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)

Pisa and (finally!) getting my ID card!

A few months ago I had my first interview at my current job, and left it so (unusually) confident, that I arranged a spur of the moment flight to Italy for the next day, as I knew if I was hired I’d need my proof of right to work in the EU. I had originally planned to get it a few weeks out, and fly into Milan, rent a car, and drive out to the tiny mountain town my ancestors were from. However, with one day’s notice, Pisa ended up being much cheaper, and was about the same distance as Milan. It was also quite close to Cinque Terre, and this unplanned, last minute trip became one of my all time best travel experiences.

I flew into Pisa and stayed at Hostel Pisa. It was walking distance from the airport, and can I just say any city where you can walk to the airport is OK in my book. I was only spending one night in Pisa, and didn’t arrive until 4:00, so my expectations weren’t high. However, I had the best night. I don’t have major Pisa recommendations, other than the tower, obviously, and the most fantastic dinner/drinks place.

I headed straight for the tower because the light was fantastic and I wanted to see it in all its glory. While there I asked two girls to take my photo, and they recognized me from checking into the hostel. They were returning home to Germany a year volunteering at in International Hospital in Jerusalem, and we also met up with a guy who had just arrived in Europe for a year abroad in Florence.

On the walk to the tower I had stopped to take passport style photos for my ID card. (They did not come out well—Gareth kindly pointed out the shading makes it look like I have a 5:00 shadow, which is an accurate analysis of the photo). Nearby, I saw a dock on the river that looked like it may be a restaurant. I mentioned it to the crew I had met, and we decided to head there for dinner. It ended up being such a lovely night. Two of us were heading home after a long journey, both to graduate school. One was arriving for the first time in a country he was about to make into a home, and I was there to get proof of my newly recognized European citizenship. Arno Vivo was half on a dock and half on a floating raft, where we grabbed a table. There was live music, mood lighting, and the buffet style food was free with a drink. We shared a bottle of wine and swapped travel/life stories, and it was one of those moments that reminds you how absolutely wonderful travel can be.

The next morning I walked back to the airport to pick up a rental car, and headed out for Vernasca. I was so nervous the whole drive, that they would be closed (our communication was all in Google-translated Italian, and I wasn’t sure they’d be open until I arrived), or that I didn’t have the proper documentation. It seemed too easy, honestly, after the process leading up to it had been so drawn out and difficult.

The drive was beautiful, through the mountains and farmland, and the little village was so cute. I headed straight for the municipal building, and there was one woman working behind the counter. She was expecting me, and we chatted away—her in Italian, me half in Spanish and half in hand gestures. She filled out my ID card right there (so easy, it’s just made of paper!), and handed it to me with a big huge and a congratulations. It was such a surreal moment, being in my ancestors old village, even being in Italy, and I’m honestly so grateful that’s how I received my ID, rather than at a consulate in LA or London. Afterwards I wandered around the town a bit—there’s a big church up a hill right behind the municipal building that offered incredible views, before getting some lunch and starting the drive back.

downtown in the village

I was eager to drop the car off because that night started the second part of my trip—Cinque Terre!

Donald Trump: One Year Later

This time last year I was in Brussels, surrounded by women and men from around the world who needed a place, a voice, to express their shock and horror at Trump. I’ve been pretty silent on here about the election. Less so on Facebook, which has basically just become a platform for me to share links to political articles and outrages, but I didn’t know what to say when it first happened, and I still don’t know what to say now, a year after his inauguration.

It was really hard for me to get my absentee ballot. You can track it online and my status said delivered, but delivered it was not. There was an emergency number and I got a replacement right in time, but I remember my urgency (other than the normal, civic duty) was about wanting to be able to say I had voted in the election for our first female president–not any kind of worry about the outcome. I was embarrassed, especially living abroad, that Donald Trump had gotten as far as he had, but had read the polls and felt little anxiety. Actually, from the day he won the Republican nomination I stopped worrying about Hillary’s chances.

I spent the week talking about the election with my students, and we talked about words like racist, sexist, and predator. Those were the words my elementary school aged children associated with Trump–and I couldn’t blame them because they were the words I associate with him as well.

