Beached in Bondi

Posted in Australia, Bondi, Sydney with tags , , on February 25, 2015 by gannet39

Tetsuyas 025On Xmas Day 2013 I got a cheap flight to Sydney for my first ever trip to Australia. I had grand plans of going on a road trip around the south-east but never quite made it and my friends in Melbourne still haven’t forgiven me.

The thing is once I got to Bondi I liked it so much (click on the first pic and you’ll see why) that I didn’t want to go anywhere else for the next four weeks! Everything I needed for a life of contentment was right there…

Most importantly, good food, and lots of it. My next post ‘Bondi Bites’ is entirely dedicated to reviews of all the places I ate during my stay.

Camera3 059Next of course, good wine was a major reason for me getting on the plane. I went to the legendary wine mecca Kemenys at 137-147 Bondi Road to stock up. Here’s a picture of a happy man.

One of the original wine retail outfits in the 60s, Kemenys have won the coveted ‘Australian Liquor Store of the Year’ award more than ten times since its inception in the 1994. If you can’t get it here, it’s probably not worth getting.

I went with a recent list of their top Aussie wines from, an excellent independent wine blog. Armed with this knowledge I got good service from the gruff old manager who I think warmed to me when I rejected his suggestions of French substitutes for the wines he was lacking and insisted on Aussie only.

Camera3 061I bought twelve bottles to take back to the pad on my first visit. They were all pretty good but the star of the stay for me was the Yealand Estate (A+), an award-winning, beautifully crisp and fragrant Sauvignon Blanc.

Beach and Coast 059I couldn’t live anywhere that didn’t have a swimming pool and BB not only has a pool (at Icebergs private club at the southern end of the beach) but an outdoor, saltwater, Olympic-size pool with a great view! In fact it’s my favourite public pool in the whole wide world so far!

Camera3 029The salt water takes a bit of getting used to as your body is more buoyant and you have to change your style slightly. Sometimes on blustery days huge waves come over the seawall and wipe out the whole pool, leaving all the swimmers in a pile in the far corner! It’s all part of the fun.

Another bonus is that it’s not too busy because many people don’t realise that although Icebergs is a private members club, their pool is open to the public. You can see how busy it is by checking the online pool cam before you go.  It’s worth checking as they do regularly drain the pool to remove all the flotsam and jetsam that’s been washed in.

Beach and Coast 032The next best thing in terms of exercise is the coastal walk which stretches for several kilometers.

Beach and Coast 053You could use it to go to the neighbouring beaches of Tamarama or Bronte for a change of scene. Bronte beach has its own small saltwater pool, hewn out of the cliffs by convicts for Victorian ladies to swim in.

Beach and Coast 037There’s lots of photogenic rock formations along the way. Please click on all of these photos to get the full impression.

Beach and Coast 048I spent a few mornings running along here to blow the cobwebs away. The short dips and rises in the path are a killer though and I was always being overtaken by super-fit body beautifuls who ground my ego into the gravel! Once though I did manage to get to Clovelly which I think is about 5km there and back to North Bondi where I was staying.

Once though I did manage to get to Clovelly which I think is about 5km there and back to North Bondi where I was staying.

We wanted to walk to Coogee someday but never got round to it, mainly because the sun was just too hot. You have to be really careful in the sun here as there is no ozone layer to protect you. The Australian government has actually made it illegal to sell sun lotion with a factor lower than 50!

Camera3 034 Camera3 023 Camera3 020In my perfect world, after natural eye candy I also want some interesting buildings to look at and Bondi has some nice residential architecture, like these sugary Art Deco units along the north end of Campbell Parade.

Generally the feel of the seafront is very much that of an English seaside town, with Fish & Chip shops and pubs, it’s just that the weather is much better!

Camera3 082Camera3 078Bondi Road has some of the oldest residential buildings in Sydney, such as the cottages in the first picture.

Tetsuyas 010Tetsuyas 007I love the wrought iron detailing on this first house though the painting must be a nightmare. In the second photo, the face made by the front door and windows tickles me. You should click on both to appreciate them fully.

