Friday, January 30, 2009


Cordoba is a great city. The old Mezquita (Mosque in Spanish) is quite amazing (picture with striped arches), Raphael is the guardian of the city and statues are at almost every entrance. The large Plaza de la Corredera has a daily covered market, as well as small flea market stores and cafes.
I just had a wonderful session at the Hammam - the Arab-style thermal baths - and ran into a woman I had met last year in Barcelona. Quite amazing that we would be in Cordoba and the Baths at the exact same time - not just a small world, but miniscule. The baths are run by the same company as the baths in Granada. Both are wonderful and a good deal with 1.5 hours in the baths and a 15-minute massage for 32 euros - unbeatable if you ask me. Off to Sevilla tomorrow for more explorations.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Wednesday was an excellent day! I slept wonderfully in my gem of a room. Headed off in search of the famed Alhambra which is almost straight up the hill from where I am staying. I walked up quite awhile and arrived at the ticket entrance.
In peak season 6000 people a day visit the Alhambra. Fortunately, since I am here in very much off-season I didn’t even have to wait in line – somewhat unheard of. The only minor hitch was that for unreserved tickets purchased on site for immediate entry you needed cash and I had none. I had forgotten to get any prior to heading up the hill. A lovely woman in the mini gift shop showed me where there were ticket machines and an ATM. FYI- like French rail ticket machines – these rejected my perfectly valid credit card. Thankfully the ATM worked and so off I was to take in the Muslim palace.
There is a lot to the complex and it was confusing to some of us, but we figured it out. The super attraction is the Palace - for which you have an assigned visit time – the rest of your visit is either all morning or all afternoon. The Palace is jaw-dropping – just unfathomable detail in every wall and ceiling. I spent over three hours at the complex and recommend you allow at least that much time.
I then spent the rest of the day walking, walking, walking, checking out the happening little neighborhoods. In one I found a cheap and delicious natural foods restaurant, in another a darling little health food store all the while winding through tiny stone streets squirreling through the old part of the city.
Unlike Malaga, the University students give Granada a very student pulse. I heard magnificent flamenco music in one plaza, found little artisan shops, and finished my day with a trip to the Hammam – the Arab baths – for deep soaking and a short massage. I will say goodbye to my friend, Serjio, and head off to Cordoba on a morning train.

Turquoise Nerja, and Wind to Granada

Tuesday was a bit of a day. Woke up early and was the first one at the Alcazaba – really wonderful ruins of an Islamic castle and fortress. From there you can continue walking up to the remnants of another Castillo where you can see for miles.
I hiked to the bus station with both packs on – only possible with my fantastically comfortable Osprey pack - and took an hour plus bus ride to the seaside city of Nerja. Nerja is not immune from growth and tourism, but rather than high rises they have opted for smaller, white washed buildings that are more pleasing to the eye. The water here is magnificent turquoise. The main part of the village is fairly large filled with restaurants, shops, and souvenir stores. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon. My host was the most and gave me great tour. Then I hoped the bus to Granada which went along some more of the coast, which is breathtaking even with high-rises and massive developments.
Once the bus turned left into the mountains the sky darkened and it was another adventure into traveling to Oz. The wind picked up to a strong gale with trees bending and the bus definitely feeling the force. As we climbed the winds became stronger – and up along a highway with cliffs to our side a gust came up that blew the bus – the riders and drivers exclaimed – thankfully – no blown-off-the-highway bus. Shortly we were almost eye-to-blade with windmills (a good place for them if you ask me).
I arrived blood sugar deprived and mildly stressed by the high wind ride. The bus to hostel was crowded and with horrible – potential amputating - rear door mechanism which crushed my front pack before I figured out the best place to stand. I missed my bus stop since it was named something other than what the direction said and had to hoof back (with both packs on) – trying to maintain cool although I already knew that I was in no mood for a backpack hostel. I wanted my own room, a hot shower and some good food. With unmarked streets and not great maps it took longer to find the hostel than was good for my mood. Up stairs and a warren (truly) of stone streets I found it. Of course, someone was in my bed (a bit of Goldilocks here) and so they put me in another room where I came upon a well intentioned, travel-lagged and chatty roommate. I set my pack down, went out to find food, and bee-lined for another place to sleep. The gods understood my need and delivered me Serjio, the proprietor of Pension Venezia -two flights up in an old building, with spotless, darling rooms. So I got my own perfect tiny room. I went back to retrieve my pack, told a white lie that I had met up with a friend (my new friend, Serjio☺) and unloaded back at the pension only a few blocks from the hostel. Next food! Struck out a few times and my crashing was increasing when I came upon Canela y Clavo. Heaven-sent (again) – and had the most delicious wok-steamed vegetables and beef. They had numerous delicious offerings with and without meat but after that day I needed some serious protein and felt worlds better after, especially tucked into my yellow-room bed with a down comforter.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Malaga Spain

