Wineries: Bodegas Ysios: Calatrava’s Riojan castle is crumbling.

Bodegas Ysios was one of the first wineries to be completed in the Rioja region by the parade of starchitects - designed by Santiago Calatrava in 2000 and opened to the public (by appointment only) in 2003. Liz and I visited the winery grounds during our first trip to Spain in 2003 when the estate vines were just tiny clusters of leaves on the ground. We actually stumbled upon this stunning structure as we peered across the valley from the hill town of Laguardia and since we were rushing from one town to the next (as always) we didn't have time to inquire about a tour. We did drive up to the building - drawn in by the contrast of the glittering aluminum roof and the bleached cedar walls with the granite and green mountain range behind.

Restaurants: Cal Pep: Don’t be afraid, just eat.

Jay and I had been wanting to go to Cal Pep for years. Seven years, in fact – since the last time we visited Barcelona. At that time, we actually wandered by the restaurant (one of the top-rated tapas places in the city) several times, but first were put off by the long lines outside of it, and then when we actually went in, totally intimidated by the lack of a menu. With our poor to non-existent Spanish, we weren’t sure how we would order beyond pointing at the glorious seafood piled in the cases behind the counter.

Restaurants: Mugaritz: Oh, that’s how they do it!

Just after we were seated and started to calm down, our server asked if we’d like to see the kitchen. Not really knowing what was going on, we were led back into the kitchen where the 40-something chef himself, Andoni Luis Aduriz, shook our hands and started chattering away in Spanish or Basque (we couldn’t be sure), translated into English by his sous-chef. He explained that his philosophy was to use pure, simple, and local ingredients, with nothing fancy like “foams.” (Interesting because Aduriz used to cook with Feran Adria at El Bulli, which pioneered the entire foam movement.)

Restaurants: Arzak: Friendly celebrity chefs but not enough pizzazz.

Another change from any of the restaurants we’d visited so far: The server actually walked us through the menu (in English, also unlike any of the places in France where it was pretty much French or nothing), and gave us choices for several dishes (lobster vs. squid, as well as choices for the fish and the meat), and even asked us how we would like everything prepared – how progressive! And Jay and I didn’t even have to choose the same things, imagine! Our server also steered us toward a bottle of the house red, a 2001 Arzak Rios Alta Rioja, which actually turned out to be really good with most of the dishes – light with red cherry flavors.