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James Martin

James' Europe Travel Blog

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The Portuguese and Bacalhau

Saturday May 17, 2014

salpoente restaurant picture
Vasco Amaro is the manager of Salpoente, a recent addition to the Aviero restaurant scene specializing in Codfish--bacalhau in the local lingo. His restaurant is loaded with art that makes you want to wander through with a glass of sparkling wine, weaving between animated diners and compelling modern Portuguese art crying for attention.

The food in Vasco's restaurant is the real art. "It's a playful and wonderful art," I couldn't help thinking as the waiters presented our table with plates containing identical sardine cans, opening them in unison to reveal the cod salad artistically framed by a package that's become famous for preserving another fish popular in these parts: sardines.

When Anita Briland of Anita's Feast asked him why the Portuguese liked salt cod so much, I expected him to hem and haw a bit. But no, Mr. Amaro didn't hesitate to reveal that the cod was, when you cooked it, simply a white fish with no particularly distinct flavors. But when you salt it to preserve the flesh, the process adds texture and concentrates the flavor, becoming something a cook can use in hundreds of ways. And the Portuguese do just that.

This made me think of the difference between boiled ham and prosciutto. Salt, and the resulting loss of relatively flavorless liquid, provides the same benefits.

If you haven't considered Portugal as a travel destination and like fine dining, be sure to consider the country's culinary Renaissance, as chefs continue to hone a cuisine that draws from the past as it becomes thoroughly modern. And do try Salpoente if you're ever in Aveiro, where fine dining isn't as expensive as in the big cities. You might even consider the whole Salpoente experience a bargain.

Something's Fishy in Aveiro

Friday May 16, 2014

aviero picture
We've left the cool blue-tile world of Porto for the town of Aveiro, the "Venice of Portugal" because, yes, a canal runs through it. Fishing and salt once provided the wealth of Aveiro, but today the town is making the transition to a cultural and tourism economy. Once used to ferry seaweed from the lagoon to farms to be used as fertilizer, Aveiro's colorful boats called moliceiros ply the waters with loads of tourists sipping the local sparkler these days.

On our food exploration of Portugal, this means that we're eating fresh fish cooked in a variety of ways, from crustacean-rich stews to simple fries and grills. As the temperature has warmed, the lighter meals are very welcome.

We're staying at the fabulous Hotel Moliceiro, which sits pretty behind a tree-shaded park along the main canal. I can't imagine a better place for a hotel. And...it's completely full. The weather has suddenly gotten warm in Europe, and folks have responded by hitting the beach cities along the Portuguese coast. Life is good.

Old Port

Wednesday May 14, 2014

vehla port wine bottles picture

One of the great things wine lovers can do on vacation is to taxi or walk over to Vila Nova de Gaia from a base in Porto to see the Port wine houses just across the river. Last night we took a little tour of Real Companhia Velha and tasted three different ports, one 40 years old. It was very young compared to some of the ancient, undisturbed bottles you see in the picture above. (You think travel journalists only take pretty pictures of Europe? Think again!)

What's different about Velha? They've been around long enough to collect some dust and cobwebs, obviously, but Velha's tours (several to choose from) aren't about selling you wine, they're about getting you to understand Port and to recognize the brands you might find in your home country. And, I must say, they were vary tolerant when our cab got mired in traffic and we were late for the last tour of the day. Great, friendly folks; I recommend them highly.

Getting Away From It all in Portugal

Monday May 12, 2014

rural church portugal picture

Portugal is a very popular destination right now. It offers everything from the peace, solitude, and fabulous mountain biking opportunities available in the the Schist Villages to the sun, sea and sand of the overbuilt Algarve shoreline.