Malaga is a little run down and ignored in parts. There is construction at almost every turn, which is not so appealing. This is the first European city where I have felt that areas other than the old part are more beautiful, because much of the old part has been neglected, and is now going through major reconstruction. I am sure it will be lovely when finished, but right now the noise, dust and smell make it less than enchanting, and rather shabby.
Tourism is big in Malaga and even this time of year in the off-season (everyone is donning winter coats not swimsuits) there are plenty of tourists – I hate to think of it during high season with the streets and beaches overflowing.
While I have often sneered at the open-topped, double-decker tour buses in New York City, I found myself on the upper deck of Malaga’s and loving it. It is very useful when you have a lot of ground to cover and not much time, plus you get to be outside (if you choose the open-air seating) instead of cooped up in a vehicle.
The natural food scene in Malaga is virtually non-existent. The stores I found were either miniscule or had closed. I did find a few vegetarian and natural restaurants, but only two were decent. There are some towns within 20-60 km of Malaga that seem to be more hip to the health food scene and they have much better quality options. Malaga seems to have more Esoteric stores than health food stores – maybe a result of the centuries of swaying dominant religions.
My favorite eatery was La Teteria, a happening spot a few doors away from the Picasso Museum. Here you can have all sorts of teas, coffees, and other delightful beverages, as well as crepes. Tonight I had a crepe (yes it was made of wheat – I had two bites and then just ate the innards) made with Manchego cheese (Spanish cheese made from sheep milk), peppers, tomatoes and herbs – hmmm yum!
Off to Nerja, an old village on the coast about 60 km east of Malaga and then onto Granada! We’ll see if they eat more naturally there.

Did I mention the water and the beaches? THAT is why people come to Malaga - turquoise, sandy, and beautiful.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Off to Southern Spain

I am on the first train this Sunday morning from Flaca to Barcelona. I am not sure I will make it past Barcelona today due to ticketing issues. It turns out that you can only purchase tickets over the RENFE (Spanish Rail) Web site or phone if you have either American Express or Spanish credit cards, otherwise, no ticket. And on the Web site you will not be told this so I spent hours and days frustratingly trying to purchase a ticket to no avail. However, I had no problem at the Barcelona Sants Station as it was not too busy when I arrived.

So now I am on the AVE – Spain’s fast train – to points south – destination today is Malaga. I have temporarily traded in Orwell’s excellent Homage to Catalonia for the 940-page tome, Don Quixote. Required school reading for Spaniards, this translation by Edith Grossman was recommended to me by my Spanish friend, Anabel, an artist and creative professor of Spanish literature.

The train ride is smooth, and while fast, not too fast to see the sweeping landscape of Spain complete with miles of olive trees, clay-tile roofs, and windmills.

After six hours I arrived at Malaga’s RENFE train station, an airy, new, facility full of activity on this Sunday afternoon. I walked the roughly 1km to my hostal, modest but sufficient and cheap (26 euro/night) on the third floor of a building that sits on a refurbished shopping street adjacent to the old town. Thankfully my room is not on the street side.

Spanish cities hum in the evening, so I took advantage of that and headed off to the Picasso Museum – open until 8:00pm on Sundays. I was amazed to see a line outside since this is considered the off-season for Malaga, but found out, once inside, that it was a free-entry day so people were taking advantage of it. The museum has an open courtyard in the middle and the exhibition rooms display some of Picasso’s lesser-known work.

After poking around the old town a bit, I wandered back past the Museum to La Teteria, a café advertising medicinal teas, coffee, chocolate and other treats. I chose an outdoor table under the awning tucked against the building where I partook of a pina (pineapple) “sorbete” – some divine fresh fruit juice drink that I downed immediately, and an infusion of “digestivo” herbal tea. I savored my warm tea as the sun went down, the wind picked up, and the orange-glow streetlamps came on making it feel that the sunset was lingering. People were out and about and I made my way through some different old lanes to the pedestrian street where my hostal is located to settle in for some free wifi and what I hope will be a good sleep.

