I love Prague. It sings in my bohemian heart. I imagine it’s awakened my slavic roots. Or maybe I just love the fact I can navigate the public transport with more ease than San Francisco’s MUNI. This city that feels like home.
I’m roaming the streets and museums, bundled in winter wear, feeling free. The grey sky has no hold on me. I’m alive. Cool rain and snowflakes affirm the inevitable sense of soaring. No matter that I have the lag. It’s physical, not mental. And for that, we can all be grateful.
I’m not even scared of eating at the hotel buffet these days. I don’t imagine the staff eyeballing me, curiously upset at my existence. I have shit to do.
I go each day to see art. To have this dawning realization that people make weird shit because weirdly it feels good. Just the simple act of being willing to create, that action in and of itself is artistic. All that is required is the willingness to create. Not the willingness for it to be the best, or the willingness to do it with a guarantee. Of something. Nope. The only gettouttajailfreecard you get is the fact that it’s done. You’re welcome, you.
*3 days later*
I don’t even remember writing that. I forget things so soon it seems. In my defense, it’s been a busy three days, but still. I’m in my 30s, not a convalescent home. Today I got out my voice recorder because I’ve been having these fucking proclamations ringing through my head. They feel hilarious and important. Like I want to share them, but with who?
I ate dinner tonight, roast duck with honey glaze and these peculiar berries. So heavy it felt like my tummy had migrated east, started a new republic. We walked home, the cold air snapping against us. It feels militaristic, this cold. The sharp edge of it keeping time with my steps.
Cadaques tickles the northeastern tip of Catalonian Spain, curving gently with the Mediterranean Sea. Renowned for the whitewashed buildings rounding the bay, its gently weathered 19th century grandeur, and its claim to Salvador Dalí fame—this small town completely charmed us. During our stay we happened upon an international photography festival, visited the 50-year home (turned museum) of Dalí, and beached with the locals. Here’s a sweet peek into this darling town.
We had one day and night to fall in love with Cadaques. I’d booked a stay at the chill little Hostal El Ranxo right in the middle of town. I’d also booked us Dalí museum tickets for the afternoon, so we spent the first half of the morning strolling the sights, drinking coffee (my favorite pursuit), and indulging our wives (okay, just me) with cobblestone alley photoshoots.
Ermita de Sant Baldiri
The great thing about traveling is encountering the unexpected. Walking the town, we happened upon a photo exhibit inside the small stone Hermitage of Sant Baldiri—aka Saint Baudilus—a martyr from the 3rd century who was beheaded for halting a pagan ritual. As the story goes, in the three places his disembodied head bounced post-cut, water sprang from the ground, bringing fresh water and life to the people. Lesson here? The good lord giveth and the good lord taketh away. But I digress.
InCadaqués International Photo Festival
The photo exhibitions in the 3rd annual InCadques photo festival were magnificent. In particular, the large-scale, slightly muted prints by Mathieu Richer displayed inside the Church of Sant Baldiri wowed. Since the 16th century, the people of Andalusia have undergone a yearly camino (pilgrimage) in honor of the Virgen del Rocio. According to Richer, “the pilgrimage lasts a week, in a colorful and moving parade. Pilgrims in flamenco dresses, on foot, on horseback, and in decorated carriages advance the day by singing. At night they camp around a fire, sing, dance, share a meal and wine until dawn.” I especially loved the young vaquero accompanying his lilac-covered wagon.
All the exhibitions were creatively woven into the history and landscape of the town. It’s so delightful to feel like you are part of the art and an active participant in how it’s discovered and observed. These floating prints were specially anchored to rest at surface level with the sea. So dreamy.
Salvador Dalí House Portlligat
After our art-filled afternoon, we walked to Salvador Dalí’s long-time residence in Portlligat, a wee port town outside of Cadaques. From 1930-1982, the house—now a museum—was the primary residence for Dalí and his wife, Gala. The architecture grew “organically” over the five decades, with the house resembling a hive of curving rooms, staircases, and outdoor spaces built of whitewashed stucco or concrete. True to form, his home was as fantastical, whimsical, and precise as his artwork.
