Spain

Home Spain

A Day at Feria de Abril de Sevilla

0
The women dancing in the traditional Flamenco-style dress.

Every year in April more than 5 million people attend the Feria de Abril de Sevilla or known in English as the Seville Fair.

Upon arrival to the fairgrounds, which take place in the Andalucian capital of Seville in southern Spain, you are greeted with a magical entrance that appears to look like a lit up castle or ornate building.

Entrance to the Feria de Abril. Taken by Edmund Gull via Flickr.
Entrance to the Feria de Abril. Taken by Edmund Gull via Flickr.

Feria De Abril Traditions

Once inside, the “costumes,” so to speak, only add to the whimsicality of the event. The women wear their best trajes de Flamenca, Flamenco-style dresses, and the men in the traditional traje corto or short jacket, though more common today is a standard suit. I could imagine that wearing the correct outfit is mandatory for all the Sevillanos or Sevillians. As this was our first time at the fair, we didn’t have our own Flamenco dresses.

Plus, none of us could actually dance the traditional Sevillana or Sevillian Flamenco dance, so it didn’t seem absolutely necessary. Given the chance to decide again, however, I would absolutely try to find the dress to wear, whether I bought it online or second hand, as it definitely makes you feel more included in the festivities.

The women dancing in the traditional Flamenco-style dress.
The women dancing in the traditional Flamenco-style dress.

Inside The Fairgrounds

The fairgrounds are set up in rows of casetas or small tents. Most of the tents are private and you can only enter with permission. There are some public tents, however, which is where we went. Inside each tent is music, dancing, drinking typical cocktails such as the rebujito, a mix of Sherry and a soft drink, and eating tapas.

Officially, the festivities begin at midnight on Monday night, two weeks after the Semana Santa or Easter Holy Week, and end the following Sunday. Many of the activities already start on the Saturday before the official opening, however.

The people in the public tents were quite friendly; we were able to have a few conversations with the locals that ended up teaching us some of the traditional Sevillana. We were not very good, to say the least, but it was a great cultural experience to learn something new and meet a few locals. Around 4 or 5 in the morning, people began going to the larger tents, which also had more popular music from today. Wanting to “do as the locals do” we stayed out until dawn dancing, having some typical drinks and enjoying the food!

The Sevillana dance:

Planning For Your Trip to Feria

Keep in mind, as the Seville Fair is a very popular destination, we had a lot of trouble finding a place to stay since we decided to go only a month before the fair. Fortunately, I had a friend that lived in Seville that let us stay at her house.

If you plan to visit, I would recommend booking your accommodation far in advance. Also, make sure that you are close enough to walk to the fairgrounds, as they are not located in the center of the city. Instead, the fairgrounds are located in Los Remedios, to the southwest of the city, next to the Guadalquivir River. Overall, it was a great experience and a glimpse into a true tradition of Southern Spain, I would absolutely go back in a heartbeat!

[Andalucia.com], [Wikipedia]

Food, music, and traditional sports at Basque Fest, Bilbao

0
One of the most famous sites in Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum

Located in the border areas of northern Spanish and southern France, the community of the Basque people is truly unique.

One of the most famous sites in Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum

The culture has a rich heritage with ancient roots, which predate the arrival of the Romans. Historians estimate that the genetic uniqueness of the Basques even predates the arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula, dating back at least 7,000 years.

The fact that the Basque community is present today after thousands of years, while many other cultures have simply disappeared, is just one distinctive factor of their culture. Some consider the Basques to genetically represent the indigenous people that first inhabited the European continent, while other studies have shown that they are not significantly genetically different from others in the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain).

The Basque Language

The traditional Basque language is indisputably considered one of the most distinct aspects of their culture, as it has no roots in Indo-European languages. It is believed to be one of the only surviving pre-Indo-European languages in Europe (developed before the Romance languages such as Spanish), and the only in Western Europe. In Basque, the language is known as Euskara, with various dialects. For Basques living in Spain during the rule of Franco, it was considered an act of dissent to speak Euskara, rather than Castellano, and the culture was deeply repressed.

