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Trip Logs


posted Jan 4, 2011, 10:18 AM by Quoc-Anh Vuong   [ updated Jan 4, 2011, 1:10 PM ]

The popular paella here is sea-food paella, almost all paella restaurants have this on the menu. Only few has different choices, like ... all meats paella, which I like better. However, I am more interested in the special paella pan, and that little wooden pan-stand.

Talking about Spain foods, here are few observations
  • Spanish is crazy about olive, I think as much as Italian, in the restaurant, first thing they bring out is a plate full of green olives. Olive oil is on every table. Driving around Palma, you can find olive groves, one after another. In the market you can find the whole isle, dedicate to olive oils, hundreds of different brands and styles.

  • Churros and hot chocolate. This is common here. Very tasty, especially when it's cold outside. The hot chocolate is much thicker. To eat with proper style, you dip the churro into the hot chocolate.

  • Tapas here have less sauce. With all the different tapas we ordered, I found only one which has enough sauce for the bread to dip in. This is different than what I came to expect after eating at Seville restaurant, which chi. Lan took us about a month ago.
  • Mallorca Soup. Do not expect it as a soup! It's cabbage + pork and bread slices, which the bread slices soaked up all the soup.
  • Ahhh.... here comes my favorite: Asados de Lechona: roasted suckling pig! Yep, just like good'ol Chinese roasted pig, with crispy skin and tender meat, without the red food color on the skin.
  • Snails. This is the type we had in VN, but the cooking is much more finest. The snails are cooked in white wine, with green and red peppers with spice. Very yummy.

  • Choritzo. Spicy sausage. A bit tough for my taste, but the spice is unique. Very good with bread.
  • Ensaimada. Sweet bread, rolled & baked. Very tasty, with thin, flaky layer inside. Some with cheese or custard inside. We bought a gigantic one in Mallorca, brought along to eat on the airplane.
  • Jamón. Cured ham, thinly sliced to eat with bread. Particularly Jamón Ibérico, which is made from the local Ibérico pigs, only in Spain.
  • La Tortilla Española. Also called Spanish Omelet, Tortilla de Patata, or Potato Omelet. White potato thinly sliced, and cooked with eggs. Bảo's favorite.
  • Calamari Fritos. Fried calamari (what else?). This is on the Tapas list. Simple, but if done right, the squid is tender, not tough. We found couple restaurants in Spain had done right, and it's our all time favorite appetizer; especially Thuỵ
  • Wine. In Mallorca, at one dinner I tried a bottle of red wine, and like it a lot. On another night, I tried a rosa (rosé) bottle, and could not even finish. So, I think I will stick with French and California wine.

La Seu Cathedral

posted Dec 26, 2010, 3:08 PM by Quoc-Anh Vuong   [ updated Jan 5, 2011, 9:30 AM ]

Since all the restaurants, markets, and stores were closed on the 25th so we drove back to the place we stay, just before closing to buy few things for our simple dinner. At night, we regrouped and planned for the next day: visit La Seu Cathedral and have a good Spanish meal.

With all the driving, hiking and walking of the previous day, we had a good sleep and did not wake up until almost 10am the next day. After quick and simple breakfast, we headed directly to La Seu, the main and biggest cathedral in the island. It's situated on the port, south of the island, facing the Mediterranean sea as if to show off its magnificent structure to the incoming vessels. Surrounding the cathedral are high walls, with openings for canons or weapons to guard off the invaders. The Cathedral was finished building in 1600s, on the same site of the Arab mosque. We parked the car in the port's parking lot, free for Sunday (hooray!), and walked toward the cathedral.
There is a huge unusual shape sundial right at the end of the parking lot. Across the port is the La Seu Cathedral, or the proper name is Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma.

Through the smaller door made in the big entrant door, we went inside. The inside opens up and it is beautiful! With massive round stain-glass windows, one at each end of the main hall, the sun lit up the interior. The vaulted ceiling soaring high at least hundred feet. Large golden organ pipes on both sides of the hall. Huge supporting stone columns, each is about 36ft in diameter. I was snapping up pictures and did not notice the attendant was chasing after me, asking me to leave because the church service about to begin. We left the Cathedral, wandered inside the maze of old town, tried to find a coffee shop to try the Churro, but instead we found more little squares, old olive tree, and more small alleys. Headed back to the church, but it was closed and said to be open around 6pm. At that time, we all hungry so we drove to the restaurant, which we had picked out from the internet. The Restaurant is only few miles away, but long line of cars; they must have used the same guide book or read the recommendations from the same website. We split off from the long waiting line and found a parking spot on a small street about couple hundred yards away. By the time we got there, it was around 4pm, and we did not leave until 6pm.
The suckling roast pig is very good! We also ordered a bottle of Catalan red wine, which turned out to be quite good.

