Tag Archives: europe travel

how to do lisbon: skip the #28 and explore alfama on foot

When researching things to do in Lisbon, I saw tons of recommendations for riding the #28 tram. While seeing the city’s oldest neighborhood in this manner makes for a memorable experience, the tram is often literally overflowing with other tourists who also want to have this experience. I waited for 3 go-rounds of the #28, and was never able to get on because there wasn’t even room to breathe on board. The way I see it, even if you do get a coveted spot on the tram, you’re going to be packed in there like… well, like sardines. Not my idea of fun.

how to do lisbon - explore alfama
se de lisboa – lisbon cathedral

Though it’s an uphill climb, making the trek from the Lisbon Cathedral (Se de Lisboa) up through the Alfama neighborhood is a treat for the senses. Cute shops, tiny traditional bars, crumbling buildings, winding staircases, and some fine street art will give you plenty of opportunities to stop for a look-see or a quick photo. It’s the perfect place to get lost for a few hours. The best part is, you can take the #28 on your way back down – it’s usually much less crowded going the opposite direction.

how to do lisbon - explore alfama
seeing the sights in alfama
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
overlooking lisbon from alfama
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
alfama street art
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
alfama street art
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
colorful alfama

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

 

how to do lisbon

Lisbon is one of those places where it’s hard to capture the beauty with a camera. You have to stop often, pause, and soak it all in. Let the breeze sweep over you, turn your face up to the sun, smile a bit to yourself and then push on up the next steep hill, over the buckling cobblestone sidewalks, down the time-worn stone stairs, and around the next bend, where you’ll spy something else that makes you stop in your tracks, exhale sharply, and pause to admire it all over again.

During my entire time there, I found myself repeating two words over and over: impressive, and picturesque. But there was also this feeling of welcoming ease. That is, unless I found myself in one of the heavily crowded, tourist-oriented areas of town. Even then, though, popping into a shop, I’d be met with a friendly bit of conversation, or be greeted with a familiar ‘bomdia nena’ as I passed one of the restaurant hawkers standing out in front of the rows of cafes, attempting to lure non-locals in for a slightly overpriced bite to eat.

Before I left to visit the city, more than one Spanish associate of mine had used the same word to describe Lisbon: decadente. Upon hearing the word, I’d wrinkle my brow a bit and wonder if I was heading to some place that would be characterized by overindulgence or questionable morality. After arriving, however, I realized that what my associates had intended was the definition of decadence that I’d all but forgotten – that being a place characterized by decay or decline, a place that is now a faded vision of its former glory.

one of Lisbon’s many winding staircases

 

a peeling oled facade interplays with modern street art

 

urban decay never looked so good

Indeed, Lisbon is peppered with faded, dilapidated buildings, aged streets and sidewalks in need of repair, neglected and peeling facades, and a thin layer of grunge that seems to have lightly settled over almost everything. Yet, at the same time, the city manages to feel extremely modern and cosmopolitan. The efficient transportation system, the trendy shopping and bar districts, the amusing and provocative street art and performers, the cultural mishmash of colors, styles, nationalities, and cuisines you can see and smell as you stroll through the streets. Couple that with the fact that the city is located next to a huge river and not far from the Atlantic Ocean, and you get the sense of constant flow – an unhurried busy-ness that imparts energy that keeps the city renewed and young despite the obvious fact that it is so very, very old.

forever portugal
feelin’ the love in lisbon

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my insights on what to see and do in Lisbon . Here’s a preview of what’s to come:

  1. Take Up Residence in Pena
  2. Eat Grilled Sardines
  3. Skip the #28 and Explore Alfama on Foot
  4. People Watch at the Port
  5. Use the Metro
  6. Sample Affordable, New Portuguese Cuisine
  7. See the Monuments in Belem
  8. Take a Day Trip to Sintra or Cascais
  9. Have a Bifana
  10. Learn How to Say Thank You in Portuguese

If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon, these travel tips will help you make the most of your time in the city. Bookmark this post, or sign up below to receive the latest posts in the series as soon as they’re published! Read the first post now….

how to do lisbon: eat grilled sardines

The abundance of fresh and expertly prepared fish in Lisbon made me one very happy girl. Grilled sardines is one of Lisbon’s most iconic dishes, so if you’re a fish lover, you have to experience it at least once.

grilled sardines served with typical accompaniments: potato and salad

how to do lisbon: take up residence in pena

Just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle (and higher prices) of the city center is the Pena neighborhood of Lisbon. It’s accessible by either:

  • a long walk up a steep hill,
  • a long walk up lots of old stairs, or
  • a brief ride on the Lavra funicular.

