29 November 2013

Creepy Family Portrait

This looks like a cover to a V.C. Andrews epic novel.

It is, in fact the Danish Royal family.

26 November 2013

Brew Tour: Cellarmaker Brewing Company

Cellarmaker Brewing Company is the latest on the scene here in San Francisco. It's a definite local place, located off the beaten path in an old warehouse-type space in SoMA.

My friend E & I found ourselves there one mellow Saturday about two weeks after it opened, and it was love at first sight. The tasting room space isn't too huge, and at that point pretty much every table was full but there weren't too many others hovering for a spot (which, for me, I like...I don't like to feel the pressure to have to drink quickly).

The day we were there, they were pouring 8 types of beer -- all super fresh! We decided to taste them all -- which we did. For 20$ you can get a generous sampling of everything on tap. Make sure to save a clipboard listing the beers; there are good descriptions of each. Also, you may want to ask the server the best order in which to taste -- when we were there they gave us the beer in the order the menu listed them, which was not the best order to taste (i.e. you don't want to go from a Saison to a Porter then back to an IPA).

My personal favorite was the Coquette -- a Belgian-ish style, which I always like. Really, I enjoyed most of them, enough to take some home with me. The cool thing here is you can bring in any brewery's growler and they'll fill it, but they also offer two sizes of their own. I got a smaller one of the Coquette, and one of the Hop Slangin' IPA (mainly for my friend who would be visiting me the following week).

This place is definitely gaining popularity, so it'd be wise to get there early. While they don't offer any food on-site, they do have a variety of food trucks visit on the weekend.

25 November 2013

Madrid: In Pictures

Got ham?

Inside the Catedral de la Almudena

A look through the gate at the Royal Palace

Don Quixote

A few of the military watching the Columbus Day parade

23 November 2013

En Madrid: Best Craft Beer - Fabrica Maravillas

After a week or so of pretty much only drinking wine (or Port), it was time to switch things up.

In all my times in Spain -- from living there to visiting -- I can't remember good beer being much of a choice. There were maybe one or two national brands available (depending where you were), and they weren't all that great. So, to say Spain isn't known for beer is an understatement.

But beer is what we (or perhaps just I) were craving, and beer we needed to find. Luckily, times in Spain they are a'changin'.

Much like in other parts of the world (or at least here in San Francisco), there is a surge in beer popularity, craft beer in particular. So I took a chance and did a little googling to see what I could find while in Madrid, crossing my fingers that there would be something, and not too far from our place.

And the finger crossing paid off! We came up upon Fabrica Maravillas, located not too far from our place in the Malasana neighborhood. This modern space is where the beer is actually brewed -- as evidenced by the clear casings showing off the tanks. It is modern while still being comfortable, and has a serious neighborhood vibe to it. We arrived just moments before the placed started filling up, and found ourselves a space at the bar.

When we arrived, they had perhaps five beers on tap. There are three different sizes to choose from -- a taster, half pint, and full pint. This is one approach I see very rarely in the States but really appreciate those choices when you just don't want to commit to a full glass. I started with a half pint of the Weitbeir (spelling incorrect, I know), which was very traditional and tasty. My friends had the Saison -- that is not my favorite style in general, but this was a good variation of it. Next I moved to the FL(ipa), which was a pretty nice IPA. I also had the Malasana, a pale ale named for the neighborhood occupied by Fabrica Maravillas. This was my favorite of all of them -- lucky for me this was also one of two beers they had actually bottled!

We liked this place so much we returned the next night just to taste (or heavily drink, depending on how you look at it) again. Thankfully for us, the staff speaks English so we could ask a question or two before the place got too crowded (and be warned, it does get crowded). With each drink, you'll get a bowlful of Spanish green olives or a snack mix. But that is the extent of the food they serve there. But if you want to escape the tourist trail and hang out with some locals and drink some good beer...this is your place!

Fabrica Maravillas is located at Calle Valverde 29 in Madrid.

21 November 2013

Em Porto: Port Tasting

We were lucky enough to spend several days based out of Porto. This beautiful city is, as the name would indicate, a port, and, also as the name would indicate, the hub of port wine.

This city sits on the end of the Duoro River, and served as the transportation point for the port made further north up the river. As such, the port houses have caves and/or tasting rooms, largely located directly across the river in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia.

We were lucky enough to be staying in Vila Nova de Gaia, so we could stare at the beautiful Porto from our windows. It was also fortuitous when it was time to go port tasting.

My friends decided to take a bike ride, but due to our very late start I decided to stay back and hit up some caves. I figured this would be similar to wine tasting here in the States, where you can sit at a bar and learn about the wines, and talk to the pourers or others standing nearby. So, I didn't think it would be a big deal to head off by myself.

I think this was stop 5...the barrell wouldn't dance with me
Unfortunately...port tasting at these houses is way different than what I was expecting. Perhaps it was the places I went, but my experience went something like this:

  1. Pay for tasting -- one place was 5Euro for 3 tastings, one was 20E for 6 (including a few wines). Others were about 2-3E per glass
  2. Go sit down...by myself somewhere on a chair, usually no where near where the drinks are poured
  3. Get drinks brought to me. All of them. At once. With very little explanation and no way to ask further questions.
  4. Drink everything provided. These were not small pours, either...they were what we would get here in SF if we paid for a nightcap. And remembering that port is much stronger than regular wine, and that there was no food other than some chocolates, well...things can get weird.
This is not to say it wasn't fun -- it was just much less social than I would have liked it to be. I had so many questions, and the pourers really don't come back around to answer any. With so much delicious port, the experience really makes the difference in what you'll purchase. In fact, the only bottle I bought was probably mediocre, but we had the most fun tasting at that particular cave (they were open late, and had a fado singer). You really can't go wrong with any of the ports you'll try, and you'll figure out what time you like -- white, tawny, ruby... and you'll figure out just how much you can drink before this happens: 

19 November 2013

Porto: In Pictures

Porto is easily one of the most beautiful cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Vibrant, hilly, and on water? I am sold.

