Monthly Archives: July 2018

Europe Day 12 to 17 : Barcelona & Montserrat

After a short train ride from Perpignan, we arrived at our hotel in Barcelona Spain and were ready for a new adventure.  Just a few days before leaving home, I had changed our hotel to one in the Fira area of Barcelona which is a business district and less touristy.  The location was convenient to the Metro, walking distance to a supermarket & restaurants and it had a beautiful rooftop pool and bar to spend my afternoons and one day of work.

While we did visit the usual tourist sites like Sagrada Famiglia, La Pedrera, Las Ramblas and Barceloneta, we spent most of our time relaxing and walking the quieter neighborhoods.  My son and I both don’t like crowded tourist zones, so spending time in the not so busy restaurants or just eating food from the market in the room while watching the World Cup or Wimbledon championships was just fine by us.

The main food draw in Barcelona and in Spain is of course Tapas.  And we had plenty.  The problem for us was that by this time, we had gotten tired of eating out and while the tapas were all delicious, we still didn’t find any bold flavors with the exception of a few dishes like the spicy coconut curry muscles at Casa Varela and the Sausage & beans stew at Cal Pep.  We did enjoy some wonderful meals throughout the city.

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Mussels in Spicy Coconut Curry at Casa Varela – a small neighborhood restaurant


Sausage & White Bean Stew with a Balsamic Glaze at Cal Pep in Gothic Quarter

On one of our days, we took the train and cable car to Montserrat which is about a 1 hour train ride from Barcelona.  Montserrat is beautiful and well worth a visit.  We hiked several trails and burned off some of the calories of the past several days. There isn’t much to eat at Montserrat so I recommend packing a picnic as we did.

One of my favorite things to do during our five day stay was simply to relax at the rooftop pool & bar of our hotel and watch the city below move through the day.  A true vacation must include true down time without scheduling activities every minute of every day.  Well relaxed and feeling like staying in Barcelona for another month, we prepared for our next journey to Madrid.

Europe Day 11 : Limoges – Carcassonne – Perpignan

The day came to leave our friends in Limoges and continue our journey to the next destination.  Our original plans to get an early start was modified when my friends requested that I cook Indian food for them for lunch before leaving.  I was not going to deny their request given the hospitality they had shown us for so many days.

After a trip to the market for all the ingredients I would need, I made chicken curry, stir fried zucchini, cucumber raita and rice.  We paired it all with Champagne to celebrate our friendship and some wonderful cheeses, and lingered over our final conversations.

Lunch complete, we said our goodbyes and hit the road towards Carcassone, a medieval fort city in Southern France.  Although holiday traffic delayed us, we managed to get a few hours to climb the walls and explore this beautiful site.

As the sun started setting, we headed to our destination for the evening, Perpignan; a city I had not been to before.  It is located on the Southern end of France, close to the border of Spain and we intended it simply as a stopping point to drop off the rental car, get a night’s rest and get on the train towards Barcelona. But as we spent the few hours we had walking and exploring the streets, I found it to be a beautiful city with an interesting vibe and made note to return some day to spend more time.  It was also where we had our most favorite restaurant meal of the trip – PIZZA!!!!

Yes, it was late and yes, we were very hungry but our love for this pizza at Le Napoli, which was a short walk from our hotel, had nothing to do with those two factors.  It was just really great pizza.  I ordered the margarita and the my son opted for the one with prosciutto & parmigiano and we both finished every single morsel of each individual pies.  The crust was thin, crispy, chewy and perfect as was the flavor of the pizza itself.  Our server was friendly and charming and although we were tired from our long day, we lingered with a carafe of wine in the warm summer night just feeling very relaxed.  Our train to Barcelona wasn’t until quite late into the morning and there was no rush to get to sleep……

Europe Day 10 : A Mountain Hike & Truffade in Cantal, Auvergne

After a quiet and restful sleep in the cool mountain air, we awoke to fresh croissants and tea for breakfast. Since we had gone to bed before my friend’s parents returned from their night of dancing, this was also our first opportunity to meet our lovely hosts.  Her mother was already busy cooking our delicious lunch as it was going to take much of the morning to prepare, and the kitchen smelled incredible. IMG_3440 (Edited)

Once breakfast was complete, we changed into hiking clothes and headed off on our short drive through the town of Mandailles to climb a mountain called Col de Pertus. It was a steep hike through trees eventually leading into a meadow with some amazing views of the region.  I hate to admit it but I was not able to make it to the top of the mountain and had to stop just short of the last steep climb.  My son, of course practically ran up the trail while I found a place to wait and shoot some photos of the beautiful scenery. The walk down the mountain was much easier and allowed for some interesting political and other discussions including how hungry we were feeling after all that work. On the drive back, we stopped for a quick walk in the small village of Mandailles and then picked up some sausages, cheese and fruit that had been ordered for our lunch.