Either way, it’s worth the trouble. Pena offers lodging options that strike the perfect balance of location, comfort and price. Staying here gives you a break from the busy-ness and lets you experience a more intimate side of the city. Friendly neighbors who smile and say good morning as you pass them on the street, and cheaper, less crowded restaurants are a part of the package.

Where I Stayed: NEW! 2patios&parking; center Lisbon

photo source: AirBnB
Dinner at Restaurant Cerqueira in Pena – All this for a little over 5 euro.
Perfectly prepared caipirinha at Terras Gerais, a cozy Brazilian restaurant in Pena

More About Lisbon Neighborhoods

This post is the first in a series on How To Do Lisbon.

how to do valencia

What better thing to do on a long holiday weekend than visit and explore a new city? Desperate to escape the chilly early December weather of Spain’s interior, I settled on Valencia. I’d already had a brief, enjoyable visit to the Costa Blanca, and I’d heard good things about the bigger city to the north. Without much of an itinerary at all, I set off on a Thursday for a 4-day excursion to Valencia.

How to Do Valencia: Stay With a Great AirBnB Host

No guide book or self-researched travel itinerary beats the hands-on help of a capable and compatible host. Luckily, I found both in Guillermo, my AirBnB host in Valencia. Not only did he meet me at the train station on arrival, he was kind enough to share his lunch with me after showing me the way to his flat.

Home-cooked lunch at Guillermo’s
As we chatted over lunch, I learned that Guillermo was a native of El Salvador, and was studying urban planning and development. He’d lived off and on in Valencia for 16 years, so I knew he was well qualified to give me some good advice on what to see and do around town.
Guillermo’s surprised face when he’s not expecting to be photographed.

Before I headed out to do some exploring on my own, Guillermo provided me a selection of maps to use during my stay, and quickly gave me the lay of the land.

Where I Stayed: AirBnB Private Room in Ruzafa, Valencia

How to Do Valencia: See the Sights in Ciutat Vella (Old Town)

After resting up a bit, I decided to head out and walk around the historic area of Valencia, otherwise known as Ciutat Vella. Despite Guillermo’s map and explaining, I managed to get a little turned around during my stroll, but still found my way to the following points of interest.

Porta de la Mar – at the eastern end of Ciutat Vella
Christmas lights and shopping on Carrer del Pau
The Valencia Cathedral, or, the Metrpolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia
Torres de Serranos at the northern end of Ciutat Vella, El Carmen
Torres de Serranos – front view
Christmas lights at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in Valencia
Plaza de Toros, Valencia

Sights to See in Ciutat Vella, Valencia (Spanish)

How to Do Valencia: Wander Around the Ruzafa Market

Saturday morning on a holiday weekend. I wake up early-ish, and the only thing on my mind is, “Gawd, I hope the market is open.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, visiting the local market is one of my favorite ways to get a sense of the culture and flavor of a Spanish city. The Ruzafa market was a treat, and I spent at least an hour strolling through, peering at the fresh items on offer at each of the stalls, and trying to stay out of the way of the old folks who were out early getting their shopping done before the official start of the holiday. I was even able to try a few free samples – 1 was of some amazing roasted pumpkins (I bought a half to take home for a snack later), and the other was of a really nice cava on sale at a wine shop in the market. Guillermo joined me at the market later and showed me to a coffee shop in the market that serves coffee for free (tips accepted) – since they make their money on bulk sales of beans. A great way to start the day!
Free samples of cava? Why yes, thank you.
roasted pumpkins – you get to try before you buy

Ruzafa Market Hours & Info

How to Do Valencia: Taste Authentic Argentinian Italian Pizza

I had no idea that there was a significant Italian community in Argentina, but I found out when I visited La Nonna – an Argentinian Italian restaurant in Valencia. The owners hail from Argentina, and the restaurant’s menu boasts a mouth-watering selection of brick-oven Italian pizzas along with some Argentinian steak and meat dishes.
The pizzas are top notch – crispy but tender crust, fresh topping, and the gooiest of cheeses. La Nonna features a daily menu that allows you to select a salad or small plate as a first course, your choice of pizza, along with drink and a dessert for about 12euro.
Carpaccio de pulpo – La Nonna
Veggie pizza at La Nonna

La Nonna
Calle Puerto Rico, 16
Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Hang with the Hipster Set at Calypso

