A Fuego Negro Is The Funkiest Eatery in San Sebastian

One of the things that come up repeatedly when you read about San Sebastian is how it has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world. That brings up a conundrum as a traveler. Michelin-starred means not cheap. Not cheap means locals only frequent on a special basis.

I have this adverse reaction to term to the word “foodie”. To me, it means bragging out exclusive meals, name-dropping celeb chefs and restaurants and waiting two hours for something stupid like a cronut. Thus, I’m not going to spend $200 for a meal just so I can impress other foodies.

I asked several San Sebastian residents (including my bike guide who’s lived there all his life) if they’ve even been to these Michelin-starred restaurants. All said no. I’m sure these places are truly wonderful meals, but I want to eat where the locals eat.

Which brings me to A Fuego Negro, a eatery that repeatedly will come up in your research on where to eat in town. It’s different in that it’s a tapas joint rather than a pintxo bar and it’s a Catalan-based menu and not Basque. The chalkboard menu is even written in Catalan, which sent my Google translate app to say “No Comprendo”. I had more fun and met more wonderful people here then I would at the high-end places.

The mini-hamburger with handmade crisps (Makcobe with txips) and a side of house-made pickles had me coming back the next night to order it again. Same with the chicken wings (Little bird, onion and carrot). Same with the house-made vermouth cocktail. In fact, my biggest regret on this trip was not buying a bottle of Beltza to lug around in my suitcase. They don’t sell it in America.

The decor and atmosphere are different from the rest of the traditional bars in the San Sebastian. They play 70s funk and soul while being surrounded my pop culture curios and knickknacks. It does tend to be crowded so be patient, it’s worth squeezing into the bar.

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Singular Bar in Bilbao is the Best Place for Craft Beer

My last post on Bilbao takes me to a bar where I felt right at home. Singular is the loan bar in town dedicated to craft beer. With six taps and an extensive bottle list, it’s a who’s who and what’s what of the Spanish craft beer scene. It’s located on Lersundi Kalea, within a five-minute walk from Zubizuri Bridge.

It’s a spacious, modern and comfortable room with plenty of chairs and sofas to relax and spread out with your crew. The staff couldn’t have been nicer to me, even hooking me with some new finds that just came in. It’s the reason I came back a second night. Also I wanted to walk back to my hotel and not stumble drunkenly.

Here’s what I got to drink:

Naparbier — Inside IPA
Espina De Ferro — Dead MonkMade from a malt base consisting of 6 different types of speciality malts. Resulting in a maltose beer with a light caramel flavour. Including aromatic and spicy hops that offer a range of flavours.
BIIR Modern Craft Beer — Country – Belgian Farmhouse AleClassic style Belgian beer ( Farmhouse Ale ) with a mixture of champagne and Belgian special yeast , rye malt and hop dry end of Crystal.
Drunken Bros Brewery — Rosemary —  The initial impact on the nose is different and unexpected mixture of rosemary and citric hops. Deep orange color, has a medium body and a low level of carbon that makes it very comfortable in the drink. It is a balanced beer, with herbal touch and where not protrude or sweetness or bitterness.
Drunken Bros Brewery — Hendrix (Cover Series)Oatmeal Stout. A jet black and brownish foam dense and creamy. Appearance viscous sweet and pleasant aromas, with clear ownership of chocolate and coffee. Dense and silky on the palate , with hints of chocolate, coffee and caramel , and to a lesser extent some raisins and nuts is presented .

You Can See Bilbao in Playskool Form at the Bilbao Maritime Museum

On my checklist of things to do in every city is to visit the city’s history museum. I just like learning how a city came to be and looking at old timey photos of the place I’m in. I also get a kick out of seeing mannequins in period costumes with audio street noise accompaniment.

While Bilbao doesn’t have a history museum per se, the Maritime Museum acts as their history museum. You can see the evolution of the city as a major port for shipping to the current state as an arts and culture destination.

The museum is free on Tuesday from September to June so can breeze in and out just to satisfy your curiosity. If anything, you can see the city done up using Playskool figures.

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Towards the end of the museum is a time lapse exhibit that shows the rapid growth of the city laid out in front of you.

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To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth in Bilbao, Go To Pastelería Don Manuel, Heladeria Nossi-be and La Queseria

I just had to post a close-up of that chocolate mousse cake. Please don’t lick your screen.

That bad boy is from Pastelería Don Manuel. Located within a block of the Azkuna Zentroa, so you get yourself a good workout and then put all those calories right back in your system.  You got decadent cakes, cookies, pastries, torts, bars and bombas. All are beautifully displayed like pieces of art and all cannot be eaten over your stay in Bilbao.

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On my checklist of places to eat are the classic ice cream joints in town — the ones that say “Establish 1911” or something. The data points to Heladeria Nossi-be, established in 1911. It’s located right at the north end of the Arenal Bridge so you can’t miss it. You can even make a quick detour from jamon hunting in Casco Viejo to get some chocolate and vanilla scoops.

