Pinchos: The five best in Logroño

La Rioja is well known for its wine, but did you know that a few years ago it was also voted the gastronomic capital of Spain? That’s right, the food is nearly as good as the wine — remind me again why I left?? The pinchos, as tapas are called in the north, are varied, delicious, and incredibly unique. And I’ve tracked down the best ones!

The main area for pinchos in Logroño is Calle Laurel. As I was lucky enough to live on Calle del Capitan Gallarza (literally the next street over), I was able to try most of them!

My top five

1. Paganos: iberico pinchos

We call this place the meat on a stick place, because two of its three meat pinchos come skewered on a wooden stick. This is, in my opinion, the absolute best pincho Logroño has to offer. Get the iberico, watch them put it on the fire, sprinkle it with salt, and then die of culinary happiness when you take your first bite. This was the first place I took my mom during her visit, and she went back every day. In Spain you generally “pincho hop,” where you move from place to place, dish to dish. Not my momma. She would order two or three ibericos and just be done with it. #Respect. Also a glass of wine is .80, and though that is common for Rioja, it’s still fun to point out. *I don’t have a photo of this one because it was literally so good I could never put off eating long enough to take a picture, but you can check it out here.

2. ribera: michy pinchos

Ribera is famous for its moro pincho, or pork cheek. I went my entire time in Logroño without trying it, because on my first night I found something that  was impossible to not order again and again. On my last night, I finally did try, and not gonna lie–it wasn’t as good my usual. Luckily, by then I was a Ribera regular, and noting my failure to immediately clear my plate as custom, the bartender quickly presented me with michy, which was my favorite. I don’t actually know what it is–once I passed someone eating the most delicious smelling thing I’d ever encountered, was told simply that it was michy and never questioned it again. Get the michy.

Pork Cheek

Pork Cheek

Michy

Michy

Can I just say, while I’d never argue Europe has anywhere near the customer service we get in the states, in general once they know you (or even when they don’t, as we discovered on our hikes), the staff are incredibly generous and go above and beyond–I’d imagine it’s because most places are independently owned and family run, so more pride is taken in the quality).

3. la Canilla: entrecot pinchos

I found this place from the young adventuress (also where I found my piso…), and I’m so glad I did. At about 5 euros, this is a bit more expensive than the others, but is super filling and just oh-so-delicious. This is entrecot cooked rare and flavored with sea salt (as are all the best meat dishes), with sides of red peppers and little crispy potatoes.  This one is lovely, and as it’s the next street over from Laurel, a great place to go if you’re not feeling the crowds.

entrecot

entrecot

4. Pulpería La Universidad: pulpo pinchos

PulperÍa is famous for its octopus, and once you try, you’ll understand why. It’s unique and delicious and not a place you want to miss. They also have great deals on bottles of white wine, which has led to me accidentally getting a bit drunk a few occasions.

pulpo - octopus

pulpo

5. bar cid: setas pinchos

Bar Cid has the best setas, or mushrooms in Logroño. A controversial statement, as anyone who has lived in Logroño can attest, the generally agreed upon best is Bar Angel. And those are good. These are just better. While the others come from champi mushrooms, these are oyster mushrooms, covered in a garlic/buttery goodness, and served up on a piece of bread. There is nothing to improve on.

setas - mushrooms

Setas

A map, to show just how close all these wonderful options are:

Basically, Logroño’s pinchos game is on point. Writing this post was so bittersweet–man oh man, do I miss all this food . Oh well, at least in London there is Chinese food and delivery.

Coming soon: the best pinchos for specific things: tortilla, patatas bravas, calamares, and even Italian food!

(*credit for the mushroom and octopus photos to Shaina who is much better at photographing her food than I am)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

When I was younger, one of my aunts had businesses all over Europe, and visited them constantly. My dad would never let us go with her (thanks, dad), but she promised that when we turned 16, my sister and I could choose any city in the world and she’d take us. After reading a book called Postcards from No Man’s Land when I was 12, I fell madly in love with Amsterdam from afar, and knew this was where I would pick. And while a change in fortune prevented me from going when I was 16, I promised myself I’d make it there one day.