Picasso Museum in Malaga -
La Teteria, San Agustin, 9, Malaga; Tel 650 656 560;

Saturday, January 24, 2009

La Bisbal D'Emporda

Spain has been sunny and bright, but today the sky was dramatic and there were intermittent light showers – a good day to set off for a village visit.
La Bisbal d”Emporda is a funky town, known for its ceramics industry. The main avenue is lined with stores selling ceramic wares from giant planters to plates, tiles and souvenirs. Fridays is market day in the old part of the town and here you can find the only organic produce stall for miles, with a large variety of common and uncommon vegetables and fruits. I purchased the sweetest broccoli I have ever tasted, as well as some lovely organic wine, fennel, zucchini, beautiful red peppers, onions, oranges and pears.
On the main street I found an ultramarine blue planter, made in La Bisbal, for 10 euros, a present for my orange tree. I also found a paella pan made in Spain. The Spanish have a thing for Teflon and every frying pan to be found is coated with the stuff. Not being a Teflon fan myself, and owning zero Teflon, I had been desperately searching for a sin-Teflon pan with no luck. Happily I found a rack full of different sizes of stainless Paella pans – large shallow pans with two handles that the famous Spanish dish is cooked in. I had many more recipes in mind for my pan than just paella, and was delighted with the 5 euro price!
I found the Bisbal Natura health food store right behind the Castle Palau on Carrer Cavallers. Bisbal Natura is a small but full service market offering a special treat of organic smoked salmon.
Eduard Casas is the lovely and friendly proprietor of Can Temporada, a store filled with organic and local specialty items including octopus and other local fish delicacies prepared with out additives and chemicals. He does not speak English so we were engaged in a mini charades as he was trying to explain to me each kind of fish. To my delight, he reached for a knife and put it out from his nose when he was trying to convey swordfish (pez espada in Spanish).
Once home and unpacked from the day I took in the magnificent evening sky providing a beautiful backdrop as I transplanted my orange tree before dinner.
For dinner I made local rice, grown within fifteen miles of where I am staying, with an array of organic vegetables from the organic market stand, with exquisite octopus from Eduard, all cooked in my new paella pan to perfection!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pals, Peratallada, and the Ancients

My days have been packed with markets and village tours. Much of Spain is filled with the most extraordinary villages many dating from five hundred to one thousand years old. Magnificent stone buildings line cobbled streets so narrow most American cars could not fit on them.

Pals is a working town with an old center that has been restored to its medieval splendor. In the summer months, little stores and restaurants are open for visitors. The winter is quieter, but makes for easy walking and gawking.

Nearby, Palau-Sator is much smaller than Pals but has a striking clock tower and what appears to be a village oven in a center square. And not too far down the road from Palau is Peratallada, a remarkable 13th century stone village again with shops and restaurants open in the summer months, but with fewer visitors in the winter you can takes pictures without interference and admire the centuries-worn “streets” hewn out of stone.

The Cuitat de Iberia is an impressive archeological site where the indigenous Indiketa lived from 600 BC. A small museum shows some of the writing, agricultural and spiritual artifacts found around the site. The Indiketa writing has still not been deciphered. Their metallurgy was advanced, making coins, tools and weapons. All in all quite humbling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Girona, Spain

Girona Spain is a small university city about one hour north of Barcelona. I chose to go on market day - Tuesday - when two markets happen. The first market is a handful of fruit and vegetable vendors that open outside the covered market. They surround one side of the covered market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The covered market is a mini version of La Boqueria in Barcelona. A building housing close to thirty permanent booths, there are many fresh fresh fish stalls (so fresh nothing smells like fish), more fruits and vegetables, and my favorite, the 0% Gluten booth. What a thrill - gluten-free goodies of all kinds from croissants, baguettes, cookies and cakes to pizzas and pastas. Needless to say I made a purchase.

The other market is huge and happens in the park in northwestern Girona. There you can find all sorts of food as well as what feels like miles of clothes and household goods. This too is open Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

After the markets, I went onto the old part of Girona to the Jewish Call, the old Jewish quarter of the city where for centuries, Jews and Christians lived harmoniously until the 15th century when the Call became not just their neighborhood, but the only place they could live in Girona. In 1492 the Catholic kings threw all the Jews out and they were forced to leave this warren of stone buildings and streets. Today there is a Museum of Jewish History housed where one of the old synagogues stood. The Call makes for wonderful walking.

Call is a Catalan word used to mean quarter or neighborhood, derived from the Latin, callis, meaning street.