Some other small blocks of flats on Hall Street made me feel like I was in London on a sunny day.

Camera3 037 Camera3 036 Camera3 038Accommodation in Bondi is expensive and hard to get. Luckily I rented a cheap room from a friend of a friend for a while and then spent a few odd days in a private room at Noahs Backpackers (as opposed to Bondi Backpackers) which was fine. There’s no luxury of any kind but there’s a great view from the roof, and it’s very handy for the pool and the coastal path. There’s a good breakfast place and a pub immediately under the hostel and handy shops nearby.

It’s also an excellent place to meet people from all over the world who are passing through, although the downside of that is that it’s pretty popular so you should book well in advance, especially for peak periods. You might strike lucky if you don’t have a booking though as they occasionally evict everyone when things get too messy!

So now for the food…

Fun guy in Frosinone

Posted in Frosinone, Italy, Lazio with tags on January 24, 2015 by gannet39

There’s very little I can tell you about Frosinone because I was only there a very short time and worked pretty much constantly.

Most of my colleagues seem to think there isn’t that much to see or do except one who says there are a couple of restaurants up the hill in the old town that are worth visiting. The problem is you have to be prepared to hoof it back because taxi drivers generally don’t work in the evenings.

Other colleagues who have had a day off here have recommended a visit to the nearby fortified town of Ferentino.

039On the plus side, the restaurant of the comfortable Hotel Astor  where I stayed is excellent and very popular. I ate here twice and everything was great. I particularly remember the mixed seafood plate on the first night (A).

047And the next night, after some prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella (B+), the Risotto con Funghi Porcini e Tartufo was also memorable (A).

057Especially with the bottle of ‘Le Note de Figaro’2012 by Cantina Paniccia, made of 100% Cesanese del Piglio grapes from the local Lazio IGP,  a new but enjoyable experience (B+).

058And finally a strong finish with a shot of oak barrel-aged grappa ‘Candolini’ Riserva (B+).

I love Antonino the old white-haired waiter here. He’s absolutely hilarious and puts on a clown routine for his customers by intentionally forgetting things, pretending to get in a tizzy and generally being very daft! But he’s really not, he’s just a very nice, funny guy who likes his customers to enjoy themselves.

062Although he didn’t serve me I also remember the other waiter Angelo (another character) because when introducing him Tonino said ‘non un Angelo, è il diavolo!’

If you’re female, watch out for the hotel owner who’s a bit of a Lothario. He’ll join you for dinner and be stroking your hair in no time if you let him! I think the leopard skin print on the dining room chairs is an indication of where he’s coming from. It’s all very Quagmiresque.

There’s an Ethiopian restaurant near the station (on the corner of Via Sacra Famiglia and Via Minzoni) should you fancy a change. I’m not a big fan of this particular cuisine but it could be an option if you’re arriving late as the hotel is a taxi ride away.

Please let me know in the comments section below if you have anything to recommend for my next visit :)

Edgy Ostia

Posted in Italy, Lazio, Ostia with tags , , , on January 21, 2015 by gannet39

Ostia was the harbour for Rome in ancient times. At Ostia Antica there is a large area of well preserved archaeological ruins that can be visited. I didn’t have time but I got a good idea from these videos. The mosaics and frescoes are particularly famous.

Ostia eventually failed as a harbour due to silting from the mouth of the River Tiber just to the north of the town and the Roman area is now 3km inland. The new town is called Ostia Lido and is the nearest beach resort for Romans taking their summer holidays.

Nowadays it has a faded seedy charm as many resorts do however it does feel quite edgy in the darker streets away from the central area and a teacher told me not to leave anything of value in a car. Just a few months before I arrived there had been fifty one arrests in the town for Mafia activity so it does seem crime is a bit of a problem here.

021028The town was greatly expanded in the Fascist period (1922-1943) with buildings constructed in the official Stile Littorio architectural mode, which took in rationalist, constructivist and futurist styles.