After dinner, we headed back to the Cathedral to take more pictures of the lighting and the surrounding at night. The light at night makes the whole Cathedral more dominant, massive white structure facing out the ocean.

We left the Cathedral and headed home, and started to feel the pressure, because there are still so many places to see, and we now already on the third day.

Cap De Formentor

posted Dec 26, 2010, 1:06 AM by Quoc-Anh Vuong   [ updated Jan 4, 2011, 9:44 AM ]

After long day of traveling, we all went to bed early, not wasting any time to enjoy the Egyptian 800-thread sheets and the luxurious goose down comforter. BWT, here is the place we stayed, and we can rent it at reduced rate if anyone interested; without the reduced rate, I don't think we could afford to stay there. Sitting up in bed, I surfed the net to plan out for us, places to go for the next day. I came across a website which recommend a "must see" vista place called Cap de Formentor. It's located at the northern tip of the island, and according to the previous tourists, who had been there, the driving part is most treacherous. The joke about the Cap de Formentor taxi driver can get to heaven instead of the priest was mentioned, due to the narrow, winding roads, the taxi driver can get more people to pray than the priest. For backup, I located the Cap de Formentor on the car rental map, just in case the GPS could not find the spot; and planed the route to get there.

The rooster crowing at 4am woke me up, the sun had yet to come out and I did not want to leave the comfort bed, so I coaxed myself back to sleep without much difficulty. Around 6am, again the ... damn roosters! But this time I got out of bed. From our bedroom, I looked out through the double French door to the backyard, which has a small brick-built grill and two white lounge chaises; green golf course in the distance, and all mixed in with a light morning mist. I started making the coffee, and went up to the second floor patio to take few pictures. Life was wonderful. On the Christmas day, we all woke up quite early, around 7am. Had a nice breakfast of Jamón Iberia, eggs, and sausages. The crusty breads are very tasty, like the French baguette but a bit wider. We poured olive oil on a plate, sprinkle with sea salt and bit of pepper, using it to dip breads. I convinced the family to venture to the Cap de Formentor, and ... did not say much about the some people had to turn back or threw-up on the way to that place. Besides, it was the 25th, not many cars on the road, so we could take our time negotiating the hair raising turns and bends.

Driving at 120km/hr, it took only around 40minutes on the highway to get to base of the mountain, we then embarked on the narrow winding road. The drive was indeed treacherous, but the traffic was very light, pretty much empty, so we took it easy, using 1st or 2nd gear for every turn. The light traffic also gave us opportunity to stop at almost every turn out or vista point. We saw mountain rams and goats, the view of the cape town below, and also the magnificent cliffs and ocean waves crashing into the foot of the rocks 400ft below. The winding road took us to the light house on top. The lighthouse is also a cafeteria, but unfortunately it closed on the 25th; so we can only admire the panoramic view. We saw two cats, bathing under the sun, Bảo & Thuỵ really enjoyed petting the cats. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be, for a cold and windy day like that day, if we could sit in the cafeteria sipping coffee or hot chocolate and taking in the magnificent view.

Left the lighthouse, we drove down mountain, and backed into town. We noticed many bicyclists along the way. Our next destination is the Cathedral. We've read about the pickpocket and Gypsy issues in Palma and Barcelona, so we took precaution; having our wallet in the front, inside zipped pocket of the jacket. We also strategically arranged our walks, so that I have Bảo and Thuỵ watching my back and I would watch Hương's back. Oh yeah, we prepared! :) We also played out the scenarios at home, practiced of detecting pick pocket, and for each to find the safe spot to keep our valuables. Besides, both Bảo and Thuỵ had several years practicing Kungfu, so ... we feel pretty confident walking in the old town streets, even empty narrow alleys. It turned out, we did not meet or noticed any Gypsy; well, we saw one in Barcelona, she tried to give us a red carnation flower; but after two times of saying "no, no quiero", she just walked off.

Palma Catheral does not have that scary look, bony spikes, like the famous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. However, it still has the Gothic style architecture, with arches and bridges to the bell tower; and also gigantic doors. It's so funny that ... since the doors are so huge, not practical to open and shut often, thus smaller doors are made in the big doors for daily use. The Cathedral is so big and tall, so it's easy to use as a reference point when you wandering in the old-town. If you get lost, just look up and find the Cathedral bell tower and navigate yourself out of the old-town maze. The Cathedral was closed, strange! It was the 25th, for ... Pete's sake; so we headed off to the next point of interest, which is the Arab Bath house. Another thing about walking in the old-town of Palma you don't have to worry about getting lost, signs are at most corners, showing directions to the nearby tourist places.