The Basque Culture

In the autonomous community known as Basque Country in northern Spain, one can see that the Basque people continue to be extremely proud of their heritage, if not more due to their lengthy suppression during the 1900’s. They are also one of the most economically strong regions of Spain with a significant amount of industry.

A prime example of their cultural pride is the annual Basque Fest that takes place in the prominent cities of Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz at the end of March and beginning of April. During this time, the Easter festivities such as street processions coexist with aspects of Basque traditions such as gastronomy, sports and customs.

The festival is based on the linking of tradition and modernity through five pillars of Culture, Music, Market, Sport and Gourmet, united together by the icon of the “Lauburu”, the traditional symbol of the Basques.

A Famous Basque Festival

When we visited Bilbao, it was actually coincidental that the festival was going on at the same time. However, it was truly a great experience as there were not many tourists there and we could get a first hand view of deep cultural traditions. Scattered throughout the city were various art exhibitions, dances, street theatres, craft fairs and children’s entertainment that were free to join.

Traditional Basque sport, barrel lifting.
Traditional Basque sport, barrel lifting.

Another really cool part of the festival was the Basque sport competitions. As the Basque people were historically farmers or fishermen, their traditional sports are based on these lifestyles, known as “Basque rural sports”. Examples include wood chopping, stone/anvil/bale lifting, cob gathering, tug-of-war, weight carrying and dragging games. These games are obviously very physically demanding, and it was so exciting to see them taking place live!

Pintxo of Spanish Tortilla - By flydime (Pinchos / Spain, Barcelona) [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.
Pintxo of Spanish Tortilla – By flydime (Pinchos / Spain, Barcelona) [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.
Gastronomy was also a huge part of the Fest (and definitely one of my favorite aspects of visiting any new city). Traditionally, the food consists of meat and fish grilled over hot coals, often including tomatoes and hot peppers. We ate a lot of “pintxos” or Basque tapas, which is a small snack typically on a piece of bread.

[Basquefest.com], [Basques in Spain], [Wikipedia], [Discover Magazine]

A Rich History in Plaza Mayor

0
Summer at Plaza Mayor. Taken by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.

Just a short walk from Madrid’s iconic Puerta del Sol is another center of life in the Spanish capital: the Plaza Mayor.

Plaza Mayor signWhat Can You See at the Plaza Mayor Today?

Today, the Plaza Mayor is an expansive space in the heart of the city center. Compared to the labyrinth of small, winding streets that lead up to the Plaza from many different directions, the open space is a welcome relief and literally, a breath of fresh air.

Plaza Mayor panoramic. Taken by Loek Zanders via Flickr.
Plaza Mayor panoramic. Taken by Loek Zanders via Flickr.
Summer at Plaza Mayor. Taken by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.
Summer at Plaza Mayor. Taken by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.

The Plaza is formed on all sides by three story buildings that serve a variety of purposes, from residential to business to the central Madrid tourist office. On the upper floors you will notice balconies, good for catching an afternoon breeze or checking out what’s going on below.

On the ground floor of these buildings there are typically a variety of Spanish-style restaurants with interior dining spaces. More popular, however, is to sit out at one of the outside tables admiring the atmosphere and watching the many different characters that entertain for money in the Plaza.

Outdoor seating at Plaza Mayor. Taken by Pablo Sanchez via Flickr.
Outdoor seating at Plaza Mayor. Taken by Pablo Sanchez via Flickr.

Though sitting out in the Plaza and enjoying a meal, some tapas or even a drink may sound like a great idea, it is actually super overpriced and from my experience the quality was definitely lacking. I would recommend instead spending a little time walking around the Plaza, then heading out one of the entrances towards less touristic neighborhoods with more reasonably priced tapas such as La Latina.

The Rich History of Plaza Mayor

The conceptions for the construction of the Plaza date back to 1577 when Philip II asked renowned Classical architect Juan de Herrera to remodel the existing Plaza del Arrabal. Construction did not begin until 1617, and was finished by Juan Gómez de Mora in 1619.

Statue of King Philip III in Plaza Mayor. Taken by Loek Zanders via Flickr.
Statue of King Philip III in Plaza Mayor. Taken by Loek Zanders via Flickr.

As the Plaza Mayor has been around for nearly 400 years, you can imagine it has seen its fair share of historical events. The first ceremony to take place was the beatification of San Isidro Labrador (San Isidro the Farm Laborer), Madrid’s patron saint.