026023Although not a fan of the politics I do quite like some of the buildings, like the Palazzo de Poste (on the corner of Corso Duca di Genova and Viale Capitan Consalvo) built in 1934 and designed by the futurist Angiolo Mazzoni who also did the original design for Rome Termini Station.

019017Along the waterfront there are some more famous examples of futurism, such as Villini A e B  by Adalberto Libera. Please click on the pics to enlarge them.

014016Not sure which architect designed these apartment blocks further along the waterfront but I love the balconies and the porthole windows on the side walls.

033030And around the pedestrianised Via Ciolio and Piazza Anco Marzio there’s a couple of nice bits of Art Nouveau.

I was put up at Hotel Sirenetta at 46 Lungomare Paolo Toscanelli It was fine in a faded, cheap Italian resort hotel kind of way. The staff were nice and the breakfast room has views of the sea and the waterfront.

035034I wish I had stayed at Hotel Ping Pong further down the lungomare just for its name!

Via Ciolio and its continuation Via dei Miseanti seems to be where most of the action is in the evenings in terms of nice bars and restaurants. I was only here for one night so can only really comment on this place recommended by the receptionist:

Alla Corte dei Borboni (Intermediate B+), 27 Piazza Anco Marzio,

Located in a beautiful last-centure space this is, as the name suggests, a Neapolitan restaurant, complete with waitresses in Bourbon period costume. It was empty when I arrived but was soon packed out with locals so a reservation or early arrival might be a good idea. I only had their ‘A Caprese’ pizza margherita with mozzarella di bufala and Pachino cherry tomatoes, and a chocolate pudding, both of which were fine (B+). Given its popularity I’m sure everything else is good too.

There are a few more restaurants on my Google map which were recommendations from various Italian guides but I wasn’t there long enough to try them.

Two tips from my friend Stuart: “Ostia Park Hotel in Ostia Antica has a lovely clean pool, free except for hire of a towel at €6. No other towels allowed! You can get to Ostia Antica from  Ostia Lido in about 10 minutes on the No.4 bus, about every 20 minutes”.

In conclusion a brief but interesting stay in an off-season seaside resort. I’m sure it’s all very different in the summer.

On the other side of the tracks in Olbia

Posted in Italy, Olbia, Sardinia with tags , , , , , , , on January 17, 2015 by gannet39

Camera3 095Olbia is the main town in the north-east of Sardinia and is the airport for the Costa Smerelda, the super-rich enclave developed by the Aga Khan and a group of international investors. It’s the capital of Gallura which was one of the four independent kingdoms of Sardinia in the Middle Ages.

The flag of the island is a St.George cross with four Moor’s heads in each corner, the history of which is quite interesting.

I was here in the off season in mid December for just four nights. A few months earlier this Northern tip of the island had suffered a tornado which caused a lot of damage but most of the repairs had been done by the time I arrived.

Camera3 081There isn’t that much to see but I loved the attractive multi-coloured tiled roof of Chiesa di San Paolo Apostolo on Via Cagliari. Click the pic to see it better.

Camera3 056The oldest building is perhaps Basilica Sam Simplico on Via Fausto Noce, named after the patron saint of the town, which dates from the 11th century.

Here’s my Google map with all the places mentioned in this post. There is apparently a Nuraghe in the industrial part of town north of the harbour but I got lost as soon as I triend ot walk there.

On my first day I stumbled across Stella Sapori Sardegna (133 Corso Umberto), a deli specializing in Sardinian specialties. ‘Peter’ the owner is a talented salesman and will declaim at length in a hybrid of English and local dialect about the quality of his goods. He also has a head for numbers and will tell you exactly how many DOP’s and cheeses you can find on the island (full national list here), as well as the exact weights and heights of his son and Chinese wife (who he met during a professional fishing competition in Shanghai) at various points in their lives whilst showing you his scrapbooks and family photo albums.

The samples of local flatbreads, Salami al Mirto, Peretta, Casilbolu and Tavedda sheep cheeses, honeys and drinks (‘nougat’, mirto and limoncello) were so numerous I didn’t feel the need for lunch afterwards!