These are a few of my favorite images...

One of my first pics -- the port boats with Porto in the background

Hope it's not time to leave yet.
Sunset on the coast -- edge of the world

One last shot before we go.

16 November 2013

Em Porto: Day Trips!

"Here Was Born Portugal"
 We were lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in Porto -- and I highly suggest at least 2 full days there, if not a third. But it is also a great place to be based, as there are several easy day trips that take you to smaller towns in Portugal -- just a quick train ride away. We were told that we needed more time/overnight stays to visit the Duoro Valley, so we went along with some suggestions provided by the trusty bike rental place guy.

The first we were told to visit was GuimarĂ£es, a university town up northeast from Porto. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site (Portugal has a lot of these!). It is about a one hour train ride from Porto -- just make sure you purchase the correct ticket (we didn't), and seemed, to us at least, to be a nice quiet escape from the business of Porto.

Historical Center of  GuimarĂ£es
The two sites that we headed off to see were the Palace and the Castle. We discovered that these two terms to not mean the same thing. The Palace was lovely -- it wasn't overly used and then was refurbished and is now just a museum. There is a beautiful chapel full of stained glass windows that was a nice place to just sit a spell. Right up the hill was the Castle...which was largely a shell with a pile of rubble inside. It was perched atop a hill, so clearly at some point it was an important fortress...but now it just looks like a cool place for maybe a live show or a photo shoot!

The town has many cute little shops and restaurants that line the streets on the way between the train station and the Castle/Palace. Also, if you wander a bit around the center, you'll come upon a beautifully manicured street that leads up to a pretty church.

Then, the following day, we headed to Viana do Castelo. About an hour north of Porto on the coast, it is a lovely train ride. For some reason, in my head, I thought we would be seeing a really pretty castle. I was incorrect!

Upon arrival, you can see the beautiful church that sits on top of a very steep hill. We had planned on taking the funicular (the Portuguese love their funiculars), but by the time we got there it was closed for lunch. So we braved a cab ride...and brave it was, as this guy whipped us around the steep hills and curves like they were straightaways. I think we were all holding on for dear life.

Despite the ornate facade, the inside of the church was rather plain. Very pretty, but not crazy. What is really special about this church is the view from the very top. For 1Euro, you can opt for the stairs or the elevator to get there. But, be warned...even with the elevator, you'll still need to climb quite a bit -- including a very narrow and steep spiral staircase. It is worth it for the view, from which you can see the whole city and then some; it feels almost as if, on a clear day, you could see across the seas to the Americas. Getting down from this peak was a little daunting -- I pulled some muscles in my leg doing it! Ouch.

After taking the funicular down from the mountain, we meandered through the old town to find some food and take in the sights. Of all the places we visited, this seemed the least touristed...also the most difficult to find someone who spoke English. My Spanish came in handy, because at least I could read most things, and we found that was more easily understood than our English. This town isn't too big, so it is easy to walk around the old center and see the other churches, municipal buildings, and what not. It felt like siesta time while we were there, but perhaps it is just that sleepy a town!

If you feel like shopping while in Viana do Castela, you're in luck -- there is a large mall right across the tracks from the main train station. If you can figure out how to get over there (read: take the stair overpass or the kind of unsavory looking underpass).

Again, another very worthwhile day trip. While Portugal overall doesn't seem to be too heavily-touristed by Americans (yet), it was fun to really get away from it all into towns that, while they had some tourists, felt more "local."

13 November 2013

Em Porto: A Cruise Down the Duoro

 It is hard to escape the lure of the water when you're visiting Porto. You watch it lap gently against the shore in the morning, and by evening you fall asleep to the stronger waves that have developed.

Easily one of the most touristy things we did on our trip was a boat cruise down the Duoro -- which I highly recommend. It was about 15 Euro (I don't think that was the cost; it could have been between 10-20E so 15 seems like a happy medium).

These are guided to a point...there is someone talking to you, but, it had gotten too windy for us to hear anything. But it is really cool to cruise and see the edges of the city, as well as to get close to the mouth of the ocean. Watching the sunset over the Duoro was truly incredible, as was getting to see the city of Porto drenched in that dusk light.

The boat we were on also had a bar, however, it was barely staffed, and not worth our time to try to get a drink. We did end up with a few glasses of wine...of which we could barely choke down two sips. It had definitely turned and was no good! 

Taking one of these tours is definitely a great introduction to this beautiful city.

11 November 2013

Lisbon: In Pictures

The sun set too quickly on our time in Lisbon. Here, pics of our journey.
Artwork in our apartment

She was enjoying the show going on below her window
View from right outside of our apartment 

Placa Comercio and the hills of Lisbon

The "other" Golden Gate Bridge

Some street art off the funicular Gloria

Real-world I Heart Lisbon

One last sunset