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We returned to the farm, washed up and helped set the outdoor table while our hostess finished cooking the sausages, some carrots and the special treat of the day – Truffade!! Truffade is the regional dish of the mountains of Auvergne and is made with potatoes and cheese; a lot of a very specific cheese which melts and becomes ooey & gooey and tastes absolutely delicious. This is NOT for the diet conscious but we were on vacation and I had left all my dietary restrictions at home for this trip. Also included in the feast was some sweet melon and fresh baked bread which is standard for all meals in France.  A cheese course (a must at all French meals) and dessert followed and we had eaten enough to not only satisfy our hunger but were in need of a long walk to digest it all.

A short while later we packed our bags, said goodbye to our gracious hosts and were on the road headed back to Limoges with a stop for coffee and exploring in the medieval town of Salers.


Back to our home base in Limoges, we enjoyed Aperol spritzes before a dinner of pasta, foie gras, bread and some beautiful wine.  It had been a perfect day!!!

Europe Day 9 : Limoges – Aurillac – Auvergne

The friends we were staying with in Limoges had some personal responsibilities over the next few days and so we had Friday morning to wander on our own in the city of Limoges before another friend picked us up in the afternoon for a two day adventure in the mountains of Auvergne which is in the Massif Centrale.

There is no doubt that we had been eating well thus far in our travels, but what we had lacked was variety.  Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious and we enjoyed it, but it became a bit too much meat, butter, cheese and bread after more than a week of it.  I can’t even believe I just wrote that considering I’ve always said that I could live on bread, cheese & wine; clearly it’s not true. So, after a lazy morning, we made our way into the town to shop for some souvenirs and then stopped for an espresso at the Fabrique du Café where we lingered for quite a while just watching people and in no particular rush.

After walking around and browsing through shops for a while, we were hungry and decided to make our way to Vemillion, the Sri Lankan restaurant our friend had recommended so we could introduce a little change to our palates.  My son ordered Samosas and Tandoori Chicken with Cabbage and I opted for the Vegetarian Thali (pronounced Thaa-LEE), which is a South Indian traditional large plate that is filled with small portions of a variety of different foods.  We rounded out the meal with an order of Garlic Naan and a half bottle of white wine.  And yes, we asked for the food to be extra spicy since the owner mentioned they cook it very mild for the French.  Not only was the food quite good (not as good as homemade), but my taste buds felt like they’d come out of dormancy.

My son enjoyed the ground beef samosas with hot chili pickle as well as the tender and flavorful chicken.  My thali included potatoes cooked in a tangy tomato sauce, stewed eggplant which had been cooked in spices with tamarind, sautéed spinach, pakoras (fritters), a spicy & delicious lentil daal and basmati rice.  The daal was definitely my favorite but I enjoyed every morsel on the plate.  Too full for dessert or coffee, we made our way back to our temporary home and packed up for our overnight journey.

Our friend picked us up in the late afternoon and we began our drive to her parents’ home in Cantal, Auvergne. As we drove, she filled us in on some history of her town, told us about her family and the family farm, talked about politics (as most French enjoy doing), and enjoyed the sights around us.  We stopped at the town of Aurillac, where she attended university, pulling in just as France won the world cup match against Belgium which was cause for much celebration around us.  Aurillac is known for its craftsmanship in umbrellas and all around you there are umbrella shops and alleys with umbrellas hanging from the sky.  These are not the umbrellas you buy for $2 at Penn Station in New York City.  One can see the quality in these handmade versions that start at prices around 75 Euros and go into the hundreds depending on fabric and design. After stopping for a leisurely cup of coffee and soda, we picked up a couple of pizzas from a pizzeria in town and some wine from a local shop (Chateau De Lancyre Pic Saint Loup) from a region I’d never tried before, and continued our drive to Cantal.

We arrived at my friend’s family farm around 8pm and decided to do some exploring after we had settled in a bit.  Her parents were out for the evening dancing with friends, and it felt good to stretch our legs in the quiet of the mountains after so many days in large cities.  My son was happy to run around and goof off in the wilderness and have things to climb on to just for the fun of it.  Once hunger set in, we warmed up the pizza, made a salad of tomatoes & shallots and ate outside on the picnic bench enjoying the drastic change in our atmosphere.  The pizza was ok, the tomatoes were delicious and the wine very good.  I am still amazed at how much good wine can be found in France for less than 10 Euros. After another walk to digest our dinner, we set off to bed for some rest from our long day.

Europe Day 8 : Limoges

Today was a day of work for me.  I consider myself very fortunate that I’m able to work remotely while traveling which allows me to take such a long trip and break a day each week for work.  We still managed to get out to a wonderful restaurant for dinner with a few friends.  The restaurant specializes in local beef which is aged on the property and is incredibly flavorful.  My son was happy with his steak and our friends all ordered the “Riz de Veau” which we found out is the throat meat of veal.  As much as I wanted to try some, I just could not get the nerve to do so and ate my asparagus and foie gras instead.

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