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La Queseria is a food store that was designed for me. They sell cheese, chocolates and beer. The store was featured in the NY Times 36 Hours video, so I was just expecting to pick up cheese. Nope, I saw the craft beer and chocolate displays and a little tear rolled down my face. It’s … it’s … beautiful. The woman in the video was the one who helped me pick out my cheese. It became my traveling cheese on my way to San Sebastian.

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Where I Stayed in Johannesburg — Villa Simonne

Recounting my accommodations on my month long journey, it’s time to finish up in Johannesburg and Villa Simonne. I debated in choosing this hotel because it was more of a resort than a proper hotel.

When you’re looking for accommodations, you want to be near attractions or within walking distance of bars and restaurants. Johannesburg is such a vast, spread out city like Los Angeles that the idea of being near anything is mute.

There are few reasonable hotels in malls that I kept on pondering. I had almost pulled the trigger on Hotel Fire & Ice! in Melrose Arch, a modern hotel in a new entertainment complex that has  all sorts of eateries, shopping, entertainments and the like. Think Universal City Walk in L.A. or Orlando.

I kept on looking at pictures at Villa Simonne. The grounds looked exciting. The rooms looked all decked out with plenty of spaces. The pool at night looked lovely. Then, there photos of guests and parties looked like a lot of fun. Most of all, the prices per night (around $75) was a steal for what you were paying for.

The location was giving me some reserve. It’s located in an upscale neighborhood that seemed like Beverly Hills. You’ll see a lot of large homes in a suburban like setting. The Villa would be not be within walking on anything. Thus, you would have to take taxis/Uber the whole time.

I lucked out because the staff were so accommodating to me. They tried their best to get me into a daytime safari, calling five or six different places. Even though there wasn’t anything available, they helped me book my bike tour of Soweto. The owner greeted me and would chat with me while I was waiting for me car.

My favorite member of the staff was Sahara, their big malamute dog. Dogs tend not to like me but Sahara loved me. Probably the friendliest dog I’ve ever met.

As I saw in the pictures, there were a lot grounds to explore with little out coves and nooks. In my four nights there, I only saw a couple of other guests. Then the third night, the whole place was rented out and there was a big time get-together during the day.

My room had a balcony with table and chairs overlooking the pool and view of the clear night skies. There was a living room, king-size bed and shower and tub. You really do get your money’s worth.

It’s a gated compound, so you’ll get a fob that opens the front gate. Uber was such a godsend in my visit to South Africa, so I highly recommend you have a data plan with your visit. If not, the Villa will get you a hired car which will be a bit pricey as compared to Uber.

I took some pictures of their bar, game and cabaret areas which can be rented out for the big costume parties. Unfortunately, nobody was around to drink with so I didn’t get to see the rooms in full swing.

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Arata Isozaki’s Isozaki Atea in Bilbao Caused Controversy

When you visit Bilbao, you’ll learn that bringing in great artists and architecture doesn’t come without cost or controversy. You have Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry and Philippe Starck making headlines for their head-turning designs.

Adding to that group is Japanese architect Arata Isozaki and his design for the residential Isozaki Atea. He’s best known in America for his designs for the MOCA in Los Angeles and Disney’s offices in Orlando. He’s also been highly critical of the designs for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic stadium.

First thing you’ll notice that it’s right at the base of Calatrava’s Zubizuri Bridge. With the two residential towers, he meant for them to welcome people to the city of Bilbao. The costly controversy was how to connect two different constructions.

The result was Isozaki constructing a recreation of Rome’s Spanish Steps. Although, Isozaki used dark grey granite, classing with the white steel of the bridge.  This didn’t sit well with Calatrava and a battle set forth in Bilbao’s city council on ownership of the connection. In the end, Bilbao city council sided with Isozaki.

You would have had to tell me that the connection was a recreation of the Spanish Steps. There weren’t people sitting on the steps and nobody was bothering about buying wilted flowers. In any event, it’s a big grey structure of modernity, and I’m sure the rents are insane.

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Turkish Airlines Flies To Cities That Don’t Exist

While the land of Turkey slept through the Super Bowl, their namesake airline has some prominent ads during the broadcast featuring Ben Affleck and Jesse Eisenberg. Turkish Airlines promoted their tie-in with the new movie, Batman v. Superman: OMG Enough With the Superhero Movies.

You’ll be happy to know that you can enjoy their luxurious service to gleaming cities Gotham and Metropolis. Unfortunately, no word on service to Hill Valley, Bedrock or Coruscant.

I do hate to point out that Gotham and Metropolis are fictitious places and you can only fly there after taking some hallucinogenic drugs. I’ve flown Turkish Airlines and that was not included in their amenities kit.