That day ended up being last December, in between Berlin and Poland. Gareth wanted to wait until the Spring, but I l’d already waited over ten years, so off we went.

that is me between the red hat and red scarf. I love wine and all wine colored things.

We arrived (barely) after a ten hour bus journey from Berlin, and from the moment we stepped off the bus we were already excitedly talking about how this is where we want to live. I still feel that way. Amsterdam felt alive and inspiring and immediately like home. I spent all our down time researching the logistics of a move to Amsterdam, and it’s still probably the number one place in Europe I’d like to live. I really hope it happens one day!

We only had two days in the city, and missed out on some vital stuff. We’d already said we’d go back in the spring to see the tulips, and will know to book ahead to see the Anne Frank house. But I wouldn’t trade our winter trip for anything. The city wasn’t very crowded, we got to pop in for a mulled wine whenever it got too cold, and spent an evening ice skating next to the Van Gogh Museum. That said, there was a shocking lack of Christmas markets in Amsterdam, which I hadn’t expected. However they did have ice skating and mulled wine, which are the best parts of Christmas anyway.

We didn’t do the “other side” of Amsterdam at all. We accidentally walked through the red-light district for about a minute, but didn’t see anything other than some literally red lights.

Things I’d recommend:

The Van Gogh museum is worth it. The collection is huge, and it’s not just his art but history of his life, personal items and letters. I remember being in second grade and learning about the crazy guy who cut off his ear. It seemed so insane back then, far away and from a different world. I loved being able to see his things, look at his writing, view his work.

We went to Omlegg for breakfast both days. I know you’re supposed to try new places, but we’d already found the perfect spot and were happy sticking with it.

We decided early on that after the Van Gogh museum we’d try to spend as much of our time as possible outside. We took a long walk from one end of Amsterdam to the other, which I’d highly recommend copying. Omlegg is in De Pijp, which was imo the coolest neighborhood in the city. It’s easy to go from there to the Albert Cuyp Market (largest market in Europe, open 9-5 every day of the week except Sunday). Then take a stroll through Museumplein Park, and along the river.

We saw so much of the city just by wandering around, popping in the shops, chatting with the servers, and got to know the city beyond just its tourist attractions. End the walk at Arendsnest to try the local beer brews. This was a highlight of the trip, even for a wine drinker like me. Honestly, this place is incredible.

There are a lot of bookstores around, and we had so much fun stopping in them (or maybe I just loved it enough for us both). Like I said earlier, the city felt very creative and young, and the bookstores were no different. I got this book, and it was SO good. I learned so much about the history of Amsterdam and it was so well written, I flew through it in just a few days.

Amsterdam is hard to capture in just a post. The bikes, the young population, the crisp air. The whole time I was there all I wanted to do was read and write and explore, and that feeling is basically what I’m looking for when I travel. I don’t know when or how we’d live there, but it’s still something I’d really, really like to do at some point.

(feature image photo cred to The Telegraph)

Lake Bled, Slovenia

About five years ago I saw a picture of what looked like a fairy tale brought to life. It was of a gorgeous lake, surrounded by towering mountains, with a tiny island in the middle with an old church on it. I wasn’t sure if it was real, but eventually tracked it down: Lake Bled, Slovenia.

Slovenia. It sounded remote and was definitely not a place I already had on my list. But after seeing that photo, up it went, and I am so incredibly glad I was able to go last Semana Santa, in between Italy and Croatia.

I made friends with a few people from my hostel, and we decided to spend the day in Bled together. Getting there from Ljubljana is really easy. The bus leaves right from the main station, and drops you off right at the lake about and hour and fifteen minutes later. They depart hourly, and are 7 euros each way. Some buses even continue on to Bohinj, which is another gorgeous looking lake. You can also go by train, which is faster but the stop is a few miles away from the lake so unless you feel like a walk, you’d have to then catch the bus or take a cab.

