Bullit with my name on it

A signature dish of Ibiza is called Bullit de Peix, a seafood and potato stew. The best rendition is famously served in a beachside restaurant called El Bigote on Cala Mantella, a remote beach on the rocky northeast of the island. In fact, this restaurant serves only two things: grilled fish at noon and the iconic Bullit at 2:30.

There is a quirky reservation system: you have to reserve a table in advance, but only in person, and then on the day of the reservation, you have to call to confirm the reservation. 

Oh, and there is this famous story about the quirky owner of the restaurant having turned away the king of Spain and his entourage because they turned up without a reservation.

I knew none of this. I just saw a mention of this place in a local guidebook and one day during my sojourn at the Lotus Pad yoga retreat, I decided to check it out. After a morning yoga session and some lazing in the hammock, I drove the twisty, windy roads to this beach tucked away among the rocky shoreline. The beach itself is tiny and was deserted. But around the rocks on one side, sat El Bigote, with a view of the cove.

  
Most of the tables were occupied and the unoccupied ones had “reserved” signs on them. It was 2 pm and everyone was waiting for the Bullit. In one corner, there was a very large cauldron of something bubbling over a wood fire. I walked in and caught the eye of the woman who was seating people. “Hola!”, I said, hopefully. “Hola”, she replied with a smile. I asked her if I could have a table, in Spanish. She asked me if I had reserved. I shook my head. She raised her eyebrows and gave me the “you are so not getting any Bullit today, amigo” look. I responded with my best “please, pretty please, I will have a nervous breakdown right here if you turn me away” look. She sighed and pointed at a small table in the back,  next to the bubbling cauldron and said I could sit there.

I ordered a beer and the bread+olives+aioli thing that is so common everywhere on Ibiza.  I walked over to the cauldron and saw lots of potato chunks simmering in a golden-brown liquid and smelling delicious. A guy came over and threw a bunch of pine cones and small branches into the fire.

  

 I needed to know more. I googled. I found out that this dish was very special. It is made in several parts. The potatoes are cooked with onions, peppers and various spices, in a broth infused with saffron and white wine, over a wood fire, until tender. Separately, lots of different fish are cooked in an aromatic broth of its own. Just as bouillabaisse gets its signature flavor from the rascasse, a bony Mediterranean fish, the Bullit gets it from a local Ibithenko rockfish. When the potatoes are cooked, all the fish is mixed in and served on a platter, with a drizzle of a creamy, garlicky sauce. Finally, rice is cooked in the reserved fish broth and served as a second course.

I waited with anticipation, munching on the olives and the bread with the white garlicky aioli. Most of the people in the restaurant were tourists. There were a couple of tables with locals. You could tell because the locals seem to know the owners and were drinking wine from a glass decanter with a long, thin spout, holding the decanter over their mouths and pouring a thin, long stream of wine straight into their mouths. It was quite impressive.

It took a while before the potatoes were done. Soon, the ladies were assembling the platters of golden potatoes and large chunks of fish, with some broth and a drizzle of the garlicky sauce.

  
It took what seemed like an eternity for them to get the platters out to all the tables. The platter assembly was happening right next to my table, which didn’t help. Finally, I got my one-person platter.

  

Yumm. The potatoes were tasty, the broth fragrant with saffron and the chunks of various fish very fresh and delicious. 

The ladies came around and offered a second helping. Si, por favor!  And then, all the Bullit debris was cleared up and out came the rice in the broth with small bits of seafood.

  

An amazing meal in a  wonderful setting. All for just 20 euros, not bad, I thought as I remembered the 65 euro bouillabaisse in the old port of Marseille.

It was a close call. I could have met the same fate as the King of Spain, but Lady Luck was on my side today and that Bullit was destined for my belly!