A Few Days into Spain

A Magnificent day, with the clearest blue sky and even frost on the windshield. We drove a few kilometers to Torroella de Montgri for the weekly market laced through the narrow streets of the old center of town. I found two little health food stores each with their own specialties, and a charcuterie with local, gourmet items including sea salt from the Spanish island of Ibiza, and sheep milk yogurt. A bakery selling fair trade (comercio justo) food items and delectable fresh bread (full of gluten – not for me), were on the main avenue. The market had a plaza full of food vendors and one in particular was busy with customers – and the older woman whose stand it was clearly had the most beautiful produce. I purchased an enormous bag of chard greens for .86 cents.
After the market, we walked on the beach for about two miles past Les Illes Medes, rocky islands just off the shore of L’Etartit, that are protected underwater nature reserves, and are full of divers and snorkelers in the summer months.
After lunch, we hopped on our high-handled touring bikes and rode into our little village for some agua con gas con limon (fizzy water with lemon)while we checked our email at the wifi bar. Then onto the little local shops for our dinner—at the charcuterie we marveled as the butcher masterfully cut up rabbit and chicken for the customer ahead of us, but we opted only for some sheep cheese, local eggs and butter.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Is it Heaven or Spain?

Saturday was our first real day in Spain since yesterday was arrival day and I was still very in the altered state zone of exhaustion, disbelief, and what adrenaline rush my body could muster. The connection on Swiss was, not surprisingly, a breeze and made the trip to Barcelona short and sweet with incredible views of the Alps.
We were picked up at the airport by our host, we didn’t see anything of Barcelona except a distant view of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Our host drove at about 160k/h but my airplane meds were still in effect so it seemed to not phase me.

The house is in the middle of fields and much is merely plowed up earth waiting for the coming crop to be planted. Formerly a stone “ruin’, the house is now a lovely renovated casa/villa with separated living quarters connected by grand rooms and a long, large, bright kitchen designed for entertaining. The renovated barn at one end houses the master bedroom as well as a huge open living room. Native clay tile-brick floors are throughout and domed brick ceilings are in three of the rooms. The old barn has its original post and beams exposed. Beautiful original paintings done by the owner, an accomplished, professional painter, adorn the walls.

Our bedroom/living room is ample but not huge. Since we are traveling very lightly it works. Our kitchen is tiny, but has everything we need. Certainly it is bigger than many New York apartments. The rest of the house is quite spacious with large airy rooms, and is clearly designed for entertaining and vacationing.
After a late meal (but quite early by Spanish standards) of chicken curry and rice, vino tinto, and uno poquito café, we all fell dead asleep on our comfortable beds and could barely move after twelve hours of shut-eye. We forced ourselves up and set off to explore the villages around us of which there are three. L’Escala is an old port town, now mostly filled with modern apartment buildings for the onslaught of summer tourists. There are three large foreign owned supermarkets which have a tiny amount of things I was interested in – the gluten-free baguettes and croissants were high on that list. The organic Spanish olive oil was only 4.25 Euros for a 500ml bottle and the local red wine (vino tinto) was 3 Euros a bottle.
By the time we went through the village of Torroella de Montgri everything was closed for the usual 1:30-4:30 siesta and lunchtime. We carried on past Torroella to l’Estartit and parked at the sea. We could have walked for miles (I think almost ten to be exact) on the flat sandy beach, but instead just took a ten-minute stroll along the rolling waves. We were saving ourselves for the walk into our closest village. Once back at our casa, we had a snack of goat cheese (queso de cabra), gluten-free baguette, and the freshest, sweetest Spanish clementine oranges. We then headed off on our twenty-five minute walk to Bellcaire d’Emporda, our local village. A tiny village filled with stone buildings, it has our three favorite stores thus far. One is Santi, a charcuterie with local delights. We bought queso de obeja (sheep cheese), pesto, rice grown in the region, and a special salami made from Iberian pigs. Our next stop was a café/bar with free wifi and delicious espresso for 1 euro – strong enough that three of us could share the tiny cup and all feel the effects of the caffeine. We bought two Cuban cigars (because we could) and checked email. We then walked up and over through residential areas and picked an orange from a tree overhanging the street. We passed a beautiful home, one that could be my dream home if it had just a little more yard. We walked home along a tree-lined canal on a muddy clay-dirt road with the sun setting ahead of us.
Once home I cooked our local rice, with local zucchini – hard and fresh- served with melted queso de oveja, pesto (some of the best I’ve ever had), fresh, orange peppers grown in Valencia Spain (four hours south of here), and just a few slices of chopped Iberian salami as topping. Wow – so simple, so local, so fresh, and so good! For dessert we experimented with a local sheep milk product called cuajada de oveja – a cross between a custard and a yogurt with no eggs – very bland, but divine with grated chocolate on top, which is just what we had – yum! The cuajada is sold in a red crock jar at the grocery store. Did I mention the delicious – truly – 3 Euro bottle of vino tinto we had with dinner? Are we in heaven? Well if not heaven, certainly Spain and we feel fully here now after our first day.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Portland Awesome Food, Health & More

Portland is over the top in terms of fresh, local sustainably grown food. Some highlights are listed here, but you almost can't go wrong in Portland, so eat up and enjoy... and try not to miss the farmers market!