Camera3 054After such hospitality, it would have felt churlish not to have bought something (he knows what he’s doing!) so I went for some prickly pear jam, hazelnut honey and a bottle of the famous myrtle-berry (myrto) liqueur. I had coveted some of the amazing Limoncello di Pompia (made from very special lemons) but at €44 a bottle I couldn’t quite bring myself to fork out for it. The mirto was €21.

Camera3 053I was also fascinated by some of the local pastas; Lorighittas (twisted loops) and Su Filendeu (fibrous sheets) which are made by only a couple of remaining producers and retail at a hefty €25 for 500g. Everything is handmade however so the steep prices are probably justified.

Camera3 051Peter threw in a free pack of Pane Guttiau (a version of Pane Carasau, the famous shepherd’s flatbread, but made with the additions of olive oil and salt) as a sweetener before I said goodbye.

On another occasion I found another small deli/wine seller called Sensazioni di Sapori Sardi near the market (at 71 Via Regina Elena I think) and bought some Abbamele a kind of concentrated honey found only in Sardinia. A very special product indeed.

The market is near here on Via Dattori, but I was unable to get there when it was open.

The following restaurants are all in Olbia town centre:

Antica Trattoria Pizzeria (Intermediate B), 1 Via delle Terme,

Recommended by both Peter (I think they are his customers/friends) and the Telgraph, this spot seems slightly touristy but was full of locals on the Saturday night I went, perhaps due to its location just opposite the cinema. The interior is quite modern but nods to tradition with local ceramics and old maps of the island on the walls. They have three kinds of Menu Touristico at €15, €20 and €25 which are a pretty good deal. The service was fine, the food just ok.

Camera3 086For my primo, I had the Gnocchi di Farina Galluresi, some unusually textured pasta made from spelt and tossed in a simple but tasty tomato sauce (A).

I followed up with the Arrosto Misto di Carne, a mixed grill involving a pork chop, bacon on the bone, a sausage and a slice of lamb, all of which were fine but plain and uninteresting (B-). Even though I had skipped lunch in preparation, I couldn’t finish it.

I had Patatine Fritte as a side which were probably McCains by the look and taste of them (C). The small portion of roast potatoes that came with the meat were fine though (B) so maybe order Patate al Forno instead.

Camera3 091To go with these a bottle of the house red Cannonau di Sardegna (Sella-Mosca 2009) which was a good choice (B+) for the €10 asking price.

Finally Seadas, a typical Sardinian dessert, which is like a crepe filled with ricotta and doused with honey (B).

With this a glass of Su F’ile Ferru aka ‘Rod of Iron’, the local grappa, but the homemade version here had a strange aftertaste (C). The name comes from the practice of using a piece of wire to indicate the hiding place of the buried bottle!

According to the Telegraph and other sources, the best place to eat is Hotel Gallura (145 Corso Umberto) but sadly it was closed when I was in town in December. However there is this good place diagonally opposite to your left as you have your back to the Hotel Gallura:

Ristorante Dolceacqua (Intermediate A), 4 Via G.Palo,, closed Monday.

Camera3 024After reading about it in Lonely Planet, I came here for Sunday lunch and the food and service was very good. For dessert I had Seadas com Miele e Scorzette de Arancia which stood out as the best of the three versions I tried on the trip (A) due to the orange zest in the honey.

La Lanterna (Intermediate B), 13 Via Olbia,

Another Lonely Planet pick. I had an ok Pizza Margherita here (B).

Near the hotel:

Pizzeria L’Antico Borgo (B) 12 Via de Fabris, Turn right out of the hotel and turn right at the fifth side street, you’ll see its terrace on the right.

One of many pizzerias in the area but this one seems to be the most popular with the locals, and is open the latest. They let me in just after 11pm to get my fix of Pizza Margherita (the ‘Buffalo Bill’ with buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes). I’d been fantasising about my first Margherita for several weeks before coming and this one hit all the right buttons (B+).

Several Belgian beers were on the menu but at €10 or more a bottle, I settled for the local Ichnusa which was fine. Factoid: Sardinians are the biggest consumers of beer per person in the whole of Italy at 60 litres per person per year!