Because I was in Spain it took forever for news to start coming in. There was talk of arranging an event at a local pinchos bar, but when we realized it would be morning before anything really happened, we decided to stay home. My roommate Shaina and I stayed up until the bitter end. Even before Florida was called I realized it wasn’t going to be the same as Obama’s election, when his victory had never really looked in jeopardy.

By 7:00 am it was clear what had happened. I was sobbing, we all were. I called my mom and she had gone to sleep–had slept through it all and was shocked he had won. She was sure I was wrong. How could so many people have chosen to vote for him??

Afterwards I felt depressed, and very far from home. I had thought I was safe, in the impossibility of a Trump victory, by living so far from home. But in reality, as soon as he won all I wanted to do was be back in the states, trying to help in any way I could. I love America. I love being American. The more I travel the more I value where I came from, and how deep my patriotism lies. Being away is still hard. I seriously considered leaving Spain and going back to find a campaign or NGO to work for. I think it’s a large part of how I ended up working where I am now. 

I remember feeling so afraid. What would happen when Obama left? Who would protect those of us who aren’t rich middle aged men? Who would lead the country, and join the world in leading important initiatives–the Paris Climate Accord, the Mexico City Policy–so much of the United States decisions affect the international landscape. How could we trust Trump to manage all that??

I felt so angry. At the people who voted for Trump. At the people who voted 3rd party, or didn’t vote at all. At anyone who felt safe enough to say Clinton and Trump were equally bad, because that statement comes from such privilege I can’t even comprehend the sheltered lives of those who felt comfortable uttering such a sentiment. I wonder how they feel now.

As time moves on and we watch Trump fail again and again at following through on his campaign promises, but in effect kill Obamacare and lead through another government shut down, I’m still waiting for the next Democratic leader to show up. It still feels like Obama, but he can’t save us, not anymore. We need congress and senate to be brave, even the Republicans. To save the DREAMERs and save healthcare, and stand up to a leader I refuse to believe any of them actually respect.

Heading into the midterms I don’t feel very hopeful. We just had amazing local elections, where so many diverse people were elected, which was an inspiring and hopeful thing to see. But while we didn’t elect a pedophile in Alabama, but it was closer than it should have been. I do think the country is fed up with Trump, and I know historically the president’s party doesn’t fare well in the midterms. The issue is really just which seats are up for reelection. They will be hard wins and we’d have to win most of them, and hang on to all our current seats as well. It’s possible, I mean Trump’s election didn’t look likely either, but mainly I am just waiting for someone to step up and become the person who can lead us back from the edge, when they appear, that’s when I’ll really feel hopeful.

2017 Wrap Up

Well, 2017. You weren’t the best.

This was a hard one to write, because in many ways 2017 was one of the hardest years of my life. I haven’t posted about it, but in June Gareth’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. I moved to the UK a few days later, and unfortunately the cancer was incredibly aggressive and she passed away  only a few weeks after diagnosis. There aren’t really words to describe what it’s like to watch someone get sick so quickly, or watch the person you love lose their mom, so I’m not going to try. But suffice to say, it was and still is quite hard.

However, I have to have hope that things will/are getting better, and I’m trying to focus on the things that bring me joy and hope!

To start, 2017 wasn’t all bad. It started quite nicely, with a visit from Lee and a trip to Belgium. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in the most incredible/heart stopping way, then Faye visited and the worst of winter passed. (I miss Spain one million times more than I thought I would! I’m honestly so desperately home sick for it, I decide to move back about once a week.) I GOT MY CITIZENSHIP! Then I went on an amazing tour of Europe over Semana Santa, visiting Italy for the first time, and Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia. I had a wonderful goodbye with my students, and overall the first five months of 2017 were some of the best of my life.

Luckily I got the first job I applied for in London, and avoided the months of desperate job hunting I had assumed were awaiting me. It was one I really wanted, and I love what I do. It’s definitely more fulfilling than teaching, though much, much more serious and stressful as well. It’s been a lifesaver to have something I’m passionate about to throw myself into, and this job makes my time in London feel professionally invaluable.