From there, it served as the location for bullfights (typically in celebration of marriages or other events), as well as the autos-da-fé (the ritual condemnations of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition, followed by executions such as burning at the stake or hangings. The burnings turned out to not really be a great idea, when a fire largely destroyed the plaza in 1790. The Plaza Mayor that we see today is from the architect Juan de Villanueva, who reproduced it in 1790 following the destruction.

Throughout the years, the Plaza Mayor has also gone under a variety of names such as Plaza de la Constitución, Plaza Real, Plaza de la República and back to the Plaza Mayor.

Events in the Plaza Mayor Today

Today, the Plaza serves as a location for events such as a holiday market, concerts and other traditional parties and festivals. We went to a delicious Jamón (Spanish Ham) festival a few years ago that definitely didn’t disappoint!

Jamon fair

[Go Madrid]

Tapa or pintxo?

0
Pintxos at Lizarran. Taken by Dennis van Zuijlekom via Flickr.

In every corner of Spain you can find delicious little snacks, typically to accompany your drink.

Sometimes they are referred to as pintxos (or pinchos) and sometimes as tapas. So is it a tapa or pintxo you ask? Well, follow me on this little journey through culinary history…

During my recent visit to Alicante, we happened upon a popular Spanish restaurant chain Lizarran, which offers both tapas and pintxos. This was the first time I had been to this place, and it was a really cool experience. The cold snacks, such as tortilla de patata, were self-serve. With the ring of the bell from the chef, waiters came around to each table with trays of delicious hot snacks to choose as you wish. Each snack either had a large or small toothpick and at the end your bill was tallied depending on the number of sticks on your plate. That got me to thinking, what distinguishes a tapa from a pintxo?

Are pintxos cold and tapas hot?

This may be the easiest one to answer, with a big fat nope. Both pintxos and tapas come cold or hot, savory or sweet, vegetarian or with the most delicious jamón (Spanish ham). Essentially, the actual ingredients do nothing to distinguish a tapa from a pintxo.

Pintxos at Lizarran. Taken by Dennis van Zuijlekom via Flickr.
Pintxos at Lizarran. Taken by Dennis van Zuijlekom via Flickr.

How about where they originated? Does that help?

Traditionally, the word “pintxo” comes from the Basque version of the Spanish word “pincho”, coming from the verb “pinchar”, which means to pierce, puncture, prick, stick, etc. Therefore, it makes sense that a pintxo is typically a small piece of bread that is pierced with a small stick to keep the ingredients in tact.

Basque tavern with pintxos (some with sticks, some without). Taken by Katina Rogers via Flickr .
Basque tavern with pintxos (some with sticks, some without). Taken by Katina Rogers via Flickr .

Tapas, on the other hand, come from the Spanish verb “tapar”, which means to cover. There are a variety of possible explanations to their emergence. One xample is the thirteenth century Castilian King Alfonso X had some sort of illness, which didn’t allow him to drink wine without eating something. Therefore, he passed a law that if alcohol was served at a tavern it must be accompanied by food.

Other explanations simply say that in old Andalusian taverns fruit flies were such a menace that the guests would use the small plate of food to cover their sherry in between sips, which would explain the use of the verb “to cover”.

Tapa with shrimp, olive oil and pepper from Barcelona. Taken by Terence via Flickr .
Tapa with shrimp, olive oil and pepper from Barcelona. Taken by Terence via Flickr .

The definition of a tapa versus pintxo varies depending on which region of Spain you are in. In the Basque country today, for example, something that would be referred to as a Tapa in Andalusia, is always referred to as a pintxo, even if it doesn’t have bread or a stick.

What about if they are free?  

The cost also does nothing to separate a pintxo from a tapa, instead it will again probably just be a good indicator of which region of Spain you are in. For example, in Andalusia, especially Granada, you will always get some sort of snack with your drink for free. They are typically referred to as tapas, and some places offer a more extravagant version than others. Oh, and they usually get better the more drinks you get.

If you are in a larger city such as Barcelona or Madrid (with the exception of El Tigre and a few others places), it would be really hard to find free tapas or pintxos, instead they will be self-serve or you have to order them directly.

