What to see in Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena: a Spanish city port and a major naval station located in the Region of Murcia, by the Mediterranean coast, south-eastern Spain. It is the Spanish city with the most beaches: Cala Cortina, Islas Menores, Honda beach, Mar de Cristal, Cala del Pino, Cavanna beach, Barco Perdido beach, El Galúa beach, Levante beach and La Gola beach.

Cartagena

I didn’t see much of Cartagena as it was an afternoon stop on our trip to Murcia. Nevertheless, it’s a very interesting historic place. It has Arab, French, and mostly Roman influence.

The weather was really nice in Cartagena, about 21 degrees Celsius (approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Cartagena’s climate is classified as warm and semi-arid. I asked a taxi driver whether it was typical for it to be so nice in January. He said it’s not “normal,” that it’s usually a little less warm. But if memory serves, the weather was about the same in Cartagena around this time last year…

It was off-season when I visited, but when compared to other coastal cities during winter time — like Alicante and Valencia — Cartagena looked pretty desolate. I went to the nearest beach, Cala Cortina, and spent an approximate of two hours in heaven.

Cartagena Roman Theatre

Cartagena: Cala Cortina Beach

IMG_20130126_152905 IMG_20130126_165345 IMG_20130126_165641

The city hall…

IMG_20130126_173229 IMG_20130126_173236

Small groups of tourists still gathered at the city’s main sights, like The Roman Theatre and its museum. An ancient Roman theatre, which is said to have been built around 5 and 1 BC. (Read about it here)  Luckily, I took lots of pictures.

IMG_20130126_173537 IMG_20130126_173541 IMG_20130126_173545 IMG_20130126_173640 IMG_20130126_173806 IMG_20130126_173818 IMG_20130126_173925 IMG_20130126_173956 IMG_20130126_174426 IMG_20130126_174537 IMG_20130126_174939 IMG_20130126_174949 IMG_20130126_175229 IMG_20130126_175527 IMG_20130126_175656 IMG_20130126_175943

Advertisements

Let me tell you about Murcia, Spain

To think that I almost skipped this city….

Teatro de Romea

Teatro de Romea

Last year, when most of my coworkers (all Spaniards) at the language school said that they had never been to half of the places I’ve been to in Spain, I was a bit shocked. It’s so easy to move around here that I expected them to have visited everywhere. Then again, I can understand why they don’t feel the need to visit every city in their country. Still, I trusted them with suggestions for what to see in Spain.

There was a lady, particularly, who had traveled all over and was very knowledgeable. Everything she described was always accurate. Like, when I asked for her opinion about Castellón de la Plana, for instance; she said it was a “ciudad muy fea” (very ugly city) and there was nothing to do. She was right. But, unfortunately, I found out only after I had already visited. Then, one day I asked her about Murcia. She said it wasn’t worth the trip; she said it’s not a pretty city, that there was nothing special to see. So, I basically crossed out Murcia from my to-visit list.

Well, on our eternal search for sunshine—it’s been rainy and cold in Madrid— we narrowed this trip down to Murcia and Cartagena and, what do you know…it was so worth the visit!

Sure Murcia is another major city of Spain (a lot of people prefer smaller cities), but there are still many historic buildings, so much art and culture to appreciate. The architecture around there is just as beautiful as it is everywhere else in Spain.

It is also a “university town” and the young atmosphere can be felt everywhere you move. Except for La Muralla, the downstairs bar at hotel NH Rincon de Pepe—it looks really nice in there, with some original Arab walls of Murcia and all, but we looked like babies next to everyone else. It was kind of odd. But yeah, going back to how fun Murcia actually is, take for instance this blunt approach:

Pharmacy vending machine with personal lubricants and sex toys

Pharmacy vending machine with personal lubricants and sex toys

Interesting, huh? I have not seen this type of vending machine anywhere else yet.  Have you?

Moving on… when visiting Spain, visitors tend to go for the cathedrals and things of that sort because they’re enormous and just plain gorgeous. I’m sure the cathedral of Murcia isn’t any different inside, but I just couldn’t bear to see one more church 🙂 It’s overwhelming! LOL. (We did sit down at Plaza del Cardenal Belluga—the place of the cathedral—for tea one morning.)

Murcia Cathedral, Plaza Cardenal Belluga

Murcia Cathedral, Plaza Cardenal Belluga

Murcia

For me though, the highlight was the vibe of the city, the ah-mazing cuisine (lots of tapas restaurants), and the fact that it was warm even in the winter.

