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50 posts categorized "*Traveling around Spain"

Granada: Part II

Let’s talk about tapas.  Tapas in Granada are, as some would say, next level.  Tapas in Granada are when you pay 2-euros for a drink and are gifted a plate of something substantial.  In Madrid, when you order a drink, you usually will get a bowl of olives or potato chips with it.  In Granada, IN GRANADA I SAID, you may get any of the following plates with your ~2-euro drink:

  • Paella (Bodegas Castañeda - special housemade vermouth from a barrel as well)
  • Potatoes with ali-oli (Bar Aixa)
  • Meatballs with patatas fritas (La Porrona)
  • A mini hamburger with patatas fritas (La Botilleria - amazing, would eat sit-down dinner here)
  • A piece of bread with a slice of jamón, olive oil, tomato, and olives (Taberna La Tana - for wine lovers and everyone)
  • Sliced chorizo in a wine sauce (Bar La Riviera - you get to choose the tapa you’d like!)
  • Patatas caseras with bacon, onion, and a creamy cheesy sauce (Bar La Riviera)
  • A plate of fried sardines (Bar Los Diamantes, go early otherwise very crowded, one of the most well-known in Granada)
  • Tosta with guacamole and squid (El Cambalache, this was incredible)

And there is so much more!  So much more, the list goes on and on.  Moral of the story: after your beautiful day seeing the Alhambra, go on a self-guided tapas tour!  Start early to avoid crowds.  Or go late if you like the crowds!  If you see people outside an establishment with drinks and a small plate of food, it usually means you’ll get that plate of food free with your drink.

Now let’s talk about ice cream.  Helados San Nicolas, right by the viewpoint, which will seem like an outdoor party.  Vendors abound at the Mirador, people gather for the view of the Alhambra and the rest of the city.  I had a beautiful purple cone of lavender ice cream while looking at the Alhambra from a few ways away.  A bit more peaceful.  And there’s a splendid backdrop of the Alhambra in the shop for a photo-op!

The special dessert of Granada is the Pionono - a very VERY sweet little cake with sweeter sweet stuff on top named after Pope Pius IX who was supposed to come to Granada but didn’t (according to a tour guide?).  The dessert remains.  I enjoyed a spontaneous eclair from a bakery in Plaza Larga even more.  Be free with your food choices.  You never know what could surprise you.

So what are you waiting for??  Go get some tapas in Granada!  The Andalucian weather is just one of the many draws.

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Granada: Part I

Granada is a stew of religions.  A stone-roaded, twisty-streeted, living history map.  Coca-cola signs hang above bars in circles of the signature Grenadine white-and-blue ceramic style.  Street names change at every intersection, even while continuing in the same direction.  A small archway leads down a tiny street of shops, formerly a silk market.  Around the corner is the Aljibe de Trillo, which holds just some of the secrets to the city’s genius water system.  Teterías (Arab-influenced tea-rooms) calmly await visitors.  Carmens abound with orange trees and special views of, oh yes, the Alhambra.  

The Alhambra sits atop the city, guarding and guiding it as it has for centuries through all sorts of transitions.  The complex dates to about the 13th or 14th century (though there may have been construction earlier).  Now you can visit: Generalife (palace and gardens), Palacio de Carlos V (16th-17th-century Roman-style palace with circular inside and small art museum), Palacios Nazaríes (the most well-known with incredible patios, ceilings, and the quintessential tiles sold in souvenir shops around the country), and the Alcazaba (lookout point with flags and views of the city and surrounding mountains).  Quranic ideals flood the Palacios Nazaríes and Generalife in particular with patios of ponds, greenery, and fountains, paradise in the sacred book of Islam, as well as script from text itself.   

Once the Catholics took over the Iberian Peninsula, at the end of the 1400s by Ferdinand and Isabella (los reyes católicos), they continued using the Alhambra, described to us as a “city” by a local tour-guide.  But they destroyed the Great Mosque, and, upon that exact spot, placed a church.  Our tour-guide explained that a key to understanding the city is that the shift to Catholic rule did not entail eradication of all that had come before (though there was destruction).  So when he pointed out the Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana, he noted that the tower still looks exactly like a minaret, and still has the blue and white patterns from the time of Muslim-rule--it’s mudejar and reflects the coexistence of Muslim and Christian cultures.  

