Renfe AVE prices drop to 11% in February, 2013

The high speed train (can achieve speeds of up...

Renfe has launched an operation to promote and encourage the use of the High-Speed Rail AVE, with discounts of up to 70% in certain routes and days of the week. Additionally, there will be a general reduction of 11% on Tourist Fares and the possibility of purchasing vouchers valid for 10 trips with savings of up to 30%. And for holders of “Carnet Joven” (for those not older than 26), the discounts are even greater.

Renfe also introduced the concept “Promo,” very similar to that used by airlines, which basically offers lower prices on tickets purchased well in advance.

The company announced the news this January. They said they expect these discounts will allow a greater number of people to use the High Speed ​​services. The new rates will be effective beginning February 8, 2013.

The changes, I believe, are just for AVE, not AVANT. But no worries; AVANT trains are way more affordable.

I ♥ it! 🙂 

This is great news for citizens and tourists alike. The tourist fare for a one-way ticket from Madrid to Seville is normally around 84€ (there’s always a 20% discount on the return ticket, and now up to 40%). For frequent travelers with an average income, that’s a crazy price to pay.  Someone said that about 60% of citizens of Spain have never taken the AVE because of their inflated rates. With the economy being a mess in Spain in recent years, they just couldn’t afford the luxury. But hopefully now this will change the game. It’s a win-win situation.

(What Renfe has to do now is introduce a way for international credit cards to work on their website. I have faith they can do it! If anyone has ever tried using a credit or debit card from a non-Spanish bank to purchase tickets online, you know what I mean.)

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My Top Five Favorite Cities in Spain

Picking out just five Spanish cities from the big list was not easy. In order to come up with my top favorite five, I had to ask myself: what if I only had two weeks to visit five Spanish cities, which ones would I pick? Which ones are a must see? Considering that I have already visited these cities, doesn’t exactly make it any easier either. But here it goes.

Sevilla: Naturally, I have a lot to say about this city as it is my favorite of them all. I fell in love with Sevilla!Seville is very diverse—thousands of tourists visit, study, work, and move to the city every year. Almost all the study abroad programs I’ve checked out offer Seville as a hot spot.

Plaza de España Sevilla

It’s no surprise so many people are interested in this Andalusian city, as its people are as warm as its weather. Temperatures reach the 100+ degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, but the weather remains perfect throughout the rest of the year. (It was one of my favorite things about Seville.) You can always take an hour drive ride or a Renfe train to the beach area, in Huelva.

Because it’s warm, there are always people out on the streets. The neighborhoods of La Macarena and Maria La Blanca are some of my favorites. The vibe feels incredible. There is lots of bars and restaurants to choose from.

If feeling like exploring beyond your horizons, there are bullfights throughout the year and flamenco shows at many different spots. Tip: sometimes the free ones are the better ones. But if interested in a good flamenco show, try to go to Casa de La Memoria.

The prices for meals and drinks in Sevilla were some of the cheapest I had seen in Spain.

I’m sure there are things to do with kids; I never explored it. The same shops they have in Madrid are also in Sevilla, and some other independent ones. There’s also a lot of gift shops with a lot of beautiful interesting little things. I talk about Seville here, here, and Seville food here.

Madrid: One thing about Madrid is that this city is always alive. This was a favorite characteristic as it was so hard to find open businesses during siesta time—from 2pm through 5:30pm. While the rest of Spain takes the siesta, Madrid stays open for business. Shopping stores in the heart of the city, like Puerta del Sol, rarely close.

Madrid is the capital of Spain, so naturally they have almost anything you need. People from everywhere visit Madrid, crowding the streets and train stations so much that it requires continuous surveillance. The presence of cops and security guards at the parks and shopping stores was totally normal.

Madrid has one of the best gastronomy there is. There’s a wide range selection of restaurants and bars and they’re on every corner. Not only do they have fine Spanish restaurants, but also cuisines from different countries and regions, such as Basque, Galician, Asian, Dominican, Peruvian, Cuban, etc.