Also a highlight, the moment I could feel my face turn hot red when my dear boyfriend made me tell the bartender at bar La Muralla that she ripped him off. Well, I’m paraphrasing. I kindly told her that the change she gave him was short by 10€. She asked if we were sure while grabbing some money from the register. That’s when my boyfriend double-checked, realizing that he was incorrect. I was embarrassed, so I asked for a shot of tequila. Ha ha. She then gave me that drink free of charge… The reason? I’m still debating.

And finally, the menu translation of one of the restaurants where we ate (which was also, maybe inadvertently, showing a movie of cannibalism!) Yikes.

Chops or Sternum of kids, anyone?

Chops or Sternum of kids, anyone?

I also enjoyed walking through the city’s old town and its many stone and historic little roads and main spots, like Calle Traperia, Teatro Romea, eating at Plaza de las Flores (the hotel where we stayed is also around here), Plaza de Santa Catalina, and Plaza de San Pedro (all three next to each other).

The casino of Murcia, I’ve heard (and peeked a little), is stunning. Speaking of casinos, we tried to go up to the casino at hotel Rincon de Pepe but were not allowed inside because I didn’t have my passport or any identification on me. (Yup—the day I decide to leave my ID behind is the day I’m asked for it…) That being said, it is worth noting that ID is a must if going to the casinos in Spain!

Overall, I loved Murcia. I wish I had seen more, but our stay was short. Maybe it’s because it’s winter, but it was one of the least touristy places I’ve been to in Spain—and that was perfecto. Ignore travel books that haven’t given Murcia the credit it deserves. When in Spain, do go to Murcia!

Why I keep going back to Madrid

It’s been forever since last time I wrote anything on here. The good news is it looks like I still have readers! So here I go again.

I am back in Spain after just seven months and it feels as though I never left. I’ve been here for two weeks now. I flew here on New Year’s Day and settled in Madrid, once again, though this time I think I’ll be here for just less than three months.

Madrid on Christmas

The thing about Madrid is you live here once, you come back twice…or TRICE! (As Conan would say.) You just keep coming back. As much as I dislike the way certain things work in Spain, it is undeniably a great place to be. It’s almost stress-free for those used to the hectic life in the US. So I couldn’t say no to my boyfriend when he said that “we should go back.”

This time, I’m in a different part of Madrid, near the neighborhood of La Latina and Prícipe Pío. It’s a much quieter area compared to Ronda de Atocha, steps away from the train station Aotocha Renfe, and where I used to live before. It was nice stepping out of the door and being right there, where the “action” was. But the area where I’m staying now is not too bad either. It has its nice little encantos, like fruit shops, bakeries, the typical local bars, a big gym, and the mall Prícipe Pío is within walking distance!

Principe Pio

Principe Pio

Transportation around here is great also. But then again, it is one of the greatest things about Spain no matter the city. It is easy to get to and from places. My nearest metro lines are 6 and 10 and they connect to pretty much all the lines. There are a number of bus lines and connections of all sorts, as well, and taxis everywhere for speedy preferences.

It’s nice to be back. I like the fact that I came back just in time for rebajas (sales) which last until the end of February in most stores of Madrid. (Check out favorite places to shop in Spain) It’s a great time to shop! Also, next week, January 19, 2013, is the Madrid Gastrofestival—a culinary festival that is celebrated every year. There will be art, food, and wine… Can’t miss it!

One thing is for sure though; I prefer Madrid in the summer. Actually, I prefer any city in the summer! I was pleased with the weather when I walked out of the airport the first day as it was much warmer than it had been in Philadelphia. But that changed quickly because the following days it got very cold. Last summer was too hot. Now it’s too cold. The good thing is that it’s still Madrid, and it’s worth it.

How to find an apartment in any city in Spain

Main room in my Ciudad Real apartment. 2011

First of all, congratulations on even thinking that you’d like to give living abroad a try! I think everyone should consider expanding their wings every once in a while. This world is so vast that staying in just one tiny place on the map would be a waste. There’s just so much to see out there…

Moving abroad may sound overwhelming and even more challenging when you don’t speak the language of the prospective country. But if I did it, so can anyone. Granted, I already had some advantages going for me: I speak Spanish and I had been to Spain.

Speaking the language helps—or more like, it’s necessary—because contracts and policies are written in Spanish. Also, the people renting the pisos tend to be retired older Spaniards, for the most part, who never learned English. You might get lucky, but that’d be very rare if the landlord spoke English. And having visited the country before moving helps because you can familiarize with the culture, the people and the way they do business.