So, in conclusion have we gotten any closer to a definition of tapa versus pintxo? Well, probably not, but rest easy that no matter what it’s called, it’s probably delicious!

Source: Gourmet and Breaks

Five reasons to fall in love with Spain

0
Cabo de las Huertas, Spain.

It’s no secret that I left my corazón in Spain.

There’s a reason that this magical country hasn’t just captured my heart, but many others too. Most of my friends that have spent time living in Spain agree that there is something truly special about the land of world-class wines, endless pristine coastlines, all night fiestas and, naturally, some of the craziest fútbol fans in the world.

Here are my top five reasons to fall in love with Spain

1. The laid-back lifestyle

Spain guitarist
A typical sight in one of Spain’s thousands of plazas.

Spaniards just have an ease of life that is so different from where I grew up in the U.S. or where I currently live here in Germany. There is no rush to get everything done right that second, there is always time to sit and chat and though times may get tough, there will always be a way out as long as you have your family and friends.

The sense of time isn’t strict, which creates a more relaxed attitude in general. Of course, if you’re applying for your residence permit this can be a bit annoying, but overall I always feel so chilled out as soon as I land on Spanish soil.

2. Tapas, tapas, tapas!

Spanish tapas in San Sebastián. Taken by sanfamedia.com via Flickr.
Spanish tapas in San Sebastián. Taken by sanfamedia.com via Flickr.

Tapas are by far my favorite way to eat. The small portions ensure that you don’t eat too much to fast and because they are often shared among the rest of the group, it automatically creates a more social atmosphere. I especially love when the tapas come free with the drink because many cases they bring you what they have, which means that with each new drink comes a surprise-kind of like Christmas, right? Plus, in many Spanish cities you can find neighborhoods with rows and rows of tapas bars such as La Latina in Madrid

3. Too many beaches to count

Cabo de las Huertas, Spain.
Cabo de las Huertas, Spain.

Spain is a peninsula, which gives it a huge coastline- 4,964 km to be exact. In a country where it’s warm enough to at least sit on the beach for more than 6 months out of the year, you couldn’t ask for anything better.

I love the beaches along the southern coast of Spain, and of course on the Balearic Islands, but one of my favorite thus far has actually been in the coastal city of Alicante, just south of Valencia on the eastern Spanish coast. Though it was a city beach, the water was super clear, the perfect temperature and you had really great views of the cityscape from the water.

4. Spanish is so useful!

Everyone speaks Spanish! Taken by The LEAF Project via Flickr.
Everyone speaks Spanish! Taken by The LEAF Project via Flickr.

Learning Spanish while living in Spain was a huge benefit to me! English is becoming more widely spoken-but still the majority of people will just speak Spanish or another official language of the country such as Catalan.

This is so great because you are forced to learn the language to get around. I can’t tell you how much knowing Spanish has come in handy for me traveling other parts of the world and even visiting home in the U.S. The Spanish language actually has the second highest number of native speakers worldwide behind Mandarin with around 400 million people!

5. The eclectic mix of history and modernity

Like many other European countries, Spain’s roots are thousands of years deep. Throughout the cities and villages there is architecture dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years, mixed in with modern cafes full of young students and expats. 

Segovia cafe

As well, the Spanish still celebrate ancient festivals. Whether they are religious, local, or cultural, there is always something to celebrate in Spain!

What’s your favorite thing about Spain?

Buy, Eat and Have Rooftop Drinks at the Mercado de San Antón

0
Fruit section. By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

With a fresh makeover in the past 15 years, the Mercado de San Antón in the Chueca neighborhood of Madrid is a hot spot for fresh ingredients, regional and international specialties and a great place for locals, expats and tourists to hang out and socialize over drinks.

Mercado de San Antón. Taken by Carlos ZGZ via Flickr.
Mercado de San Antón. Taken by Carlos ZGZ via Flickr.

Check out this quick tour through the market today:

First Floor: The Market Stalls at the Mercado de San Antón

At the bottom floor of the Mercado de San Antón you will find your average supermarket chain Supercor. The magic happens, however, when you venture up to the first floor, where there are market stalls, selling raw ingredients such as fresh produce, meats, cheeses, fish, and baked goods as well as some prepared foods and drinks such as handmade hamburgers or a wine bar.

