Category Archives: Solo Travels

I Can’t Get Excited About Uber, Because, You Know… blablacar.

Aw, man! You gotta try Uber!
Within 1 week of my being back in Atlanta after coming back from Spain, at least 3 of my friends said something similar to me.
Seeing the excitement on their faces got me all excited about it. What is this Uber I keep hearing about? Does Atlanta – with its clogged highways, its pothole-plagued streets, its mockery of a metro transit system – finally have something good going in the realm of transportation?
But, then my friend would explain it to me, and all I could think was, “Oh. So it’s a gypsy cab service.”
Atlanta is not a taxi town like New York or Chicago or even DC, where taking cabs is way more commonplace – where people take cabs to work, to the club, to buy eggs at the grocery store (ok, maybe not the eggs, but you understand what I mean). In those cities, cabs are plentiful, highly visible, and readily available. You can just stick your hand up in the air, and one will magically appear in front of you. I can’t even imagine trying to hail a cab in Atlanta. I’m not even sure an Atlanta cab driver would know how to respond if hailed. Probably peg you for an anti-semite or something. But anyway, my point is that in a town where hardly anyone takes cabs, why is everyone all of a sudden excited about… taking cabs? Because of an umlaut? Oh, wait. There’s no umlaut in Uber? Yeaah. Absolutely no reason to be excited, then.
But, I do admit, I am completely and utterly biased. You see, I’ve experienced the phenomenon that is blablacar. I’d never even heard of blablacar before going to Europe. Some of the other folks in my English teaching program mentioned it to me, and later, my roommate, who’d lived in Germany where blablacar has become popular, convinced me to give it a try.
In a nutshell, this is how blablacar works:
  • Drivers, who are already going to a certain destination, visit blablacar.com and post the number of seats they have available in their cars, what date and time they’re leaving, and how much they’re asking from riders who want a seat.
  • Riders who are looking to go to a certain destination search for drivers who are going there when they want to go. Riders contact drivers through the blablacar.com site, and the rider and driver arrange the remaining details (pickup location, etc.) from there.
  • Rider and driver show up at the agreed upon time and location, and the rider pays the driver in cash (usually at the end of the ride).

Not too much different from how Uber works, from what I understand. So, what makes blablacar so much more impressive than Uber?
Let’s do a little comparison.
Today, a former co-worker of mine tweeted all in a tizzy that he had just paid “$10 to go from work to the Falcons game!” I decided to see exactly how far that was. A quick check on Google showed me that the distance from the building we worked in to the Georgia Dome where the Falcons play is right around 3.5 miles.
For my first blablacar trip, I went from my home base of Marbella to Cádiz – almost 180 kilometers away – for 10€. In American English, that translates to about 13 dollars for a trip of about 110 miles.

Can you see why I fail to be impressed?
One of the reasons blablacar is so much cheaper is because it’s a true rideshare. Drivers aren’t looking to make a profit off of providing a ride, they’re just looking to share the cost of the trip. You may be in the car with only one other person, or, as is more often the case, you might be packed in with 2 or 3 other strangers like brand-new siblings on a road trip. Except, I never had anyone threaten to turn the car around and take us ungrateful kids back home. In fact, everybody I shared a ride with was really a pleasure to talk to, engaging, even polite. During my almost 6-month stay in Spain, I ended up using blablacar at least 6 more times. I was absolutely sold on the service. But, I wondered why I felt like something like this could never work back home in the States?
Last night, I heard an NPR segment on Lyft, which is supposed to be more of a rideshare model than the just-like-a-taxi-but-cheaper model that Uber uses. But, when I did a little digging, the prices were pretty comparable between the two services. The only thing that really seemed to be different was that, with Lyft, you get to ride shotgun, and, your driver might give you a fist bump. There’s also something about the car wearing a pink mustache.
Really?
I should pay a premium for this?
Ok, to be fair, there are other benefits that Uber and Lyft offer that blablacar doesn’t. Like the fact that you don’t have to be bothered with cash, and that you can track where your driver is and when he’ll arrive with a handy mobile app. But, at the end of the day, I don’t care about those things that much – they’re added features, not core requirements. There is the matter of safety, though (or at least perceived safety). Uber and Lyft both offer the security of an insurance policy and both perform background checks on their drivers. As far as I could tell from perusing their site, blablacar operates totally on the honor system.
According to a recent New York Times article, blablacar is growing throughout Europe, but it won’t be coming to the US anytime soon. So for now, I guess it’s better to have some alternative to regular taxi service than none at all. I guess I can see why my friends would be excited about that.
But for me, no vale la pena.

