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An Eating Trip to Spain: Arzak, Etxebarri, Lufthansa 747-8 J, Swiss A220 Y / 777 J

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  • #91
    Leaving the old town, I continued along the Nervion River...



    ...with its riverside promenade...



    I continued towards the Guggenheim...



    ...just as the sun was setting...



    I admired the large mural under the Puente de La Salve bridge...



    Beyond the Guggenheim, I crossed over the Pedro Arrupe pedestrian footbridge...



    ...and climbed the broad steps by the Guggenheim...



    ...past Koons' Puppy...



    ...and down Iparraguirre Kalea...



    ...back to Moy˙a Square...



    ...and finally down the Ercilla Kalea shopping street back to the hotel.



    A very satisfying route that took me past many of the sights in Bilbao!

    Total distance that day, about 5.5km.

    Last edited by yflyer; 19 April 2023, 01:16 AM.

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    • #92
      The next morning, we would be heading to the village of Axpe, in the municipality of Atxondo, about 40 minutes drive from Bilbao.

      My original plan for the next part of the trip was to rent a car in Bilbao and drive from place to place around Northern Spain, first from Bilbao to Axpe, then through the region of Asturias, and finally returning the car in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, before catching a flight to Madrid.

      However, while prepping for the trip, I neglected to get myself an international driving permit (IDP), which was apparently required in Spain. The IDP was easy enough to get from the AA in Singapore, buit this had to be done before departing for Spain. The Hertz rental T&C's only said that an IDP was "highly recommended" for Spain, not mandatory.

      But the more I researched this topic online during our trip, the more I had the sinking feeling that I would be taking a big risk driving around Spain without an IDP, and wondered if Hertz would even rent me a car without one.

      Eventually, in Bilbao, I decided to play it safe, and cancel the Hertz car reservation without penalty, and instead pivot our plan to travel by long distance bus instead. Rail and air options weren't really feasible for where we were going, hence the initial decision to rent a car. But it was only after arriving in Spain that I found out how good the intercity bus network was.

      I spent several hours in the late evening in Bilbao frantically reworking our trip plans, cancelling the Hertz car, and booking new bus tickets to get us from Bilbao to Oviedo, and from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela, both of which were 4+ hour coach rides. We had also originally planned to stay in Gijon, in Asturias for 2 nights as an intermediate stop, but in view of the changes, swapped Gijon for Oviedo, as Oviedo was logistically easier to travel to/from. Thankfully there was no hotel penality either, as I did this before the cancellation penalty date. All these changes were done in the dead of night in the Ercilla Hotel, while Mrs yflyer and Miss yflyer no.2 were sound asleep...

      In retrospect, getting around Northern Spain by long distance bus was pretty cost effective, convenient and comfortable. Each town/city had a centrally located bus station (often not far from, or even colocated with, the train station), which made it very convenient to get around by coach. Schedules and the online booking process were also straightforward. If I were to do the trip again, knowing now how good the bus network was in Spain, I would also consider getting around by coach, rather than renting a car.

      By doing so, I would also avoid the hassle of having to rent a car, finding parking, and navigating unfamiliar roads. Cost wise, it turned out about similar as well, as the cost of all our long distance bus travel plus some incidental taxi fares did come up to roughly similar, or even a little bit less, than our Hertz car rental.
      Last edited by yflyer; 5 April 2023, 11:43 AM.

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      • #93
        Our next stop was Axpe, a village in the municipality of Atxondo. This was just 45 minute drive from Bilbao. As we were staying in Axpe for the night, with a lot of luggage, I asked the concierge at the Ercilla to arrange a private taxi transfer for us to Axpe, and back again to the Bilbao bus station the next day.

        The drive to Axpe was just 45km in distance, but in terms of change of scenery it felt as if we had travelled hundreds of miles. We soon left the city, and the industrial cityscape of Bilbao receded and the scene ahead transformed into something far more picturesque...



        Axpe was simply beautiful...rolling hills surrounded by mountains...



        We were staying at Mendigoikoa Bekoa, a tavern located atop a small hill in Axpe.


        What a stunning location for a tavern...



        Weather was perfect that day...guests were in the garden, chatting, drinking wine and enjoying the view...



        We were just 450 metres up the road from Asador Etxebarri, located in the Axpe town centre...

        Last edited by yflyer; 4 April 2023, 06:14 PM.

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        • #94
          The tavern was a converted Basque farmhouse, with just 12 rooms.

          The rustic nature of the farmhouse was well preserved...



          Our 2 rooms were on the 2nd floor, up a wooden staircase (There is also a small elevator for the mobility impaired, or those with heavy luggage).



          What unique ambience...

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          • #95
            Plastic key cards? NFC? Forget it!



            What a stunning room. We loved the exposed beams, and the whole rustic feel of the place...



            A large, and very inviting bed...



            There was only one room in the tavern with a balcony, and this was it...



            It had a view to die for...



            While the hotel was rustic, there were modern conveniences as well, including fast, complimentary wifi.

            There was a coffee machine...



            The bathroom was small, but well appointed...



            What a comfortable room for the night...very romantic and atmospheric.

            Miss yflyer no.2 had her own room next door...her room had no balcony, but was similarly styled, and perhaps just a little larger.