Winding through the Medieval quarter of cobble stone narrow alleys, I was more fascinated by different shapes and sizes of doors. None of them is alike, each is unique. Common point is that they are all very well made, solid wood, stained. Some are carved, and adorned with elaborated irons. I took pictures of them, and thinking of making a photo series about doors around the world. Finally, we arrived at the Arabic Bath house. It was built in the ten century and survive only by chance. It has a nice court yard in the center, surrounded with Mediterranean plants and flora. Seats are available under the shade of trees, must be to relax in the summer heat. The bath house is on the West side of the courtyard. This is a two level steam bath house, main steam room has a dome shape ceiling, it has round openings on top, perhaps to provide lights into the room. In the center is the water pool with surrounding ledges; twelve small columns supporting the dome ceiling. To see such amazing structure and technology in the tenth century is quite a feeling.

On the way back, we made it to the hotel's convenient store, just enough time to pick up few items to make dinner, we then went to bed early. We had a good sleep that night, did not wake up until around 9am on the next day, Sunday.

The Arrival

posted Dec 24, 2010, 10:49 PM by Quoc-Anh Vuong   [ updated Jan 3, 2011, 11:51 AM ]

Since we have been very busy all the way up to the leaving day, we did not have time to plan much for this trip, so we set out the whole Thursday morning to pack and finalize all details: like running to the library to check out few Spain travel books, copy Huân's movies to portable hard drive for him to watch during the down time, and deciding on whether to bring the camping backpack or the pulling carry-on luggage. BTW, Rick Steves does not have a travel guide book for La Palma, Spain; what gives? Since the international flight allows us to have one check-in luggage, so beside each has a small (school size) backpack I and Hương, each has camping backpack, the rest each has pulling carry-on luggage. Since in this vacation, we will rent a car in La Palma, so we decided to buy the Europe map for our GPS, and bring that little Tomtom along. The whole morning was barely enough, by 2:30pm, we rushed out to the airport and made it to the gate.

The flight leg from DC to Madrid is around 8hr long, but was not bad at all. We each has our own screen and a large set of selections to occupy our time: TV shows, Movies, Music video, games or even just doze off with music from classical to heavy metal. For me, I watch 3 movies: Takers, Salt, and Sorcerer's Apprentice. By the time I finished the last movie, the pilot announced that we were only 15 min from Madrid, and the time was around 7am on the 24th of December, 2010. We left DC in the afternoon of 23rd, we lost a whole evening/night, and I did not sleep at all. The adrenaline from the excitement helped fight off the tiresome. This is our first trip to Spain, and I don't know much about Spain, or about the Spanish. Hương got a small pocket-size English-Spanish dictionary for us to use during the trip. Bảo went online the night before to learn few phrases ... I quickly learn this one for myselt: Quiero ir al baño!

The air plane landed in Madrid around 7am, the immigration custom was very brief, we basically breeze through the custom officer and boarded a shuttle to take us to the terminal. There we boarded another flight to Barcelona. We had around an hour to burn, so we checked out the food: I had an espresso to fight off the sleep, we saw a crusty bread (baguette) with cured meat inside, so we bought one, Bảo had a donuts. Yep, a chocolate covered donuts just like home, all the way from Madrid. The crusty bread with cured meat was pretty good, we divided up, and within few minutes, all gone! We waited about 30minutes and we on the plane to Barcelona. All of us took advantage of the flight to catch some Zzzz, but Huan for some reasons did not fall asleep; he spent his time looking out the airplane window.

Barcelona airport is big! I mean, it's pretty big, bigger than SFO, Chicago, and LAX ... well about the size of one in South Korea, Incheon. We had about 2hrs to wait, so ... again, we turned to food. We had a good experience with the crusty bread, so we tried again but changed the meat inside: we picked the cured spicy sausage (Chorizo). Again, it was a success. Bảo had hamburger, and Thuỵ had a crusty bread with cheese and ham. Huân stuck with fries, yogurt, and bread. Hương had a salad. After the meal, we found comfortable set of seats to wait for our flight, while Hương checked out the nearby stores.

We board the plane to Mallorca, which is another name for La Palma island; and by the way the two Ls in a word is pronounce like a "J", I learned this during the trip. It was a small airplane, and the fly time was only about 45min. Arrived at the airport, we headed to the Sixth car rental to checked out a car. Between the M1 BMW and the new Renault, we looked each other and decided to go with the Renault, comfortable vs. coolness! In La Palma, all rental cars are manual transmission, and I know how to drive stick-shift, so Hương or Bảo cannot drive. The stick-shift driving came back to me fairly quickly, it certainly feel good with the acceleration, the down-shift, and "reving" of engine. Love it! We bought the GPS map for Western Europe so we use the GPS to our hotel. Beautiful hotel, very impressive, Terra cotta tiles through out the house, two levels, and very comfortable bed. We went to town to shop for necessities and search for our dinner. Most of the restaurants were closed, so we decided to stay in, have our dinner and went to bed early. For our Christmas dinner, we had: pizza, Ibérico jamón, bread, and steaks. We all went to bed around 11pm, ....  but around 4am, we woke up to the rooster crowing at the break of dawn.

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