I enjoyed the parks. The most popular, Parque del Retiro. Right in the center of Madrid. The park is huge! You can go for a walk, exercise, meet up with friends, or simply relax under a tree. It’s an incredibly beautiful park. (There’s another park I visited that was absolutely amazing, but which name escapes me right now. I’ll post it as soon as it comes back!)

Salamanca: Salamanca is a small city, but it is beautiful. It is a must-see. Salamanca is part of Castile and Leon. One of the places that blew me away was its Plaza Mayor (Main Square). The architecture and model are beautiful.

View from the Bell Tower

The city is a university city; it hosts hundreds of students each year. So the atmosphere is relatively young. It is recognized as a Spanish region where many go to learn Spanish as it is said that Castilian is the better Spanish. (Not sure about this statement.)

Salamanca has a lot of historical buildings and monuments, such as University of Salamanca, the Cathedral and the Old Roman Bridge, which you can visit all in one day. If you have an appreciation for art and Baroque architecture, this is the place to go. You feel like you’re walking through a medieval town.  The nightlife is not bad for a small city and the tapas and wine are really good. There’s more about Salamanca here.

Granda: I wasn’t sure whether to choose Bilbao or Granada for my fourth best, but I chose Granada because I just love everything about the region of Andalusia. Plus, Granada is so rich in culture and history, you have got to see it. It is easily accessible from any point in Spain via train or bus.

"La Alhambra" (The Red) of Granada, ...

Starting right off with the greatest monument in Granada:  the Alhambra. I can’t believe it was built by humans. It’s an incredible fortress, a humongous castle built centuries ago. The Alhambra was home to many Arabs rulers and it’s now a major tourist attraction of the city. Inside the Alhambra, you’ll find many palaces and gardens with ponds.  In addition to the Alhambra, there are also museums, churches and parks you can visit in Granada.

The Arab influence is obvious everywhere you look. A lot of Moroccans migrated to Granada and, honestly, it seemed to me that big part of the city is run by them. There are tons of Moroccan shops, tea houses and shops and restaurants. I tried the tea and the Moroccan food and everything was delicious.

Like everywhere in Spain, there are lots of restaurants and bars and a bunch of little streets packed with tourists and locals out for a good time.

Granada’s climate is mild; very hot in the summer, warm in the spring, but it cools off as the night falls. The winter is cold—the city is inside mountains. There’s more about Granada here.

Barcelona: I love energetic cities and diversity, so I love Barcelona. It’s not cliché—there’s a reason almost everyone wants to go to Barcelona. It really is an amazing city.

Barcelona is the capital of the region of Catalonia, which borders with France. Catalonia has its own language, but everybody understands and, as far as I know, can speak Castellano (Spanish). You’ll have to look deep into their history in order to understand this.

One of the most popular spots is Las Ramblas, which is just a long pedestrian mall that connects Plaça Catalunya and the seaport (not sure why it is so popular being what it is). At Las Ramblas, there are always a lot of pickpockets watching you, waiting for the best time to make their moves. I always tell everyone to be especially careful around there.

The nightlife in Barcelona is ahhmazing! Really fun bars and nightclubs. Incredible vibe. There’s a very popular market by Las Ramblas, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, which carries anincredible selection of meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables. For the seafood lovers, there are seafood restaurants with a big seafood selection menu around the market.

Other points of attraction are Camp Nou (Barcelona’s soccer team stadium), Park Güell (Antonio Gaudi’s park and architecture), the Sagrada Familia cathedral (which architecture is also by Gaudi). You can go eat tapas at any Pintxo bars (small-sized plates), visit the neighborhood of La Barceloneta, the Gothic Quarter, museums, and so much more.

Barcelona can be expensive for accommodations, but for young people there are a number of youth hostels and pensions. And for the not-so-young, there are also hostels and hotels that can be affordable if booked with time in advance. It is a very modern, touristy and very expensive city, that’s for sure, but it’s worth visiting. I talk about Barcelona here.