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            • #96
              Why were we staying in Axpe? One reason, and one reason only: We had a lunch reservation at Asador Etxebarri that day...

              It was still a couple of hours to lunch time, so we had time to explore the area...



              What an amazing place for a restaurant...the whole area was picturesque, quiet...like something out of a storybook, what one would imagine an idyllic rural farming community might be, only this was real...


              Last edited by yflyer; 4 April 2023, 03:54 PM.

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              • #97
                Eventually, we returned to the tavern, got dressed for lunch, and headed down the hill for our 1.30pm lunch appointment...



                Etxebarri was in the town square...



                We headed inside...



                We were warmly welcomed and led up to the main dining room on the upper level...



                What a beautiful space to dine...



                Our table was set for 3...



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                • #98
                  We were offered small cups of garlic soup to start, as we perused the menu...



                  There was a tasting menu available...



                  ...as well as an a la carte menu...



                  The warm and friendly sommelier, Mohamed, came by to welcome us once again, and take our order.

                  "Where are you from?" he asked.

                  "Singapore!", I replied.

                  "We get many guests from Singapore! From Asia, our guests mainly come from Singapore and Hong Kong, and a few from Japan!", Mohamed said.

                  To the tasting menu, we added the caviar (to share), one portion of baby eels (also to share), and the cheese flan.

                  As Miss yflyer no.2 was allergic to prawns, Mohamed proposed her prawn course be substituted with 10g of caviar, with our a la carte caviar order split 5g each between myself and Mrs yflyer, a proposal which we readily agreed to.

                  I was very impressed with the Etxebarri wine line list...there were heavy hitters and prestige wines, including many vintages of Vega Sicilia Unico, but also many much more reasonably priced wines, including many local wines.

                  Mohamed recommended wines for us after getting an idea of our wine preferences. We would be having a bottle of sparkling Xarel-lo white wine to start, then a light/medium bodied red for later on in the meal.

                  The tasting menu had lines grouped into 6 groups, which I initially thought to mean this was a 6 course menu, however it turned out that each course was served separately -- all 13 of them!

                  In other words, this tasting menu had 13 courses, and with our a la carte additions, we would have a total of 16 courses for lunch...this was going to be quite a meal...
                  Last edited by yflyer; 19 April 2023, 01:18 AM.

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                  • #99
                    Our meal began with bread...



                    Smoked goat's milk butter, which Miss yflyer no.2 and Mrs yflyer really loved...



                    Home made chorizo, made by chef Bittor Arguinzoniz using his grandmother's recipe, and home salted anchovies on toast, paired with glasses of cava....



                    The chorizo was tender, and not at all chewy, with notes of paprika. The anchovies had a delicious richness to them, with just that little bit of saltiness tempered with olive oil.

                    Our bottle of wine was Joan Rubio's Ancestral Xarel-lo, a sparkling wine made the "ancestral" way (i.e. using the "pet nat" technique, unlike the method tradicionale used for Champagne) with Xarel-lo grapes...



                    Fresh buffalo cheese, made inhouse, with corn sauce...



                    This tasted so subtle and refreshing...

                    ...



                    Last edited by yflyer; 4 April 2023, 04:36 PM.

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                    • Covered bowls were placed before us, with mother of pearl spoons...



                      Caviar, but unlike any caviar we had eaten before...this was lightly smoked caviar, and was there just a hint of seaweed?



                      The caviar had a marvellous aroma, and tasted sublime as well...warm...with less of a salty edge...simply delicious...

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                      • The next course was Palamos Prawns...these were presented unadorned on a plate...



                        They tasted wonderful...the flesh was sweet and unctuous...but the real treat was in the heads...



                        ...there was no dignified way to eat this dish...you simply had to grab the prawn heads with your fingers, put them to your mouth and suck the juicy insides out...delicious!



                        The next course was sea urchin, served in it's shell...



                        The sea urchin tasted sweet and subtle...

                        Next, grilled baby octopus with parsley stalks...this was succulent and tender...

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                        • Next, a Basque delicacy, kokotxas, or fish chins...



                          We had eaten these before in Bilbao, but not like this...Mrs yflyer found these kokotxas profound compared to other restaurants, the kokotxas were plump and delicately flavoured, paired beautifully with the crisp fried kale and hake emulsion...

                          A small bowl of mushrooms, springy in texture, with a mild flavour...

                          Last edited by yflyer; 4 April 2023, 06:17 PM.

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                          • Large covered bowls, with a mother of pearl fork...



                            Baby eels...



                            Smoky, sweet and salty, with some texture -- almost "al dente", to co-opt a term normally reserved for pasta, with some "resistance" and "bite"...



                            Sublime, and simply unforgettable...
                            Last edited by yflyer; 4 April 2023, 06:18 PM.

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                            • At this point, we switched to our bottle of red wine, San Cucufate Alto del Viso 2018, made from 100% tinto fino grapes from the Ribera del Duero region.


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                              • Fresh anchovies...



                                Delicate, almost mousse-like in texture...and tasting of the sea...

                                Chorizo tartar...this was warm, lightly cured (raw?) chorizo, picked up and eaten like a sandwich...



                                This had lovely texture, and an intense, spicy flavour...I could have eaten a lot of this...

                                The chorizo tartar was the perfect prelude to what was to come...

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