Total cost was €15 with a complimentary flask of limoncello. I liked the Christmassy atmosphere here, very cosy and warm. The service is very young and inattentive but friendly. Perhaps avoid the indoor terrace where they have a patio heater pumping out carbon monoxide. These things should be outside.

As far as bars are concerned, I quite liked the laid back atmosphere of the intimate Jazz Art Café (at 129 Viale Aldo Moro, just before you get to the turn for L’Antico Borgo) with its chilled musical vibes, although I wouldn’t make a pilgrimage to come here. A limoncello costs €3.

Places to avoid in town:

Pizzeria Trocadero, 14 Via Achenza

I had a quite mediocre Pizza Margherita here (C+). The décor is quite frightening too.

Ristorante Il Gambero di Roberta Serra,  6 Via La Marmora

Was a Lonely Planet pick many years ago but no longer it seems. It was empty every time I passed by.

I stayed at the Hotel Stella 2000 at 70 Viale Aldo Moro, in the more modern part of the town. The hotel is small and basic with a limited breakfast but strong, free wi-fi and friendly non English-speaking staff. It’s a 20 minute walk to the old town on the other side of the railway tracks but there are lots of shops and eateries nearby. Apparently their own restaurant is very good but I didn’t try it.

Camera3 006I was working in a small village called Porto San Paolo just to the east of Olbia. On the way back from work the teacher took me to see a view of Isola Tavolara, or Table Island, which is a local beauty spot. I really must come back with the yacht.

Camera3 044Piazza Matteotti is the centre of the town but there wasn’t much going on there except a rather ugly statue and fountain. A stroll along the waterfront is a slightly more pleasant option though.

In conclusion then there was not much to excite me about Olbia itself but of course for tourists its an important jump off point for more interesting places nearby. Also it was out of season (December) when I went so it was pretty quiet. I’m sure it livens up a lot in the summer. When you leave make sure you look out of the window as you’re flying over to catch a glimpse of the azure blue coastal waters. So beautiful.

Caceres – Barrio Nuevo

Posted in Barrio Nuevo, Caceres, Extremadura, Spain with tags on January 16, 2015 by gannet39

There’s no such area as Barrio Nuevo, this is just all the stuff I couldn’t get in the previous post about the old town.

El Figon de Eustaquio (Advanced B+) 12-14 Plaza San Juan, 927 244 362

20131126_204540Recommended in ‘Where Chefs Eat’ and by Frommers, this formal but friendly spot near the old town is a great place to sample local cuisine.

20131126_210104I’m writing this 18 months later without my  notes so I can’t actually remember what I had (except the first course, Migas Extremenas, in the first picture) or what I thought of each dish.

20131126_214711I do recall generally though that it was very good and I had a nice time, thanks in part to the great service from Roberto who helped me pick out a few local specialities.

20131126_215245One of these was the glass of Licor de Bellota he served me at the end of the meal. Bellota means acorn, which is what is traditionally fed to the Iberian pig to create the very best kind of ham, Jamon Bellota. So this was an Extremaduran acorn liqueur! It was interesting but one was enough. Definitely not something I’d like to be hungover on!

Should you be on a budget there is a cheaper place called Meson San Juan just opposite El Figon in Plaza San Juan. I haven’t been but the nice chap on reception recommended it.

So as well as having heaps of history, Caceres is a fantastic foodie destination. Here are a few things they are famous for in these parts:

Jamon Iberico

Spanish cured ham is the best in the world, and in Spain the best ham comes from Extremadura, and in Caceres I was told the best place to get ham was Solano at 48 Avenida de la Plata  I got some Jamon Bellota and it was indeed very good. They will vacuum pack it for you to take home.


It is said that Colombus brought peppers back on his second voyage and first served them to the king and queen while in Extremadura. The county of La Vera in Caceres province has a DOP for pimenton  (paprika) which is considered the best in Spain (although Murcia has a good rep too). I was told the best brand was La Dalia. There are 3 types; dulce (sweet or mild), agridulce (bittersweet) and hot (picante). I bought several tins of all three at Mostazo at 13 Gil de Cordero,, It’s a more visually spectacular deli than Solano with lots of hams hanging from the ceiling and a much wider range of other goods.