It was as stunning in person as it is in photos, which isn’t always the case, and even though it was Easter we only had to share the lake with about ten other people. We spent a few hours walking the loop, and at about the midpoint found a little shop that had groceries–we picked up some wine and the makings for a picnic. There’s a trail almost directly across from where you first enter that leads to the most incredible view point. It was a lot more steep and rocky than I had expected, but WOW were the views worth it. We stayed up there for about an hour, picnicking, and soaking in the beauty. There are hostels nearby if you want to stay for the night, but unless you’re planning on going to Bohinj the next day, there’s not much to do in the area once you’ve done the lake. It’s a perfect as a day trip from Ljubljana, and such a perfect way to cap off any trip to Slovenia.

48 hours in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A weekend in Ljubljana was the perfect rest stop between the craziness of Italy, and the fast paced road trip I was about to embark on with G.

A tiny capital city, there is very little to do but wander around, soak in the beauty, and speak to the amazingly friendly locals. Also ask again and again how to pronounce it–apparently it’s Loo-blah-nah. But the Spanish call it Libby-anna, the Germans have something else entirely, and it seemed like every person I asked had their own take–even the natives! So I guess the best advice is to just go with your gut and hope not to get it too wrong.

There weren’t many tourists while I was there–and this was over Easter holidays. I love avoiding tourists and instead trying to get a feel of what actually living in a place might be like.. And after the loneliness I felt in Venice, Ljubljana was the perfect place to do some solo travel.

The bus I took from Italy was delayed at the border due to what could only be described as some pretty serious racism. It was horrible to have to powerlessly witness it, and be unable to do anything to help.

Because of the delay we didn’t get into the city until past midnight, and I entered in a bit of a panic–my phone wasn’t working (the new rule that keeps EU phones working across borders is THE BEST, but hadn’t yet gone into effect), my hostel had a 21:00 pm check in cut off, and I had no idea how safe it would be to walk the streets alone at night.

Luckily, I was in Ljubljana which is probably the most charming, friendly, and sweet European city I’ve visited. They had free wifi everywhere, so I could easily log on, find my hostel, and alert them to my arrival. Walking the streets felt a lot safer than it does in London or even LA. There wasn’t a single moment I felt nervous walking alone.

I stayed at Zeppelin Hostel and I really loved it. However—I woke up on my second morning to discover that both me and the girl below me were covered in itchy red marks! BED BUGS. I don’t know if it’s me in particular, of if everyone is equally horrified by the idea of bugs crawling all over them whilst they sleep, but it was a really horrendous discovery. The hostel was fantastic, moving me to a new room, washing all my things (pretty great after a week on the road), and made my entire stay free. They were great people and from talking to others around Ljubljana, it sounds like it’s a huge problem at all the hostels—the bed bugs come up from Northern Italy—even the trains and buses that do the route are infested. So if you’re staying in a hostel, check the mattress carefully before climbing into bed!

BUT, even bed bugs could not get me down, as Ljubljana was fantastic. There’s not much to do, to be sure. You really only need a day or two in the city–it really is the perfect respite. I hiked up to the castle that sits atop the city, swung on the swing, and read a bit. 

Honestly though, wandering around the city, popping into shops, and eating the delicious food was so refreshing. To anyone who needs a respite after a bit of hectic travel, I highly, highly recommend taking a break in Ljubljana. There’s no need to sightsee, because the city is the sight. That, and Lake Bled, obviously, which is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been.

After 48 hours hanging around in Ljubljana, I was ready for the next adventure. I went into the bus station, and there were so many bus companies that weren’t listed online, with routes to Belgrade, Sarajevo, Trieste, and more, all for under 10 euros. My advice would be to check here before booking anything online, where the options were much more expensive.

I had a week before I had to meet G, and could go anywhere. The freedom was such a fantastic feeling, only hampered by the realization I couldn’t do it all. After checking out the weather, connections, and timings, I decided on Zagreb, as it was where G and I were meeting, but we wouldn’t actually spending any time in outside the airport. And seriously, it was the right choice!

30 Before 30 State of the Union

Well, it’s been a minute since I’ve had an update to the 30 before 30 list, but as today is my 28th birthday(!!), I figure a little check in is probably in order. We’re officially past the midpoint to thirty, and I can’t lie and say I’m not totally freaked out at how incredibly quickly time is moving!

