Saturday, June 30, 2007

Visiting Sitges - a pearl by the Mediterranean

We had planned to visit Øystein and John, two fellow Norwegians that stayed in a hotel in Sitges, a 40 minute train ride south of Barcelona. We ended up staying there the whole day. It was terrible to leave such a beautiful city. The next time I return to Spain I am determined to stay there and enjoy the easy life by the beach.

Sitges has so much to offer the tourist. As we arrived, John took us through narrow streets, through the oldest part of the city, by the church, where you could find houses like the one on the picture. The old city has buildings going hundreds of years back.

If you want to eat you can find restaurants to anyone's taste, serving traditional Spanish and international food, and trendy and expensive gourmet restaurants. We had a great lunch and a traditional dinner.

The city has more than 4500 hotel beds in any category. Øystein and John stayed in a great hotel by the beach, but we also discovered hidden secluded gems in the narrow streets. More on that later.

Sitges is one of the best known destinations for the gay traveller, particularly in July and August when the gay crowd assemble on the beach, and enjoy life into the early hours in the many bars and discos here. We felt right at home!!

And for the shopaholic there are a multitude of options for those of you needing serious retail therapy. From internationally renowned chains to the odd brick'n-brac, selling hopelessly useless objects you just need to have

And the white sandy beach and the palm trees gently touched by the mild but still cooling breeze from the sea. Dipping in the water, playing with the waves breaking along the shore. Superb!!!

I will share my culinary experiences from Sitges, and write on two hotels the romantic traveller has to consider when planning to stay here here. In these two locations you can travel if your have fallen in love for the first time or seriously need to revitalize your relationship.


This great video from Sitges shows some of the places we visited.

Tapas and other small food

I just have to confess to you - I am a tapaholic. There are no support group for me to join to quit. Quit? Who would ever do that! Enjoy!! Being in Spain, I always grab at least two or three tapas a day. It is wonderful how many varieties there are, traditional or not, this is a part of the culinary world still evolving.

Calamares at El Rincon del Angel

At Eixample, where we stayed, there was a bar at every corner offering bite sized foods in all varieties.

Many of the local bars, like one just down our road, El Rincon del Angel, do not deviate from from the traditions. Here you get the hardcore Spanish stuff made from excellent ingredients.

The tortilla - Spanish potato omelet, the Patatas Bravas, fried potatoes with hot dipping sauce. Gambas con ajillo, shrimps in garlic.

At Rincon del Angel we had our first bite sized foods. We sat down at a table outside and ordered two portions. As we both wanted calamares - squid, we ordered two varieties.

I had Calamares a la Romana, deep fried squid - to be enjoyed by itself with only lemon squeezed over it. Terje chose his squid in garlic. Delicious. Both ways the cook had managed to prepare it to perfection, turning it succulent and tender, not hard and rubbery.

Santa Maria on Placa Reial

Another favourite is the Santa Maria on Placa Reial. One of the Spanish nights we sat down here by the large palm trees and enjoyed our tapas with one, two, or even more glasses of white wine.

Croquettas, made from thick bechamel sauce added cheese, ham, or chicken meat. Cooled down and moulded into a sausage shape, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. And one tortilla - and some champignones, por favor!

We even ended up ordering a plate of smoked ham, thinly sliced, as if shaved with razor blades. The Spaniards know how to cure and smoke meats. Else where, you often find cured meats containing too much salt- In Spain and in Italy, as well, you find that it has a sweet aroma as well, and it tastes meat. Perfect with a glass of cold white wine.

Tapas at Sedna - a total rip-off

The only time we really felt tourist trapped was at Sedna, at Paseo Colon 5, down by the harbour. The tapas were OK, but the price - paying €40 for three tapas and two large glasses of beer left us rather embarrased.

But OK! This is also a part of being a tourist.

First we had bread with tomatoes and oil followed by croquetas, ofcourse. I will not leave any picture here as you have seen them before.

The third tapa was mozarella with pesto. The mozarella was delicious, served at room temperature, moist and creamy, and the pesto was definetely not out of a jar.

