Tag Archives: spain 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)

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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?

how to do barcelona

I’ll admit it. I’m kind of addicted to this town. Maybe it’s because it was the first Spanish city I visited on my own. Maybe it’s because my first visit was the very definition of serendipity. Or maybe it’s because Barcelona is the one city in Spain that I know I can go to to satisfy all my cravings of home. In my opinion, Barna (not Barça – that abbreviation is specifically reserved for the football club) is the most metropolitan city in Spain, even more so than the capital of Madrid, and that’s because Barcelona has something that I think Madrid lacks – soul. Since that first visit just a little over a year ago, I’ve been back to the Catalonian capital 4 times, and it’s only a matter of time before I go again.
After those 5 visits, here are some of my favorite ways to ‘do’ Barcelona.

How to Do Barcelona: Take a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour

Yes, yes, I know. What sort of insider’s guide starts with, ‘book a tour’? I’m usually not a fan of tours, since I think it’s useless trying to pack in too much sightseeing in a single trip, and I prefer finding (and sometimes losing) my own way. But, there are some cities – such as London and Barcelona – that have so many different sites of interest spread out over such a large area, that I think it’s not only worth paying the price for a tour, it’s also worth saving yourself from aching feet and the frustration of trying to locate even your very top must-see sites using public transportation. My personal advice when booking a HOHO tour in Barna is this: Start early, then stay on the bus for a full loop (yes, it will be hard to resist getting off for photo opps, but do it) before you disembark anywhere. This will allow you get the tourist version of a sampler platter – a little taste of all that the city has to offer – before deciding which places you’d like to hop off at and delve deeper into. Barcelona’s most popular HOHO bus tour is the Barcelona Bus Turistic, and it’s the one I recommend. Some of my favorite places to hop off for a more up-close look include:
Park Güell – You simply can’t visit Barcelona without seeing this impressive outdoor space designed by Antonio Gaudí. While you have to pay for up-close access to some areas of the park, I didn’t, and I felt plenty fulfilled enjoying the park’s free areas.
 A sunny day at Park Guell
La Sagrada Familia – Perpetually under-construction, this magnificent example of Gaudí’s architectural style is always jam-packed with crowds, inside and out. I recommend viewing it from a quiet spot in the park Plaça de Gaudí located just behind the church.

La Sagrada Familia as seen from Placa de Gaudi
Casa Battló – Yet another jaw-dropping example of Gaudi’s signature style. I also like this stop because you can take a leisurely southbound stroll from here down either the Passeig de Gracia or the Rambla de Catalunya. Walking down either of these streets, you’ll eventually encounter Plaça Catalunya, the Cathedral and Barrio Gótic, passing tons of shops, street performers and other sensory satisfaction along the way.
Casa Battlo at night
The ‘Coquettish Giraffe’ statue on La Rambla Catalunya
Barcelona’s Cathedral
Batucada street performers in Barri Gotic
Arc de Triomf / Parc de la Ciutadella – The Arc de Triomf is a breathtaking structure that makes for a nice photo opp. At the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella, you’ll find an equally impressive fountain and waterfall feature – La Cascada. On weekend afternoons, there’s usually a group of African drummers doing their thing near the center of the park. It’s an ideal place to cop a squat and soak up the sounds and sun.
The impressive Arc de Triomf
Parc Ciutadella’s magnificent fountain and waterfall
Weekend African drumming in Parc Ciutadella
Some places I think are better seen from the bus:
Dona I Ocell as seen from the tourist bus

Plaça Espanya – the nearby Magic Fountain is a prime draw, but since the fountains are better seen at night after the tour bus stops running, you’re better off catching the metro to this location at a later time.

Parc de Joan Miró – you can snap pretty decent pics of the iconic Dona I Ocell statue from the open-air top section of the bus.
Olympic Ring – home to the telecommunications tower or, Torre Telefónica– a quirky architectural structure that’s a nice visual treat.
MNAC – unless you plan on going inside of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, get your oohs and aahs on as you whizz by.
Camp Nou – I’m not a big football (or, soccer) fan anyway, so an up-close look wouldn’t really do anything for me.

 

 

How to Do Barcelona: Buy a Metro Pass

Barcelona’s metro system is pretty easy to navigate, and there are several options available for multi-trip Barcelona metro passes. While which pass you buy will totally depend on how long you’ll be staying in the city and what areas you plan on visiting using the metro, I’ve only ever bought the 10-ride pass, aka the T10. A single one-way ticket on the metro runs €2.15, and the 10-trip pass will set you back €9.95, so it’s a great value; you can even share it with others travelling with you. I don’t mind walking between a lot of the places that I visit, and only use the metro if I have to go from one area of town to another, so the 10-ride pass has been sufficient for my multiple 3-4 day trips to Barcelona.

How to Do Barcelona: Stroll the Beach

Barcelona’s most accessible beach, Barceloneta, isn’t exactly the most picturesque, but it’s definitely a nice place to have a Sunday stroll during cooler months, or work on your tan during warmer ones. At night, the area along the beach is filled with nightcrawlers visiting the many posh Miami-style nightclubs in the area.