Fruit section. By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Fruit section. By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Many of these stations, such as La Charcutería de Octavio, (roughly Octavio’s Butcher Shop) have been around since the beginnings of the market over 50 years ago. With the renovations in the early 2000s, they have adapted to modern tastes while still providing the traditional favorites such as Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham).

Butcher shop at the Mercado. Taken by Felipe Gabaldón via Flickr.
Butcher shop at the Mercado. Taken by Felipe Gabaldón via Flickr.

The raw ingredients from the market are a bit more expensive than you would find in the typical supermarket chains, but the few times I did buy things there, I could definitely tell the difference in terms of quality and freshness. Definitely worth the extra costs if you can afford it!

Second Floor: Restaurant and Bar Stands

Interior view of the Mercado de San Anton.By Benjamín Núñez González (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Interior view of the Mercado de San Anton.By Benjamín Núñez González (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
On the second floor of the Mercado de San Antón (restaurant zone) you will find many more prepared food options in a huge variety- anything from traditional Spanish to Japanese to Italian to ice cream. Each stand has their own seating area, typically high bar stools. The upstairs area is usually very crowded during the after work and weekend hours, but I never had to wait to find a place to sit. Most food options come in tapas form, which is perfect for socializing (something the Spanish are absolute experts at!).

Top Floor: Rooftop Restaurant “La Cocina de San Anton”

For a splurge, check out the rooftop restaurant entitled La Cocina de San Antón (The Cuisine of San Antón). This is the perfect place to showcase the delicious, fresh and seasonal ingredients you can purchase on the lower floor, which is exactly what they do! There is an indoor dining area, where you can taste a variety of dishes from cheese plates to salads to meat plates served in both a traditional Madrileño and international style.

You can also bring products purchased at the market below and they will cook it to your liking! What a cool concept!!

As well, you can venture to the rooftop during a nice day (Madrid has over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year) for a refreshing drink (popular is the gin tonic) with a great view of the neighborhood below. This area is especially busy in the evenings, so get there early if you want a good spot!

[Mercado de San Antón], [The Guardian]

What To Do In Ibiza (Besides Party)

0
Cala in Ibiza. Taken by Philip Larson via Flickr.

You may have heard of the Spanish Balearic Island of Ibiza…

Located Roughly 150 km from Valencia, Ibiza is famous for its insane party scene, electronic music and home of super night clubs like Space or Pacha, where famous DJs like David Guetta set up season long residencies.

If mega-clubs and all night parties are not your idea of a good time, do not rule out Ibiza quite yet. While its reputation for Fiesta may have put Ibiza on the map, there are so many other amazing experiences that Ibiza has to offer. I spent a weekend there in May 2013 and then again recently; here were my favorite things about the island:

Stunning Landscape

View from our apartment balcony in Ibiza.
View from our apartment balcony in Ibiza.

Ibiza is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been. Probably the most famous beach, Playa d’en Bossa, is located in the heart of the tourist venues, just a short walk from popular hotels and so reasonably close to the city center.

The real treasure, however, lies in the little Calas (small beaches) that are scattered along the southwest coast. The cliffs jut out to separate the beaches from each other, creating not only a beautiful landscape, but also a private and relaxing experience.

Cala in Ibiza. Taken by Philip Larson via Flickr.
Cala in Ibiza. Taken by Philip Larson via Flickr.

To get there, you can easily rent a motor scooter for a reasonable price (we paid 12 euros per day in early May). It took about 30-45 minutes to drive from Playa d’en Bossa to the first location. There are also lots of maps available to find a particular beach you may be looking for. As there are not many roads that cross the island, you can pretty easily find where you are looking for by following the signs.

Local Villages

I can only imagine being a local on the island of Ibiza, with thousands of tourists visiting each year. While this may be good in terms of tourist revenue, I can not help wonder what the island would be like without these developments. We stopped midway through our journey from Playa d’en Bossa to St Antoni de Portmany in the town Sant Josep de sa Talaia, for a cafe con leche  (coffee with milk) at a small cafe. It was delicious, well priced and gave us an opportunity to explore a little bit of the island that had appeared to retain its original charm.