Today, the main cathedral of Granada is the second-largest in Spain.  We only got a brief look inside, but it seemed like one of the more interesting cathedrals in Spain visually.  The inside is a bright white--quite a change from the usual tannish brown stone.  The outside, though, does have that tan color, which makes the inside that much more exciting.  A mosque was here before, and it was destroyed and replaced with the cathedral.  According to Rick Steves, there was a plot of land nearby that would have been more suitable for the building of the cathedral, but the new rulers insisted on using the same plot as the mosque.  Also according to Steves, the “Ave Maria” at front-and-center of the cathedral’s facade was accepted by the Muslims because Mary plays a large role in the Quran.  This is just one of many tidbits of information that make Granada unique.  Though the religion in power shifted, there were still aspects of the previous culture that remained and kept it alive with the city’s inhabitants.

Instead of paying to go further into the cathedral, we decided we couldn’t pass on the Capilla Real--the burial site of Ferdinand and Isabel.  The right decision.  Though creepy in ways, the tombs of the Catholic Monarchs (as well as their daughter, Juana, and her husband, Felipe I) are aesthetically remarkable.  Carvings surround every side of the large cubes--the eternal beds of the royals--on which the monarchs lay.  On the tomb of Juana and Felipe, each monarch has an animal for a footrest and a pillow for their head.  On the other tomb, Ferdinand and Isabel have animals at their feet, but not below them.  All of the pillows are intricately carved with patterns and tassels.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Apparently some attribute Isabel’s large impression in her pillow, larger than Ferdinand’s, as a symbol of her intelligence.   

And if visitors aren’t already bombarded with the visual superiority of the monarchs, across from their tomb is the altar.  Not just any altar.  This is a humongous gold altarpiece filled with dioramas dedicated to various saints and biblical stories.  Two deaths of saints are centrally represented, one of which I remember for certain involves a beheading--one figure holds the head up next to the beheaded body.  Most interestingly, Ferdinand and Isabel are represented at each side of the altar on their knees praying.  The whole piece looks like a toy dollhouse, figures have skin-tones, eyeballs of color, vibrant outfits, and hairstyles.  The attempt at realism is alarming, as is the juxtaposition of this altar of colors-galore with the stone-gray tombs.  I’m not used to seeing life-size color sculptures of 15th-century monarchs.

Just beyond the tombs is Isabel's art collection, including pieces by Rogier van der Weyden, Sandro Botticelli, and Hans Memling.  Just before leaving are two sculptures of Isabel and Ferdinand kneeling in prayer.  These are the originals that were by the altar inside.  Ferdinand (I believe) didn't think they looked pious enough, or something like that.  Exit the Capilla Real, and you're back on the streets of incense.  To be continued...

Bespectacled in Madrid

How to

        Hello fearless future auxiliares & current teachers,

        I don't know about you, but even with very good insurance in the U.S. glasses for people with myopia can be extremely pricey. But in Spain--it's so easy and economical!! I have -3.25 in both my left and right eyes (meaning it's very hard for me to see things 3 feet or more away from me without extreme blurriness). Glasses are necessary for me, and maybe you too! 

        You don't need insurance in Spain to have excellent eye care. I walked down my posh street in Salamanca, Madrid to one of the many many chain Multiópticas.

Quick notes:

  • No contacts for 24 hours. They say it messes with the graduation for accuracy of determining your prescription and will turn you away, I know, not common in the States. 
  • No appointment needed.
  • They have deals as low as 2 glasses for 159€ INCLUDING: the eye exam, anti-reflective AND added protection for staring at screens. 
  • TONS of options! I'm super picky, and I found multiple that I loved!
  • You pay when you get your glasses. You may be asked to leave a minimum deposit of 20€ or you can just pay the whole price.

You don't actually see an optometrist like in the states. You will meet with a tech who'll complete your eye exam in literally 5 mins. You only need identification (TIE, passport) to proceed with an eye exam. They have literally the SAME equipment in the states. 

When you're in the eye exam, you are able to say the alphabet in English or Spanish, and you only need to know the words "mejor" (better), "igual" (the same), and "peor" (worse).

Depending on the business of the store, you can have your glasses within 1-5 business days. And there you have it! They were super nice, and so patient. I think I spent an hour trying on glasses, haha! 



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"4 eyes, 4 eyes you need glasses to seeee!" haha Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs reference. 


Instagram: @kamalaalcantara

Follow the Music

The day in Málaga began beautifully - warm and sunny. The night before my friend and I had made a list of sights we wanted to see and now we were headed off in the direction of the first one - la Alcazaba de Málaga.

We arrived at the fortress wall, climbed up, and were rewarded with a lovely view of the city. We were slightly disappointed at how small the wall itself seemed, but decided to be on our way to the next item on our list.