The very first thing you need to do is figure out how long you’ll be staying in Spain. (There is a visa process if you’re staying longer than three months.) Both times I’ve lived in Spain I had a student visa, which I think is the easiest visa to get. The consulates of Spain each have their own individual website in accordance with the US state where they are, but you can look up Spain embassies and consulates here and types of visas here.

You can of course still live in Spain for a period of three months or less without a visa. The problem with this renting option is that people hardly rent under short-term contracts, especially to foreigners, and without an identification number (passport won’t work everywhere) a person can’t legally work or open a bank account in order to meet financial criteria. You’d have to find a landlord who agrees to rent without you having a bank account or documents, other than your passport, that prove your identity and that you’ll be able to pay rent.

Luckily, a lot of students and young professionals sublet. That is probably your best bet. I, for instance, found a room in the heart of Madrid for a month and I didn’t sign a single paper. Yes, verbal agreements apparently still work in Spain. Well, the tenants were Americans, but it still worked. So it’s really a matter of luck and connections sometimes. You’d be surprise at the amount of posts on social media from students who are subletting their rooms or apartments. Just do a thorough search.

Renting in Spain longer than three months?

For this you’ll need a visa first — if you want to follow the “legal” route :-)— and a bank account, and sometimes even an employment contract. In my case, I went to Spain with a job contract as an Auxiliar de Conversación (teaching assistant), but at the same time my job fell under the category of studies because this is a grant from the Department of Education of Spain. With this job contract, I was able to get an identification card (NIE), and with my NIE I was able to get a bank account. So, once I had all my paperwork in order, I was able to rent a long-term apartment.

Now, this is how I found a vivienda (home) in Spain

There are always pisos (apartments) and houses en alquiler (for rent) in Spain. Months before I moved to Ciudad Real, Spain, I spent a good amount of time searching for the best deals. There are a bunch of websites where you can get started with your search and here are the ones I recommend:

En Alquiler – this is probably the broadest site and it’s where I found my long-term furnished apartment in Ciudad Real, Castilla La-Mancha. Pisos are for rent by owners and realtors.

Idealista – this site is very popular among students because it’s very straightforward and there are a lot single rooms and homes for rent by other students and by the owners.

Fotocasa – this is another wide-ranging website with lots of options

Segundamano – at first, the name of this site scared me away—“Segunda mano” means secondhand. But I was wrong to judge. It’s a good site with not just homes for rent, but a whole lot of everything!

Ya encontré – also a big site with good leads

And though I didn’t use them, these are some Craigslist-types of sites with possible good leads: Loquo, Mundoanuncio, and the very Spain Craigslist.

A few things to consider when conducting your apartment search by location, price, type of housing, whether you want it furnished or not, and whether you’re looking for properties by the owner or by inmobiliarias (real state). If I may suggest, renting straight from the owner is generally cheaper and there’s less paperwork! Most websites I mentioned above give you the option to narrow down your search by categories.

Don’t ever, ever agree to rent a piso or to pay any money without first seeing it. After my contract was up in Ciudad Real, I was looking for a room in Madrid and I came across some creepy ads. On a teaching assistants Facebook page, students and locals advertised apartments and rooms for rent all the time. I saw one I liked a lot. I mean, this room looked clean and perfect in the picture and it was located in La Latina, a major area of Madrid, and for a very low price. So I contacted the renter and, when I went to see the room in person, it was a complete catastrophe! Actually, this is quite an understatement; it was really the most disgusting thing I had ever seen for a home!

I don’t know what the owner was thinking —was that picture even of the real place? Who knows! But the ad definitely, almost deliberately, was misleading. So watch out for weirdos and rip-offs!

The other room I found on that same page looked like it had a good-sized bed, but in person it was very small. I took this last room, but let me remind you that things aren’t always what they look like online!

Second Room I Saw, and rented, in Madrid. 2012

One last thing, don’t even bother clicking the “contact person or realtor” link when searching for housing in Spain; unless you don’t pick up that phone, you will most likely not hear back from anyone.

Hope this helps and good luck on your hunt, everyone!

One day in Oviedo: What to do?

