Tag Archives: europe travel

Why i travel in spain mainly on the train

spain train travel

You ever been on a train that’s just moments away from pulling into your destination, so you get up from your seat, start gathering your things and begin moving towards the nearest exit. Then, suddenly you realize that the train doesn’t seem to be slowing down enough to make a stop. Slowly it dawns on you that the train isn’t slowing down, because it’s not going to stop. And as the train ever so slowly rolls past your destination station, and you stand dumbstruck in the middle of the aisle – your rolling bag clutched in one hand, your jacket draped over your other arm – your eyes and mouth widen while you watch your intended place fade away in the distance and you wonder to yourself,

What the f*ck just happened?

And then,

Where the f*ck am I headed to now?

spain train travel

No? Never happened to you? Oh.

Well…

You ever been on a train seated next to an old Spanish man, who, after almost refusing to move out of your assigned seat when you boarded, later lets out the mother of all silent-but-deadly farts that wakes you and the other guy in the seat across from you out of your naps, prompts a coughing fit from the passenger seated 3 rows back, gives you a (literal) taste of what the old man had for lunch and what medications he’s currently taking, and makes you wonder exactly how to say ‘Sir! Do not move another inch. Clap your cheeks down on that foul stench immediately!’ in Spanish without being misunderstood?

spain train travel
Dear God, man!

 

Yeah. Happened to me once. Never happened to you?

Well, then…

You ever been on a train with a silent car? A silent car that you specifically booked a seat in because things like loud talking, small children, and cell phone usage are strictly prohibited? A silent car that you’ve been dying to park yourself in so you can rest your hot, hungover head against the cool, cool window and snooze a bit on the way back to your little town after a long weekend of the most turnt-up of turn-ups (aka, Carnaval in Cadiz)? A silent car whose silence is being disturbed by, of all things, a nun…talking…on a cell phone? At first, you feel a little bad at getting angry at a nun. Is that even allowed? But then all those Catholic school punishments come back to you and you think to yourself, “Oh, hell naw, Sister Mary. The rules apply to you too.” But instead of saying anything, you simply scowl in her direction and not-so-subtly snap a picture of her with your phone hoping that the power of shame will compel her.

spain train travel
Jesus on the mainline? Let it go to voicemail.

Still no? Damn, you should get out more.

Or… maybe I should stay put more.

But, it’s hard to stay put when I have this amazingly efficient and wide-reaching network of sleek chariots on iron rails to take me almost anywhere I can think of going in this country. As an American, I am not used to this type of convenience. Our national rail system is more of a quaint remnant of history than a currently viable utility. And the price of using the rail system in Spain is more than favorable. I often make use of Renfe’s SpainPass, a volume discount-type train ticket that’s only available to non-Spaniards. SpainPass allows you to take 4 or more medium- or long-distance train trips in a month for 40 euro or less per trip. Once I realized that with the money I make off of just a handful of private English lessons (link), I can afford to travel to 2 new cities each month, I was hooked. I’ve heard that Renfe has some pretty good student discounts, too. But, sadly (or gladly?), I aged out of those a long time ago. Even without discounts, many of the regular-price Renfe tickets are still in the 40 euro or less range, depending on the day and route of travel.

Of course there are so many other benefits to Spain train travel besides price. Trains offer:

  • More comfort and speed than a bus, and much less hassle than a plane

  • Less of the security hassle than at airports

  • Larger seats / more room

spain train travel

  • No luggage restrictions

  • The chance to see the country and the geography up-close while on the move

spain train travel

  • Free onboard entertainment (in the form of smelly old men, chatty nuns or in-transit movies)

 

So, Dear Reader, I encourage you to get out there more. Find a destination, buy a ticket, hop a train, and have an adventure.

Just remember to:

  • Always have your phone ready to snap a pic of a naughty nun
  • Always bring nose plugs or air spray in case of an unexpected abuelo ass-ault
  • Always know exactly where your train will be stopping, so you won’t inadvertently end up in Madrid having to buy another train ticket to get back to your intended destination.

5 of my favorite cities for street art

I am not one for museums when I travel.

It’s not that I don’t like museums. It’s just that with limited time and lots of things to see and do on a trip, spending hours looking at old or odd things inside of a building doesn’t seem like the best time management strategy. Usually, I’ll save a museum visit for a second or third visit to a destination, or if I happen to stay in a single place for a long period of time.

Yet, even on a first trip or a short stay in a city, I like to get a feel for the culture and energy of the place – and viewing the work of local artists is a great way to do just that.

chasing street art while travelling

The Unexpected Value of Street Art

Street artists, in particular, often combine their art with a message that is highly relevant in their surroundings, their work can convey a sense of the politics of a particular area – what’s going on beneath the surface of the neighborhood or city you’re in. There’s also an ephemeral quality to street art that makes it more precious somehow. While a traditional work of art might show over and over again at a number of galleries, a piece of street art you see today may not be there tomorrow or next week.