Mediterranean Specialties

No visit to Ibiza, or Spain in general would be complete for me without eating as much Mediterranean food as possible. While Mainland Spain is famous for jamón, the coastal cities and islands are known for their seafood: such as burrida de ratjada (ray with almonds). Try to find a restaurant a little off the beaten tourist path and ask if they have a fresh catch of the day and try to avoid pescado de Helado (Frozen Fish) when possible.

The Island of Formentera

View from Formentera.
View from Formentera.

I wrote a recent article going into further detail about Formentera, but just in case you didn’t catch it, the small island of Formentera is located just off the coast of Ibiza. The ferries to the island takes about 40 minutes from Playa d’en Bossa and cost about 22 euros round trip. We rented bikes to drive around the island and it was absolutely worth the six euro price tag. You can reach the tip of the island in about 30 minutes with a bike, with beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear water.

Viva La Fiesta

Party at Space Club.
Party at Space Club.

Okay, so earlier I said I would discuss what other things there were to do in Ibiza minus the club scene. In all honesty, I felt I would not be doing this list justice without a mention of the all night fiestas. I mean, really, where else in the world do artists like David Guetta and other DJs play season long residencies? If electro music is not your thing, there are tons of other places to enjoy a night out. As there are at endless amount of options, I would recommend asking the locals for the kind of music you’re looking for.

* Disclaimer: as Ibiza is part of the Balearic Islands, they speak a dialect of Catalan, known as Eivissenc, but Spanish and English are widely spoken. I used the Spanish terms for the things in this article when I did not know the Catalan/Eivissenc version.

A List of Spain’s Most Beautiful Beaches

0
Costa Brava. Taken by Andrea Ciambino via Flickr.

It’s no secret that Spain is one of my all-time favorite places on earth. A culmination of many factors have led to this love-affair with the home of Jamón, but one of the most significant reasons is the beaches!

Although bordered by France in the northeast and Portugal to the west, Spain is almost completely surrounded on three sides by water. Its unique location at the mouth of the Mediterranean creates such diversity within the nation’s beaches. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many of the coastal areas of Spain- from Barcelona to Valencia to Alicante to Málaga and Tarifa and if you’re thinking of heading to Spain this spring (yes, it can already be warm enough in Spring to go to the beach!) and summer check out my favorite places to get the ultimate playa experience.

1. Costa del Sol

is one of the most famous beach areas of Spain and was my first introduction to Spanish beaches back in 2008. This is located on the stretch east of Gibraltar and is the most southern coast of Spain and is known for extravagant beach parties, endless hours of sunshine and breathtaking beaches. The most famous resort areas include Marbella, Terremolines, Nerja and Málaga.

Costa del Sol. Taken by Kevin Poh via Flickr.
Costa del Sol. Taken by Kevin Poh via Flickr.

2. Costa Blanca

is the coast that begins at Valencia and runs south through Alicante and Benidorm. I spent a week in Alicante last summer and was so pleasantly surprised by how nice the city beach itself was, despite being a bit crowded. The water was crystal clear turquoise and so salty you could easily just float around catching gazes of the city built up into the mountainside.

Cala at Cabo de las Huertas_02
Cala at Cabo de las Huertas in the Costa Blanca.

3. The Balearic Islands

probably take the award for the most beautiful beaches that I’ve been to in Spain. These consist of the islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Though wildly different in terms of atmosphere (party hard in Ibiza and chill out in Menorca), the beaches are consistently stunning. It’s typically warmer on the island than in the mainland and you can easily take a tour of the island with car or motorbike in a few days. Make sure to check out the lesser-traveled beaches farther from the tourist areas, as these tend to be a bit nicer.

Cala in Ibiza. Taken by Philip Larson via Flickr.
Cala in Ibiza. Taken by Philip Larson via Flickr.

4. Costa Brava

runs from Barcelona to the French border and is where I’ve spent the majority of my Spanish beach time, especially in the sleepy spa town of Caldetas, just an hour north of Barcelona. The beaches here are a bit rockier, but consist of long stretches you can walk for hours.

Costa Brava. Taken by Andrea Ciambino via Flickr.
Costa Brava. Taken by Andrea Ciambra via Flickr.