Back to Seville I Went

So I haven’t updated my blog in forever. It’s hard to find inspiration when you’re dying—I have now completely recovered from a cold—or the flu? — thank goodness! (Honestly, I had almost forgotten how good it feels to feel good). But, yeah, I’m back to being my healthy self! 🙂

Over the past two weekends, I revisited a (now) old-time favorite and a classic town: Sevilla and Segovia. But before that, Chris and I were already in Madrid picking up his mother and aunt at Barajas Airport, who had come to visit us from the US.  So, after several train and bus rides, we all spent the night in Madrid. By the way, the sleeping in Madrid experience was much better this time (and the third time, too). That was really nice.

One of the places where my boyfriend wanted to take his mom and aunt was Seville. Seville wasn’t as warm as it was back in November; in fact, it was foggy almost all day. A bit disappointing. But it was still beautiful and still a good time. As I’ve said before, there’s just something about Sevilla.

We walked through the park, visited some must-visit places; shops, Plaza de España, the Cathedral (which was open this time), and some yummy tapas places. Later that night, I had the opportunity to see a flamenco show at Casa de La Memoria again. Great performance, again. I think everybody loved it.

Plaza de España Sevilla

Of course, since Chris and I can’t get enough of this Flamenco experience, we headed to another show at midnight—the same free local flamenco show we had sneaked in last time we visited. There was more energy this time, more magic. And I must say, not everybody would enjoy the flamenco “puro” (original and improvised, rather than choreographed) at the local bars, as it is an intense form of dance/music that only few people from the “outside” can feel. The singing, the guitar, the dance, the handclaps…you have to feel it. Otherwise you will be bored. Or, there’s always Casa de La Memoria (among others), where you can witness a choreographed spectacle that will leave you asking for more.

We also went back to the little neighborhood of Santa Cruz and Santa Maria la Blanca Street. Such pretty little streets. We all enjoyed Seville. And, I don’t know about everybody’s highlight of the weekend there, but for me it was definitely a taxi cab ride. You know, we don’t get much friendly service here from anyone “under the clock,” but apparently, when we do, we get real charming ones!

This taxi driver started talking to us about Sevilla—how great it is to live and to visit, how good you eat in Seville, about the sour orange trees and how the British people take the oranges home to make jam when they visit, etc. He said that if the oranges were sweet, “¡No las pasariamos encima del arbol!” (they—Spaniards—would be all over the trees). He said that it gets so hot during the summer in Sevilla that people can’t work, but that it is not so bad for tourists. Because it is so hot, “Nos la pasamos de la cama al sofa; del sofa a la mesa; de la mesa a la cama; y otra vez, de la cama al sofa”. (They go from bed to the couch; couch to the table; table to bed; and then again from the bed to the couch.) He had charisma and his jokes were hilarious. I was dying.

But perhaps the funniest thing was when he, while still driving us to our location, turned his head back to tell us (the passengers on the back) one of his jokes. I think one of us said “watch out!” and suddenly, he abruptly breaks. My heart was coming out of my mouth when he, with his calm demeanor says, “No pasa nada” (it’s okay). No pasa what?! We are almost on the other car’s tail and you’re telling me that “no pasa nada?!” It could’ve been serious, but I just couldn’t stop laughing.

Anyhow, I had a nice weekend with the family and all, despite my sickness. We went back home to Ciudad Real, and after that it was a tough week for me, but it’s all good now.

¡Felices fiestas, all!

I fell in love with Seville

Sevilla: What Dreams Are Made Of

Oh, Sevilla. There’s something about Sevilla. ¡Que ciudad tan encantadora! Lovely city.

La Torre del Oro

Thursday evening Chris and I arrived in Seville for the weekend. I must say, there was an instant connection between us; its weather and its vibe. I fell in love with Seville! Like everywhere else we’ve been to in Spain, Seville, too, has its narrow little streets and old-fashioned buildings that are a delight to the eyes of those with an appreciation for amazing architecture (or simply delightful to anyone, really).