You can eat breakfast and lunch at the renowned Bijou Café serving up organic and local foods– get there before 2 or else you will miss out. Bijou Café, 132 SW Third Ave, Portland; Tel: 503-222-3187; Open 7:00am – 2:00pm daily.
Two other restaurants especially known for good fresh, local meals include Higgins, 1239 SW Broadway, 503-222-9070, and Paley’s Place, 1204 NW 21st, 503-243-2403.

If you have a soft spot for food resembling fast food or diner-style, Portland has Burgerville, a “fast-food” chain using local, sustainable products in their natural beef burgers, ice cream milkshakes and smoothies. Flavors vary seasonally based on available ingredients. When I was there in November, pumpkin was the flavor du jour. The pumpkins are grown by Stahlbush Farms committed to sustainable farming. Burgerville uses recycled paper napkins, supports wind power, converts their used cooking oil to biodiesel fuel, offers free wifi, and has real juke boxes. For locations and more information see

Local health foods stores include New Seasons Markets which are locally owned and operated with nine stores in the Portland area, and Food Front Cooperative with two stores in Portland. Not surprisingly, you can also find Whole Foods and plenty of small specialty food stores. New Seasons Markets -; Open 8am-10pm; Food Front; open daily from 8:00am to 9:00pm.

Portland’s Farmers Markets rival any I have seen in Europe with an abundance of fresh, local and mostly organic foods from meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables to coffees and oils. Open seasonally at different locations on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. See the website for more information

A very special store is in the northern part of the city in the neighborhood known as Mississippi. The Meadow sells salt, chocolate, wine and flowers from all over the world. It is a must stop for any salt connoisseur. The Meadow, 3731 N. Mississippi Avenue, Portland 97227; Tel: 888-388-4633; Check out the Askinosie chocolate made with goat milk – it is incredible! (

While Seattle may have Starbucks, Portland has Stumptown – the way hip, fair-trade, groovy coffee extraordinaire. Stumptown has cafes all over Portland, plus you can buy coffee by the pound in every health food and specialty store. Check it out -

Gluten-Free eaters – don’t miss the breads and treats from New Cascadia Traditional: The Gluten-Free Artisans, a dedicated gluten-free bakery making out-of-this-world, hard-to-find, gluten-free sourdough and baguette breads. I was so mad I only bought one loaf at the farmers market. You can now buy all their products at the farmers market and their new retail store. New Cascadia Traditional, NW Glisan St. (between NW 21st & 22nd Ave, next to Trader Joes), Portland, OR 97208, Tel: 503-887-4392;; Open Tuesday to Friday from 11:00am to 6:00 pm and Saturday from 11:00am to 5:30pm

Another over the top treat is the smoked salmon and salmon “jerky” from The Smokery. Made by an Irish couple who moved to Oregon and employ their Irish traditions in the smoking of Pacific Northwest Salmon. Available at the farmer’s market and online at

Portland is home to one of the few accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges in the United States, the National College of Natural Medicine ( so alternative health services are prevalent in the city. For Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Massage and Naturopathic care including nutritional infusions there is the Mississippi Health Center, 4631 N. Albina, Portland, OR 97217; Tel: 503-282-5358;; Open Monday- Saturday by appointment and also walk-in herbal consults.
The Pearl Health Center in, you guessed it, the Pearl District, offers allopathic and alternative care. They offer a prepaid health plan as well as pay as you go. The Pearl Health Center, 721 NW 9th Ave., Suite 100A, Portland; Tel: 503-525-0090;

Other great resources:
Pittmon Map Company, 825 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland; 503-233-2207
Redirect Guide for Portland and Vancouver areas, a one-inch thick business directory of all things green, available free at many stores.
• The entire Oregon coast is free and open to everybody-
Edible Portland quarterly free magazine with articles and ads from many of the wonderful natural, local foods restaurants and businesses –
The Portland Red Guide, written by retired political science professor, Michael Munk, offers a guide through the radical history of Portland