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Impressions of Marseille

TBD

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Pomme and circumstance

After a rest day in Briançon, playing tourist with Rohan and Jill, it was time to head to my first helpx experience, a volunteering gig in a little village in the Alps, where i had signed up to help with picking apples. On a picture perfect day, Rohan, Jill and I got on a train to Marseille, where Rohan and Jill were heading. I got off the train at the first stop in L’Argentier. After a nice hour long walk along the Durance river, I arrived in Roche-de-Rame. I called Aurélie, my host and she directed me to the “workshop” : go up along the “torrent” until you see two walnut trees and a pile of wood. When I arrived, i saw Aurélie throwing apples into a machine and a guy working the press. We exchanged “bonjours” and she told me to make myself at home in the little room at the back of the workshop, which served as living room, kitchen and dining area. There was a little patio outside with a table and chairs. The scene from the patio was breathtaking. On both sides of the valley, loomed the mountains of the L’Ecrins national park. In the valley itself lay the tiny village on the left bank of the Durance. 

  

  
Thus began my 9 days at the “pressoir”, a very unique and memorable experimce. In the coming days, I would help pick a ton of apples and help process that into juice. In the process, I would be humbled by the incredible hard work that goes into an operation like this and form a transient community with Aurèlie and Valentina, another helper from Chile.

First, it was time to pick tomatoes. Aurèlie and I threw a bunch of crates into a van and drove up to the tomato patch. For 6 hours, we filled the crates with 500 kg of tomatoes under a blue alpine sky.
  
 

The next day, I was free. I borrowed Aurelie’s bicycle and checked out a couple of village in the valley as well as an old fort called Mont Daphin. As I was biking back, I  got caught up in a group of about hundred people protesting THT. As I walked along with the protesters into the small village St. Crepin, I asked some of the protesters what THT was. Nobody spoke English but with French, a couple of English words and lots of signing, they explained that they were protesting high tension electricity transmission towers. As the protesters moved on to the next village, I stopped to get a beer and a pizza at the only restaurant in the village called Le Gauloise, complete with the Asterix theme. 

 
Before returning, i stopped at the little lake outside Roche-de-Rame.

  
The next day, Aurelie and I left early with 75 crates in the big van to pick apples from an orchard about 1.5 hrs away. Along the way, we stopped at a village to pick up another Helpx helper, Valentina, a 28 year old from Chile. That day, the three if us picked literally a ton of golden delicious apples. Here’s how it works: the orchard owners pay pickers to pick the apples from the trees, but in the process, a lot of apples fall on the ground. If the apples on the ground don’t get picked up, they rot and encourage mice to multiy in the orchard, so the orchard owners alow Aurelie to pick those apples for free. It is hard work, picking apples from the ground, crate after crate, and then loading the van with all the full crates. 

  
But it was fun and satisfying, particularly in the sparkling alpine weather. We stopped at mid-day to have a picnic lunch.

  
The next day, all the apples were crushed and pressed into juice, the juice pasteurized and bottled. Aurelie has a couple of guys from the village doing the pressing. I helped out by feeding the crushing machine with 75 crates of apples.

We settled into a routine along these lines. Picking fruit, making juice, cooking dinner, eating together, hanging out and sleeping well. Valentina spoke a little English and was keen to learn more, so she and I alternated between English and Spanish, each of us getting better every day. Valentina was traveling on a shoestring, a very small shoestring, hitch-hiking, volunteering and staying with friends. I was impressed by her confidence in doing that. She was vegan, which prompted Aurelie to ask, “What are you going to eat in France, especially here in the Alps”. But, it all worked out. Every now and then, Valentina and I would walk down to the only store in the village and buy some vegetables and bread. We made ratatouille, couscous and lentil soup, everything generously spiked with tomatoes (we had our pick from the 500 kg of them in the workshop!). There was also lots of cheese and some delicious cures wild boar from Corsica.

On a free day, Valentina and I went hiking in the L’Ecrins national park. Aurelie dropped us off at the starting point, some 15 km away. We hiked up to a couple of alpine lakes in picture perfect weather.

   
   
We got a ride back with a group of Dutch hikers. When we got home, Aurelie was hard at work, turning all the tomatoes into juice and sauce. 

