Playing With Fire

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September 7th 2010
Published: September 30th 2017
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It's not Lake Okanagan, but I guess the Ebro river around Haro isn't too shabby, either.
Geo: 42.5772, -2.84628

Exhausted this morning ... the lack of sleep is catching up to me and though I had every intention of getting to bed early last night, I was up until close to 3 AM reading "The Girl Who Played With Fire" - this book is too damn good! But there was no time to be tired today - off to do some tasting of La Rioja's famous wines!

The town of Haro is considered the heart of La Rioja, and for those without a car, is the best place for visiting the many bodegas in the region. It's not the most exciting town, but it is tiny and cute (like most Spanish women), and made for a nice day trip from Logrono. Most bodegas require that you book a tour in advance so I ended up doing only one today, since I lacked the foresight to book multiple ones. Quite honestly, two would be the most I would want to do, since a bodega is a bodega, and I've done enough tours of wineries in Kelowna over the years. Of course, I could see visiting multiple vinotecas (wine shops) being quite entertaining, allowing you to sample as many wines as you would like.

Wine tours in Kelowna have a distinct advantage over those in Haro, that being the stunning location of all the wineries on hills overlooking Lake Okanagan. The Ebro isn't as beautiful as Lake Okanagan, and many of the bodegas are situated away from the river, some in a somewhat industrial-looking area near the train station. But of course, Kelowna wineries are located nowhere near scores of beautiful Spanish women, so I do prefer Haro, after all!

Bodegas Muga is probably the most famous label from Haro, so that's where I ended up visiting. There is no use of stainless steel vessels for fermentation here; the use of wooden barrels makes it harder to control the temperature and therefore the fermentation process, but Muga likes to use traditional methods. The rationale is simple - my father used wood, as did his father, and his father before him, ad infinitum ... I don't think anybody can argue with the results.

Back in Logrono, I opted for a fancy dinner tonight - generally, I avoid spending much money on food here in Spain because most of the time, it ends up being a big waste, since it is usually mediocre

Under the sizzling summer Spanish sun, these canopies provide serious relief on sweltering days.
at best. My rationale has been to spend as little as possible on meals here, and instead spend it in a country that produces fine food or at least, somewhat decent food. Restaurante Laurus looked promising as the menu wasn't really traditional Spanish food, which I hoped was a good thing. Overall, I'd have to say the meal was worth it.

Despite dessert being included with dinner, an evening without gelato is incomplete, so tonight it was goat cheese with blueberries, and mojito. The mojito flavour was unique, tasting exactly like the drink. You wouldn't think it, but the two flavours seemed to go well together, with the light lime flavour nicely balancing the strong goat cheese taste.

Logrono is fairly dead at night, so it ended up being a quiet evening back at the pension with "The Girl Who Played With Fire", albeit not another 3 AM evening. Though I probably would've been up until 3 AM again had I not finished the book by 1:30 AM! Excellent book ... it makes me want to read the first in the trilogy, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", even though I have already seen that movie. Funny story - I had taken a girl who I desperately wanted to impress to see the movie, only to be horrified at the number of disturbingly violent and sexual scenes. It's never a good thing when partway through the movie, you have to apologize to the poor girl for subjecting her to such depravity. Definitely not the type of movie you want to take a date to!

As I finished up the book, I noticed an inscription that somebody had written on one of the pages - the guy had left his email address, and I'm going to have to email him when I get home. Why? Think of all the books that get left at hostel book exchanges all over the world, of all the travelers that pass through, of the distances they all travel. Wouldn't it be incredible to know the trajectory this book has taken?

I figure I'll get rid of this book in Frankfurt, as that's going to be the next stop where I'll be staying at a hostel. So just with me, this book will have traveled from Dubrovnik, where I picked it up, to Sarajevo, Mostar, Split, Plitvice National Park, Zagreb, across the Adriatic and

A little snack in Haro before visiting a bodega: tuna pastry - nice and flaky and yummy, despite the presence of disgusting olives. Yech ...
Mediterranean to Barcelona, then on to San Sebastian, Logrono, and Santander, before ending its journey in Frankfurt.

In all, this book will have traveled approximately 4300 km with me. Think about that - that's just with one person, so imagine how far that book could potentially travel as it is passed from person to person. Granted, not everybody is a functional illiterate like me, so they won't need 4300 km to finish off a book, but it's certain that any book found at a hostel book exchange will have traveled some serious distances. How many countries has the book been to? How many continents? It is eminently possible that a book could be taken around the world, from Europe, to North America, to Asia ...