Torta de Casar

A sheep’s milk cheese from the local town of Casar which has its own DOP. It’s eaten by slicing off the top of the cheese and scooping out the soft inside.


As mentioned in previous post, this is a poor man’s sausage made with potato, paprika and the cheaper cuts of the pig.


A kind of strong artisanal wine made in earthenware jars. It’s not necessarily of the highest quality but it is homemade and without chemical additives. Several local towns hold competitions to see who makes the best stuff.


One of the most famous Extramaduran wine producers. I especially like their Tempranillo/Sauv Cab/Syrah  blend Habla del Silencio which can be imported via Vinissimus for about £9 a bottle including shipping.

I stayed at the Hotel Barcelo Caceres V Centenario. I remember it being quite a strange design and not particularly attractive but the reception staff are truly excellent, very helpful and with a great sense of humour. It’s located in a bit of a bleak spot by a major road (turn left out of the hotel for the footbridge) and about 30 minutes’ walk from the old town, but I don’t mind a bit of exercise if there’s a good meal at the end of it.

20131126_230442Finally here are a few more scraps of architecture from around town. This is the old theatre on Calle Parras.

20131128_124443I love this tiled building which I think was on Calle Pintores, or its continuation. Please click on the picture to see the beautiful patterns on the ceramics properly.

20131128_124345Nearby is this rather spooky statue of two pilgrims, paying homage to the fact that Caceres is a major stop on the camino to Santiago de Compestela.

I wish I could have spent a day or two longer in Caceres but I had to fly home after two days. I’m definitely going back one day though.



Caceres – Ciudad Monumental

Posted in Caceres, Ciudad Monumental, Extremadura, Spain with tags on January 14, 2015 by gannet39

My second stop in Extremadura in November 2013 was Caceres, a city of 100,000 and capital of its own province.

20131128_12491520131128_15051020131128_131654The old town has been declared a UNESCO heritage site due to its mix of Roman, Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The medieval walls and their twelve towers are still standing and in a good state of preservation. They were mainly built by the Moors although some Roman fortifications remain. Please click on these photos to see them in full detail.

20131128_13172220131128_131442The main entrance to the historical centre is via the 18th century Arco de Estrella in Plaza Major. Its unusual angular shape presumably allowed carriages to access the narrow side street.

20131128_15011220131128_12585220131128_14522620131128_15015520131128_14551020131128_125941Many of the buildings here are quite austere as they were originally built as fortified houses in the 15th century and then later converted to palaces during the Renaissance. Some conquistadores from South America also returned and built new palaces during this period.


20131128_14553020131128_15023520131128_150212Coats of arms decorate walls and doors at every turn. You can apparently see over 1,300 coats of arms around the town.

20131128_13271420131128_13083320131128_12564620131128_13133020131128_13130520131128_132451And as elsewhere in Spain, they know how to do a good door! No ones getting through one of those in a hurry.




Only residents cars are allowed in this area, so it’s a great place to walk around, just breathing in the history.

You probably need a couple of hours to do this, more if you want to see the insides of buildings. I could quite happily have spent much longer wandering around but unfortunately I only had one morning to do it.

As you’d imagine with such a touristy area, there are plenty of places to eat. A friend of a friend had recommended La Cacharreria at 1 Calle Orellana for large tapas portions at a good price in cosy surroundings. However as it was my last day I felt like a bit more of a treat and was sorely tempted to go high end and eat 13 courses for €119 at Atrio which is generally considered the best place in town. Fortunately for my wallet, I reigned myself in and compromised with…

Parador de Caceres (Advanced B+), 6 Calle Ancha,

In Spain many monuments are owned and run by the government as hotels, as is the case with this beautiful Renaissance palace. For some reason however the food at these places can sometimes be quite poor but this particular one had been recommended by a colleague who was taken here by a local manager who knows his stuff when it comes to eating well.