highlights (and lowlights) of granada

For my first weekend excursion from Marbella, I chose to head to Granada. It’s less than 3 hours away by bus, and there were a couple of other girls from my CIEE orientation heading there for the weekend as well, so I figured it was a good time to check out what the city had to offer.

When I arrived, I had the good fortune of bumping into my friends as soon as I got on the bus to head to my room for the weekend. We made plans to meet up for tapas and drinks later that night, and they headed off to their hostel nearby, while I went to go check in with my AirBnB host.

Lodging / Accomodations

Highlights: My room was right in the center of Granada, located almost directly behind the Cathedral, and with easy access to all the city buses. Lots of shops, restaurants, and bars were right out the front door, and since it was in the historic area, the architecture of both the room and the surrounding buildings was a beautiful sight to see while moving about. My host also had maps, and information on popular sights and attractions in Granada already in my room. And the nicest touch of all? She had a hot water bottle available for my use – a lucky stroke since I’d decided to leave mine at home. Did I mention how cold most Spanish homes are in the winter months?

Lowlights: All that historic architectural charm – close-together buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, high ceilings – also meant that noise from the street below could be heard as clear as a bell in my room. There was more than 1 time that I thought someone was in the apartment with me, but it was actually sound coming from the street below.

Sights, Tastes, and Sounds

After checking in to my room, I met up with my two colleagues I’d seen on the bus – Allison and Nicole. We headed straight for nearby Calle Elvira, a main artery running through a network of alley-like streets filled with tapas bars, teterias, kebab shops and vendor stalls tightly packed together, giving the whole area the look of an old Moorish marketplace in the middle of modern-day Spain.

We made our first stop at La Antigualla for our inauguration into the free tapas phenomenon we had all heard about but had yet to experience. Another auxiliar, Laura, who lives/teaches in Granada met up with us later. The four of us spent the rest of the evening bar-hopping and getting our fill of copas and tapas while catching up on our experiences-to-date as new auxiliars.

The Alhambra

The next morning I was up early (well early-ish) to head to the Alhambra. After a quick walk to catch the bus, I arrived at the Alhambra gates, purchased my 15€ ticket, grabbed a quick croissant and coffee in the snack bar, and headed in to get started on my self-guided tour.

The Alhambra is an ancient palace and fort built for Moorish royalty in the 9th century and subsequently added on to by different Muslim and Spanish rulers up to the 14th century. There are four major structures to see within the Alhambra:

  • The Palace of Charles V,
  • The Alcazaba,
  • The Palacios Nazaries,
  • and the Generalife.

Over the next 4+ hours, I strolled throughout the massive complex, taking in the ancient beauty of the place. The original theme for the Alhambra was ‘paradise on Earth’, and it certainly feels like that when you’re there.

Unfortunately my phone (and hence, my camera) died just as I reached the Generalife, so I have no pictures of it to share.

After leaving the Alhambra, I caught the bus back to my room for a quick rest and a phone charge, then headed out to meet Allison and Nicole, and a different CIEE auxiliar also living and teaching in Granada, Brit.

I linked up with the 3 ladies in Plaza Nueva, and over a quick bite to eat, we decided to head to the Albayzín. Since Brit had been before, she would serve as our unofficial tour guide.

The Albayzín (Albaicín) 

The Albayzín is a maze-like neighborhood in Granada. It’s yet another slice of Spain’s ancient Moorish past that still exists today. The neighborhood is built in the style of a North African medina, with winding streets so narrow that, in certain places, cars can’t even pass through. The neighborhood extends up into the hills overlooking the city of Granada. My AirBnB host had told me that gypsies lived up in the hills in a sort of shantytown, and that on some evenings, if you went walking through at the right time, you could see them performing flamenco in the caves up there. I wasn’t all that sure about how I felt being caught with some dancing gypsies in a cave after dark, but I was game for a pre-sunset excursion.