In all the days there, I never saw Aurelie take any time off; she was constantly working.  On the next drive out to pick apples, she explained the economics of her business, which I found to be sobering. All summer and autumn, she works non stop and produces about 10,000 liter bottles of juice, mostly apple, but some pear, apricot, tomato and cherry. She has a couple of guys in the village who work for her and the occasional  volunteers like us. On each bottle, she makes about  1 euro, after subtracting the cost of labor, electricity, rent, etc. So, she makes about 10,000 euros in profit in a year. In the winter, she does other work in the ski resorts. This year, she has moved into a bigger workshop and is trying to work extra hard to produce 20,000 bottles, so she can take the winter off and ski. I also learned that she was pursuing a PhD in agricultural anthropology for 10 years before dropping out and deciding to do this. She says it is a lifestyle choice. She loves living in the southern alps and is passionate about making quality juice from local fruit.More I learned about Aurelie, more I realized what a remarkable woman she is.

On my final free day,Valentina and I hitch-hiked to a picturesque alpine village called Vallouise and had a relaxing afternoon. 

   
Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Valentina, Aurèlie, the pressoir and this beautiful place in the southern alps. And a truly unique and memorable experience.

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GR 5: Stage 3

Day 13: Landry to Refuge du Col du Palet

   
    
 Day 14: Refuge du Col du Palet to Entre deux eaux

  

   
   

Day 15: Entre deux eaux to Termignon

        
Day 16: Termingion to Modane

   

   
 Day 17: Modane to Refuge I Re Magi

   
    
 Day 18: Refuge I Re Magi to Nevache

   
    
 Day 19: Nevache to Briançon

        
    
 

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GR 5: Stage 2

Day 5: Samoens to Refuge de Moede Anterne

 
    
 

Day 6: Refuge de Moede Anterne to Chamonix

   
    
 

Day 7: Chamonix to Les Contamines

   
    

Day 8: Les Contamines to Refuge du Col du Bonhomme de la croix

    
  

  

  

 

Day 9: Refuge du Col du Bonhomme de la croix to Refuge de la Balme

   

    
 
Day 10: Refuge de la Balme to Landry

   
    
   

When we got to the sleepy little village of Landry on the Isere river, it wasn’t clear if there was a train running from there to Bourg St. Maurice, where we were hoping to spend our rest day. We walked to the tiny deserted station. The only sign of activity was a screen announcing upcoming departures. But against most departures, there was a Bus icon. Sure enough, in half hour, a bus arrived. As the bus approached, the driver waved his arms in a what looked like a “who are you and what are you doing here?” gesture. We got in (no ticket necessary) and were soon deposited at the train station in the lovely little town of Bourg St. Maurice.

Right across the station was a row of restaurants. We walked into a brasserie and ordered  Leffe, our favorite Belgian beers. It was 2 pm, but everyone was hungry. Rohan and Douglas got very good burgers with fries and Jill got a lasagna. I abstained in favor of a good dinner.

We then walked around looking for a hotel. There was a cycling group in town, so the handful of hotels in Doug’s guidebook were all full. Finally, we found one that had rooms. It was simple but good and run by a very nice lady.

After a hot shower and some rest, we walked around the town, window shopping the boulangeries, charcuteries and fomageries. Soon we were hungry and it was time to choose our dinner. We all agreed on a Moroccan place we had seen by the station. We were not disappointed. It was a magnificent feast of mezhoui (a Berber dish of roasted spiced lamb), tagines and couscous. 

Day 11:  Bourg St. Maurice 

Yes, we were ready for a rest day.  Douglas decided to eat breakfast in the hotel. Jill, Rohan and I made like locals and went to a cafe in the town center and had croissants and coffee under a cool morning sun.

After breakfast we strolled around and did some shopping: a detailed topo map, so we can find our way without Douglas, more cheese and saucisson, toothpaste etc.

We strolled over to a park by the river, where we found groups of people playing boule on a large boule field. These people, young and old, men and women were serious boule players and we picked up a few pointers.

I am a Revolutionary Girl!

Soon we were hungry and headed back into town. We were after a hole-in-the-wall Lebanese place that Jill had spied earlier.

When we got there, the owner, a sprightly Lebanese woman was getting ready to close for the siesta hours, but she  agreed to make us falafel sandwiches in  broken English.

