After spending a quick four days on the North Island, we flew into Christchurch on the South Island and spent the day wandering around town. We stayed the night at an Airbnb apartment. At a cost of $168 USD, the two bedroom apartment served the four of us very well. Being able to spread out and do some laundry were great perks. The apartment is within walking distance of downtown and the Botanical Gardens.
|The remains of the Christchurch Cathedral. Rebuilding efforts are under way.|
We grabbed a drink and snacks at a little place near High Street called The Lower 9th Diner. They offered tasty Cajun-inspired food. We also made the necessary trip to Pedro’s House of Lamb. Pedro’s has a take-away only location in Christchurch (I am under the impression that the restaurant location did not make it through the 2011 earthquake). We were a group of four so we picked up two trays of lamb and potatoes at $35 NZD each. We ate until we were stuffed and then ate the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.
We wandered the streets of the old town and the new. There is more history (the cathedral, St. Felix’s church, etc.) in the old town but there is more shopping (H&M, Zara, etc.) on the newer side of town.
Foodwise, Zanparzan was a great find. The night we went in, it was standing room only for awhile. Luckily, we were able to snag a table quickly, camped out, and ate to our heart’s content. The pinxtos where delicious and were about €1.40 each. We also stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant that was actually worth going to (I find that Mexican food outside of the States and Mexico usually isn’t very good). It was not cheap (about €15 for an entrée and margarita) but the food at Maguey, Cort Reial 1, was a nice change from tapas and pinxtos.
|View from our apartment in Girona.|
For side trips from Girona, I recommend going to the tourist office and asking for bus schedules. We looked online but couldn’t always find good, basic information. Also, keep in mind there are two bus stations in Girona. One is just outside of the old town but the other is further south in front of the train station.
We also took a daytrip to the small town of Bezalu. It was picturesque and lovely. There is a lot of history to see there. Unfortunately, because it is such a small town most of these “attractions” are closed to the public unless you take a 30 minute walking tour of town, which only takes place a few times a day and is only offered in Spanish. But if you want to get into the “sites,” go to the tourism information center to find out the starting times for tours and do so as soon as you arrive in town.The start times for the walking tour are also posted outside most of the main sites.
We stumbled across a great little tapas bar in Barri Gotic called La Cala del Vermut, Carrer de les Magdalenes, 6. It’s not far from the Cathedral de Barcelona, but it’s tucked away enough that the tourist crowds can’t find it. We had a small lunch of a few tapas and a drink which cost about €6 per person. The staff was very friendly, answered our questions, and tolerated my poor Spanish.
La Bodegueta, Rambla de Catalunya, 100 is a delightful little tapas place usually full with patrons. It’s too small for standing so grab a table and order something wonderful from the menu. We really liked the Manchego cheese, the tiny pimientos de Padrón (grilled peppers) and the pan tomàquet (bread rubbed with tomato and garlic, then drizzled with olive oil). We ate here twice and both times the bill was under €10 a person.
Taktika Berri, Carrer de Valencia, 169 is a great pinxtos bar. At €1.45 per pinxtos, it can get expensive if you eat a lot but you can also try a handful of great items and keep it under budget. The general rule is to let the bartenders serve you unless its very crowded; then you can take what you’d like for yourself. Also, remember that when you are ready to pay, your toothpicks will be counted (usually at the register) and you will need to tell the bartender who many drinks you had. It will all be tallied up. Side note: It seemed that most people did not tip at pintxos bars. I’m not sure if it was because you kind of serve yourself, although they are filling your drinks and bringing around new pinxtos. We decided to tip when we felt that the service was exceptional.
There’s a great restaurant called Bazaar, C/ San Marcos, 35, just south of the Chuenca metro stop (http://www.restaurantbazaar.com/). The food has an international flavor to it; some Spanish, some Asian flavors but all around good. The prices aren’t too bad either, about 6-10€ per plate, and they have great wines (including house wines).
Last recommendation. San Antón (http://www.mercadosananton.com/) and San Miguel (http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/) markets are great places to eat some delicious food, but it’s an even better deal to take some to go. If you are staying in an apartment or going on a picnic in Retiro Park (which I highly recommend), pop into either market. Buy a little of this and a little of that and you will be amazed at the quality of food you get for just a few euros. American readers, please remember that one pound equals 453 grams, so 100 grams of cheese is enough for a good snack for a few people or to last a few days. Add a bottle or two of wine from a grocery store (for as low as 1€) and you’re good to go.
To get in and out of the city, there is an express bus from the airport to Cibeles (Banco de Espana metro stop) and Atocha (Atocha metro stop) for 2€ each way. It’s easy and quick, the driver can provide change, and, best of all, you don’t have to transfer in any of the many metro stations. Check out this site for more Information: http://www.esmadrid.com/en/barajas-airport-express
Also, one other tip about Madrid’s metro system: when you look at the system map, the city seems quite spread out and possibly unmanageable. In actuality, the metro stations are closer to each other than one would think (some as little as 3-5 minutes on foot). I recommend that in the first day or two you are in Madrid, don’t buy the 10 ticket metro pass. Figure out where you think you want to go in the city, how much walking you are willing to do, and go from there.