Sunday, February 21, 2010

Local, Fresh Food - Excellent Spots in Valencia Spain

Here are some truly delicious places to eat while you are in Valencia. If you are a vegetarian you will be able to find  excellent choices at any of these restaurants.

 Since 1951 the Restaurante Navarro has been serving food prepared from the fresh daily central market. They offer traditional and Mediterranean fare with a twist including a delicious Ensalada Vegetariana (vegetarian salad) and a dessert of strawberries in fresh squeezed orange juice (fresas en zumo naranja natural). With indoor and outdoor dining, decorated with local artist’s work, Navarro is conveniently located a few blocks from the Valencia train station and the central Plaza Ajuntament, as well as being down the block from the excellent natural foods store, J. Navarro Terra Verde Herbolario. Reservations for dinner are recommended. For lunch you can often walk in, especially when the weather is nice and the outdoor seating is in use. Restaurante Navarro, c/ Arzobispo Mayoral 5, 46002 Valencia; Tel: 963 529 623; Web:; open for lunch Monday to Sunday from 1:30 to 4:00 pm, and on Saturdays also for dinner from 8:30 to 11:00 pm.

TintoFino is a gem hidden in the back streets of the old part of Valencia not far from the Plaza de la Reina. With very friendly and helpful staff, TintoFino is a blend of the funky and the fine, with mismatched chairs for seating and fresh local foods prepared almost before your eyes. They offer in the range of one hundred wine choices and have daily specials as well as divine regular menu choices like the Capricho – melted mild brie-like goat cheese with tomato jam on top and a memorable homemade cheesecake somewhat to-die-for – fresh and not sweet with a sauce from local berries resembling wild blueberries. Smoking is not allowed in the restaurant part, but is allowed in the separate bar area. This is a popular place with locals so it fills up quickly – if you get there “early” between 8:30 and 9:00 pm you should have no problem getting a seat. TintoFino, c/ Corregeria 38, 46001 Valencia; Tel: 963 153 964; Web:; open for dinner 8:30 to 11:00pm. 

La Luna is a vegetarian restaurant tucked in the warren of small streets in the old part of Valencia not far from the landmark Torres de Quart (Quart Towers pronounced Cuart). They offer an a-la-cart menu as well as a menu del dia in the 8 euro range.  My favorite part of the meal was the “carrot cake” tarta de zanhoria made with fresh carrots and coconut, not wheat and cream cheese– very different and delicious! La Luna is a little cave-like with blue and white, local tile lining the walls. The downstairs seating is non-smoking, upstairs is smoking – but I never knew there was smoke in the building until I went upstairs to use the aseo (toilet). La Luna, c/ San Ramon 23, 46003 Valencia; Tel: 963 922 146; open Monday to Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30pm/8:00 to midnight. 

Casa Montaña has been around since 1836 in the old area of El Cabañal out by the Valencia port and beach. They serve a variety of typical local tapas dishes (no entrees) including especially good grilled fresh sardines and patatas bravas (cut potatoes served with spicy ketch-up like sauce and garlic aioli). You can take the bus or metro if you are staying in the old part of the city, but I advise bringing a map with you as it is not on the main drag, but rather a bit concealed in this old fishing neighborhood of Valencia.
Casa Montaña, c/Jose Benlliure 69, 46011 Valencia; Tel: 963 672 314; Web:; open Monday to Saturday (12:30 to 3:30 on Saturday) 1:00 to 3:30pm/8:00 to 11:30 pm, Sunday from 12:30 to 3:30 pm. Reservations recommended. Closed the second half of August for vacation.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Funky, Fun Second Hand Store in Valencia

I admit that I am an absolute sucker for second hand stores and markets….I am really very happy to spend open-ended time surveying the contents of such stores – almost like a walking meditation for me as I get lost in thought, thinking about the old items I am touching, wondering about their history, and curious why they were discarded. I found a great store for my perusing - Rastrell Reciclatge - a fun and funky store right next door to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) in Valencia.

The store is run as a non-profit to create jobs and encourage reuse and recycling to minimize the environmental impact of trash. The store is filled with a variety of objects, from clothing and household items, to furniture, books, records, and collectibles. I found an amusing “erotic comic” entitled Tiburon (meaning shark in Spanish) dating from 1974 which meant it had been published while Spain was still under Franco’s rule. This was the mildest form of eroticism, if you could even call it that – involving a giant shark (Tiburon) – all I could see from flipping through the book was a scantily clothed woman in the jaws of the shark---well, whatever floats your boat as it were. 

It is definitely a fun store to paw through and explore. The Rastrell Reciclatge is directly opposite the Pont de Trinitat on Vuelta del Ruiseñor (in Spanish) – the street sign is in Valenciano so reads Volta del Rossinyal. The big landmark to look for is the large blue dome of the Museo de Bellas Artes. Rastrell Reciclatge, Vuelta del Ruiseñor 1, 46010 Valencia, Spain; Tel: 96 362 35 09; They have a second store at c/ Perez Galdos 89, 46008 near Angel Guimera; Web:; open Monday to Friday from 10:00 am to 2:30pm/5:00 to 8:00 pm, Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Happy hunting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In and Out of Barcelona By Train

Barcelona and Madrid are the two main train and plane hubs in Spain. I have found myself living on either side of Barcelona the last two winters and so have used the Barcelona trains extensively. Below are a few tricks and tips I have learned that should be useful to travelers entering or leaving Barcelona by train. 