While she was doing that, Rohan and I noticed posters of Che Guevara on the tiny wall to the side.  “Wow, I wonder why she has Che stuff”, remarked Rohan. I saw her looking at us and smiling. “Because I am a revolutionary girl!”, she said. 

Next to the Che poster, there was a small shelf holding half bottles of Lebanese red wine. I asked the lady if the wine was good. She opened a bottle and poured in a small glass, the only one she had. Soon, we were eating falafel sandwiches and sharing a glass of very good Lebanese wine. The lady dashed around the shop to her apartment and came back with two more glasses, freshly washed.

I asked her if she was from Lebanon. She said she was and had been living in France for 20 years. “Where in Lebanon? Beirut?”, I asked her. “No, sur, near the frontier”, she said. “Ah, near the border with Israel”, I said instinctively. “No, Palestine”, she said immediately. “Ahhh!”, Jill, Rohan and I said in unison, with a knowing look. She responded with her own knowing look.

We talked a bit more. She said she was closing shop for a few days because she was driving to Paris to take part in a left wing protest.

I asked her if I could take a photo. She readily agreed and posed with Jill and Rohan after quickly removing her apron.

   

   

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GR 5: Stage 1 

Day 1 (St. Gingolph to Novel)

It is time to say goodbye to the charms of the European cities and start the trek.

Jill arrived yesterday in Geneva and we had a nice time walking around In Geneva. It took us a while to find dinner that wouldn’t break the bank – everything in Switzerland is super expensive – but in the end, we found a small pizza place run by an Italian family in the old city and had some beers and an awesome Neopolitan pizza. Later that night, we discovered a fabulous Lebanese kebab place very close to our hotel and had another meal of Soujouk (spicy Lebanese sausage) sandwich, which was super delicious.

This morning, we checked out of our hotel and walked to a park near the train station and relaxed. We were meeting Douglas at the train station at 2, so we had enough time to go back to the Lebanese place for another Soujouk sandwich.

We hooked up with Doug and boarded the train  to St. Gingolph, our starting point for the GR5. It was a beautiful ride through the Swiss countryside with gorgeous views of Lac Leman and the Alps. 

Finally, we were at St. Gingolph, a tiny village on the southern shore of Lac Leman, divided between Switzerland and France. In WW2, many Jews escaped to Switzerland across the border here. 

We crossed into France by going over a little bridge on tiny stream and began our journey.

Today, we just had a two hour walk to the village of Novel. We arrived there around 6 pm. It was a cute little village, population 50.  

 
We stayed in a new Gîte and had a nice dinner of cold meats, many cheeses, a nice salad, potato fritters and a dessert of fresh peaches with plum sauce and ice cream. Oh, and some delicious red wine.

Day 2 (Novel to Chapelle d’Abondance)

We left early because this was going to be one of those long days, with lots of climbing. “Unfortunately, it isn’t a gentle introduction to the GR 5”, said Douglas. It was a warm, sunny day. We started the day with a long climb to Col du Bis, where we are the picnic we got from our Gîte.

  
Then, it was a descent into a valley, where there was the lovely Chalet du Bis, where we had ice cream made from the milk of the local cows.

    
Then, it was another climb to another col. It was getting hot now and Jill and I were struggling to keep up with Douglas and Rohan.

Finally, after a long and tiring descent, we arrived at the village of Chapelle d’Abondance. The owner of our Gîte was missing, so we had beers in a cafe until she returned and we settled in. For dinner, We had local raclet cheese melting on the table in an electric device, on steamed potatoes with bread and shaved ham.

Day 3 (Chapelle d’Abondace to Refuge d’Chesery)

It was going to be another long day, so we left early again. The weather had turned and it was cloudy with rain forecast in the afternoon. 