It wouldn’t be honest to say settling back into normal life has been easy. I have a job in a sector I love, and truly think I’m making a difference with the work I do, but settling down was quite far off my list of things to do, and returning to normal life hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions. I miss living abroad so much—London, at this point, feels almost like I’ve gone back to America in its familiarity, and I feel this constant sense of dread the time I’m young and free of responsibility enough to travel is slipping away—though less so recently because I remembered to trust myself and my stubborn inability to let my dreams die!

I’m really happy 2017 is over. I’m hoping a fresh year and a new start will be a bit of a boost. There’s a lot to look forward to in the coming year, and I’m very ready to feel like myself again.

Hasta Luego, Logroño

Well, it’s been awhile, hey?

I’ve finished my year of teaching, and had originally planned to spend the summer in Logroño taking intensive Spanish lessons. Due to some unexpected family circumstances, I’m actually in the process of moving to London/in with G! But worry not, because I have quite the backlog of travels to update on, and a three week trip around Eastern Europe I’ll be leaving for in just a few short weeks. Lots of writing to do before then!

So, how about a quick wrap up of my year in Logroño? I say quick, but I have no idea where to start, really. It was one of the best years of my life, but nothing like I expected. I was expecting something a bit more like studying abroad–a huge crew of friends, drinking maybe a bit too much, feeling like a real visitor. Instead, oddly, I felt at home immediately. I don’t think my schedule or life changed much from LA to Spain. You know, other than a daily siesta.

When I first arrived, at 1 am, jet lagged, lost, overwhelmed, and desperately missing Katie, I parked at Parque Espolon and walked from the beautifully lit park to my flat just around the corner. As I saw my new home and roommates for the first time, I immediately knew it would be an easy settling in process.

touching down for the first time

first night

last morning

Logroño, I hope, will always feel like home. I know the art store next to my flat, the chocolatier a few doors down. The grocer who always gave me a discount on fruit. The bus driver who would wait that extra 30 seconds as I ran from the school right as it was meant to be leaving. Seeing the pilgrims walk the camino I used to dream about, years ago in Boston. It’s a small city, and I know the streets well. I walk them and feel capable and happy. Even Spanish, which sadly I didn’t come close to mastering, stopped being a barrier. Stopped being anything I worried about. I went to the dentist for x-rays, I got my cat a pet passport, and then went back to get it fixed when it was filled out incorrectly, twice. I got a bike fixed, went to the doctor’s a few times, finagled myself a last minute regreso, filled out all my renewal paperwork, and then amended it twice. By the end, I even made some dreaded calls–no hand gestures or facial expressions to rely on. I don’t speak Spanish. But I survived in it. And I’m going to keep taking lessons here in London.

I made friends, but not how I expected to. Other than my roommates, my American/English friends were few. But the kids I taught? They were friends. After my last day all my students found my instagram and one messaged me saying her parents wanted me to know if I ever needed anything, they would try to help. The English teacher and I had plans to meet up and speak only in Spanish. She left me with pages and pages of worksheets the students had had to translate from Spanish to English. I have to do the same. My last days at school I had dozens of letters and gifts from my kids, and it was the sweetest goodbye. Sometimes they were monsters, but I came from a tough industry and luckily a bunch of 6 year olds did not have the ability to phase me. And when I had to leave suddenly because of a family emergency, one of the families I gave private lessons to helped me sort my paperwork and another looked after my cat for almost three weeks, just happy to help. I really met the best people.

 

I’m sad to have left, but so deeply, incredibly glad to have had the time there I did. Am I done with Spain? I don’t know. I want to explore the south so badly–had I gone back next year I would have been in Granada, and that I think will always feel like the city that got away. But I have other things I need to do. Start a life, a daily life, with my incredible partner. Also probably live in Italy, and Mexico, and maybe Amsterdam? But I know this… I’ll go back to Logroño, walk the streets and remember it as home. And I am definitely not done with Spanish.

Hasta Luego, Logroño!