But even the tourist overload of the Algarve is just window dressing over an ancient landscape waiting to be discovered. If you're not a beach person you can easily escape the crowds by simply walking away. Oranginas provides new, up-to-date info on the Via Algarviana, making walking it simple:

"Six hikes of the Via Algarviana, the long distance trail, 240 km., through the countryside of the Algarve, starting at the Spanish-Portugese border and ending at Cape Saint Vincent, in Vila do Bispo, south-west Portugal." ~ Via Algarviana (Barranco do Velho - Marmelete)

Tomorrow we'll leave to explore the very heart of Portugal, so expect much tweeting and FaceBooking from there.

Unanswerable Travel Questions: Answered!

Sunday May 11, 2014

Some of the questions Europe travel receives seem to come from another planet--but I figure interplanetary travel is better than no travel at all. What I'm thinking is that folks looking to take their their first travel planning steps into the great unknown of international travel are truly confused--so much so that they can't even fathom where to start asking a question.

So I'm taking on some pretty gnarly questions and trying to answer them. It's been a lot of fun, actually. I hope you read Unanswerable Travel Questions Answered Scientifically and grin, chuckle and learn something new about European Travel.

(The secret?  It's all in the unstated variables. Make some up, solve for X, and off you go. Happy travels.)

New Rome Colloseum Tours

Wednesday May 7, 2014

colosseum lower level picture
Rome has added some interesting new ways to see the ancient wonders it's know for. After some cleaning up and shoring up, the Colosseum is ready for you. Not only can you get inside, but you can peer into the lower level under the arena floor, where gladiators waited with the caged animals they were to fight against for their place in the sun. You can also access the cheap seats, those way up where there's a better view of Rome than there is of the action. Take a peek at our virtual tour: New Colosseum Tour.

Malta Arts Festival

Tuesday May 6, 2014

Ever want to say you saw the first iteration of a great arts festival? Well, you have a chance. They've announced the first Malta Arts Festival to be held July 14th to August 2nd.

The show opens with Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, known as 2CELLOS, the Croatian cello duo whose fame came swiftly after a they uploaded a music video to YouTube. Then it was was accelerated by Elton John:

"...Go and see them live, because it really is astonishing! I can't remember seeing anything as exciting as them since I saw Jimi Hendrix live back in the sixties..."

If you don't know who these guys are are, check out the video Thunderstruck. It doesn't matter what kind of music you like, it's in there.

The rest of the program is also quite impressive; see it here (pdf).

Read more about visiting Malta.

Pack like a Travel Expert

Sunday April 27, 2014

expert packing picture
Did you know that pretty much every professional traveler has a secret they use to pack their bags for a long vacation? Did you ever think that each of those secrets might be a little different, tailored especially for the quirks and preferences of a particular person? That's why those "One True Travel Packing Secret" articles don't exactly get it right.

We've compiled some travel expert tips and preferences. See if they help you with what to pack and how to pack it when you consider your next European vacation: How Travel Experts Pack.

Off to Rome!

Monday April 21, 2014

rome italy, rome picture, rome night picture
In a few hours we'll be streaking off to Roma on the Frecciabianca. We're staying in an apartment in the Prati neighborhood, northwest of the Vatican and just outside the boundaries of our Rome Map. It's a district that offers a real slice of Roman life, slightly less expensive hotels and apartments, and is a bit less convenient for excursions to Rome's center. We'll be testing and reviewing quite a few tours of Rome, including the vaunted after-hours Vatican tour. If you see us in a gigantic golf cart, slow rolling in the city, well, that's part of the deal as well.

Rome is always exciting; for me it's the best of the Italian big three. I can't resist the thin-crust pizza, the Roman ruins, or the unique character of each neighborhood. Follow this blog for our Roman adventures, or sign up for our free newsletter.

The Giro d'Italia Starts in Northern Ireland

Monday April 14, 2014

giro picture
This year the Giro d'Italia, the world's second biggest bike race (and the one before the Tour de France), starts in Northern Ireland. The three days they spend there will take them through 426.7km of northern Irish countryside before heading off for the region of Puglia to start the Italian part of the Giro.

The race should be fun to watch. In case you need some facts about it, The Belfast Telegraph offers up the interesting: 25 days until the Giro d'Italia - and here's a fact for every one of them.

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