There are two train stations in Barcelona -  Estacio de Franca in Catalan (de Francia in Spanish) and Estacio Sants. Sants is the newer station with most of the train traffic including the high speed AVE.
Franca is the old station with marble floors and a grand feeling although much smaller than Sants and with fewer tracks. The overnight trains to Paris, Zurich and Milan leave from Franca. Franca has no stores or services to speak of except ticket windows, an information desk and rest rooms.

The bathrooms have been renovated since I wrote the Green Earth Guide: Traveling Naturally in Spain and now do have toilet paper and toilet seats, but take note and get your toilet paper on the way in as it is only in the entry of the bathroom, not in the stalls.  The sinks are automated all-in-one wash and dry and the stalls now don bright pink doors. 

If you have to wait or have a layover at Franca be prepared with food especially if you have luggage, as there is nothing to eat in the station- not even a newsstand - so be prepared with reading material as well. There used to be a large café/bar at one end of the station but that is closed for renovation with no indication of when it will reopen. The left luggage (consigna) has been closed for years at Franca due to security issues. 

The station is covered but open air, so while lovely in the warmer months, it can be chilly in the winter. In the evening the one heated room is where the information area is with seven or so comfortable chairs, usually filled with travelers waiting for the overnight trains to Europe which leave between 7:00 and 9:00pm.

In stark contrast the Barcelona Sants station is a new large complex complete with shops and food options, and a metro accessible from within the station. If you have luggage you don’t want to lug around, you can leave it at the Consigna (Left-Luggage) lockers at Sants. 

There is a convenient train that runs between the two stations for 1.40 (at writing time). You need to buy a specific ticket at one of the machines for the Rodalies (commuter) trains. The trip only takes twelve minutes between the stations and is definitely the fastest, easiest and cheapest means between the two. The trains run regularly - every fifteen minutes or so. 

To buy your tickets from Sants TO Franca - go to the machines down by tracks 13-14 in the Sants station. At the machine you can choose your language and then must search for your destination (Barcelona de Franca) which will be on the second page of options. At Sants you enter the tracks with your ticket via a turnstile much like the metro so it both gains you entry and validates the ticket.

At Franca there is a machine to the right of the ticket counter near to the security checkpoint. The same thing holds true here – buying your ticket from Franca TO Sants you will have to click on the yellow “other destinations” button to find Barcelona Sants in the middle of the second page of destination options. At Franca you MUST validate your ticket in one of the machines in the hallway where security is prior to boarding the train AND you will need your ticket to exit at Sants so hold onto it. 

If you have a lot of time between trains and are not too encumbered by luggage you can take the metro to the old part of the city and stroll through the streets and up Las Ramblas stopping to have a meal or snack. The fresh squeezed fruit juices at La Boqueria market are especially refreshing for travelers. If you are starting at Franca, I would take the metro one stop to Jaume 1 and then wind my way over to Las Ramblas through the back streets. From Sants, if you don’t want to bother switching metro lines, take the green line L3 to Liceu which will let you out right on Las Ramblas.

For more information about the overnight train see the post Dinner in Paris, Breakfast in Barcelona.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Local Goods and Fun on the Streets of Paris

I feel very comfortable in Paris- sort of like home -which must have something to do with my New York upbringing as it is certainly not due to the language which I barely speak and butcher shamefully. Paris is much prettier than Manhattan and more open as it lacks the tall buildings that hem in Manhattan. Good, fresh food is far more abundant, accessible and less “precious” than in Manhattan since the Parisians expect it. 
Littered with one darling café after the next, you could become paralyzed trying to decide what to try and where to sit in Paris. In most cases (not all) you cannot go wrong especially if you are just having a café or infusion (herbal tea). Truly one of my favorite things to do in Paris (and most cities) is walk. I love exploring and each time I am there try to take different streets.....finding new treasures all the time. Fun streets lined with local eats and other fun stores include Rue Montorgueil in the 1st, Rue Cler in the 7th, Rue des Deux Pont on the Ile Saint Louis in the 4th  and of course all the markets that dot the city on any given day. 

If you find yourself in the Latin Quarter on a Tuesday morning there is a small but excellent mixed market around the Maubert Metro stop in the 5th down the street from the organic Phyto Bar restaurant. Here you will find organic produce, some beautiful shawls and clothing (different from the common cheap pashminas and arab-style, keffiyeh scarves sold elsewhere) as well as cheeses, fish and other local products. 

And keep your eyes open for the truly delicious Kayser breads that are not to be missed! The baguettes are usually warm having come right out of the oven. Eric Kayser, a third-generation Parisian baker, is the brains behind the Mayson Kaiser bakeries, making bread from natural leavening using a special machine designed by Kayser to keep the leavening in a perfect state. In addition to amazing breads, you can also buy quiches, tarts and sandwiches at the fourteen stores in Paris (with other stores in Japan, Russia and the Ukraine). You can find Maison Kayser bakeries in most arrondissements. To avoid disappointment, check store location and hours on the website as some are closed on Mondays and others on Sundays. 

If you are visiting Paris in the winter you can ice skate outdoors in front of the Hôtel de Ville (4th arrondissement)- which many confuse for an actual hotel but is how the French refer to their City Hall. For 5 euros you can rent skates and enjoy the rink for free on Monday to Friday from 12pm-10pm, Saturday-Sunday 9am -10pm. This year the rink is open until March 6, 2010. Arrive at least one hour before closing otherwise you won’t get in. Outdoor skating is also available at Place Raoul Dautry near the rail station Gare Montparnasse in the 14th – this rink is only open until 8:00pm during the weekdays but has the same hours as the Hôtel de Ville rink on the weekends. 

Afterwards you can make your way to one of the many delightful cafes and have something delicious to warm you!