How to Do Barcelona: Where to Eat

There are no shortage of amazing places to eat in Barcelona, and I know for sure that I haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to fabulous dining options, but the following Barcelona restaurants have met or exceeded my standards for price, quality and uniqueness.
Teranga – Senegalese restaurant located en El Born district of Barcelona. The lamb dishes are my favorites.
Restaurante Bar Roble – Located on the edge of Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood. A good option for lunch or dinner, this very old school restaurant often gets busy, and the service is typical Spanish / Catalan – occasionally brusque, but always efficient. And if you go when they have the lunch menu special (or menu del día), and you order wine as your included beverage, they plop the bottle on your table, and you drink as much as you want. Doesn’t get much better than that.

All-you-can-drink wine at Restaurante Bar Roble
Fideos de marisco con ali-oli on Restaurante Bar Roble lunch menu del dia
Milk – Bar and restaurant located not far from Las Ramblas. An excellent choice for first meal, as they offer a daily ‘Recovery Brunch’ from 9am to 4:30pm. Perfect for coming back to life after a night out partying in Barna. If you go on weekends, get there early – Spanish early, like 10 – to beat the rush.

Huevos rancheros at Milk. I dream of this brunch dish often.
A Tu Bola – Funky little eatery in the eclectic Raval neighborhood. Billing itself as a gourmet street food restaurant, the menu features a variety of different meat or veggie balls. Slightly pricier than I would normally go for, but the food and service are both very high quality.

Savory Mediterranean ball at A Tu Bola
Sweet chocolate truffle ball at A Tu Bola
Wok 2 Walk– A quick serve chain restaurant with 3 Barcelona locations. Is it life-changing food? No. But I really miss Asian noodles, so it does it for me. Plus, the food is fresh and fast.

How to Do Barcelona: Where to Enjoy the Nightlife

Grácia– Probably my favorite neighborhood in Barcelona. Full of funky shops, bars, and people – a perfect place to just stroll around and get lost in, day or night. Plaça del Sol is a good launching point for exploring the neighborhood.
El Born – A little sexier and more polished than Gracia, with higher-end shops and restaurants, El Born is a great Barcelona ‘hood to see and be seen.

Antique jewely shopping in El Born

 

Afro Bar Bella Bestia – Offering a variety of soulful entertainment, from ska to soul to soulful rock, this low-key bar is a good place to get your groove on.
Harlem Jazz Club– Live music that might include funk, flamenco, Cuban jazz, and everything in between. More tourists than locals, but the music makes it worth your while.

 

Plaça Reial– Just off La Rambla, this well-known plaza is a good place to go for late night hanging, after you’ve finished dinner and clubbing elsewhere and you want to watch (or act like) a drunken Spaniard or Catalan.

How to Do Barcelona: Where to Stay

L’Eixample – The L’Eixample neighborhood is fairly centrally located and you can find some good bargains on vacation rentals or homestays in this part of town. However, it’s also a pretty big area, so where you choose to stay in L’Eixample can make a big difference as far as walkability to points of interest is concerned.
Where I’ve Stayed in L’Eixample: Airbnb room near Passeig de Graciaand Hostalet Barcelona
Las Ramblas On my first few visits to Barcelona, I avoided staying here because I didn’t want to be smack dab in the middle of all of the hustle and bustle that is Las Ramblas. But the one time I did stay here, it was quite nice to be able to quickly get back to the flat after a typical late night out without having to worry about catching the last train or possibly walking a really long way after the metro had shut down for the night.
Where I’ve Stayed in Las Ramblas: Airbnb Room with Private Lounge
Near Park Güell – If you’d prefer to be able to retire from the noise and crowds in central Barcelona at the end of the day, staying near Park Güell is a good idea. But – and I stress this caveat – be absolutelysure that you’re willing to tackle the very steep, very long incline that leads up to this area, especially if you plan on staying out late – I (and my hamstrings) learned this the hard way.  Depending on your fitness level, it can be a beast going and coming.
Note: Unfortunately, the very affordable housetrip.com room I stayed in is no longer available.

How to Do Barcelona: Beware of Pickpockets

Before my first trip to Barcelona, I’d heard so many stories about how bad and rampant pickpocketing was, that I was definitely on high alert. I actually even saw a foiled pickpocketing attempt occur right in front of me on the metro during my first visit. But, honestly, a little common sense and street smarts will go a long way and keep you from becoming a victim. Walk confidently with your head up (not staring at a tourist guide or map), make eye contact with too-close strangers, and always keep a hand on your personal belongings (tip: go for a crossover-style bag versus a backpack), and you’ll be fine. Especially if you’re used to travelling in large metropolitan cities like New York or Chicago.
Other Barcelona blogs and resources:
Resident Advisor – I’m a big fan of soulful house music and there’s usually some place to get my fix in Barna. RA keeps an up-to-date listing of weekly  and special events for house heads.
Planning a visit to Barcelona or other Spanish cities? Check out: 7 Things You Must See in Every Spanish City for a quick and dirty guide on sightseeing in Spain.
What are your favorite ways to do Barcelona? Any tips on places to see or avoid? Leave ’em in the comments! 

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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.