We enter the smallish bar and order a couple of beers. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I wonder not only where I am, but when. The music is a non-stop selection of 60s surfer and ska tunes .The DJ, who for some unexplicable reason is wearing a Mexcan luchador mask, seems thrilled to be providing the ambience for the evening. He bobs his head and does a little funky two step to the music. I scan the rest of the room, taking in the scene. The decor is best described as retro tiki chic. Overhead, a tiny tv is showing original versions of the Super Friends cartoon. I am the only one paying it any attention, however. The rest of the steadily swelling crowd at Calypso presents varying shades of hipster as they chat and sip their drinks. Skinny jeans, wallet chains, lumberjack shirts, carefully ungroomed beards, blunt-cut bangs, cat eye glasses, red-as-red-can-be lipstick… all the expected accoutrements are there. Well, all except one. There’s a total lack of irony among the patrons, instead there’s an easy, genuine feeling of ‘hey, we’re just here to have a good time, not to pose and look cute.’ As I approach the bar for my second round, the bartender holds up a vintage camera and captures me with a flash. The luchador-DJ points and nods his approval.

Calypso Russafa
Carlos Cervera, 9
Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Have Sunday Paella with a Valencian Nationalist

Guillermo invites me out to have beers with him and his friend, Vicént. “He’s very nationalist,” Guillermo warns. I’m not sure I like the sound of that. “What exactly,” I cautiously begin, “do you mean by ‘nationalist’?” “Well, he only speaks Valenciano. When a Spanish team is playing a football match, he roots for the other team. When he tells people where he’s from, he doesn’t say I’m Spanish, he says, I’m Valencian. If he could, he’d prefer that his passport said that, but since he can’t change it, he’s stuck with it saying he’s from Spain. But don’t worry, he likes to practice his English.” Well, I think. This should be… fun. As it turns out, Guillermo was exaggerating a bit. Or, maybe Vicént was on his best behavior. Throughout the night we shift as easily between English, Castellano, and Valenciano (them, not me) as we do from 1 bar to the next. At the second bar, after Vicént explains to me over the loud music that he lives in a neighborhood not far from the beach, I jokingly quip, “Oh, so you’re going to make a paella for us tomorrow?” As Guillermo had hipped me earlier, paella is typically eaten by Valencians for Sunday lunch, often just before or after a relaxing stroll along the Mediterranean. To my surprise, Vicént replies with barely a pause, “Yes! You should both come over around 3!” Wait. What? Guillermo had already offered to show me to a restaurant serving authentic paella that would be much better and cheaper than the touristy options along the beach. But, this? This was more than I could have expected. I turned to share the change in plans to Guillermo. His face instantly registered his shock. “Wow. That was fast!” he says
Vicent prepares what he says is not truly paella, but octopus rice. Guillermo supervises, beer at the ready.
Shared salad to accompany the main course
Vicent’s ‘octopus rice’
“This right here? Is how you do pumpkin,” says Vicent.
All smiles! An after-lunch coffee at the cafe on the corner

How to Do Valencia: Take a Stroll Through El Cabanyal

After lunch, Vicént offers to show us around El Cabanyal – the neighborhood he grew up in and the same neighborhood his family lived in for several generations. “It used to feel like a little village,” he says. Originally a working class neighborhood of fisherman and port workers, it’s now plagued by urban blight. Kids play in the street right across from the older boys hanging out in front of the corner store. The older ones don’t go inside to buy anything. They stay outside all day to sell.

Vicént stops at regular intervals to point out one crumbling, dilapidated building after another. “My grandmother was born there. We used to go pick up huge chunks of ice over there. My uncle’s house was here. My first job was washing cars in that place over there.” I can feel the mix of wistfulness and pride in his voice. 

Guillermo and Vicént share that the state of the neighborhood is an intentional move on the part of the local government. They want to expand a nearby avenue so that it connects with the beach further to the south – El Cabanyal is right in the path of this proposed throughway.

We leave El Cabanyal and stroll along the beach, catch a batucada group practicing their moves, watch the sun set over the waves. After our walk, Guillermo and I bid Vicént thanks and goodbye, and catch the metro back home.

How to Do Valencia: Have a Farewell Dinner for a New Friend

My first night in Valencia, while Guillermo and I were grabbing some eats in a nearby Cuban restaurant, I met Tanya. Tanya  was a native of Brooklyn, and was currently living and teaching English in Madrid. We all chatted cordially, and I invited Tanya to join Guillermo and I for bar-hopping after dinner. Tanya shared that she’d only just decided to come to Valencia for the holiday weekend last night. She was an experienced solo traveler, and could easily enjoy exploring a city on her own or with newly made friends wherever she happened to find them. Of course, we hit it off instantly. We exchanged contact info at the end of the night and hung out again for several hours the next day.
 
