Saturday November 17, 2012
The train system throughout Spain is extremely efficient and an excellent way to travel throughout the country: Madrid to Segovia in 30 minutes, Madrid to Cuenca in an hour, further to Valencia another hour, back in 90 minutes, Madrid to El Escorial in an hour, Madrid to Sevilla in 2.5 hours, Sevilla to Granada in 3 hours and Sevilla to Cordoba in 45 minutes. There’s dozens of trains a day and always open seats. Due to the difficulty of booking from the U.S., we bought tickets the day of and paid a hefty premium. In hindsight, we should have booked in the U.S. beforehand or purchased a Rail Pass. All the trains ended up costing us $1,300. If trying to purchase individual tickets on-line it does help to use your hotel’s address.
Train website – http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/index.html
Train station locations- http://www.adif.es/en_US/infraestructuras/estaciones/92102/informacion_000122.shtml
Segovia is one the best day trips from Madrid, known for its prominent Roman aqueduct, the Palacio Real de La Granja and their roasted suckling pig (cochinillo asado). The Alcazar was our least favorite sight in the city. We arrived in Segovia around 9AM and took a quick 20 minute bus ride from the train station to the Roman aqueduct for some photos. There is a separate bus that can take you to Palacio Real de La Granja, but we just opted for the 20€ taxi ride and took the bus back to Segovia for lunch.
Restaurante Jose Maria
Calle Cronista Lecea, 11
40001 Segovia, Spain
The biggest surprise of the trip. El cochinillo asado, suckling pig, is a food of the province of Segovia and it is heavily regulated. These pigs are only 3 weeks old, weigh between 4.5kg and 6.5 kg, their external color is white and internal is pink and they should always be marked on one ear with their respective blue label. We had very low expectations for this little pig. It had tourist trap written all over it. We were convinced we would be served a five day old cooked pig that had been resting in a refrigerator only to be quickly microwaved when the lunch rush pops in. But, it was far from that. The indication that we were in for a great meal came in the carving of the pig by a single plate. Before we could order, four or so baby pigs were scurried out to other tables with a brief presentation before they were divided into eight servings. You could just see how tender the meat was and to ensure every crevasse was equally moist, a spoonful of it’s jus was poured on top. When we received our portion we immediately confirmed what our eyes had already seen, one of the best pork dishes we have ever had. We’ve had tender pork, but to get the skin that crisp was truly amazing and it just had a excellent juicy flavor.
(Plating Cochinillo Asado at Jose Maria in Segovia, Spain)
4 PM plus 12 hours equals 18:00? In the U.S. we are used to the PM afternoon times. So to adjust to Spain, our agenda had the PM times and the European/military times right beneath it. We were to never be late on our trip and right we were. Our train back to Madrid was at 6 PM so we rushed to catch the 3 PM bus back to the train station (20 minute ride). It wasn’t until we arrived at the train station that we realized we were way too early for the train and we could have spent more time in Segovia sightseeing. We were still a bit tired from the flight, so we took a brief nap at the station, which was a little more complicated for me. We just purchased a Canon Mark III camera and I was paranoid about the Spanish stealing my stuff. I had heard horror stories about how talented the Spanish thiefs were. Just to be safe, I bought a jacket with an inside zipper pocket for our money and a little TSA lock for the camera bag. In order to sleep, I locked the bag up and then further locked it to my jacket. About an hour into my deep sleep, Jen abruptly wakes us up and says we have to go, the train is leaving! I jump up, half-awake, I can’t unlock the bag from my chest as I sprint to security to show him our tickets. Only to find out we still have another hour. And now we know 4 PM plus 12 hours is 16:00.
Well the good news is we got back into Madrid on time. We took the subway back to the hotel, freshened up and headed out to dinner. To work off some the calories from lunch we took a subway and walked the rest of the way to Diverxo.
Calle Pensamiento, 28
28010 Madrid, Spain
The toughest reservation of the trip. Although in the current economy we may have made it harder than it really needed to be. Two months to the date, I stayed up until midnight to check online if they had released reservations for November 17, nothing. I woke up at 1AM, 3AM, 5AM and still nothing. Then I checked every hour going forward and it wasn’t until 4 PM that I was able to click on the 17th. A day later they replied back and confirmed our reservation. It was featured in No Reservations and was awarded its second Michelin star in 2012. It was one of the most hyped restaurants in Europe at the moment, yet the limited pictures we had seen didn’t impress. They are reluctant to allow pictures and until Spanish Hipster blogged about the place, I hadn’t seen a full dinner as the restaurant likes it to be a surprise. We still went with Diverxo over places like Club Allard, Sergi Arola and La Terraza del Casino because of the hype, even though places like this tend to disappoint. We were fearful of a Jose Andres type restaurant.
Their website mentions no photos allowed and upon our arrival the menu we were served mentioned something in Spanish with the word photo. I knew what it said, but I chose to ignore it and shoot away. I’m glad I did so I can properly remember one of the best meals of our life. When we were done, we knew this would be the best meal of the trip and we had a tough time thinking of a better meal to date from any trip. It’s up there with the best of the U.S. 3 star Michelins.
The meal started out slow with a plate of edamame with a teriyaki type sauce on top. But, the chef swiftly took the meal from 1st to 5th gear. Our favorite courses were the coconut course, the crab and citrus course, the dim sum and shrimp, bull tail sandwich with baby eels, glazed monkfish with violate potato and white asparagus and the black cod with game sauce. The only dishes we didn’t enjoy were the bull tail bitter soup and the experimental tomato dessert. Chef David Munoz has a talent for unique and effective flavor combinations, beautiful presentation and the appropriate restraint in order to make a dish work. Only in his early thirties, I would expect him to be one of the world’s best chef in years to come.