Southern Spain – November 2012 – Day 5 (Cuenca, Valencia and Madrid)

Tuesday November 20, 2012

With only a full day thus far in Madrid, we probably should have stayed central on Tuesday.  However, it was tough to turn down the opportunity to see the hanging houses of Cuenca and swing by Valencia for some world class architecture and a taste of their prized paella.  We caught an early hour long train to Cuenca and took a 10 minute cab to the city center. Although there was a language barrier, the driver was kind enough to provide a map and point out a few of the sights.

(Train to Cuenca from Madrid, Spain)

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Cuenca, Spain

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Cuenca, Spain

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Cuenca, Spain

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Cuenca, Spain

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Cuenca Cathedral – Cuenca, Spain

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Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) – Cuenca, Spain

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Puente de San Pablo and Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) – Cuenca, Spain

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Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) – Cuenca, Spain

A frigid hour later, we saw our morning sites and were ready to head back to the train station. With no taxis in site, we went inside a nearby hotel and asked them if they could call a cab for us.  He asked if we were staying at the hotel and we said no.  He called nonetheless and muttered “Free service” then snickered at us.We didn’t realize what an inconvenience we were causing him.  If I think about it logically, in the US you would have to press seven numbers to get a cab.  In Spain, it’s only six digits.  It really shouldn’t have been that big a deal for those stressed fingers.  It left a pretty sour taste in our mouth and at that point we felt dependent using their heating system, so we just waited outside.

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Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia, Spain

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Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia, Spain

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The Banco de Valencia, Valencia, Spain

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The Banco de Valencia, Valencia, Spain

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Buildings backdrop Valencia orange tree, Valencia, Spain

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Alley way, Valencia, Spain

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Colorful buildings, Valencia, Spain

Once we were at the train station, it was another hour into Valencia for the rest of the day. We wasted no time taking in the architecture by heading straight to Plaza del Ayuntamiento

After an extremely disappointing experience at Madrid’s Market of San Miguel, we were off to our second market. Mercado Central dwarfed Madrid’s market in size and in overall experience.  There were hundreds of vendors, each offering one thing to another. From seafood, produce, charcuterie, rabbit, pork, seafood,  spices, juice, potato chips, cookies, and more seafood. It took over an hour just to walk the full market and decide what we wanted to buy.  We opted for some potato chips, orange juice, bamba rice for paella, and several packages of 100 grams of sealed charcuterie to take back to Los Angeles. We left them in the fridge for a month and they were great when we finally decided to eat them.  The batch included several jamons, morcilla, lomo and chorizo.  It was cheaper and better than most of the charcuterie we had at restaurants on our trip.

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Safron threads, Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

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Iglesia de la Compania, Valencia, Spain

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La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia, Valencia, Spain

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La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia, Valencia, Spain

Horchateria de Santa Catalina
Plaza de Santa Catalina, 6
46001 Valencia
http://www.horchateriasantacatalina.com/

One of the many specialties of Valencia is horchata.  In comparison to the Mexican version made with rice and cinnamon, the Spanish version is typically made with tigernut.  It’s more dense and less sweet than the Mexican version we were use to having.  I like both, but I’d have to give the edge to the one we had at Horchateria de Santa Catalina.  Contrary to common belief among Spaniards, the tigernut doesn’t actually come from tigers.

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Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia, Spain

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Interior – Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia, Spain

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Tigernuts – Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia, Spain

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Horchata – 8/10 – Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia, Spain

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Pastry 5/10 – Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia, Spain

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Display case – Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia, Spain

During our research, Jen had found that Valencia was well known for its street art.  We had it on our to-do list to circle back and find areas in Valencia that had graffiti, but we never got around to doing the research.  It turns out you don’t have to look far, the streets are prevalent with spray paint from floor to ceiling.

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Street art, Valencia, Spain

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Street art, Valencia, Spain

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Street art, Valencia, Spain

Jen’s sister asked us to bring back some gummy candy that Spain is apparently known for.  It took us a few days, but we found a place in Valencia and grabbed a few bags to take back with us.  We couldn’t resist and started eating into her gift on the train later that night.  It’s a lot better than the gummy candy we have in the U.S. Generally, Spain’s version was softer and more flavorful.  The only thing I could point to was maybe the Spanish don’t use corn syrup in their recipe.  Corn syrup always seems to cheapen the flavor of anything it touches.

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Belros candy store, Valencia, Spain

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Belros candy store, Valencia, Spain

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Belros candy store, Valencia, Spain

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Valencia Cathedral, Valencia, Spain

Levante
Avd. Maestro Rodrigo, esquina Avda. Manuel de Falla
46015 Valencia
http://www.restaurantelevante.com/

Obviously, we had to try a version of paella while in town.  If we had more time, we would have tried a few versions at a couple restaurants.  But, we had to choose one place and we went with Jose Andres’ recommendation over L’estimat.  There are several versions when it comes to the dish.  Two of the more common are the seafood and squid ink. We opted for the traditional Valenciana made with rabbit, chicken, beans and snails (if you call in advance).  Both of us found the paella bland, perhaps L’estimat would have had a better version.  If we had to do it again, we would have gone to Valencia for a couple days and reserved at Ricard Camarena and one of Quique Dacosta’s restaurants.  Then taken the hour trek to Denia for Dacosta’s recently crowned three star Michelin restaurant.