But would you have paid €40 for this? Not if you could have eaten pinxtos in abundance at Bilbao Berria for half the price.

Pinxtos at Bilbao Berria - yum!!!

I have reviewed Bilbao Berria before here and Enjoy Food & Travel and I still regard it as one of the best bargains in town. We were there several times and the bill ended up around €25 for two, and we indulged in pinxtos - and had more than one alcoholic unit each. This is one of my early plates.
- Red pepper filled with a creamy tuna salad.
- In the middle seafood salad wrapped in ham.
- In the background fish mousse. All of them impaled by a wooden stick into a crispy piece of bread.

Another plate.

Goats cheese with chestnut pure, pine nuts, honey on a sweet red onion marmelade (Right)

Eggs topped with mayonnaise, cheese, and black and red fish roe (Left)

Bacon with a hard boiled egg (Background)

I strongly recommend the Bilbao Berria, as it is an excellent culinary experience for those of you who love to tuck into bite sized foods. But where ever you go around in Barcelona you see traditional pinxtos or tapas lined up, so there are still so much to discover. So if you are a tapaholic - book you ticket and indulge, feast, and enjoy!!

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Breakfast at El Fornet d'En Rossen

Breakfast is not the meal given the most attention here at Enjoy Food & Travel. Still having a substantial meal at the start of the day will give you something to go on - at least until lunch!! That is vital to the busy tourist set to explore the back and belly of a metropolis as Barcelona.

El Fornet d'En Rossen served such a great meal at an unbeatable price (€14 for two).

"Bocadillo con queso et jamon, cafe con leche" and fresh pressed orange juice and then go outside and sit down enjoying the hot Spanish morning - nothing could be better. And of course you get instant satisfaction by the fact that the people around are on their way to work - and you are not. Ah! Vacation!!

This meal effects the digestion system of a northerner. Most Norwegians enjoy bread with fibre made from wheat, barley, or rye with cheese, ham or paté - or have a large bowl of müesli with milk. I prefer the former variety. I discovered, to my surprise, that many Spaniards preferred sweet pastry, croissants or biscuits for breakfast, with a coffee with milk. I remember I did make a remark on just this to Øivind Grimsmo ands his Spanish wife Monica, and they confirmed that Spaniards are not into breakfasts as we Northerners are.

Very strange that there are so few obese people in Spain, when they start with pastry made from butter, flour and sugar. Equally strange that there are so many obese people in Norway when they start their day with such a healthy and fibre rich diet. Genetics? I do not know.

Vacation is such a great thing. You may waste your time just looking and discovering. Lovely. I already miss El Fornet d'En Rossen and my corner and the waste of time......

See more food stories from Norway and around the world here

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sunotel Aston Hotel - Barcelona

Hardly the promised three star experience

We booked 7 nights through, a very reliable reservation site on the net. Staying at the Sunotel Aston Hotel, was the exception to prove the rule. You are bound to get a bad hotel experience once in a while. The Sunotel Aston Hotel did not meet our expectation - so do not try it.

Location BBB

The hotel is located in Eixample by the Hospital Clinic station on the blue line on the Barcelona subway.

The area had a few restaurants and bars but did not offer the tourist the charm of many of the other neighbourhoods in Barcelona.

There were much traffic from one of the boulevards, but the worst was the location close to a hospital. There were ambulances driving into an emergency room close by around the clock disturbing our sleep. So this is definitely not the location to look for. We could have been more shielded by the hotels sound proof windows, but we were not, as I will explain later.

Service: BBB+

The staff spoke in the reception spoke English. They and the cleaning staff gave us reasonably good service. The latter cleaned our room, but we had to wait for three days to get a fresh supply of towels, and there were no instructions on how to get new and clean towels.

The room: BBBB+

The room itself had a decent size, two separate beds were great, but the mattresses were a little hard for our taste.

It was decorated in a light yellow colour with red details, two large windows and a desk with working space facing the windows. Wonderful with dark wooden laminate floors.