Jill and I fell behind again. We rendezvous-ed with Douglas and Rohan for lunch. With the rain approaching and our destination 2 hr 45 min away according to the guidebook, we agreed to let Diuglas and Rohan go ahead, confident of our ability to find our way. Unfortunately, we missed a critical turn and ended up lost in an Alpage or a pasture with a small collection of houses but no people. To make thing worse, we read a sign wrong and climbed to a col that was way off track. By now, it was raining. We called Douglas on the phone and after talking to him, decided to go back down to the Alpage. There, we huddled under the eaves of an empty house and called Douglas again. By now, Douglas and Rohan had reached the Refuge and had access to proper maps. After much discussion, we decided to backtrack. after 15 mins of backtracking we found the turn we had missed. Now,  back on track, we still had 2 hrs more to go, including a climb to Col du Bassachaux. By the time we reached the Col, we were pretty beat. We had some dried fruits, some water and joined some hikers from Wales, to our final destination, a mountain hut on the Swiss side. There was another anxious moment after climbing the final Col, where the signs became scarce. Finally, with fog-reduced visibility and rain coming down, we credted a ridge and saw a red hut with a Swiss flag. Jill looked like she had fired a rocket booster and was flying to the hut. Finally, it was nice to open the door and step inside the warm hut filled with hikers, including a party of 17 Welshies) drinking beer and to smell like the cooking in the kitchen.

  
It was 6 15 pm. It had been a 10 hr day.

Day 4 (Refuge d’Chesery to Somens)

We slept in a bit to let the noisy party of Welshies clear out. The weather had cleared up a bit. Lac Vert right outside the Refuge:

   
  

It was mostly downhill, but there were a couple of “bumps” to go over, as Douglas said. 

We stopped at a little Swiss farmhouse to have coffee and tea. 

Eventually, we descended through a forest to the lovely little town of Samoens.

  
 

We had some nice Belgian beer called Leffe in the central plaza.  

   
We then made our way to our Gite called Fermes du la Vercland.

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Die Höchenauer Schloss

After an easy train ride, I arrived at Gerald’s house in Pöchlarn, in Lower Austria. Rohan had already been enjoying his stay there for a couple of weeks. It was easy to settle into an easy rhythm at the Amazing Höchenhauer castle in the company of Gerald, Anne, their daughter Sophie and the two awesome dogs, Sunny and Charlie.

  
One evening, we went to a “heurigan”, a cool concept specific to the wine region of the Wachau valley. An heurigan is a simple establishment, typically in a little village along the Danube that serves local wines and local cold food for 90 days out of the year. Each heurigan can decide which 90 days it wants to be open. It is a 300 year old tradition. On previous trips, I have  had some great heurigan experiences and this time it was no different. This was a particularly picturesque heurigan, set in a beautiful flower garden. There was a marching band practicing nearby and the moon was almost full.  In a typical heurigan style, we sat on benches on a picnic table. We had some delicious Grûner Veltliner with an assortment of amazing cold dishes, including one that Rohan and I loved the most: wildschwein, shavings of roasted wild boar with fresh grated horseradish and a cranberry preserve. Even though an heurigan is a simple place (the bill is added up by hand), the food and the wine are of a very high quality and the serving staff is super friendly.  As it got a little cooler later in the evening, they brought out blankets and candles, adding further to the romantic atmosphere.

   
 One morning, we visited a whiskey distillery nearby that makes excellent whiskey from rye. 

There was a lot of hanging out by the pool and drinking beer. Rohan had apparently made a habit of visiting Waldi’s, a local watering hole and had developed a taste for käsekrinen, a sausage with cheese inside. We checked it out a couple of times. The käsekrinen is quite a treat!

Pöchlarn is right on the Danube and there are wonderful walking and biking paths along the river. One evening, I went for a walk with Anne, her friend Andrea and their dogs. 

  
After a nice walk, we ended up in the village square, where there was a little market going on. There was some serious sausage action and the locals were enjoying a pleasant summer evening drinking beer and socializing. We didn’t have any money, but no problem, Anne knew everyone and soon we were drinking cold beer and chatting with the sausage guy.

On the last day, there was a big party. Gerald is the president of the local chapter of the Lions club and there was to be a feast, complete with a whole pig roasted on a spit. Unfortunately, we had to leave to catch a flight to Geneva, but just before we left, the schweinmeister gave us s little taste.

  
Anne’s parents took us to the train station and finally it was time to say goodbye to our favorite place in Austria.

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