5. Costa Verde

is on my wish list. I’ve been there in the winter, but now must return when the sun is in full spirits. It’s known as being very different from the sundried beaches of Andalucía and more to resemble a sunny version of Ireland’s west shore. The area is also known for being the most green in Spain (hence the name translates to “green coast”), which could provide a bit of respite from the seemingly merciless sun!

Playa de Anguileiro near Asturias. Taken via Flickr.
Playa de Anguileiro near Asturias. Taken via Flickr.

[Frommers]

Granada On The Cheap! – Budget Activities For My Favorite Andalusian City

0
Interior of the Granada Cathedral. Taken by vs1k via Flickr.

When I lived in Granada a few years ago as an exchange student, we were always looking for inexpensive (or even free!) ways to have fun while getting to know the city better at the same time.

Luckily, the south of Spain is generally pretty cheap. The cities are so full of history and interesting stories that you don’t need to spend a lot to see a lot. And when you need refreshment drinks range from one to three Euros and food from three to five on average. Granada is especially great for someone traveling on a budget too! Why? Read on!

Visit the Alhambra Grounds – Free!

Exterior of the Alhambra. Taken by Tony Bowden via Flickr.
Exterior of the Alhambra. Taken by Tony Bowden via Flickr.

Located into the hills surrounding the city, the Alhambra is a Moorish Palace and Fortress that is one of the most famous sites of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tickets to visit the interior and the gardens are 14,00 Euro for adults and I would absolutely recommend going inside, it is worth every cent.

However, what many visitors don’t know is that the area before the ticket point is also really nice! There is a beautiful view of the city below and you can get at least an initial impression of the massiveness of the palace. So just follow signs from the city center to the Alhambra and go as far as your free pass will get you!

Walk through the Albayzin and Sacromonte –Free!

Streets in the Albayzín, Granada. Taken by Nathan Wong via Flickr.
Streets in the Albayzín, Granada. Taken by Nathan Wong via Flickr.

I mentioned in an earlier article all of the cool things that the Albayzin district of Granada has to offer. Head away from the city center on Carrera del Darro and just wander through the winding streets. What I didn’t mention before is that just a little farther is the neighborhood known as Sacromonte, the traditional Gitano section of the city formed by the slopes of the hills. This is a bit more rural, but you can see a more traditional way of life where some of the residents live in the caves built into the hills.

Sample some tapas! –Cheap!

Spanish tapas in San Sebastián. Taken by sanfamedia.com via Flickr.
Spanish tapas in San Sebastián. Taken by sanfamedia.com via Flickr.

Granada is one of the best budget cities to eat and drink in because each drink comes with a free tapa! Not just some chips or olives, either. You can expect anything from a sandwich to a plate of fried fish. In some bars you can even choose your own from a list of many options. One of my favorite areas for great tapas bars is in the center near the Cathedral, but you can absolutely find so many great places all over the city.

Go inside the Granada Cathedral- Cheap!

Interior of the Granada Cathedral. Taken by vs1k via Flickr.
Interior of the Granada Cathedral. Taken by vs1k via Flickr.

No matter what your religious beliefs, to get a full understanding of the history, traditions and culture of Spain, you should start with the church. In most Spanish cities, these are located in the heart of the city center and typically are some of the most ornate, architectural creations. The Granada Cathedral is not the most stunning of the ones I’ve seen in Spain, but nonetheless it is really nice inside and, you guessed it, cheap to enter! Adult’s tickets are 5 euros and students 3,5 euros.

Ignite Your Party Spirit at Las Fallas in Valencia

0

The festival known as Las Fallas in Valencia is unlike anything I’ve ever been to before.

What is Las Fallas?

The name Las Fallas, referred to as Falles in English, literally means “the fires” in Valencian. Residents of each of the neighborhoods, known as the Casal faller, gather together, plan, organize and construct figures known as ninots (“puppets” or “dolls”), made of various materials such as cardboard, wood, paper-machè or plaster. These figures can cost up to €75,000 according to online research, though when I visited there, I was told they can cost up to €150,000!

You may be wondering how can something made of such cheap materials be so expensive?

