Friday, May 28, 2010

Public Toilets in Madrid, A Rare Breed

A heads up for those traveling to the capital of Spain and hoping for public toilets. While public toilets are fairly plentiful in Paris and other European cities, Madrid seems to fall short even compared with its somewhat rival city, Barcelona. As the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported, there are only thirty-seven supposed public toilets around the city and of these at least eleven are said to be out of order- some for as long as four years!! This brings the number down to twenty-five public toilets in a city of over forty million people not counting the tourists.

It appears that these concrete structures are valued more for the advertising space they provide than the functional purpose of allowing people to relieve themselves. So when in Madrid, best to consider cafes or the train stations as your best source of toilets, and make use of the museum facilities while there. If you do find a working public toilet make sure you have the necessary .30¢ euros for entry. For more on public toilets while traveling in Europe see Toilets and Traveling.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mangiamo! Fresh Pizza with Organic Options

Russafa, the fun, hip, funky and non-touristy neighborhood in Valencia, is surprisingly full of health food stores and good little restaurants. Here you will find Mangiamo, a small pizzeria serving "Italian-style" pizza at its best. With thin crust and fresh toppings, I went for my favorite combination of olives, cherry tomatoes and rucula (arugula). I was delighted to find that the rucula was organic!

Pizzas come in three sizes - individual (small), mediana and familiar (large). The small and medium pizzas are available with the standard crust or made with organic spelt (espelta biologico) flour on request. Mangiamo also serves pasta dishes and salads as well as a few choice desserts like tiramisù

Pizza prices run from 5 to 8 euros depending on size and then extra toppings are 50¢ more for each one. The organic espelta crust is an additional 1 euro. Toppings include seven meat choices, seven specialty cheeses, fifteen vegetable options, three fishes and a variety of sauces.

If you are hungry or are feeding hungry people, I would suggest ordering more rather than less of the pizza as the thin light crust and fresh toppings do not make for a heavy filling meal and we found
that two "familiar" pizzas were not enough for feeding four people - we all could have eaten more of this delicious fare.

You may not be looking for pizza while you are in Valencia, but if you get an urge, this is the place to go.

Mangiamo, Calle de Cadiz 21, Russafa neighborhood of Valencia; Tel: 963 413 263; Email:; Web:; open every day from 11:00 am to 3:30 pm/7:00 to 11:00 pm

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fair Trade in Venice

You might think that the touristy area around the famed Venice Rialto bridge would be an unlikely spot for a store specializing in Fair Trade products, but this is Italy where Fair Trade and Slow Food are huge (in fact the Slow Food movement originated in Italy).

And sure enough on the main street that flows from the east side of the Rialto Bridge steps, Salizada Pio X, you will find the Botteghe del Mondo. The window displays may catch your eye before you realize which store it is as they are filled with brightly colored leather handbags, natural fiber clothes, and "Peace Steps" leather sandals. The hand-made sandals are produced by a non profit cooperative in Palestine with local materials to help fund education and social services for children in Palestine refugee camps.

The suede handbags, in an array of gorgeous, bright colors, are handmade by a local cooperative, Coop Filo, near Venice working with disadvantaged and troubled youth. A side corner of the store has more common Fair Trade food products but most of the store is filled with non-food items, some made in Italy, others, like the Peace Step sandals, made elsewhere with purpose and care.

While there are stores in Venice, and throughout Italy, filled with leather goods (some made in Italy, others in China), this one offers the possibility of locally made products with a worthwhile cause.
In addition, you will find lovely and helpful service at Botteghe del Mondo even if you enter rain-soaked as I did on my first visit. But here's a tip- if you do enter wet - save your fondling of the suede bags for another, drier time.

Botteghe del Mondo-Coop Filo, Salizada Pio X, 5164 Ponte di Rialto, 30124 Venice (Venezia in Italian); Tel: 041 522 7545; Open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm/2:00 to 7:30 pm, Sunday from 10:30 to 1:30 pm/ 3:00 to 7:00 pm.

Coop Filo has three other stores in Italy - Milan, Rome and Trento.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Charming Eco Food In Valencia - L'Eco de Russafa

As my son likes to say I have some sort of built in homing or radar when it comes to all things eco. Well it was in full force today while I was exploring the lively and interesting non-touristy neighborhood of Russafa in Valencia, Spain (more on this later). I happily stumbled upon L'Eco de Russafa, a new health food store and restaurant one block from the Russafa Mercado (market). Here I found lovely Isabel who gave me a tour of the store and showed me the ropes about the prepared food.

