Posts tagged europe travel
6 Reasons Sitges Is The Perfect Destination For Just About Everyone
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In case I haven't mentioned it already, Barcelona is one of my favorite cities on Earth. It’s cosmopolitan, chock full of culture, it has beaches, nightlife, great food and amazing history and architecture. It has so much to offer that it totally overshadows other neighboring cities and towns that are also worth exploring. One of those towns that I think definitely deserves to share in a little bit of Barna’s shine is Sitges. At just a 45 minute train away from Barcelona’s bustling Sants train station, Sitges is a jewel of a destination that has something to offer almost any type of traveler or pleasure seeker.

Don’t believe me? Here are 6 reasons why you (and just about everyone you know) should visit Sitges.

Sitges is for Lovers

Romantic passages, intimate restaurants, cozy boutique hotels, and sweeping Mediterranean views… even if you’re single and solo, you’re bound to feel a little more sexy here.

visit sitges travel lady-statue
visit sitges travel lady-statue
visit sitges travel spain
visit sitges travel spain
visit sitges-spain travel
visit sitges-spain travel
visit-sitges-travel
visit-sitges-travel

Sitges is for Families

Like the rest of Spain, families abound in restaurants, on the beaches  Lots of family-friendly restaurants and activities and plenty of vacation rentals to house a crowd at better-than-hotel rates.

visit sitges travel families
visit sitges travel families

Sitges is for 'the children'

No, not the little ones. I’m referring to the children of the LGBTQ family. Sitges isn’t just a gay-friendly vacation destination, it’s a gay vacationer’s paradise. It hosts the biggest and most popular gay pride festival in all of Spain every June. No shortage of bars, drag shows, and beeyoutiful boys to gaze at while walking in the streets, sitting in cafes, and lounging on the beaches!

visit-sitges-travel-spain2
visit-sitges-travel-spain2

Sitges is for wild women

Sprinkled all over the shoreline are these bold statues of nude women. And sprinkled along at least one of the beaches in Sitges are bold, nude humans.  Sitges is a definitely a safe place for ladies who like to let it all hang out.

visit sitges-travel lady statue
visit sitges-travel lady statue

Sitges is for the weary

The hustle and bustle of Barcelona is only a 40-minute ride away on the Rodalies commuter train. As much as I love visiting and partying in Barcelona, I have to admit that after a few days, I’m worn out. Sitges offers a close-by respite from the madness that is the big-city life of Barcelona.

visit sitges travel uni
visit sitges travel uni

Sitges is for the posh

High end shops, real estate, and world class restaurants make Sitges a favorite spot for the upper crust set, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it since everyone adopts a more casual, laid back vibe here.

sitges-travel-spain-bike
sitges-travel-spain-bike

How To Get There:

Trains from Barcelona to Sitges depart from França, Passeig de Gracia and Sants stations.

There's also a public bus that runs during the day, and a night bus that provides service between the Barcelona and Sitges until well after midnight.

More on bus and train travel from Barcelona to Sitges.

barcelona to sitges train
barcelona to sitges train

Where to Stay:

visit sitges travel hotel platjador
visit sitges travel hotel platjador

Hotel Platjador is a quirky, but comfy boutique beachfront hotel smack in the middle of Sitges. Spring for the balcony suite for all-day people watching without having to leave your room.

What  to Eat:

El Trull

visit sitges travel el trull
visit sitges travel el trull
visit sitges-travel el trull
visit sitges-travel el trull

Directly across the street from Hotel Platjador is the oldest chiringuito in Spain (allegedly). Aptly named, El Chiringuito, its food is about as nondescript as its name. If you weren't lucky enough to score a balcony room at Hotel Platjador, Go to El Chiringuito, have a beer and people watch from there.

visit sitges travel platjador chiringuito
visit sitges travel platjador chiringuito

Have you been to Sitges yet? What did you love about it?

Why i travel in spain mainly on the train
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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
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
spain train travel

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
spain train travel

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
spain train travel
  • No luggage restrictions
  • The chance to see the country and the geography up-close while on the move
spain train travel
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
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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
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-london (4)
best street art - londn
best street art - londn
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best-street-art-london
best-street-art-london-eine
best-street-art-london-eine
best-street-art-london-roa
best-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

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best-street-art-lisbon4
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best-street-art-lisbon3
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best-street-art-lisbon2
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best-street-art-lisbon
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best-street-art-barcelona
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best-street-art-barcelona (3)
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best-street-art-barcelona (2)
best street art - malaga
best street art - malaga
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best-street-art-malaga (3)
best-street-art-malaga (2)
best-street-art-malaga (2)
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best-street-art-malaga (5)
best street art - berlin
best street art - berlin

Berlin, Germany

best street art - berlin
best street art - berlin
best street art-berlin
best street art-berlin
best street art - berlin
best street art - berlin

Where to find street art in Berlin:

Original Free Alternative Berlin Tour

Free Alternative Berlin Tour

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

6 best things i ate: lisbon

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

Dorado dinner and wine at Cerqueira

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

where-to-eat-lisbon-pena-cerqueira
where-to-eat-lisbon-pena-cerqueira
where-to-eat-lisbon
where-to-eat-lisbon

Grilled sardines

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

how-to-do-lisbon-grilled-sardines
how-to-do-lisbon-grilled-sardines

Pastel de Belem

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

how-to-do-lisbon-pastel-belem
how-to-do-lisbon-pastel-belem

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

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

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

Bacalao w/garbanzo puree

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

how-to-do-lisbon-mercado-ribeira (3)
how-to-do-lisbon-mercado-ribeira (3)

 Bifana

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

how-to-do-lisbon-bifanas-sandwich
how-to-do-lisbon-bifanas-sandwich

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

how to do lisbon: learn how to say thank you in portuguese
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I love the sound of Portuguese. As soon as I slid into my seat on the plane from Madrid to Lisbon, I couldn't help but smile. Portuguese swirled around me, sounding like a hybrid of Italian and Spanish spoken with lilting intonations that lulled me to calm.

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

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

Obrigada!

Learn More Useful Portuguese Phrases

This post is 1 part of Solo in Spain's How To Do Lisbon series... 

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

Cafe Beira Gare on Google+

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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how to do lisbon: sample portugese cuisine at mercado da ribeira
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I love myself a good market. And Lisbon has plenty to choose from. After reviewing a list of the best markets in Lisbon, I decided to try the Mercado da Ribeira - mainly because it offered both fresh foods and a selection of restaurants to eat in. I had no idea what I was in for when I arrived. The fresh food market was good, not great - even though I was able to score some okra (YAAY!!).

mercado da ribeira

fresh market

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

roasted bacalao with garbanzo puree

salmon burger w/seaweed salad on squid ink bun

whole roast suckling pig

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

Mercado da Ribeira on Google+

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

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

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

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

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

regional train at Santa Apolonia Station in Lisbon

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

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

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

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

port of lisbon

 

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

rua augusta

 

fountain - rossio square

 

santa justa elevator

 

 

rossio station

 

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

 

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