Well, would you believe it if I told you they can be up to five stories tall? Intricately painted and designed by local artists, which can take the entire year to complete, and and then placed in a central area of each neighborhood (most likely in the middle of an intersection). This day is known as la plantà (the rising).

Aren’t yet convinced? Have a look at actually how cool they look!

Las Fallas Ninot_11 Las Fallas Ninot_10 Las Fallas Ninot_09 Las Fallas Ninot_08 Las Fallas Ninot_07 Las Fallas Ninot_05 Las Fallas Ninot_04 Las Fallas Ninot_03 Las Fallas Ninot_02

Typically, the ninots of today are constructed to represent satirical scenes or current events, particularly in the political sense such as the Spanish politicians. I remember when we were there in 2013, there was a depiction of the botched restoration of the nearly century year old Fresco Ecce Homo by Elías García Martínez by amateur painter Cecilia Giménez.

Las Fallas Ninot_01 Las Fallas Ninot_06

So you may be thinking what happens with these figures? They just sit in the middle of road and then what happens?

Well, the answer is in the name of the festival: Las Fallas, the fires. On March 19th of each year, starting in the early evening, the residents prepare for the La Cremá (the burning). The ninots get burned to the ground. And not just lit on fire with a match or something as simple as that.

No, they get stuffed with fireworks.

Las Fallas, burning_03
The burning. Taken by Joe Calhoun via Flickr.
Las Fallas, burning_02
The burning. Taken by stvcr via Flickr.
Las Fallas, burning_01
The burning. Taken by Alessandro Loss via Flickr.

Each year, one ninot is spared from destruction by popular vote. This ninot, called ninot indultat (the pardoned puppet) is then placed in the local Musuem of the Ninots with the pardoned puppets from previous years.

So far this is what we’ve got. Each year, residents spend thousands of euros to build these intricate figures, devote countless hours designing and decorating them to every detail and in the end they completely destroy them by fire. The big question here is why?

What is the history behind Las Fallas?

Though not completely clear, the most widely recognized origins date back to the 16th century, when the residents of Valencia would use streetlights during the long nights of winter. These lamps were hung on a wooden device used for lighting, known as a parot, and when the spring began and these lights were no longer needed, they would burn it them on St. Joseph’s Day, the patron saint of carpenters. This would be a way to welcome the spring as well.

We were able to visit the festival on the 18th, the day before la Cremá, which was great because we had time to check out many of the ninots which are scattered throughout the city.

Besides the actual figures, there are also tons of other activities going on during the festival. Many residents dress in traditional clothing and play instruments such as the dolçaina (an oboe-like reed instrument) and tabalet (a kind of Valencian drum).

There are also fireworks in the evening and live music parties in the streets, equipped with food and drink.

Fireworks on Saturday night at Las Fallas.
Fireworks on Saturday night at Las Fallas.

If you plan on going to Las Fallas, make sure to book accommodation ahead of time as up to 2 million visitors are expected to come to Valencia each year to participate.

Overall, this is one of the coolest, most unique festivals I’ve ever been to and it should definitely not be missed!

[Visit Valencia], [Don Quijote]

A Day at Feria de Abril de Sevilla

Every year in April more than 5 million people attend the Feria de Abril de Sevilla or known in English as the Seville Fair. Upon...

A breath of fresh air in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Just south of the picturesque small resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, at almost 3,000 meters high. It offers not only word-class...

Strøget: Copenhagen’s Shopper’s Paradise!

Did you ever think of Copenhagen as a shopper’s paradise? Well, add it to the list… Milan, Paris, and you guessed it, Copenhagen! In the...

Food, music, and traditional sports at Basque Fest, Bilbao

Located in the border areas of northern Spanish and southern France, the community of the Basque people is truly unique. The culture has a rich...

A Rich History in Plaza Mayor

Just a short walk from Madrid’s iconic Puerta del Sol is another center of life in the Spanish capital: the Plaza Mayor. What Can You...

Disney Inspiration: Neuschwanstein Castle

Did you know that the Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle? Nestled in the hills of Bavaria, this is one spot you...

How To Stay Active While Traveling

Maintaining a daily fitness routine is hard enough at home base. Yes, you can make your own meals, go to the gym, go for a...