On Tanya’s last night in Valencia, we met up for a Moroccan dinner at Restaurant Zakaria. I’d read online about one of their more popular dishes, Cordero con ciruelas (Lamb with prunes), and decided to order it. Tanya ordered a couscous dish and we shared. While both dishes were delicious, the lamb dish was certainly more memorable. Sweet, smoky caramelized onions, well-spiced lamb, and tender prunes made for a warm, comforting blend of flavors – perfect for the slightly chilly evening weather. Portions and prices were quite good at Restaurant Zakaria. A must-visit if you like North African cuisine.
Cordero con ciruelas at Restaurant Zakaria
Chicken and vegetable couscous at Restaurant Zakaria

Our after-dinner plan to find a bar or club with some cool tunes was mostly a bust and ended up with Tanya and me going on a Google search-inspired wild goose chase around the city center that lasted ‘til the wee hours of the morning. But, in the end, it was all good. We had just as much fun getting lost, people watching, laughing like giddy teenagers, and even singing the hooks of old funk and soul tunes on the streets of Valencia. Sometimes it’s not so much about where you’re going, but who you’re travelling with.

Tanya and I outside of Havana, the Cuban restaurant where we met in Valencia
Carrer de Puerto Rico, 26, Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Head Down the River to the City of Arts & Sciences

On my last day in Valencia, I head out to explore the ‘river’, which is what the locals call the continuous band of recreational green space that snakes through most of the city. Many decades ago, it was an actual river, but after repeated floods, it was drained and turned into a park. The weather is as perfect as it can be, and there are tons of people enjoying the day – running, strolling, biking, or just soaking up the sun.

At the south end of the river, I encounter the City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of museum buildings, each one dedicated to a specific area of scientific discovery and exploration. For the sake of time, I opt not to go inside of the museums. The buildings themselves are breathtaking works of art. The combination of futuristic architecture, glittering water features, and the shifting light of the sun makes for a unique visual feast. I take far too many pictures as I walk.

How to Do Valencia: Watch a Revolutionary Screening at Recordshop

When I return to Guillermo’s, he asks if I’d be up for seeing a free documentary screening at a nearby bar this evening. “Sure. Which documentary?” I query. He shows me the flyer on his computer. I nearly squeal with excitement. Turns out it’s Wattstax. I’ve been wanting to see it for years, but have never gotten around to it. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity now. We head out a little while later to Recordshop, which is part bar, part ‘cultural association’ with lots of vinyl on display. The owner regularly screens films in the space that is about as big as a large living room. 

Before the movie, the owner plays Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ album (on an actual record player), while Guillermo and I sip beers. Soon, the movie begins. I settle into a worn couch and immerse myself in the sounds of a soulful revolution.

Recordshop Cultural Association
Calle Sevilla, 31
Valencia, Spain

How to Do Valencia: Savor Handcrafted Burgers at Slaughterhouse

For my last meal in Valencia, Guillermo and I head to Slaughterhouse, a popular burger restaurant that actually was a slaughterhouse in a previous incarnation. We’d walked past the place on my first night in town, and the smell wafting out onto the street had instantly grabbed my stomach by the nose. Online reviews and Guillermo’s own personal recommendation confirmed that this place made some really tasty burgers, so I was glad to have a chance to sample one before heading home. 

Each of the burgers on the menu at Slaughterhouse gets its name from a fillm or book that is also listed as a recommendation on the menu. All the ingredients on the burgers are fresh and/or homemade, all the way down to the ketchup.

I don’t always eat burgers back in the States, but when I do, I want it to be a damned good burger. Here in Spain, I’ve tried burgers a few times, but they’ve always been ‘off’ somehow, falling short of my expectations for a well-prepared, proper tasting burger. Thankfully, I found redemption at Slaughterhouse. The Movska burger that I ordered was everything I’d been missing from home.  By this time, I wasn’t even surprised. After all, in just a few days in Valencia, I had already found so much that made feel right at home. 

Slaughterhouse menu
The Movska burger at Slaughterhouse
A disco ball and a meathook – part of the eclectic decor at Slaughterhouse

Slaughterhouse
Carrer de Dénia, 22
Valencia, Spain

How I Got There: AVE High Speed Train (Spain Pass)

I’m a heavy user of Spain’s discount railway pass for non-Spanish travelers. It’s called Spain Pass, and I’ve used it several times to visit cities that are far enough away for me to want to avoid a bus ride (my bus limit is about 3 hours). The trip to Valencia from Ciudad Real took a little over 2 hours on the high-speed train. The same trip would by bus would take about 6 hours, and cost about the same.

 

Have you had a chance to visit Valencia yet? Share your favorite finds in the comments!