This year I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped, but I did get a major one out of the way—I am officially a recognized Italian citizen! And I’ve visited Italy not once, but twice, going to Florence, Venice, Pisa, Vernasca, and Cinque Terre!

30 Before 30

The remaining items on the list are:

6. Visit Buenos Aires
7. Visit Costa Rica
9. Visit South Africa
10. Visit Greece
11. Visit Egypt
12. Volunteer in Africa or Asia
13. Stay in Shakespeare & Co Bookstore
15. Fix my tooth
17. Be able to cook 5 meals very well
18. Do a pull up
20. Live in France
21. Learn French
22. Reach a B2 level in Spanish
23. Get my masters
24. Get published
25. Read 10 books every year
30. Go to a Patriots game

So! We have 17 items left and just over two years to go. Because this is about focusing on what’s important to me, rather than doing something just because 25-year-old Kristen thought it sounded nice, this list is ever evolving. As a result, some of these things just aren’t that important to me anymore.

For example, items 15, 17, and 18. I don’t much care about fixing my tooth, and Gareth cooks for me so I’m eating just fine without any culinary skills to call my own. Also I just don’t care enough to put in the work needed to be able to do a pull up. Oh well.

That said, the rest I still care about mightily, and I think I’ll have the chance to accomplish some in 2018!

# 9 and 11: Gareth and I recently booked tickets for two weeks in South Africa, with a day layover in Cairo! We’ve just booked our accommodation in Kruger, and are looking into stop over tours in Egypt. I’m so excited, it’s definitely the most adventurous trip I’ve ever planned!

# 10: We’re also planning on spending a week in Greece this summer, so that’s three of the final five travel related ones done in 2018!

# 21 and 22: My New Year’s resolution is to pass the B2 DELE Spanish exam, so that should hopefully happen this year, and I’m organizing French lessons through my work. I’d like to be at an A2 level of French by the end of the year as well.

#25: I’ve easily read 10 books a year. That one I wrote back when I was crazy busy working on Marco Polo, and hadn’t read a book in what felt like years. I got the 10 in each year while living in LA and Spain and since I’ve started my epic commutes to work in London, I’m averaging a book a week!

#24: As for getting published, to be honest I write less now. However, last year I worked for a travel magazine for a few months, and had a few articles put on their website, so in theory this one is finished—but now I’m being selfish and want it in print. I ended my time there when Gareth’s mom got sick, but still keep in touch and think it would be quite easy to get something published in their print magazine. That’s something I’ll try to do this year.

So, those are the ones for which I have a plan. Others have a much less defined plan, like living in France and the masters. Not to say I’m not working towards them, more that they are less in my control.

The rest, I’m less sure about. I have no idea when I’ll go to Buenos Aires or Costa Rica (except, mom, maybe next Christmas?!). Staying in Shakespeare & Co will tie into the next time I’m in France (see above), and volunteering is something I still quite want to do, but finding the time is proving difficult. Over the summer I applied and was accepted to lead a group of volunteers for three months in Tanzania from January-March of 2018, but had to turn it down for a variety of reasons, one being my amazing job where I work all around Africa improving sexual and reproductive health.

I think that leaves just the Patriots game, which is becoming more urgent as I am desperate to see Tom Brady play before he retires. I might try to go this Christmas Eve, but if not it’ll have to wait to next year (though I’ll be in Boston for 10 days in the fall of 2018 for weddings, so it could be then barring serious injury/knock on wood/Go Pats!/etc).

I’m also so proud of what I have accomplished on my 30 before 30 so far!

  1. Become Italian
  2. Go to Africa
  3. Go to Morocco
  4. Go to Italy
  5. Go to Iceland
  6. Go to Turkey
  7. Get LASIK
  8. Get an IUD
  9. Be in a happy/successful relationship for over a year
  10. Read 10 books a year every year
  11. Be Debt Free
  12. Have $15,000 in savings
  13. Have $5,000 invested
  14. Work abroad