Capturing street art – whether stumbling on works by accident or intentionally seeking them out – has led me down some of the most unexpected paths and into some of the best memories (and photos) during my travels.

Here are some of my favorite cities for capturing impressive works of street art:

London, England

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best street art - londnbest-street-art-londonbest-street-art-london-einebest-street-art-london-roa

Where to find street art in London:

About.com’s London street art walking tour (self-guided)

East London street art walk (self-guided)

 

Lisbon, Portugal

best-street-art-lisbon4best-street-art-lisbon3best-street-art-lisbon2best-street-art-lisbon

Where to find street art in Lisbon:

The Occasional Traveler’s Where to find street art in Lisbon

Cheeky Jaunt’s DIY Lisbon street art walk

 

Barcelona, Spain
best-street-art-barcelonabest-street-art-barcelona (3)best-street-art-barcelona (2)

Where to find street art in Barcelona:

15-euro Barcelona ‘history through graffiti’ walking tour

Barcelona Street Style Tour

 

Malaga, Spain

best street art - malaga

best-street-art-malaga (3)best-street-art-malaga (2)

best-street-art-malaga (5)

Where to find street art in Málaga:

Lagunillas neighborhood

Street art guide for Malaga’s Soho arts district

Berlin, Germany
best street art - berlin

 

best street art - berlin

best street art-berlin

best street art - berlin

Where to find street art in Berlin:

Original Free Alternative Berlin Tour

Free Alternative Berlin Tour

 

Are you a fan of street art? Where have you seen some great works of graffiti or street art during your travels?

6 best things i ate: lisbon

I really can’t say enough good things about Lisbon. It’s a city I love for many reasons, not the least of which is the delicious and inexpensive food that I ate while I was there.

Here’s a rundown of the best food I ate in Lisbon:

Dorado dinner and wine at Cerqueira

A plate of fresh fried dorado steaks with all the fixings and a bottle of wine for under 10? Restaurant Cerqueira is worth the short but steep walk outside of the main tourist area of central Lisbon.

where-to-eat-lisbon-pena-cerqueira

where-to-eat-lisbon

Grilled sardines

The famed dish of Lisbon. I love fresh fish that’s simply prepared. These sardines were both fresh and simple, yet full of flavor.

how-to-do-lisbon-grilled-sardines

Pastel de Belem

Seductively creamy, subtly sweet, surrounded by a light flaky pastry and topped with an angelic dusting of cinnamon. The pastel de Belem begs to be eaten with a strong cup of espresso. Who am I kidding? It begs to be eaten whenever, wherever and with whatever.

how-to-do-lisbon-pastel-belem

Salmon burger w/seaweed ‘slaw’ on choco ink bun

Once again, my love of fish was perfectly sated in Lisbon. At the Mercado da Ribeira this gourmet burger stand served up a grilled salmon patty on a bun tinted black with squid ink. Unbelievably good.

how-to-do-lisbon-mercado-ribeira (4)

Bacalao w/garbanzo puree

There were so many gourmet and well-priced food options in the Mercado da Ribeira’s dining hall, that my travelmate and I decided to split one (the salmon burger), so we could both have two dishes. My second – this perfectly cooked cod filet over a warm garbanzo spread was as delightful to eat as it was to look at. I’m pretty sure I embarrassed myself slightly via my inappropriate moans while eating this dish.

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 Bifana

Just before leaving Lisbon, I stopped by Café Beira Gare, which is rumored to serve the best bifana in Lisbon. This deceptively simple pork sandwich had my mouth watering for hours after. It’s best accompanied by a cold Portuguese beer.

how-to-do-lisbon-bifanas-sandwich

Have you eaten your way through Lisbon yet? What are some your best food finds in Lisbon?

how to do lisbon: learn how to say thank you in portuguese

I love the sound of Portuguese.

As soon as I slid into my seat on the plane from Madrid to Lisbon, I couldn’t help but smile. Portuguese swirled around me, sounding like a hybrid of Italian and Spanish spoken with lilting intonations that lulled me to calm.

Despite it being a big city, Lisbon’s residents were never too busy to engage in a small bit of conversation, and always seemed quite friendly and willing to help – especially if you tried to speak even the smallest bit of Portuguese.

To show appreciation for their hospitality, the great food, perfect weather, and the affordability of it all – learning how to give a heartfelt thanks in Portugese was the least I could do.

Obrigada!

More Useful Portuguese Phrases

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

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how to do lisbon: have a bifana

While the bifana didn’t originate in Lisbon (that credit goes to the town of Vendas Novas), the snack is strongly associated with Portugal’s capital city. The bifana consists of a juicy stack of thinly sliced pork layered on fresh, soft yet crusty bread. Sounds simple, but the unseen effort and just-right ingredients are what make this sandwich sublime.
The pork is slow-simmered in a seasoned marinade. The bread is pillowy inside and just crackly enough outside. When the sandwich comes together, the juices from the meat seep into the bread, staining it with flavor. Served along with a helping of mustard that you can add as you please, the bifana is a deliciously indulgent snack that you can only experience in Portugal.