Be sure to book your tickets to the Salvador Dalí House in advance. They only allow eight visitors in at one time for ~30 minute slots. During busy seasons spaces can book up months out, so plan ahead.
Exploring the town
For the most part the old town is car-free, so it adds to the old-world feel and artistic tone. Our hotelier recommended Es Grec, a Greek seafood restaurant tucked in a narrow alley and flanked by art galleries. It was crazy good, rich with the olive oil we’d been craving since our recent trip to Greece, a fabulous flaky fish fresh from the sea, and a friendly Greek proprietor to whom I got to say ευχαριστώ (thank you / efcharisto) and feel quite clever for having retained one Greek word for an entire three months.
Driving to Cadaques
Driving to Cadaques from Barcelona takes 2.5 hours. You can hop a tourist bus from Barcelona, but of course I love a car so you can explore the secrets of Costa Brava—like beautiful Begur. In the last leg, you’ll climb up the tail end of the Girona Pyrenees (that have peaked along the France/Spain border and come to rest in the Mediterranean Sea) before cresting and starting the descent down to Cadaques—the so-called Pearl of Costa Brava. Of course the photo below does no justice, but the views really are mind-boggling looking out over the Mediterranean Sea.
Generally speaking, the driving in Spain is not so aggressive and (let’s be honest) frightening as in Greece or Italy. This means even if you’re new to international driving, you’ll be fine (as long as you have an international drivers license). We did great in our car that was no bigger than a roller skate and could barely hold two carry-on suitcases in the trunk. And shout out to anyone who knows my fashion habits…yes I managed a three week trip with only a carry-on. Miracles can happen!
Have you visited Cadaqués? Tell me all about it. xo
Begur! Costa Brava! The magic of the Mediterranean. Turns out Costa Brava region is yet another place I would happily live. Reading about Hotel Aiguaclara on a travel blog lured us to Begur—a town I’d never heard of—and we had the good fortune to discover its coastal path. You must visit, and when you do, please stroll these magical coastal walkways.
Thanks to Begur’s hilltop views and strategic location, everyone from the Greeks to the Romans have staked their claim and left their cultural mark. Splashes of Cuba are present, too, in the richly ornate colonial mansions and public buildings. Both the money to build and the architectural style came from Spaniards returning from Cuba in the mid-1800s with their newly colonized riches. If the cultural influence isn’t enough to tempt you, Suddenly, Last Summer (starring Liz Taylor) was filmed in Begur and the climax takes place atop the 10th century castle that looks over the town (and upon which I stood).
Although more off-the-beaten path than Barcelona, Begur still receives its share of tourists. Because of its appeal, visiting in late summer or early fall is—like in most of Europe—more relaxed. The city is refined, clean, elegant and retains that old-world, wealthy colonial feel. Hotel Aiguaclara—a colonial style mansion built in 1866—sits near the old town. This is the hotel that beckoned us with its gorgeous breakfast buffet (honestly I can’t fight a lavish spread), colorful and welcoming decor, and incredibly friendly service. Due to it being mid-week in shoulder (aka, start of the off) season we were upgraded to a two-bedroom junior suite that had us feeling quite subtle glamour rock n roll.
Cami de Ronda
The coastal paths—known as Cami de Ronda in Catalan—have been used for centuries to fight pirates, help shipwrecks, and catch smugglers. Nowadays the magical coastal paths are a gentle tourist draw but mainly just magic for the people lucky enough to live there. There are three paths linking eight coves and beaches down the steep hillside from Begur. I dream of renting a seaside abode that steps out onto the path. Some dreamy late summer month my wife and I will just write and stroll the azure sea waters.
Our first afternoon, we walked from Begur to Sa Riera, a sweet cove with a handful of restaurants, a small sandy beach with access to the northern coastal path. This sign waited for us.