L'Eco de Russafa has a nice selection of organic food from wine and beer to teas, pastas, sauces, juices, grains, herbs and spices, refrigerated soy and dairy products, and produce, which Isabel explained is delivered fresh every week on Tuesdays. They also carry some personal care and household products,

The restaurant part is set up self-serve style in the rear of the store on a center island surrounded by the produce, dry goods and cooler. Here you will find quite an assortment of delicious hot and cold foods - a mini salad bar and around ten warm dishes some of which contain meat, most of which do not, and some are vegan (no animal products). Isabel assured me all the ingredients were bio (organic). To partake of the prepared food, choose a plate (china for eating in, paper for taking out) and pile on whatever you like. Then bring your dish to the counter up front where it is weighed. If you are eating in, you will be given your eating utensils then. If you simply want a beverage you can order your fresh juice or other drink at the counter.

My full plate (I sampled a little of everything) came to only 6.30. I topped it off with  freshly made fruit juice, for which my choices were limited due to the fact it was Monday and the fresh produce is delivered Tuesday. Isabel suggested a combination of melon, kiwi and apple - not one I would have created on my own - but perfectly delicious and refreshing.

L'Eco is a charming store and restaurant. Isabel clearly loves what she does and the proof is in her food which I must say was buenisimo! - every last morsel I tasted.

L'Eco de Russafa, Calle Donoso Cortes 12, 46005 Valencia; Tel: 963 739 310; Web:; Open Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Orzo You Say?

Orzo conjures a rice-shaped pasta, but Orzo in Europe, especially in Italy, where the drink originated, is usually short for Caffé d'Orzo (Barley Coffee). Originally popular as a caffeine-free drink for children, it is made from ground and roasted barley, sometimes with added rye, chicory, figs, or anise. It is served widely at cafes and restaurants as well as readily available at stores. I was delighted to taste this in Bologna and then scouted out bags of it to bring home in one of the many NaturaSi health food stores in Italy.

This is the most coffee-like coffee-substitute I have tasted - really. As someone who has had to go off caffeine, this is like a new found friend.You can drink it the way you might take your coffee - that is espresso, latte, cappuccino, or just a big mug. You will find  numerous brands of Orzo on grocery shelves in Italy - even Nestle has a line of what they call Orzoro products (not organic) but with simply barley or other varieties.

Organic choices are plentiful in Italy and the barley tends to be grown in the rich farmland of northern and central Italy. Organic brands include Alce Nero which offers Orzo Moka for coffee-makers, Orzo Solubile, an instant version, as well as Orzo Cialde for use in espresso machines. Alce Nero's barley is organically grown in the beautiful Marche and Umbria areas of central Italy. Alce Nero, based in Monterenzio south of Bologna, has been producing organic foods for thirty years and they offer a range of products made from Italy-grown crops including honey, jam, juices, pastas, and tomato products.

Poggio Antico is a cooperative practicing biodynamic agricultural named after the old 13th century hamlet in which it sits complete with almost 250 acres of  land filled with vineyards, olive trees, cereals, aromatic plants and pastures. Founded in 1983, the cooperative makes a number of products from the fruits of their land including home-made pastas, sauces, juices, wool yarn and hand-made, vegetable-dyed wool products, cheeses made from the unpasteurized milk of their own cows, and Orzo (plain and with Anise) from their own barley only, except the Anise (anice in Italian) is added to that flavor variety. Their products are certified biodynamic by Demeter. Poggio Antico products are available at their on-site store and in health food stores around Italy.

Poggio Antico is about three and a half miles from Montespertoli, near Florence (20 miles away),  Siena (28 miles), and  San Gimignano (15 miles). This is an area famous for wines, olive oil, hand-made jugs, sunflowers, local artists and artisans. The Poggio Antico Web site offers directions from Florence, Siena and Pisa - worth a visit for sure. You can stay at the lovely Il Caggio apartments on an organic farm and vineyard four miles out of San Gimignano.

Orzo is not only grown locally and available from organic sources, it is also inexpensive. Where a 500 gram bag (about 17.5 ounces or just over a pound) costs between 1.80 and 3.60 Euros (about $2.50 to $5.00 depending on the exchange rate), a similar size bag of coffee costs between $10.00 and $18.00 depending on the type of coffee. Bring on the Orzo!