We found a path and walked down it, came to the end, and had to choose which way to turn. Unsure, we were about to pull out Google Maps when, suddenly, the soft, twangy sounds of a violin echoed from a tunnel on our right. We peered down the dark passageway but couldn't see anyone in the bright glare shining from the other end. We made eye contact with each other, shrugged our shoulders simultaneously, and turned right. If ever there was ever going to be a moment when the universe sent us a sign to guide us, a violinist playing sweet music at the end of a tunnel certainly felt like it was one of those moments.

And our violin-guide did not lead us astray. As we stepped into the blinding, warmth-enveloping light at the end of the tunnel, we involuntarily stopped in our tracks, eyes glued to the splendid scene before us. This was the fortress we had come to see. Behind us, the wall meandered through the hills endlessly. Before us, the sparkling Mediterranean sea was framed by a bustling waterfront lined with little boats, and lush gardens and palm trees filled in the edges. We hiked up the steep path along the fortress wall, planted ourselves on a stone ledge, and soaked in the beauty of it all.

 Several peaceful minutes later, we descended down the fortress and were about to decide where to go next when we heard an electric guitar playing a slow song around the corner from us. Laughing to ourselves, we obediently followed the music. It took us to a lively plaza and up on our right appeared the ruins of a Roman theatre nestled into the bottom of the fortress. We nearly giggled with excitement as we stepped onto the crumbling stone, took our seats on one of the ancient benches, and imagined ourselves sitting for a play (the people-watching from our spot was just as entertaining as any Roman piece of theatre).


So, for the rest of the day, we committed ourselves to following the music. It guided us to the breathtakingly beautiful Cathedral, to a giant, multicolored cube, a gorgeous waterfront with salty sea air and an adorable Christmas market, a bench with the perfect view of a caricaturist hard at work, and a quaint gelato shop with the most divine red orange flavored gelato we had ever tasted and probably will ever taste again in our lives.

 We forgot all about our list of “must-sees” and not once did we again pull out our phones to ask them where to go. We let Málaga and its music guide us to its little wonders and it made for an absolutely perfect day.

Día de los Reyes Magos

Christmas time in Spain is just as magical and wonderful as it is in the United States. Every city puts up a tree, festive lights are hung from the buildings, and children look forward to playing with toys on Christmas morning…

Oh wait, that last one doesn’t apply to Spain.

Gifts are most certainly brought, just not by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve night. Rather, it’s the Three Wise Men that visit homes and leave gifts the night before the twelfth day of Christmas aka Three Kings Day - el Día de los Reyes Magos.

I happened to be in a small port town in southern Spain called El Puerto de Santa María on January 5th, the day before Three Kings Day, and was treated to a spectacular show of festivities prepared for the occasion.

As I wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets, I suddenly found myself in the midst of Christmas music and crowds of children and families huddled together trying to catch a glimpse of the floats passing by for the Three Kings Parade. Children in costumes sitting on the floats tossed out candies, and the children in the crowd scrambled around with bags, gathering up as many pieces as they could and squealing with joy as they counted their treasures.


After the last float passed, I fell in line behind it and followed it to its destination - el Castillo de San Marcos. The magnificent castle was decorated with flags to welcome the Three Kings, who climbed up and stood between the stone pillars, telling the story of their visit to baby Jesus, and tossing out gifts to the children below. Jolly music and merry singing filled the air, along with puffs of “snow” and colorful confetti. The happiness of everyone there was palpable and infectious. 


It was an absolutely marvelous celebration, and an experience I would highly recommend to all Spain travelers!

9 Reasons You Should Drop Everything & Teach Abroad in Spain

9 Reasons

Hello dreamers, world travelers, future auxiliares and teachers abroad, 

If you opened this, maybe you want a change in your life, thinking about living abroad, maybe you're on the fence about moving to Spain to teach--or you've already made up your mind and want a sign or more affirmation! Here's your sign--go, DO IT! As a recap, I'm Kamala, I moved to Madrid, Spain in August 2017 with the CIEE Teach Abroad program. I'm 27 years old, dedicating most of my adult life to higher education, educating university students and then homebuyers as a mortgage banker. My fiancé and I were falling into a tiny existential crisis--we have so many skills and degrees between each other and so much ambition. We knew we wanted to make a positive impact on the world...but first we wanted to know the world---we dreamed of traveling the world first! But, we didn't know how and didn't have much money saved at all. SO, we found a legit program that also married what we loved: education, the opportunity to make a positive impact abroad, the chance to learn and grow, and we could travel! Which brings me to my very first reason:

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Adobo Stock Photo, Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain
  1. You can travel Europe and to the gate of Africa CHEAP! By cheap what I mean is freakin' cheeeeap flights to another European or African country as low as 20€ ($25.00) ROUNDTRIP! You can stay in hostels for as low as 15€ a night (maybe lower), we stayed in a hotel even for 50€/ night in Paris (YES, Paris!!!). I even found a flight to the Philippines for 400€ (easily a $1200 flight in the U.S.). 