Parque de San Francisco, Oviedo

My first stop out of the three cities I had planned to visit in one weekend (the other two being Santander and Bilbao) was Oviedo. Originally, I had planned to fly to Oviedo, Asturias, from Madrid airport. Two of the major economy airlines in Europe, Ryanair and EasyJet , occasionally promote prices as low as 9.99€. If flying to Oviedo, you can cut so much time; getting there in 45 minutes, rather than five hours on the bus.

Before I continue, do you want to hear something silly? I became interested in Oviedo only after watching a scene in the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona. It also implied that there’s an airport somewhere in Asturias, so I was like, “Hmm, I could fly there.” I know, silly! That’s how much movies can inform or misinform the viewer.

Cover of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

Cover of Vicky Cristina Barcelona

They showed Oviedo as a beautiful place—with the sound of the Spanish guitar playing on the background, wine drinking in the nice candle-lit green open space… Who doesn’t want to go to Oviedo after watching that scene? 😛

Well, I did. Oviedo made it to my travel wish list. I finally went (on the bus) and to my surprise it is very modern, and pretty! And just like the movie suggested, it is very green and clean.  Oviedo is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Asturias.  It is a modern, cosmopolitan city.

I stayed at a small, conveniently located, affordable and clean hotel called Hotel Carreño. (I’ll further review it later.)

The first thing my boyfriend and I did was sightseeing. Of course, monuments like cathedrals, museums and structures at the parks were prevalent. They all looked so good and so well-preserved, too. In early In June, the temperatures in Oviedo seem nice. I believe it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and afternoon when I was there. Very pleasant.

Downtown Oviedo is very much alive. There are a lot of people shopping and going out for pinchos. We searched for what to visit, and Calle Gascona—“The Boulevard of Ciders”—came up as one of the hot spots. We just had to go there!

They say Calle Gascona is one of the most traditional streets of the city of Oviedo, where a group of settlers from France arrived and chose these streets to live and trade products. Makes sense.

Today it still is a market street. There are lots of great Sidra-drinking (crowded) restaurants on Calle Gascona. Eating Fabada and drinking Sidra (cider) was one of my favorite experiences there. I knew they were into cider; I just didn’t know how much they drank it. There can be up to 10 bottles on a single table. People order it back to back (they do cost only 2€ after all).

It must be a culture thing though because there’s really not a lot of flavor to it. I had expected this sidra to be a little tastier. Or maybe I’d just have to get used to it? Either way, it’s great fun watching the servers pour the sidra in your glass from above, without looking, with so much precision! I’d get a bunch of bottles just to watch them do it.

Oviedo is a young city and the night life reflects it. I was only there for one day and one night, but I enjoyed it. I’m sure there’s so much more to see—parks, bodegas, museums, smaller towns, etc.—and I hope I can see them next time.

Some more pictures of Oviedo below.

Mojitos, Beach, Sun, and Sunburn – Las Palmas

Somewhere along my journey I forgot all I knew about Las Islas Canarias; what the people looked like, how they talked, where on the globe it was… Before learning Canarias was part of Spain (many years ago), I used to think of it as just another group of independent islands—like Dominican Republic and Cuba (which they sort of are, except they sorta are to Spain what Puerto Rico is to The US)—and so I was pretty sure Canarians looked and talked like Caribeños.

Then I just forgot about all that, too, and imagined Canarias being like any other Spanish coast city, until I visited Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, for the first time, the weekend of May 31. Canarias is a group of autonomous Spanish islands. Most Canarians do have a distinctive look to them, meaning they look a little more “exotic,” most likely due to the Guanches, the believed first aboriginal inhabitants of the islands. I don’t know why I find these little things so fascinating, but I was very intrigued by it.

As soon as we got on our taxi ride to Las Palmas from the airport, the taxi driver—a girl, something not too common in Spain—spoke with a different, yet familiar, dialect. The first thing I noticed was that she didn’t pronounce the C as a Z. I thought she was probably South American. But then it was everywhere; speaking differently than what I had been used to for the past nine months. The people at the hotel. The guy at the pizzeria… they spoke my language: Caribbean Spanish. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me as Hispanic America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands were originally largely settled by colonists from Canary Islands and Andalusia, so the dialects of the Caribbean islands were already similar to Canarian and Andalusian speech, but I was still taken aback.

But enough of history!

Chris and I had a great time in Canarias. It was a little cold the first night, but the second day the weather was more favorable. We took advantage of that and spent the day at Playa de Las Canteras (Canteras Beach). It was very relaxing. We rented two beach chairs for a total of 5€. (If I’m not mistaken, renting one beach chair at an US beach would cost you somewhere around 15-20 bucks—might be more by now—so I thought we got a deal.