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Levante, Valencia, Spain

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Levante, Valencia, Spain

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English menu – Levante, Valencia, Spain

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Bread – Levante, Valencia, Spain

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Cod croquette 5/10 – Levante, Valencia, Spain

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Pumpkin croquette with almond 6/10 – Levante, Valencia, Spain

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Paella valenciana 3/10 – Levante, Valencia, Spain

After a late lunch, we were off to the City of Arts and Sciences.  A modern architectural marvel that was completed in 1998.  It consists of a planetarium, a science museum, a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia, an oceanographic park, an opera house and a concert hall.  If you have a full day, it would be ideal to spend an hour or two at each facility.  We did not, so we paid $80 for us to get into all the attractions, but really just walked around taking photos for an hour.  L’Oceanogràfic is the only attraction you can’t get a good photo of without a ticket.

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L’Àgora, Valencia, Spain

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Smile, this photo cost $80 – L’Oceanogràfic, Valencia, Spain

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El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, Valencia, Spain

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L’Umbracle, Valencia, Spain

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Signs for all the attractions, Valencia, Spain

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L’Hemisfèric, Valencia, Spain

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El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, Valencia, Spain

We wrapped up our Valencia visit with a quick five minute walk to Gulliver Park. From the City of Arts and Sciences just pass through Jardín del Turia Park and you’re there.  At this point, we hailed a cab to the train station and it was back to Madrid for dinner.  Although, I would have liked to spend more time in Madrid, I’m glad we were able to squeeze in Valencia.  We still want to experience La Tomatina festival and eat at Quique Dacosta, so we could easily see ourselves in Valencia again.

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Gulliver Park, Valencia, Spain

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Gulliver Park, Valencia, Spain

(Cab in Valencia, Spain)

Once we were back at the hotel we both needed a little R&R, so we laid down for a seven minute power nap.  Once rested, we popped in the shower and got suited and booted for our second Michelin dinner in Madrid.

Ramon Freixa
Calle de Claudio Coello 67
28001 Madrid, Spain
http://www.ramonfreixamadrid.com/

Tonight was Ramon Freixa, a place favored by Jen. If I had my way, we would have been at Club Allard.  But, I gradually shut up once we started eating.  There are three tasting menus and al a carte options.  We went all out and got the Grand Frx, even against the strong caution handed down from our server that it was a lot of food.  It included an “Introduction” of about nine dishes, two starters, one fish, one meat, a composed cheese course and  a “Big” Dessert.  He’s known to send dishes out in trios, so it was hard to keep track, but I counted more like 25 dishes.  Our server was right, it was a lot of food.   Overall, this is a great place to choose among the high-end restaurants in Madrid.  I value the food more than anything in a restaurant experience, but the service and ambiance stood out for me.  The staff was professional, yet comfortable and something about the mural aerial view of Madrid generates an energy throughout the dining room.  The savory dishes were better than the sweets. The bread basket, baked fresh daily by his father, was one of the best we have ever had. The cheese courses were more of an acquired taste, to say the least, with the Stilton croquete with chocolate easily bring the worst dish of the trip.

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Hotel entrance – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Restaurant entrance – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Patio area – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Sylish sommelier- Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 1 puff pastries 6/10- Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 2 – Deep fried Sea snails 3/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 3 – Thin crisps with rosemary and olive oil 6/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 4 – Seaweed with salt 5/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 5 – crispy sardines 5/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 6 – Tumaca bread and salami 6/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 7 – Melon “Apple” 5/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 8 – Carrots in vinaigrette 4/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Introduction 9 – Consomme 3/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Bread basket 10/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Butter and olive oil – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Starter – Mussels in a light broth 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Starter – Mussels in a light broth 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Razor clam 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Olive oil capsules on seaweed bread 10/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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White asparagus foam 6/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Potato Ravioli with mushroom 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Grilled artichokes with a Spanish ratatouille 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Mushroom and pigeon with polenta crescent 6/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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White Fish with grilled vegetables 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Shaved cheese dumpling 6/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Beets 5/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Shoulder of lamb, spicy sausage, honey 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Risotto 7/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Pine nuts 3/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Ramon Freixa greeting guests – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Tou dels Til·lers creamy with pear and passion fruit 5/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Torta de Pascualete into a dry apricot with wine and pine nuts 3/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Torta de Pascualete into a dry apricot with wine and pine nuts 3/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Bauma Carrat with mushroom and spicy marcipan 3/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Stilton croquete with chocolate 0/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Mignardises – Sacher cake, tutti frutti jelly, chocolate shot with passionfruit, golden apple, chocolate muffin, lavender panna cotta, strawberry filled with green tea: 5/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Orange, chocolate, bread and oil 6/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Banana cake with peanut sabayón; balsamic vinegar cold cream 10/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Mimetic banana, spicy touch… ginger quince 8/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Vanilla; avocado mousse, confit tomatoes and sweet “nachos” 4/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Mignarides – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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Chocolates 4/10 – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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The bill – Ramon Freixa, Madrid, Spain

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