The journey of that book would make quite the documentary, or funny enough, quite the book - you could trace the path of the book, preferably a novel that has a profound effect on people, interviewing the people that read it along the way, gathering insights into their reasons for travel, and their impressions of the book. It could be taken one step further, where the book's travel arc is overlaid against current events

A little pre-tour wine for L'il Buddha - nice that you can get a pour of only a half glass. It was probably because I hadn't had them in years, but those tiny Ritz crackers were killer.
- what critical moments in history would the book witness?

It would be quite the undertaking, as who really knows how many people would pick up the book, and how far they would take it. Is anybody out there willing to fund this project? We'll call it "The Hostel Book Exchange Project" and split the profits. And if we don't make any money ... well, it'll still be a hell of an experience!

Additional photos below
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Wine at the touch of a button, in the exact quantity required for a half or a full glass. A really interesting fact - at Muga, egg whites are used to remove the impurities in the wine, where enough albumen is collected to form a layer at the top of the vessel of wine. Surprisingly, the two don't mix, so as the layer of egg whites slowly sinks through the wine, any impurities are collected. Pretty ingenious - I wonder how they came up with that?

Another interesting fact - that explains why their vinoteca also sells yemas, the famous little Spanish candies produced at the Santa Teresa convent in Avila. All those leftover egg yolks would be wasted, so Muga has taken to making the candies as well.

The best part of any wine tour - the tasting! We were all allowed to keep our glasses as a souvenir of the tour. Given that the glass is getting stuffed in my backpack, what are the chances that it won't get smashed before getting home to Calgary?

Too cool - on my first ever trip to Spain, I bought this bottle of wine, which is considered one of the best that Muga has produced in a long time. Not that I really knew what I was doing at the time - I remember walking into El Corte Ingles and buying the most expensive bottle that I could afford, which I remember being about 40 Euros. I wonder how much a bottle of this stuff would cost now? Anyway, I had been saving it for a special occasion, and finally cracked it open a few months ago when some of us had a little going away for a friend. 14 years after it was bottled, the wine was drunk ... and it was damn good.

Kebab - durum (rolled up version) is better for walking as there are fewer kebab sauce leaks. However ... the sauce and juices from the veggies tend to collect at the bottom, so there can often be a huge mess all over your hands when you get to the very end and lose containment. But ... if you can occasionally tilt the durum as you eat it and suck out some of the excess liquid, you can avoid this messy situation at the end. How do I know this? I've eaten dozens of kebabs over the years, so I have had time to study their intricacies! Kebabs are a funny thing ... they can taste better than the finest food produced by a gourmet restaurant when you're in the mood for one.

Gotta love a tapa called Wonderbra!

The Spanish are obsessed with their jamon, as evidenced by the name of this restaurant, "The King of Jamon"!

Dinner at Laurus, a cool little wine bar/restaurant. Funny - I was the first guy here, yet certain dishes were already sold out. That might be typical of Spanish restaurants, since they do the bulk of their business during lunch hour, with Spanish dinner time being more for tapas and light meals.

Boletus - a type of mushroom, I wasn't expecting a soup (though I should've, since the menu did say cream of mushroom ...), but it was excellent. I'm not normally a fan of cream of mushroom soup, but this version was so flavourful and rich, that it left me wanting more. The soup itself was excellent, but it was the addition of crispy little bits of jamon Iberico, and a drizzle of infused olive oil that took this dish to incredible heights. The lone shrimp was a bit mushy, and the lone bad part of the soup. Horrible bread was served here - dry, hard, and terrible. When used as a sponge to soak up this delicious elixir of the gods, the bread tasted half decent.

Rodaballo - nicely cooked, but the dish was a bit too busy, with the blobs of creme fraiche. The fried slivers of garlic were a nice touch, but were a tad undercooked, leaving them with a slightly harsh flavour. The fish was decent, but nothing special. For presentation, the top side was left with the skin on, but the underside was stripped bare. I think the waiter took pity on me, because he gave me a free glass of house wine. Why can't Spanish women take such pity on me?

Pineapple carpaccio ... too sweet, not as good as the waiter's recommendation suggested. Paper thin, the powdered sugar was overkill, the drizzle of sauce alone would've been enough to sweeten it up. The pineapple was not cored, and I wondered if this contributed to the slightly bitter taste.

Logrono is another stop on El Camino de Santiago.

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