Anyway, we sat in the sun for as long as we could, as it was going to be the only sunny and hot full day we were going to have in Las Palmas. Unfortunately, despite of literally showering in sunscreen lotion and re-applying every so often, and even buying an extra high-protection sunscreen lotion, Chris’ ultra-sensitive skin got burned badly on parts of his shoulders and chest. Sunburn is the worst! We stopped at a local convenience store on the way to the hotel and got one of those after sun Aloe lotion, which helped him relieve his skin a bit. The burning bothered him for the following week or so…and that was some “nice” inexpensive souvenir!

Besides Gran Canaria, the most popular islands and the ones I have interest in visiting are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and La Palma. I had hoped we visited Fuerteventura and Tenerife by boat, but that was not possible. Otra vez será.

The next day was warm enough for beach again, but we had to avoid the sun. We stuck around the area and instead walked to places (in the shades). We had lunch at a Cuban restaurant, which name I cannot remember, but the food was really good. Greasier than usual, but really good AND the plates were huge! Our server, who I’m pretty sure was the owner, asked me if I was Dominican. He said he had just visited the Dominican Republic and then came back with a huge bottle of Mama Juana: a root drink from the Dominican Republic that is made with rum, red wine, and honey.

These soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs for days, weeks, months…before you drink it. Just imagine that.

They say the taste is quite similar to port wine, but in my opinion it depends on how long the liquor has been soaking for. Also, Mamajuana tastes stronger. It is not the first time I try Mamajuana, I just never liked it. Chris, however, enjoyed his chupitos.

Preparation: Basically, Mama Juana is a mixture of bark and herbs left to soak in rum (most often dark rum but the use of white rum is not uncommon), red wine and honey. The solid ingredients (local leaves, sticks and roots) vary from region to region.

He brought out the Mamajuana so that we could have shots after we had already ordered Mojitos. The mojitos themselves were pretty strong—stronger Mojitos I’ve ever had. So, the whole combo was—like I like to call it—a shot of bad idea. I passed out for the afternoon.

Then, after sleeping for a few hours, we decided to have dinner at a seafood place by the beach which menu looked delish. Unfortunately, I wasn’t still feeling 100% and ordered just a soup thinking it’d make me feel better. It didn’t; the smell made things worse. I had to walk out and back to the hotel, which was a short walk, leaving Chris behind finishing his dinner. We were both wounded soldiers by the end of that night. Want my advice? Stay away from (mixing) alcohol, kids! Ha ha. I’ll probably ignore my own advice, but really, it may ruin the moment.

Anyhow, to me the most interesting thing in Canarias I guess was the people and the similarity between their culture and mine. Nothing was really different from what I grew up knowing. On another note, I thought the sand castles artists build by the beach are pretty amazing. That requires talent. I can barely draw a heart in the sand! The deep-blue see and the sunset were also beautiful. I am already looking forward to going back, with loads of sunscreen and zero Mamajuana. 🙂

Visit to Salamanca in Spring

Salamanca casts a spell on all those who have enjoyed its peacefulness, awakening the desire to return.

—Miguel de Cervantes

Very true. Salamanca, like Segovia, is one of those Spanish cities that resemble a Roman town — and to me that is beautiful. This is no surprise as it was founded by Romans during that time period when the Roman Empire basically “conquered” everything they could, and the Christians and kings fought to take over cities like they were a bouquet of lollipops, an obsequio. Anyway, the different styles of architecture in the small city look pretty amazing.

View from the Bell Tower

The city of Salamanca is part of the autonomous community of Castilla y León. It is a 130-mile drive from center Madrid, approximately, and it also borders northern Portugal. We got there by bus. The bus company usually offers two types of services: express and regular. I accidentally booked us on a regular bus, and instead of 2 hours and 30 minutes, it took five hours! We were a bit cranky by the time we got to our final destination, lemme tell ya… But I made sure we got the right ticket for the way back: express.

Chris and I visited Salamanca on the weekend of May 25 (so I might forget a few things by now). This was my second time there, but it might as well be my first because, again, I could only remember what one or two buildings looked like. Salamanca’s winters tend to be long, but thankfully temperatures weren’t so bad for May. During the day it was sunny and warm enough for us to sit outside on a terraza, having a cold drink and watching the crowd (it’s always entertaining). At night, it got a little chilly but bearable.