Our second day we got wise and drove to Sa Tuna instead of attempting to walk. The road down the mountain is miniature, full of hairpin turns, and sharp drop-offs. Drive the 10 minutes with caution but, oh is it worth it. Once there, you can stroll the coastal paths and swim in the coves. From Sa Tuna, the Eastern Coastal Path takes you to Aiguafreda and back in ~ 45 minute walk. The weather was perfection, but the water was a bit brisk. Here are some of the views:
Our last day we ate lunch at Toc Almar, a fancy beach hut restaurant perched over the softy, sandy beach of Aiguablava. We both agreed that maybe we were meant to live on the Mediterranean Sea? Afterwards, we walked the Southern Coastal Path from Aiguablava to Platja Fonda and back. Dreamy.
I’d love to return and do a more concentrated effort to hike along Spain’s glorious coast line. Have you been?
Here are some shots of our darling Hotel Aiguaclara. I’m a big fan. There were tons of nooks and crannies and everything just so. Below are also driving logistics for visiting the beach and the coastal paths. Bye, we love ya.
Distance-wise, walking from Begur to the beaches is doable but the lack of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure makes it a no-go. Our first day we walked from Begur to Sa Riera and it was a steep, hot, and often sidewalk-less hike. I definitely don’t recommend.
There’s a free beach bus that you’d be wise to hop on, especially during summer. You might lose your mind attempting to access the beaches in summer via car due to minimal parking and minuscule roads in and out.
Late season presented no problems in driving to and parking at the beach.
Look for a hotel with parking. Especially in the old town, parking is limited and will be an added cost if your hotel doesn’t provide.
From Barcelona to Begur
After landing in Barcelona, we got our bright blue, super miniature rental car and drove to Begur. The drive was only 1.5 hours and super chill. Driving in Spain is like driving in any major U.S. city. Along the way we stopped through Petrallada (a town carved of stone) which was utterly charming and completely empty. If you want food, coffee, or souvenirs after late summer, be sure to arrive after 12pm. This town seems to thrive on tourism, and since it’s an historic stone-carved town, it’s the perfect place for a roadie (espresso, hey). As long as you don’t want a morning espresso.
Like every Italian town, Lecce loves coffee. Caffe, caffe macchiato, caffe latte, you know the drill. But the real specialty in Lecce is the caffe in ghiacco or the caffe in ghiacco with latte di mandorla. These sweet, cold drinks are particular to the Salento region of Puglia and are said to have originated in this charming, baroque city.
Caffe in ghiaccio—a short espresso over ice with a healthy amount of sugar—is perfect for a hot afternoon. Caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla features that same iced espresso with a frothy sweet almond cream poured over top. Both will get you fired up real quick. In addition to beautiful coffee drinks, Lecce itself is magical.
Lecce is the perfect landing spot for exploring the northern region of Salento. For the visually-minded, Salento is best known as the heel of Italy’s boot. From Lecce’s vantage point you can quickly reach gorgeous beaches on the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, plus explore the interior of this stunning olive- and wine-producing region. Beyond strategic positioning, Lecce the city shines. The centro storico has ruins dating back to the 3rd century B.C. and the city reflects the range of cultures that have held power since then. Narrow cobblestone streets, medieval and baroque architecture, painfully cute piazzas and squares and a whole boatload of beautiful churches to rival Florence and Rome. The walled-in original old town was constructed from pietra leccese, a local soft, yellow limestone that causes the entire old town to glow as the sun sets. All in all, Lecce is the perfect place to stay awhile.