2. As an auxiliar you only work 16 hours PER WEEK 4 days per week, I repeat: SIXTEEN hours per week & 3 day weekends! If you're already a working professional, you know that we work an average 40-60 hours a week easily in the U.S. and we STILL make time to have fun and have a social life, take selfies and "adult". IMAGINE, 16 hours a week of work,  you could find yourself, travel to over 20+ new cities and countries, make sooo many friends, actually go to the gym, sleep for 8+ hours, nap AND anything else your heart desires. We're paid 1000€ per month, that's plenty to live on--but I do suggest saving money before coming (at least $3000).


3. Food & Drugs--Legal Drugs ;) -- are so affordable! During the weekdays, a lot of restaurants in Madrid have a "Menu del Dia" this is basically a hearty 3 course meal (including wine, beer or soft drink) for only 10-15€! In Spain, LUNCH is the biggest meal of the day! You'll find so many deals everywhere you go! With over 6,000 restaurants, you're bound to never run out of delicious affordable meals. Pharmacists in Spain have the amazing superpower to grant you drugs that normally need a prescription in the U.S.! In the U.S., when something minor ails us (headache, cold, 1st day fever) we usually go to Urgent Care or maybe even a hospital or primary care physician. Here in Spain, you can walk into a 12 or 24 hr pharmacy anywhere and tell the pharmacist your symptoms and right there and then they hand you medicines to alleviate your symptoms--even prescribing multivitamins and the like. For example, WITH INSURANCE, one of my prescriptions in the U.S. costed me $180 per month. Here it is $49/month. Ibuprofen is around $2.00. Antibiotics, cold medicines, and other medicines cost under $10 as well.

4. You can finally become fluent in Spanish! So many Spanish people in Madrid want to learn English, and meet up to have a language exchange. You'll also be surrounded by the beautiful sounds of European Spanish (Castellano) every single day. If you're already fluent, you can learn French or German or another language, you have 152 hours in your week you can basically do anything! When I first came to Madrid in August, I didn't even know how to order at a restaurant, have a regular conversation outside of small talk or even understand Spanish spoken to me. Now I can eavesdrop on the metro (just kidding), have intimate deep conversations, navigate different shopping situations in Spanish and converse with anyone I meet! I'm still learning everyday. If you want more tips on becoming fluent in Spanish, check out my blog about it!

5. It's a humungous Resume booster! Top employers in the U.S. are looking for leaders, self-starters and people with excellent communication skills. When you live abroad, you are faced with so many challenges and opportunities that will force you out of your comfort zone and beyond your limits. Living abroad changes you, it betters you and equips you with skills you can't possibly obtain living in the same country your entire life. You have to learn to navigate a completely different world and work with people with different cultural practices and beliefs. You might even add Spanish to your resume! If you're coming straight out of college, this would look impressive to a future boss or hiring team. Living abroad, away from family, far from friends--you learn to be independent, increase your own confidence and if you travel even further while living abroad, the possibilities for tremendous positive growth and enlightenment are that much closer. 



6. The Spanish lifestyle is so different, lively and exciting! Most Spanish people do not start work until 9am, they don't eat lunch until 2pm and dinner is at 9pm or later. When you walk the center of Madrid, on a Tuesday around 11pm-1am, you'll notice hundreds of people out having dinner on the many many restaurant patios, laughing and talking very very late into the night. Clubs do NOT close until 6AM. SIX in the MORNING. Most Spanish people don't start to go out until 2am. If you're a party-goer or clubber you know that in the US, most clubs will close between 1:30-4:00am and the party doesn't start til 12am. Some clubs in Spain don't even open until 6am so you can keep the party going all night!!!! I know I didn't believe it at first but it's true.  Some clubs have live shows included in their entrance fees, and almost always come with a free drink or two. You'll find that ladies get in free before 1:30am at a lot of hot clubs too!

7. You could become a world-traveler. Besides being severely cheap to travel between European countries, EVERYTHING is super close to Madrid. You could fly to Portugal, Africa and several luxurious island/beach paradises in 1 hour; Paris and Rome in 2 hours, and Hungary in 3 hours. Before moving to Spain, in nearly the three decades I've lived on this Earth, I had only been to two other countries outside of the U.S.: Mexico (Rocky Point, of course--I'm from Phoenix, AZ!) and the Philippines (my mom's home country, and my 2nd home country). After living in Madrid for only 5 months I have been to over 5 more countries and I have planned travel to over 10 more countries in the next 3 months alone.