The storage area for clothes and suitcases was a little small, but worked for us, as we had brought one small and large suitcase. But for travellers with more luggage than that, would have had problems to find space for their luggage.

The bathroom had a large sink easy for two to store their toiletries, a bathtub with a plastic doors made it easy to have a shower or a bath without spilling to much water on the floor. And a bidet - who use a bidet any more? I don't know of any?

A very strange and rather impractical thing was that even the bathroom had laminate wood flooring. This is a highly unconventional material to use in a bathroom, and the dampness had started to create smal, grey areas along the edge close to the walls.

Breakfast: B

A seriously bad thing with an increasing number of hotels in Europe is the fact that they do not include a decent breakfast. This was the fact with Sunotel Aston. And the breakfast was expensive (€17), meaning that we instead used the nearby cafe and got breakfast for two at €14,50. So as we did not tried the breakfast buffet we give the hotel a meager 1B and I would like to have seen it included in the price. A breakfast is not that expensive, and the guests, including us, would have ended up much happier.

Facilities: BB+

The hotel offers the following facilities on their website: "rooms fully equipped with free safety box, mini-bar, satellite TV, air conditioning, wireless connection and full bathroom with hairdryer"

We were given room 609 and found that we could not operate the air conditioning. We went down and were given the key to room 209, but the AC was out of order here as well, and as we visited the third room - number 509, we finally heard the reassuring sound of an AC.

But the air conditioning offered at Sunotel Aston is not a system you may operate yourself. It is operated from the reception and be warned, it was turned off during those very warm and humid Spanish nights. Thus, every night at 2AM, we had to open the windows and listen to the traffic noise and ambulances driving by. It was intolerable for us guests to have a cool room during days, when we were not there, and a damp and hot room during night when we tried to sleep. This is dead cheap attitude from the hotel management that made the stay less enjoyful.

One good thing - we loved the safe, easy to operate and free. The hotel did not offer any English TV channels and all the series was dubbed to Spanish. The mini bar was well stocked but dead expensive.

The hotel also offer "
solarium, outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi with panoramic views of the city are some other facilities also available to the visitor."

Well the view was panoramic all right, and at first glance the pool looked tempting. We did, however, rather quickly discover that it was badly maintained and cleaned. As we jumped in, grey dirt started to float around in the water. A word of warning - badly cleaned pools may be a source of health problems for vulnerable groups as kids or the elderly.

And the jacuzzi, empty and out of order, and we were not tempted to try the sauna either. We did use the pool to cool down, but were cautious not to swallow any of the water, and we used the shower afterwards.

We did, however, LOVE the roof top terrace and used it to work on a tan and enjoy the mild sea breeze on the 7th floor.

Price: BB+

At €95 with no breakfast included, staying at the Sunotel Aston hotel gave no bargain for money. Too much destroyed the impression of this hotel.

Overall score: BBB- (2,8 points)

Enjoy Food and Travel does not regard the Sunotel Aston as a recommendable place to stay in Barcelona.

Sunotel Aston Hotel
C/ París, 101 08029 Barcelona
telf: 34 93 363 70 70
fax: 34 93 363 70 72

Visit the hotel website

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Summer of 2007: O Barcelona! O Catalunya!

Eight days and seven nights in Barcelona. That is the reason why there have been no articles published on Enjoy Food & Travel lately. But now, there are too many stories to tell!! Some of you may say - has this bloke really more to tell on the subject. Well you bet I have.

I spent three evenings talking to Antonio and Martin at People Lounge in Eixample, and I had a walk on the wild side to other bars in the area as well. As Oslo has a meager gay scene, going from one gay bar to another in the same area was a great experience.

I stayed at a overpriced hotel, and I will tell you why not pay €95 per night not to stay there, or at least not during summer, and I listened to violin music during a great meal at Quatro Gats, where artists as Picasso once were regular guests. I got a great tan during one day on the beach in Sitges - the charming resort south of Barcelona. The best experience was my own pilgrimage to pay hommage to the eternal ruler of Catalunya, the Black Virgin of the Mountain.

Stay tuned - there are much to tell!!