We stayed at Hostal Florida, a few steps from the neighborhood of Santa María La Blanca. (We picked a great location again, though, unlike last time, this hostel was the real deal!)  So, we started out by having dinner at Vineria San Telmo, a tasty tapas restaurant located in Santa María La Blanca. That area is one of the many hot spots for restaurants and bars in center Seville, by the way.

One of the things that took me by surprise is that a lot of people speak English in Seville. There are a lot of tourists from all over the world and, of course, lots of Americans—some restaurants have even added American items to their Cartas (menus) and these are sometimes in different languages. Having a menu in English was a plus. Sometimes, even I have trouble figuring out what they mean. Ha ha! But in the case of Chris, he is learning quite fast and is less stressed about it now (in fact, I think his favorite phrase now is “No pasa nada”— just ask him what it means and he will tell you all and more about it).

We also had a chance to go to a small local Flamenco show Thursday night. It was at a local, more intimate bar where everyone seemed to know each other…and we stood out like a sore thumb. It was fun.  I love Flamenco and the Spanish guitar, and so does Chris, so it was a great time.

But the big show was last night. We went to an apparently popular flamenco show at Casa de la Memoria, next to hotel Alcantara. This show sells fast and easy, so we were lucky to get some seats (though not the best seats because people beat us in getting there super early, still good). It helped that we visited the Museo del baile flamenco (Flamenco Museum) early that day because it helps you have an even greater appreciation and better understanding of flamenco dance.

We also visited the Alcazar and the Cathedral (both were closed for the day, though). The cathedral is gorgeous. Amazing. I hope nobody got hurt building it.  We rented a boat and later a “special” bicycle and rode it around the park. It was such a cool experience.  It was not possible to go to all of the spots we had hoped to go to, but we’ll be back.

Pictures from Seville

Seville has so much history it is impossible to get to know it well in just one weekend, but we were sure to take in as much as we could. I didn’t get a chance to visit Southern Spain in my college years, and now I know just what I was missing. Córdoba and Seville, both regions of Andalucía, look somewhat the same in terms of design, climate, and culture. But, as I said, there was just something about Seville. I fell in love. Me encantó.

Our weekend in Cordoba, Spain

This past weekend Chris and I embarked on our first official mini-trip.

By the way, this is an incredible experience and we love every moment of it!

Ignoring the order on our itinerary, we spontaneously planned to go to Sevilla (instead of Halloween in Madrid) for the long weekend. We’ve done that—sudden change of plans— dozens of times back home in the US, so we were certain it was going to be okay. What we seemed to have forgotten was that we now don’t have a car and that hotels and trains need to be booked in advance for holiday weekends, especially when half of the country goes on vacation.

We began searching online and absolutely every hotel we wanted was completo. Well, there were some available hotels but they had last-minute price tags on them, which are usually quite expensive. (Considering how relatively cheap it is to stay anywhere in Spain, that is.) We searched for a good while and found nothing. That was bad enough, but then we checked the train schedules and prices…

Long story short, Sevilla got back to its original place on our itinerary. Next time, Seville!

We thought about sticking to our original plan and just go to Madrid. We could’ve gone anywhere, but we wanted to go somewhere warmer. So I grabbed the map and picked a city: Córdoba, home of the famous Mezquita (Mosque). Not too far south, not too close north. Besides, it is closer to Sevilla so we could have easily hopped on a train. The weather is nice in Córdoba and it is a city with some great architecture and interesting history. It was a bit difficult again finding last-minute train tickets and a hotel even for Córdoba, but we managed to find something at a reasonable price. Not too bad.

Can I just say that I love the excitement of getting all packed and ready to travel? I do! (I don’t love the “packing” part too much though.)

Anyway, we got to Córdoba in less than an hour. It was a relaxing ride. The city was more “touristy” than what I had expected, but we enjoyed it very much. We visited the magnificent Mezquita-Catedral and some other spots. The architecture everywhere is mind-blowing.  Everything is just so pretty.

We took pictures and I’m posting some below. Enjoy!

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