The end of our honeymoon was most unusual: we found ourselves in Boom, Belgium, at a festival that looked like Disneyland on speed, surrounded by tens of thousands of electronic music fans. I was there to cook for the Tomorrowland Tastes of the World restaurant, chosen as one of six culinary ambassadors from around the globe. The producers discovered me and my passion for Spanish food through my blog, good ol’ Back to Spain. And G, my ever-supportive, DFW* husband, was by my side. Don’t get me wrong — he loves to party, and is better at it than me. But it takes a certain type of guy to give up adventuring through Thailand and Vietnam (our original honeymoon plan) to go to Belgium…in July.
Thanks, Studio Brussel, for choosing such a wonderful thumbnail photo 🙂
To make memorable our voyage to Belgium, we decided to road trip it. The wedding in Mallorca was on July 8th and we had to be in Brussels on the 19th.
We spent nearly two weeks traipsing along the Mediterranean in a rental car, starting in Barcelona, crawling up Costa Brava, gliding along the south of France, winding around the Italian Riviera coast and making our way north to Venice. We bought maps of southern France and Italy because we wanted to navigate old-school style. When you put down the Google map and pick up a tangible one, you really discover a place. Like Tony Bourdain, we had no reservations — every morning we’d wake up, decide where we wanted to go, then hop on Expedia and book our bed for the night. There were some misses — like the “splurge” hotel in Provence, which apparently wasn’t much of a splurge according to their standards, and landed us a teensy room off the housekeeping stairwell with a view of the parking lot.
And there were hits — like the boutique gastronomic hotel in the heart of Cataluña and the budget apartment we rented in Cinque Terre. When we arrived to Cinque Terre, a cluster of five villages on the Italian coast, we immediately fell in love with our chosen terre — Riomaggiore. But we had no idea what our digs would look like or where they were located. While G kept watch over the negronis I had just ordered (in exchange for a quick wee at the bar — turned out to be a great idea) the old Italian lady wielding the key led me down a hill, under a pedestrian bridge, up the stairs and around a path hugging the sea to the green door to our apartment. She used a few sing songy sounds to explain to me how to pull on a rope and push open the door. Then she gathered her ankle-length, floral skirt and together we climbed the stone stairs to the fourth floor. With zero enthusiasm, she showed me through our apartment, decorated cheaply and minimally, and out to the terrace, which opened up to heaven.
It was breathtaking — the colorful houses stacked on the hillside facing the wide open Mediterranean Sea. I smiled at her and vigorously nodded my head in approval. She sort of sighed in response, then headed back into the apartment to show me the wifi information (side note: there was absolutely no wifi connection), and poof!, she was gone. I basked in our beautiful terrace view for a moment, then scurried up the hill to meet G, who was already on negroni #2. We would drink many negronis over the next five days.
After one night (during which we ate the most impossibly fresh raw tuna atop the most perfectly cooked, olive oil and sea salt coated pasta (I think it was gemelli or gnochetti — it looked like small caterpillars)), we decided to stay a second night and booked an Airbnb. The bartender from that first negroni ended up leading us to a fantastic bonfire beach party with locals, where we stayed until the sun was almost rising. We slept a wink then set out on the road to Modena.
I’ve figured out the problem with eating in Italy: the expectations are too high. You expect every bowl of pasta to be the best ever, so when you tuck into a steaming plate of cacio e pepi and the pasta is the slightest bit gummy, you feel like you’ve been downright insulted. Like the waiter picked her nose and flicked a boogie into your bowl. But, the reality is, it’s impossible for every meal to be memorable. Sometimes you arrive to Modena at 2pm on a Sunday and by the time you check in to your hotel (which looks like something straight out of a Wes Anderson movie and costs 95 euros per night), the restaurant windows are shuttered (don’t even think about Osteria Francescana or its little cousin restaurant, Franceschetta 58), and the only thing that’s open is an overpriced buffet. So what do you do? Order a tall glass of Pinot Grigio, to throw onto your fire of a hangover, stack your plate with Caprese salad and vaguely veal-looking meat, and enjoy a meal in a quiet plaza with your husband. Don’t take it too seriously.
Bologna charmed the pants off me — I wished we could have stayed longer and visited more recommendations from Italy expert Casey Feehan — and Venice was exactly how my Italian friends warned me it would be: beautiful, terribly romantic and horribly packed with tourists. We had satisfying pizzas for lunch just a stromboli’s throw from Ponte de Rialto (not as good as Santa Panza‘s pizza, TBH). Later that evening, G and I got into our first and only argument of the trip. And it was the most ridiculous argument ever. It went something like this: G posts picture on Instagram, of me by the canal with a caption saying “la piu bella”// I discover photo and pout, saying it’s not my best angle // We order a third round of Negronis // G erases said photo // I pout even harder, explaining that that was the worst possible reaction // G gives up, there is no pleasing me // Five minutes later we are laughing, I feel like a jerk, G posts another similar photo // We order fourth round of Negronis. The night descended into a blur with a formidable spaghetti carbonara at some point, and we missed our flight to Brussels the following morning. The water taxi situation is not a joke.
By the time we made it to Brussels, we were grubby, tired and sooo appreciated our bright, clean room at Aloft Brussels (with a GYM…I was inordinately happy to see a gym again). The last leg had come — it was time to do what I had come to do — experience Tomorrowland and cook at the Tastes of the World restaurant.
I’ll skip the description of the hordes of people from all over the world, some donning their national flags like capes; skip the wild, hedonistic party details and the constant assault on all of your senses — you have to experience it for yourself — and skip the bit about a camera crew following me and the other ambassadors around, making us feel important for a hot sec; I’ll take you right to the restaurant, where for one day I was the head chef.
Full disclosure: it was all ready before I arrived. I had sent my recipe for pisto manchego, a humble Spanish dish that I love and have featured on the blog, to the Tomorrowland chef and the team had done all of the preparation beforehand. I was simply tasting, tweaking and plating, and welcoming clients into my restaurant. The team was so receptive of all of my directions, which was amazing. Because for me, the details — using just enough salt, properly dippy eggs, a final splash of nutty olive oil — make all the difference. In short: holy shit, I loved being the boss. In the midst of it all, dreams about opening my own place — our own place — started bubbling in me. For his part, G took control of the tapas section, showing them the proper way to make pan con tomate, and also acting as my personal paparazzo.
It was a whirlwind honeymoon and I wouldn’t change a thing. We had tastes of Cataluña, South of France and a tiny chunk of Italy. We got a taste of what it will be like when we have our own eatery someday. And we did it all together without going mental. G is the fried egg on top of my pisto manchego of life. The end (jokes! I’ll write again soon with all the pictures from our magical wedding).
Big besos, C
All photos, unless noted otherwise, were taken on Guillaume’s Google Pixel or my shitty iPhone with a cracked lens.
*DFW = down for whatever