Cafe Beira Gare on Google+

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

 

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how to do lisbon: take a day trip to sintra or cascais

Two of Lisbon’s most popular options for day trips are Cascais – a beach resort town – and Sintra – a historic village known for its old castles. Both cities are only about an hour away using Lisbon suburban rail line, Comboios. I chose to visit the quaint and charming Sintra and its majestically quirky storybook castle. There’s an admission fee to enter the castle grounds and the castle’s terraces – but I think it’s worth it to get an up close look at such a colorful spectacle perched high among the clouds. Of course, you’ll have to share the view with lots of other visitors and photo-snappers.

Exploring the town center with its lush gardens, outdoor art installations, and tiny shops and bars is a must either before or after visiting the castle.

If a leisurely day at the beach followed by gazing and shopping at cute boutiques is more up your alley, Cascais is the better option. But, why choose? If you have the time, visit both.

Lisbon to Sintra – How to Get There, What to See

Lisbon to Cascais – How to Get There, Where to Eat, What to See

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

how to do lisbon: see the monuments in belem

Belem – located in the southwest corner of Lisbon – is a perfect place to spend a leisurely, sunny afternoon. Some of the most iconic monuments of Lisbon are found here, namely The Jeronimo Monastery, The Monumento do Descubrimento, and the Torre de Belem.
My advice is to take your time strolling through the area. Stop to people watch in the park in front of the Jeronimo Monastery. Soak up some sun at the edge of the river next to the Monumento de Descubrimento. Have a gelato before walking over to Belem Park and stretching out in the shade of a tree for a while.

 

 

Perhaps the most famous ‘monument’ in Belem is the beloved Portugese pastry, pastel de Belem. This creamy, custardy tart can be found all over Lisbon and throughout the rest of Portugal (where it goes by the name, pastel de nata), but its birthplace is Belem. Its best enjoyed with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon on top. So good.

 

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

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how to do lisbon: sample portugese cuisine at mercado da ribeira

I love myself a good market. And Lisbon has plenty to choose from. After reviewing a list of the best markets in Lisbon, I decided to try the Mercado da Ribeira – mainly because it offered both fresh foods and a selection of restaurants to eat in.

I had no idea what I was in for when I arrived. The fresh food market was good, not great – even though I was able to score some okra (YAAY!!).

mercado da ribeira
fresh market

But the real draw at the Mercado da Ribeira is the jaw-dropping selection of gourmet restaurant and food stalls on the opposite side of the building. There were stalls offering asian noodles, gourmet burgers, whole roast pig, craft beer and cider, and several with updated takes on traditional Portugese cuisine. DO go here on an empty stomach. The quality and creativity of the offerings were top notch. The prices, however, were unbelievably reasonable.

roasted bacalao with garbanzo puree
salmon burger w/seaweed salad on squid ink bun
whole roast suckling pig

Diners sit at communal tables in the center of the market. Since the Mercado da Ribeira is a popular spot for locals and visitors, I found myself chatting – and even sharing a few bites – with diners from 3 different countries.

Mercado da Ribeira on Google+

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

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how to do lisbon: use the metro

The Lisbon metro is modern, efficient, and pretty easy to use. The only hiccup I experienced was when I first arrived at the airport and couldn’t figure which direction to head in.

waiting on the Comboios suburban train from Belem to the city center

The metro goes to all of the neighborhoods and points of interest in central Lisbon.  A reloadable, multi-trip card can be purchased and refilled at machines in every station. One of the best things about Lisbon’s public transportation system is that you can use the same multi-trip card on the underground metro, above-ground trams, trolleys and buses, and the suburban trains that go all the way to Cascais and Sintra.

For long-distance destinations like Coimbra and Porto, you’ll have to purchase a separate ticket for one of the regional or inter-regional trains that depart from Santa Apolonia Station.

regional train at Santa Apolonia Station in Lisbon

Official Lisbon Metro Site – Fares, Maps, and Trip Planner

Lisbon Comboios Site – for Medium to Long-Distance Trips Outside of Lisbon

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

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how to do lisbon: people watch at the port

At the south end of Rua Augusta is the Port of Lisbon which overlooks the river Douro, and provides a spectacular view of the April 25 bridge. The large adjacent plaza and the riverside promenade produce an endless parade of locals, tourists, and street vendors. Grab a table on the terrace at one of the nearby cafes, or cop a squat on the wall ledge at the edge of the river to soak it all in.

port of lisbon

 

Once you’ve gotten your fill of gazing at the passersby, head up the Rua Augusta, browsing the shops and street performers, before heading over to have a look at the Santa Justa Elevator. Push on a little further, and you’ll run into Rossio Square, with its picturesque fountains and always lively pedestrian scene. The nearby Rossio train station is worth a peek for its uniquely designed facade. A hint: It looks even better at night.

rua augusta

 

fountain – rossio square

 

santa justa elevator

 

 

rossio station

 

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

 

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