Salamanca has a lot of historical buildings and monuments, such as the famous University of Salamanca and the Old Roman Bridge, and we visited most of them…in one day. This was probably the most productive we’ve ever been at a place with plenty of things to see. Well, the city of Salamanca is not too big—everything is within walking distance. The religious influence is obvious everywhere in Spain, and Salamanca was not an exception. (It’s funny because I have been saying lately how almost everything we see at the different Spanish cities we visit, the thing that is most celebrated, is normally a bunch of churches / cathedrals. Not that they aren’t incredibly astonishing and just ridiculously majestic, but it is refreshing to see something different every now and then.)

And how can I NOT mention the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca! Definitely the most beautiful square I’ve seen in Spain. I think Baroque architecture just makes everything look, I don’t know, fancy? And so grand! It is beautiful.

Pictures of Salamanca.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Startling weekend in Barcelona

I am just getting back from my weekend in Barcelona and Girona and, man, what a weekend it was. Chris and I flew from Madrid to Girona on Thursday, spending the first night in Girona, as it is an hour away from Barcelona. We couldn’t find cheap flights to an airport closer to the center, like El Prat, and the high-speed train Ave is insanely expensive to take from Ciudad Real.

In Girona, we didn’t really see much; it was unfortunately cold for the beach in Catalonia and where we stayed for the night was kind of far from everything. But at least Girona airport is small and easy to figure out. It was an in-and-out experience. That’s always good.

Friday morning, we toughed it out and hopped on an hour-and-half long Regional train to Barcelona. The ride was a bit uncomfortable as these Regionales tend to get too crowded, with no assigned seat numbers, and make way too many stops. (Sort of like the subway, except that here you have hours to go.) Our hotel was in L’Hospitalet, a city to the southwest of Barcelona. It was not the most centrally located place, but it was the most affordable close-to-center area. Besides, moving around in Barcelona is very easy. By the way, Barcelona has been the most expensive city we’ve visited in Spain thus far. Madre mía…

We started out by hanging out around Plaza de Cataluña and Las Ramblas—sadly the only place I remember from my first visit in 2003. I had also forgotten how overhyped Las Ramblas is. I mean, it’s just a long pedestrian mall that connects Plaça Catalunya and the seaport (about 0.8 mile long between these two spots).

There are sweets and flower shops, street performers, cultural gatherings, among many other activities going on there. It’s fun and there’s a lot of energy, but it’s just so touristy…not my thing.

Now the little streets perpendicular to Las Ramblas, I’m more interested in. There are a few “hidden” gems back there (restaurants, bars and cute little stores). Worth checking out.

Also, while at Las Ramblas, we visited the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a market with an incredible selection of meats, fruits, vegetables and everything edible you can think of.

The fish selection looked amazing (too bad we were days away from home to buy some). But everything there looked really good. If I ever book an apartment by the beach in Barcelona, I’m hitting this market again and I’ll be sure to get all sorts of veggies and seafood to cook. Yum. They even had big, healthy-looking green plátanos! In Barcelona! Talk about variety…

The next day we divided the afternoon in two to visit two crucial spots in Barcelona; Gaudí’s park and Camp Nou, Barcelona’s FC Barcelona soccer team’s stadium.

At Camp Nou, we visited the museum, the stadium and other spots within the building, like the conference room, the locker rooms and the showers. We also got our picture taken with Gerard Piqué. 😀

The FC Barcelona team is a bigger deal than what I thought; they have achieved so many incredible wins and have received so many awards and they have so much history…great team. It was very interesting to see. Glad we visited.

Then, we took a taxi to spend the rest of the afternoon at Park Güell, designed by the eminent Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. It is Patrimonio (Heritage) of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I have studied Gaudí’s art; I have heard of his work almost my entire life, and just the other day I had to help my second graders paint a picture of one of Gaudí’s works. So it was pretty cool to see his architecture and mosaic work finally in person. It is…unique.

The architecture at the entrance is impressive, of course. There are the two famous buildings at the entrance, as well, which to me look like something from a story book, casas de muñeca (doll houses), but they’re real.

That’s Gaudí’s architecture.

Park Güell is big. It’s not just about his architecture, but there are also trails that you can walk to exercise and benches and green grass for a picnic, maybe? We walked almost all of it (very proud of how easily we can go for super long walks now). Some performers play music with their special guitars (and we also saw a man with what looked like a piano) at different spots in the park and the melodious music turns the whole thing into a romantic affair. It was a great relaxing time at the park.