After we’d walked for a while, I noticed the sun was getting lower and lower, and we weren’t showing any signs of turning back. The cobblestone streets had ended, as had any signs of a real neighborhood. We were entering shantytown territory and Brit was steadily leading the charge. I put up a futile protest as we started a short, but steep climb up a gravelly path that would take us deeper into shantytown. Not only was I already pretty tired from my all-morning tour of the Alhambra, but I also kept thinking to myself, “It’s getting dark. And there are gypsies.” Yet, we pushed on.

In the end, I was glad I didn’t let my tiredness or wariness get the best of me. The views from the top were amazing. We arrived just as the sun was beginning to set. With the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the impressive Alhambra in the foreground, and the beautiful city of Granada below, it was a view so stunning that my poor little camera could never do it justice.

After lingering about for tons of pictures and a quick rest to watch the sun go down, we started our descent back through the Albayzín to the center of Granada. On the way, I saw some nice works of graffiti.

Botellón and Bars

I returned to my room for a disco nap, then met up with 3 of the ladies for a quick taps before heading over to Laura’s apartment where we would join her and her roommates for a night out. It all unfolded something like this:

Before: Gracias por tu visita. After: Gracias, puta! 
A quick copa before heading to Laura’s. A free tapa too, cuz… why not?
Pre-gaming, botellon style. Try it at home! Banjo optional.

My loose interpretation for botellon, is ‘bring a bottle and some of those cups‘. Though they usually occur outside of the house in a plaza or park, I think it’s far to call anything a botellon that involves more than 1 person bringing more than 1 bottle to share with the intent of drinking as much as possible before the night is over.

First, to Chantarela for a few rounds of tapas and copas… what else?

Our next stop was a crowded, energetic bar where this guy ogled me in the bathroom. I didn’t mind.

After a several hours of making the rounds, we night creatures all headed back to our coffins. By the time I made it back to my room and collapsed, it was a little after 4am.

La Morena Comes to Visit

“Oh crap, what time is it?” was my first thought upon waking the next morning. I was supposed to be meeting up with Dominique (aka, La Morena de Andalucia), who I had pestered until she agreed to come into Granada so we could hang out for the day. We strolled around Granada catching up on everything until it was time for me to head off to my appointment at the nearby hammam.

afer-coffee stroll through the market in a nearby plaza
kids playing at plaza nueva

2 for tea – Dominque and me at a teteria on Elvira

spice vendor near granada cathedral

Hammam Al Andalus

After all the walking at the Alhambra and the Albayzin the previous day, followed by a long night of ‘botellon and bars’, my poor body needed some rejuvenation. The Hamma al Andalus was right on time.

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No pictures allowed inside. But I managed to sneak this one of me with my shoe shower caps.

Inside the hammam are 3-4 ‘baths’ or large soaking pools – each has a different temperature (from ice cold to warm-but-not-hot). There’s also a steam room and a massage area. My entry fee of 25€ included admission to the baths for 2 hours and a 15-minute massage. The massage was pretty good, and I felt the price was fair, especially because I needed it so badly.

After the hammam, I met up with Dominique, Nicole, and Allison (aka, the out-of-towners) for tapas at Bella y la Bestia.

I’m giddy from an excess of carbs and a lack of sleep.

Soon, it was time for Dominque to head back to Huelma. We hung out a bit more around Elvira, and then I saw her off to the bus station.

Shisha and Bars

Saturday night. Last night in Granada. So I start it off by meeting up with Brit for shisha and a nice cup of tea. We’re both a little hungover from the night before, and before we leave the teteria, Brit throws in the towel and heads home for the night. Fare thee well o Hiawatha. Fare thee well, O mighty warrior.

I went on to meet up with the rest of the girls for a couple of bar stops:

First, at Chantarela (Yes, again. Cuz it was that good.)…

Then, at Poe, where Allison had her first taste of absinthe…

And finally, at one of these interesting Spanish drinking establishments I call ‘shot houses’ – a bar that’s really popular because they serve a dizzying array of shots for about 1euro each.

All in all, it was a nice way to wrap up the weekend.

And it was a good thing I booked my return bus for the afternoon. I definitely needed to sleep in.