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The closest airports to Costa Brava are Girona (GRO) or, farther south, Barcelona (BCN).  

If you missed Parts I-IV of this series, check them out for more details on what Girona has to offer at links below:

Part 1: Discovering Costa Brava: Spain’s Medieval Coast

Part 2: Discovering Costa Brava’s Medes Islands

Part 3: Discovering Costa Brava’s Bounty


Part 4: Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages

Thank you to Catalunya, Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona, and El Consell Comarcal del Baix Empordà for an amazing stay and introduction to all Costa Brava offers!  Note to readers: the opinions on this 5-Part series are all my own.  I recommend only travel experiences, destinations, services, accommodations, and restaurants I personally enjoy and would love to revisit.

Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages: Part IV

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”—St. Augustine

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Photo by Alba Plana of www.costabrava.org

No history text or virtual tour can compare to cycling through Medieval hill towns in a land where BC structures and prehistoric cave paintings remain. Nor can a classroom feel like wind tangling my hair, smell like lavender abuzz with bees,  or taste like fresh bread in an olive grove. Such was my escape to Emporda, Spain.

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Each time I leave the classroom to travel–to breathe history, literature, life–I return a better teacher.

I”ll never forget finally touching the wall William the Conqueror built in 1066, commencing the Medieval age of castles, chivalry, and courtly love.  Homer and Sophocles were beside me when I climbed a hill in Athens to the Parthenon and roamed the Coliseum in Rome. As a teen I’d studied about partygod Bacchus and Christian Paul.  But blushing at pornographic paintings in Pompeii VS standing in an amphitheater in Ephesus where the latter preached faith over religion made what I know to be true feel even more real.

Last month while in Catalonian countryside, I saw a wall older than all but one of the ancient edifices I’ve experienced. Built only one century after Delphi’s Temple of Apollo, Ullastret was the first Iberian establishment raised in 6th century BC in Girona.

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In the following centuries, as Romans, Visogoths, and Muslims invaded,  more walls, castles and towers would be raised for protection from attack.

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Sentries watched for pirates, but even when the coast was clear, in the wetlands below marshes bred malaria which claimed lives.  Today, Costa Brava still isn’t tame though locals no longer fight to survive.  It is a place of adventure and natural beauty. Here one can thrive and feel alive.

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Rather than a trusty steed, I powered through stone villages and past poppy fields on a  burricleta, an electric bicycle named for its burro-like benefit of providing horsepower to handle high altitudes.

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We began our journey (see our route here) in Gualta.

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First stop was a famous bridge, rutted from wagon wheels.

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We pedaled our way through Fontclara, Sant Feliu de Boada, Peratallada, and other towns. Five hours later we parked for lunch in Pals.

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Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages

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The plowed fields reminded me of Kentucky farms where I grew up.

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The town well

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Chef Jordi, of Hotel Mas Lazul met us in the grove after rising early to bake loaves for the tasting and for us to tote home. The master baker formerly worked alongside Santi Santamaria, chef of 3-star Michelin restaurant, Can Fabes.  We sampled six types. My favorite was the dessert bread with pumpkin and raisin. He said children are given bread with wine and sugar as a treat.  Each recipe takes 24 hours counting the rest and rise times. While he taught, our hosts made fresh aioli. The bread and spread…delicious.

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Riding buddies, Heidi and Patti, above, Rachel and Betsy below.

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Lunch time in Pals

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Discovering Costa Brava’s Bounty: Part III

Catalan dance in Barcelona
Catalan dance in Barcelona

Catalan cuisine is something to celebrate.  Below are two must-eat restaurants of Costa Brava.

Marc Genes of Visit Emporda  and  Alba Plana of Costa Brava Tourist Board  introduced my group of travel bloggers to locals excited to share their tables brimming with goodness.  Outside the Museu de la Mediterrania we sampled raw and cured sausages prepared as they were in the 14th century; brunyols, fried, sugared dough similar to beignets; local apples, bread, tomatoes, and wine.

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Our one day in L’Estartit meant sink or swim to manage two big events– snorkeling the Medes Islands and a meal.  Why we all didn’t sink after lunch at  La Gaviota is a mystery.  Located beachfront, it was my favorite restaurant of the eight delicious days I spent feasting on Costa Brava.  From Lloret de Mar through the Baix Empordà region, nature’s bounty of foods locally grown and freshly caught made tasting experiences simply exquisite.

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Restaurant La Gaviota in L'Estartit
Restaurant La Gaviota in L’Estartit

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Deciding from all the choices was difficult.
Deciding from all the choices was difficult.

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Seafood lovers, this Poulpe a la galicienne (Octopus Galician style) is the best dish I’ve ever had. It could have easily been my meal rather than the starter.

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Main course, Hake donostiarra style

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Ratafia ice cream…Ratafia is a liqueur of lemons, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, mint, rosemary, and anise.

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Whiskey frozen cake (Tarte galcee au whisky)–as a Kentucky/Tennessee girl I couldn’t resist.

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This wine (below) was wonderful.

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Even the water was stylish.

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Thanks to the staff and our gracious host. owner Lluis Pigem.

South of L’Estartit was the most beautiful restaurant of the tour, a once-casino and terrace under a magnolia tree that reminded me of home.  The presentation of starters; their signature dish, Pals rice casserole; and the best macaroon dessert I’ve ever had relaxed us so much after a bike ride we needed a double expresso to continue our journey.
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Nice wine , fun friends
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Classy food, classic place

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We wondered if this was the casino’s safe in bygone days

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Scallops with cream of leek and truffle oil

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Foie grass with figs and mango jam

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Rice casserole made with local rice and seafood

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A fine finish…hazelenut and raspberry praline macaroon with Ferrero Rocher ice cream