Barcelona is even much more fun at night! To summarize our Saturday evening, we had dinner somewhere in Ciutat Vella, the neighborhood of La Barceloneta, a district by the sea—beach, boardwalk, restaurants and nightclubs. Fun, fun, fun! The lights, the mood in the air…it could be perfect.

Something that—sort of—stunned me was how openly dealers were selling their illegal stuff on the boardwalk, and how openly people also smoked in the parks. I’ve been to most Spanish cities and this is the first time I (personally) noticed this going around. The dealers were everywhere, like a swarm of ants, walking by us in a slick shady way. Almost whispering. Hard to ignore what it was they were selling. Combined, they might’ve offered about three different kinds of drugs—or more. Might’ve been Spanish names, I wouldn’t have known the difference. I heard one of the guys ask us if we were looking for “something fun.” I was not expecting that…

Actually, this is something that happens to us more often than we know, and not just while here. Chris has this presence to him (he carries himself well) and he stands out in Spain—maybe because of his height or his perfectly “clean cut,” or his obvious American ways—and that makes him a major target for drug dealers. Shouldn’t it be the opposite? I don’t know. But it’s part of the whole experience and we’ll proceed with caution.

So that was one of the sellers. Another man was a little more direct. I guess he figured; oh what the heck, competition is tough out here, might as well just go for it. And he went for it: ¿Buscas ecstasy?—and his voice faded away as he mentioned something else, perhaps another drug. We kept walking.

Say what?! Ha Ha! Have got to be very careful around those weird characters. You don’t want to end up on an episode of Locked Up Abroad!

But all in all, we had fun. Barcelona is beautiful. It is so multicultural and multilingual; it’d be such a joy to wake up in this cosmopolitan city every day. I hope I can go back soon. A weekend is not even close to being enough to discover and take in Barcelona; you need months!

Anyway, I have more stories and pictures about our weekend in Barcelona, but that’ll be on another session because this one is getting longgg and it’s bed time for this Miss! 🙂

Back to Alicante

The weekend of April 27 was a long weekend for me (Spanish holiday until Tuesday, May 1st) and we thought it’d be ideal if we went to the playa and sat in the sun and walked on the sand. But Spain’s weather wasn’t cooperating—every single weekend of the last few weeks of April and beginning of May, it’s rained. It looked something like this on the weather map:

The north looked like a watery mess and the south…well, we’ve been to most places in southern Spain already! Thus, chasing the sun, we ended up in Alicante…again. Although it was better second time around — temperatures were higher (maybe low 70s) — it was pouring on Saturday. In the end, we couldn’t completely escape the rain.

But while it was dry we visited places we had left on our first trip there because of the cold weather. La Marina, for example.

Sunday, the sun was so radiant, it was much better. I even got sunburned.

We walked around most of the time. This big boat on the Marina is a restaurant, just like Philadelphia’s Moshulu.

The food was great; fish, shrimp, clams, oysters and of course, paella Valenciana were some of the foods we had. And I spotted this interesting salad which shared my last name:

Ensalada de Capellán. The search for my ancestors is over — now I know where my last name came from: a fish. ha ha. That’s not true, by the way. But other than my family, I personally don’t know anyone else with my last name, so this got me excited.

And this is what the Capellán Salad looked like. Tomatoes, olives, a very salty fish (called Capellán) and olive oil. I had to have it! It was good actually. Very fresh, but salty fish indeed!

On another story, here’s a funny picture of Chris “crashing a wedding.” 😛

We were having ice cream somewhere and suddenly spotted a wedding. The most random things pop up out of nowhere (just like there was ANOTHER protest on the streets on Sunday). This wedding was on Saturday and the poor bride had to carry out the festivities in the rain.  So Chris invited himself to the wedding, in his shorts, and got closer and closer…

Funny.

Here’s something else I thought was cool; a 3D sidewalk.

I don’t know the name of this passage by the beach, if it has one. But it’s muy interesante walking it.

Finally there’s the Alicante casino, which natives seem to hate because it is “too ugly” and blocks the view of the marina. I don’t know what role it plays either because we went inside and…I doubt it is making Spain a ton of money. There’s a 3 euros cover charge just to go in, but what if you just want to check it out to see if you’d want to stay, and then end up not liking it (like we did)? Yeah. Absurd.

By the way, this is what Spain looks like now. 😉 Warming up quickly! I love it.