20131128_14513620131128_133534It’s certainly a nice spot with the dining room looking out over a leafy courtyard garden, which has an old well in one corner.

The service was friendly and attentive too, and they dealt with all my foodie questions with a smile.

20131128_13473420131128_135355I started with some pate and a local sausage called Patatera. Traditionally this was poor man’s food, made with potato, the famous local paprika and the cheapest cuts from the pig. It was very nice, as was the wild mushroom soup that followed. I’ve lost my tasting notes on all the dishes and drinks but  suffice to say that everything I had was good or very good.

20131128_14290020131128_140815 - CopyFor the main course it had to be the pork loin as the region is famed in Spain for pig breeding. It was pretty good. To finish the house speciality, Tarta de Queso con Frutillas del Bosque, or cheese cake with fruits of the forest, which was fine too.

20131128_13474820131128_143017To drink a crianza from nearby Badajoz and a glass of Graham’s tawny port, which they would seem to prefer in Extremadura to Andalucian sherry. All was fine and dandy so by all means come here.

Here’s my Google map to help you find the places mentioned. To make my this post more manageable I’ve divided it into two, the old and new(er) parts of town. Please see the next post for everything else.

A good time in Badajoz

Posted in Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain with tags , , on January 11, 2015 by gannet39

This trip in Autumn 2013 was my first time in Extremadura and I was very excited to be visiting this culinarily famous region. I spent my first three nights in Badajoz and in that short time I got a very positive impression of the place and its friendly people, and I ate pretty well too.

Located on the border with Portugal, the city has been fought over on several occasions by the two countries. Nowadays it’s a very peaceful town, and although Spanish in name, many of the inhabitants have Portuguese relatives or speak the language.

I stayed at the bright, modern and comfortable Hotel Badajoz Center which was well located for the bus station and not too far from the old town.

20131125_105857The centre of the old town is Plaza de España which has a few nice old buildings located around the Gothic cathedral.

20131125_105658The plain exterior of the cathedral didn’t do much for me though. It was built with defence in mind and has thick walls and a square tower rather like a fortress, so not exactly a beauty.

20131125_114631There is one window with a nicely carved surround for the bishop to wave out of.

20131125_105737The front entrance is quite nice too. Apparently the windows are quite unusual but it was closed when I went so I can’ t comment on the interior. The organ looks amazing though in these pictures.

20131125_114345I loved these weather vanes on the building next to the cathedral too.

Remember you can click on any of these photos for a better view.

20131125_113631This is stork territory, so every tall tower or chimney round here has a nest on its summit.

It was the first time I’d heard the sound the storks make with their beaks when they communicate with each other, kind of like the hollow sound of two coconut shells imitating horses hooves by rapidly clopping together. There are lots of better photos of them here.

20131125_111320My favourite place in the old town is the pretty Plaza Alta with its long porticos and brightly patterned walls. Again, please click on the photo to see it better.

20131125_113300Despite being recently renovated it still retains an atmosphere of medieval times when it hosted markets and bullfights. There are a couple of bars at one end where you can sit and watch the tourists go by.

20131125_112331Nearby is the Alcazaba, the Moorish citadel, which is apparently the largest one still intact in Spain.

20131125_112438There’s a couple of museums in here, and you can walk along the walls and get some good views of the town. More info about its history here.

20131125_11322420131125_114209It was also nice just wandering around the narrow streets getting lost.

Extremaduran cuisine has a very good rep, so I was really looking forward to eating out here. I didn’t find get any info about the restaurant scene from my usual sources, except for the 2011 edition of La Seleccion del Gourmet which lists the first two places mentioned below.

El Sigar (Advanced B+), 12 Avenida Luis Movilla,

This bright, modern, fairly posh place is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, in the opposite direction from the old town. You can stand in the busy tapas bar or dine in the quieter restaurant as I did.

I had the set menu for €33 which was fine (B+) and very good value, about £3.70 for each of the seven plates which were:

20131123_210948Foie Marinado, foie ‘marinated’ with oil and black pepper (B+).

