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Monday, April 16, 2007

Making the Rounds: Bars and Restaurants

Going out for me serves many purposes. I can meet some of the basic necessities of food and drink while also interacting with people and that means speaking Spanish. It’s nice when you can file going out for a drink under “education.” Going out in Spain offers up a lot of choices because you can’t spit here without hitting a bar or a restaurant. There a five on either end of my street and one in between. Within about four blocks there are literally dozens of places to go for a drink or a bite of food. I haven’t even tried half of them yet.

Perhaps my standards have lowered (Is that even possible?) but I really enjoy the cheap Spanish wine I drink. Beer here is pretty shitty and I think that is true almost everywhere in the world—not really bad, just average. After drinking nothing but the world’s best beers in Seattle I’m back to Heineken and Amstel or one of the Spanish brands. It’s odd to me that as crappy as the beer is, people here prefer it over wine for the most part. In other parts of Spain wine is a lot more popular in bars. I feel a little like the oddball ordering my vino tinto.

Two of my favorite places here in Valencia are a half a block from my front door and both serve pretty decent wine. At both places I know a lot of the staff by name so I feel pretty comfortable. At one of them I get a glass of wine in a nice glass and they have a stack of newspapers to choose from that I can read if it’s too busy for the owner or bartender to talk to me. They have a couple of good televisions and I usually go there to watch a game. I rarely eat there but the food is good. It is always crowded on game nights. They have a nice outside area which will be great when the weather is better.

The place next door is a lot smaller and thus more intimate. I guess that the fact that you stand in such close proximity to people makes it easier to meet people. This place also serves a good glass of wine although the reds are chilled. I’ve noticed this in areas of southern France that don’t make good white wines so it’s not the blasphemy that they teach you about in Wine 101. This bar is one of the few places in Valencia that serves a complimentary tapa when you order a drink. This is pretty much the rule in almost every bar I’ve been to in Madrid, Sevilla, Toledo, and every other city I’ve visited in Spain. This place also has good food. I will sometimes order a half a plate of something because the full plates are enormous.

Almost every day I stop in at a little place run by a Chinese family. They always have a copy of Levante on hand. This is the more liberal of the two Valencia daily newspapers. I read it cover to cover as I sip my coffee. I usually get an americano these days just because I need the extra caffeine. I order my coffee and then sit outside. I like this place because it is casual and the patio gets a lot of sun during the afternoon. I don’t really need my dictionary to read the newspaper these days but I still run across unfamiliar words. My notebook of vocabulary is quickly getting filled. I like Levante because it has thorough local news, a good sports section, and because it has Calvin and Hobbes. Reading it in Spanish is like discovering that old classic all over again. I also like to read the really caustic movie reviews in this paper of the films that will be on local TV that day. This cafĂ© also gets Magazine which is a good Spanish weekly magazine.

Next there is a bar run by some Indian guys where I hang out sometimes. The sell giro sandwiches called doner kepab here. This joint gets a really varied crowd of people and I have met people from all over the place. It is also the least expensive of all the places I have been in town. A beer is 1€ and a coffee is only .80€. I read the other Valencia daily here called Las Provincias and I usually come across something in it that infuriates me, like an opinion column written by the archbishop of Valencia that was critical of the secular Spanish society today. I was actually yelling at the paper while I was reading it. The Catholic Church sure did a shitty job when they ran things, and now Spain is more prosperous and egalitarian than ever thanks to a secular and socialist government. Sorry Catholic archbishop, you’re full of shit.

For big football matches I will venture out of my little neighborhood and cross over to the other side of the stadium to the Plaza del Valencia CF where there are four bars next to each other that have big screen televisions facing out into the square. When the games are held at Mestalla the roar from the stadium adds a lot of excitement to the game on TV.

There is a little restaurant run by some brothers that is just across the courtyard from my front door. This is a good little spot but they have very quirky hours; it’s almost like they are open by appointment only. I haven’t tried the food there but it looks good. They also have a great patio so I’ll probably go there a lot in the summer.

There are lots of other places in my neighborhood. Some I haven’t gotten around to trying. If I go into a place and people aren’t nice to me I usually don’t go back, that’s the cruel nature of having so much to choose from. It’s not like anyone has been less than nice but some places are friendlier than others.

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