Visit to Wine Capital: La Rioja

View of Square of Paseo del Príncipe de Vergar...After Burgos, we visited Logroño (La Rioja). I’ve always wanted to go to La Rioja…I don’t know, maybe because of the wine? 😀 Logroño is a very small city so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I was going to get there and entertain myself with vineyards and wine-drinking because there didn’t seem much to do. Luckily, in Spain there’s always something to do—and this small city was better than what I had expected.

It is a fun little place up there in the north of Spain!

We took a two-hour bus ride from Burgos and it wasn’t too bad. On our way, Chris watched movies on his laptop while I took pictures of the landscapes. What I saw: beautiful mountains, big country houses, and lots of vineyards. I mean lots. It’s almost all there was. I wouldn’t mind staying in Wine Land a little longer, but it’s not just about the wine.

Like every region in Spain, Logroño has an interesting history. It was at one point settled by the Romans. The Camino de Santiago de Compostela passes through this city. It is now the capital of the autonomous community of La Rioja. The economy of La Rioja depends mainly on wine, so no wonder the city of Logroño is literally covered with and surrounded by wine and vineyards. Wonderful, delicious, good-quality, inexpensive wine. Ahh…can we say heaven?

Panel which shows the name of the street where...

Perhaps one of the things I’ll definitely remember about this place is that Logroño’s gastronomy is bombastic. They have some of the most delicious pinchos (skewers) and tapas I’ve ever had in Spain. (And they tell me that it gets better as you go further north to Bilbao and Santander. I can’t wait!) There is a strip of bars and restaurants on a popular street called Calle del Laurel. We even favored a couple of bars on that street. So the first night that’s all we did; just visited a bunch of bars and tried the big selection of Rioja wines and raciones (half portions) of food.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next day we walked around and took a taxi to Bodegas Ontañon (a winery and wine museum). Sadly, I didn’t call beforehand and we got there at 1:00pm (just after a tour had ended) and the next tour wasn’t until 2:00pm and our bus to Madrid was scheduled to depart at 4:00pm. AND that just totally reminded me to tell the story of how we completed our own continual “amazing race” in Logroño.

Chris and I decided to grab some pinchos on Calle del Laurel. We went in this bar where, I guess, the owner/cook was Italian. They didn’t have the greatest selection of wine because, as the girl explained, it’s quick eating and people aren’t looking for good wine there. But the pinchos looked — and tasted — really good, it wasn’t crowded and so we stayed. I heard the guy say something in italiano with italiano accent, so I told Chris the guy was Italian. Since Chris is very proud of his Italian heritage (and I saw this coming) he thanked the guy with a “grazie” rather than “gracias” when he handed him the pincho.

Well, next thing we know the Italian guy got overly excited about finally “qualquno che parla la lingua” (finally somebody who can speak Italian) at his bar. The two men exchanged a few words—in SpanItalEnglish. ha ha! The guy sang some happy songs while he cooked…he sounded very excited. He gave us roasted pig nose on the house (yay or nay?) and entertained us so much that when I looked at the time we were suddenly late. We literally ran to our hotel to get the bags.

I called a cab on the run so that it would be at the hotel by the time we got there. Well, it wasn’t and we waited outside for five minutes. It was now 3:50pm and the taxi wasn’t there. I called back and the operator said she couldn’t locate an available taxi driver. I was freaking out. Our best bet now was to run to the station. I went inside and asked the front desk lady how many minutes away la estación was. Before I go on, I have to say that this was the first time we were not aware of our surroundings and how far or near everything was. “It’s right behind the hotel,” said the front desk lady. HAHA! Someone shoot me…

3:55pm, we are running with luggage in hand—and it’s pouring out—like we were chasing the last bus of the night (it kind of was). Right around the corner. The Logroño bus station was right around the corner from hotel Ciudad de Logroño and we went through all we went through? Unbelievable.

You see, we couldn’t miss this 3-hour, 45-minute ride to Madrid because we had to watch the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer game (obviously not my idea) in Madrid at Si Señor, a Mexican bar. When these two teams face each other, the anticipation is high and people are tense—and intense— and we both sort of wanted to experience it all. I didn’t care about the game, but I thought it was unfortunate that Barcelona lost 2-1. Oh well, it ended up being a crazy and fun night.

It was a very eventful, physically tiring and fun weekend, from which we’re still recovering. If I’m going to die because of exhaustion, I’d like it to end this way then! 🙂

This very past weekend we went back to Alicante. Pictures to come…