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7 things you must see in every spanish city

Since moving to Spain last year, I feel like I’ve gotten around quite a bit. I try to take advantage of my light work schedule and frequent holidays to travel either within the country or to another place in Europe. In the 9 months that I’ve lived here, I’ve visited roughly a dozen Spanish cities (It would likely be more if I could stop myself from making repeat trips to Barcelona!), and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of exploring the distinct flavors that the various regions in Spain have to offer.
I rarely have a thoroughly planned itinerary when I set foot in a new Spanish town, but I’ve found that even if I have absolutely no clue what to see or do, I know that I can safely say that I ‘did’ insert-Spanish-city-here, if I hit the following sights.

1. Its cathedral

Why: The design and history of its cathedral are a core part of the history and culture of any Spanish town. To me, the cathedral and how it looks is a reflection of the city’s personality. A Spanish city’s cathedral is always located in the center of town, so if you find your way there, you’re guaranteed to stumble on some other sights and shops worth visiting – though they’re probably going to be a little more touristy (read: pricey).
spain travel - toledo cathedral
The Cathedral in Toledo
Christopher Columbus’ remains – inside Sevilla Cathedral
In Cordoba – the Cathedral is located inside of a mosque

2. If it’s on a coast, its beach. If not, its Plaza Mayor

Why: Even in winter, I feel it’s an absolute requirement to at least see the beach if I’m visiting a coastal Spanish city. There’s also usually some pretty good (though not always budget-priced) seafood to be had from beachside restaurants and bars. For cities away from the coast, I’ve always found that a visit to Plaza Mayor makes a decent substitute for a beach visit. Here, you’re sure to find big groups of locals and visitors gathered in cafes and bars, and, during seasonal periods (e.g., Semana Santa, Christmas, etc.), there are often impressive decorations or displays of pageantry to be seen.
Waiting on fresh catch at a chiringuito at Malagueta beach
Plaza Mayor in Ciudad Real at Christmas
Picture-perfect view of Marbella’s beach and Paseo Maritimo in winter

3. Its most popular tapas bar or cervecería

Why: While it’s not always easy to find, you can generally tell which bar in a particular neighborhood is the best by the large number of people packed inside and often spilling out into the street from around 1-3pm, or from about 9-10pm. If you’re lucky enough to find it, you’ll also find really cheap beer and wine and tasty, equally cheap tapas. Usually because the place is packed to the gills with regulars and serviced by overworked staff, it can be a little intimidating figuring out exactly how and what to order. But, just be patient, and watch what everyone else is doing. If all else fails, just point to what looks good and hope for the best.
Complimentary chupitos in Granada
Ciudad Real’s El Alcazar – always crowded, always good.
At Malaga’s Antigua Casa de Guardia, the waiters chalk up your tab on the bar.

4. Its ethnic neighborhood

Why: The ethnic communities in Spain offer a whole ‘nother experience when visiting a Spanish city. Visit one of these diverse havens, and you’ll be treated to a mélange of different languages, colors, sounds, and smells that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. And if you’re craving something other than tapas, this is the place to find anything from Indian curries to Cuban sandwiches.
At Baobab, a Senegalese restaurant in the Lavapies neighborhood of Madrid
In Valencia’s vibrant Ruzafa ‘hood, new restaurants seem to pop up every day.
At A Tu Bola, in Barcelona’s Raval district, fusion albondigas are on the menu.

5. Its municipal market

Why: Because you learn a lot about a people by learning about their food. The municipal market is a hub of activity – it’s the perfect place to see what the locals eat, what products are native to the area, grab a quick bite made with fresh ingredients, overhear some good conversations, and even get some good recommendations on other places in town to go and get your culinary fix.
Atarazanas Market, Malaga
The central market in Cadiz is a bustling bar scene at night.

6. Its Casco Antiguo

Why: Because photo opps, that’s why. The casco antiguo (or, old town) of any Spanish city is generally its most picturesque area with old, architecturally-inspiring buildings, fountains and bridges, narrow, winding streets and quaint little cafes and shops to duck into.
The most breathtaking views in Ronda are found in its old town
Even in modern Marbella, there’s a charming casco antiguo to get lost in.

7. Its lesser known park

Why: Most Spanish cities have a large park somewhere close to the city center. But if you ask around a bit you can usually find a park that’s less well-known, but is also more off-the-beaten path, less crowded with tourists, more uniquely designed / intimate, and an ideal place to rest yourself after a long day of sightseeing.
Ciudad Real’s Parque del Pilar
Though Park Guell gets top billing, Barcelona’s Ciutadella Park is definitely worth a visit.
Jardin el Capricho – Madrid’s other park
What are some of your must-see tips when travelling throughout Spain or other locales?
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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.