20131123_212506Cebiche de Corvina, sea bass marinated in citrus (B).

20131123_213608The Lasana de Morcilla, black pudding lasagna, particularly impressed me (A). I would love to make this at home but I don’t think our black pudding is moist enough.

20131123_214902Langosta con Tallarines, lobster with slightly overcooked noodles in a creamy sauce, was less impressive (C+).

20131123_220444Pollito Relleno, ‘stuffed’ chicken wasn’t much to look at but was ok (B). Not really sure what the sauce was or why they describe it as stuffed.

20131123_211425With these courses I tried a couple of glasses of local reds. The first was a crianza called ‘Basangus’ 2011, from the Badajoz DO Ribera de Guadiana, which was very good (B).

20131123_225050The second glass of ‘Valudeza’ from Tierra de Extremadura was pretty decent too (B) but I think this was the beginning of a slippery slope!

20131123_222135Degustcaion de Quesos, in this case a selection of cheeses with honey, jam, figs and reduced vinegar,  was always going to be a winner with me (A). All of them were local I think.

20131123_232033A glass of Noval 2007 port from over the border went well with this (A).

20131123_231857Sopa de Almendra con Helado de Higos, almond soup with fig ice cream was interesting although it didn’t look great despite the decorative physalis trying to make it look better (B).

20131124_003022I decamped to the restaurant bar after the meal in search of a night cap and got more than I bargained for!

20131124_000358I got chatting with the very dour but hospitable chef/owner who plied me with this Extremaduran aguardiente made of green apples and a couple of his more unusual Jerez brandies.

Interestingly he considers Luis Felipe, my favourite and the most expensive Spanish brandy, to be a sweet wine rather than a true cognac, which when I retasted it, does seem to be true.

It was here that I also got chatting with Macarena (an English teacher) and Javi who, although they didn’ t know me from Adam, invited me to come out with them on their first date! Now that’s friendliness for you.

They took me to a Cuban ‘local’ in the old town (Bar Malecon at 5 Calle San Blas) which is reputed for its Mojitos. As it was a lock-in I soon made more acquaintances, including friendly, English-speaking Ana who introduced me to her pals. I had a great time and I was one of the last ones to leave! Thanks for being so welcoming guys; I have such a good impression of the local people now.

The next day, Sunday, wasn’ t so good though as I awoke with the biggest hangover in living memory! I had intended to eat a big Sunday lunch at Restaurante Marchivirito but spent the whole day in the hotel recovering instead. I even ate in the hotel restaurant in the evening which is very unlike me, and not an experience I’d recommend foodwise, at least not on a Sunday.

The next day, with my spirits restored, I faced the eternal Spanish problem of finding somewhere open on a Monday evening and had to resort to asking the receptionist for help (usually a bad idea). He sent me to this place which he said has a good rep locally:

Restaurante Galaxia (High Intermediate B), 6 Avenida Villanueva, Tel. 924 258 211

20131125_222828Everything I had here was fine. I quite liked the unusual porthole door and windows which give it a nautical look. It is apparently a seafood restaurant but I was in the mood for meat and lots of it.

20131125_211852You can’t come to Extremadura and not have the famous Jamon Iberico. It was of course excellent (A).

20131125_213618For the main, Solomillo de Ternera de Ritonto a la Plancha, a grilled veal sirloin steak which pressed all the right buttons (B+), even if the accompanying Pringles didn’t (C).

20131125_212509To drink,  ‘Huno’ a 2008 crianza from the local Ribera del Guadiana DO (B) was suitably full-bodied at 14.8%.

20131125_221029And finally a slice of Tarta de Almendra, almond tart, which as usual was very dry but tasted ok (B). I don’t think moistness is a criteria in Spanish baking.

20131125_221000Fortunately a strategic glass of Gonzalez Byass ‘Solera 1847’ cream sherry helped it down nicely (B+).

So a good time was had! Even if I didn’t get to do (eat) as much as I’d have liked to, I still really enjoyed myself. Here are links to my Google map with the places mentioned above and also the local tourism website.



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