Perhaps most importantly is the really, really yummy coffee. (I never cared too much for coffee, but my very clever wife changed that when we met, thank god. Now I cannot imagine wanting to start my day without it.) Lecce’s local pastries—my newly acquired passion—will make you weep. The pasticciotto, reported to have been born here, is a small bun-shaped morning dessert (let’s call them what they are, people) filled with a creamy, oh so subtly lemon custard. Sometimes there’s a variation on the filling (nutella or pistachio cream) but lemony vanilla is the norm. The texture of the pastry is closer to a cookie than a cake. It almost reminds me of the texture of cornbread. Did I mention it’s delicious? It’s not too sweet, it’s smaller than the palm of my hand, tastes great with une caffe, and is totally legit to eat before 10am.
Where you drink coffee in Lecce (in all of Italy, really) depends on how you want to drink your coffee. If you prefer a leisurely beverage and newspaper moment, you’ll pay for ‘servizio.’ This means that in addition to the cost of your order, you’re paying the waiter to take your order and bring it to you. Sitting at a table can take a long time so if you are in a hurry don’t opt for this. Seated service is fun only if you’re not in a rush. If you want caffeine inside you, quick, or if you are in a hurry, you must order at the counter. Personally, there is nothing more satisfying than an espresso knocked back while standing at the bar and then chased with wee glass of bubbly water. Perhaps this is a holdover from my booze drinking days, but I adore the experience. It provides all the perks of taking a shot on the go (like a bar crawl!) without any of the booze-y impairment—just wonderful coffee superpowers. The counters are for standing only, so don’t get any airs about asking for a barstool. You order directly from the barista, then pay after you drink. Oh how I imagine that my limited Italian sings when I say, “une caffe macchiato, per favore!”
Here are my favorite places for drinking coffee, and the ways in which to drink them, and some hot tips on the best pastries in Lecce:
Word on the street is Caffe Alvino prescribes to the traditional pasticciotto recipe, which contains shortening. So beware if you’re a veggie. The shortening does make the dessert damn fine and super moist. The Caffe Alvino cappuccino is creamy and smooth and the patio seating in front of the cafe provides an ideal spot to overlook the ruins of the Roman amphitheater built (NBD) in the second century, B.C. Enjoy your morning respite while tourists and locals come and go on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Inside are miles of marble and chandeliers and mountains of cakes and ornately pastel pastries that will boggle your eyes. Their rustica (a mozzarella and tomato filled phyllo dough savory pastry) is a good alternative to sweet. Cost for two cappuccino, two pasticciotto and a table: 5 euros.
Despite their headline as an internet cafe, these guys don’t have a website. Searching ‘Rosso e Nero’ won’t do the trick easily, either, as Rosso e Nero is as ubiquitous as Caffe Valentina or Quattro Cafe…it’s a shout out to the type of coffee they use. In any case, follow this google maps link to this local spot. It’s only open until ~6pm. The baristas were so darling when we were there (which was almost each morning for a week) and the macchiato just right, at approximately 80 cents. Their pasticciotto had a healthy amount of cream and came in two sizes. I also loved their cornetto cioccolato (aka chocolate croissant). A few guys also ordered caffe correctos, which is morning drinking in the way that only Italians can make elegant: espresso with a shot of grappa slipped in to correct things.
Classic caffe in ghiacco with almond syrup: Bar Alvino
A short trek from the main city center but worth the experience, Caffe Alvino is famous for this sweet almond drink. It’s counter service inside the cafe, so belly up and don’t be shy. The bartender specially froths the almond cream to order and puts on a whole show of layering the ingredients, which of course makes the experience fun and playful.
Wherever you go in Lecce you’re bound to find tasty coffee and tasty pastiocciotto. We tried a pistachio one so you don’t have to. It wasn’t bad, but hot damn those vanilla ones are good. Beyond just caffeinated beverages Lecce has delightful regional cuisine (like orecchiette with parsnip green pesto), fascinating museums and a wonderful contemporary art museum called MUST. I learned the hard way while using the ladies room at MUST that what I thought was a pull for flushing the toilet was actually a 911 bathroom alarm that reverberated through the entire museum complex, so we certainly made some friends that day. I’ll write more on our September 2018 Puglia trip soon. Until then, here are some more Lecce photos.