8. You will make a positive difference in so many young lives. As an English language and cultural assistant (auxiliar), you have the unique opportunity as a native English speaker to impart Spanish children ages 3-18 with a required skill to obtain high-paying jobs. In Spain, many jobs require Spanish citizens to pass an English test (it's literally similar to the GRE and is tricky for me--as a native English speaker). Check out my blog on what a day in a Spanish school as an auxiliar looks like! Come teach abroad!

9. Build valuable connections and incredible new friendships (or love?) In Madrid, there are so many opportunities to meet and connect with people from across the globe, or someone like you who just wants to live life to the fullest and see the world. It takes a certain kind of person to travel to a new land and experience diversity on purpose! You're going to expose yourself to new people and sometimes that means a new friendship or even romance. I've seen it and experienced it first hand. Traveling here WITH the love of my life has strengthened our bond like never before. I've made wonderful new friends that have become like family. I've even deepened connections with friends back home. When you move away from home, you know in your heart who your true friends are--they are the ones who are still right there with you even though thousands of miles separate you. You have to see for yourself. JUST GO!




To see more of my adventures or if you have any questions or comments, follow me on Instagram! @KamalaAlcantara



It's Next Year!

It’s Next Year!  Happy 2018.

We meet again, blog.  How does it feel to be back, you ask?  Good.  And overwhelming.  Mostly good.  It was wonderful to see family and over a gazillion works of art in approximately 16 museums in 3 cities.  I am, however, tired.  Grateful and tired.  Transitions are always difficult.  And the weather in Madrid has not been its usually wondrous self!

I desperately have to get the students’ papers together so I can get back on track with them.  It’s hard, though, when every student is on a different page.  I’m still getting some to sign up for the blog, some are still giving me drafts of their short stories, some are already revising drafts I’ve given back with comments.  My appreciation for teachers just grows and grows…

Back to vacation.  Here are a few (really not a substantial list at all...) highlight artworks/art-places seen:

Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère (drooled, my mom and I photographed our own stellar interpretation of the painting in front of the painting)

Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe

Delacroix’s July 28: Liberty Leading the People (I heard the people sing)

David’s Oath of the Horatii

David’s Napoleon Crowning Himself Emperor (such a big painting)

van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait (Als Ich Can ;) )

Chaim Soutine exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery

Museo Cerralbo (dripping with luxury, a must-see in Madrid)

Sir John Soane's Museum (why, a London townhouse filled with antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, etc. of course!)

The furniture floor at the V&A in London (speechless)

The Morris Room at V&A cafe in London (spent more time with the Pre-Raphaelites)

Happy to see you again, blog!  More next week…  [not pictured: photos of my face, both with expression and expressionless, in front of treasured paintings]

Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882, Copyright: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Jacques-Louis David, The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I and the Crowning of the Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame Cathedral on December 2, 1804, 1806-07, Louvre, Paris
Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, National Gallery, London

How to Plan a 48 Hour Trip

Sunset in Sorrento, Italy


Aside from teaching the kiddos, one of my biggest goals was to travel around Europe as much as possible. What better way to spend a Friday off of school than to fly to France? While it’s a little crazy to only spend 48 hours in a different city or country, it's totally doable (and worth it) with the right amount of planning, stamina and luck. Here are some tips and tricks to planning an awesome weekend getaway:

Timing is everything:
Try to plan at least two weeks in advance. Planes will be cheaper, you’ll have more hostel options and it’ll give you more time to make a loose itinerary. Since I live about three hours away from Madrid by bus, I also have to add in extra time getting to and from the airport-which can get tricky. There’s many times where I’ve taken an overnight bus and a 6 a.m. flight because it’s cheaper and then I get more time exploring. Who needs sleep anyway? Having all of your transportation and accommodations booked in advance makes everything way less stressful.

Favorite sites:
Skyscanner-the BEST site to compare flight prices across all of the cheap airlines.
GoEuro-like Skyscanner, but it also compares train and bus schedules so you can find the fastest and cheapest routes 
Hostelworld- shows you a hostel’s rating, amenities and distance from the city centre. So far, most of the reviews have held true, so I really trust this site.

Research, research and research some more:
The key to a jam-packed weekend of site seeing and attractions is to find the right ones. Honestly, part of the fun is getting a sneak peek into the cool parts of a new city by doing a ton of research. Pinterest is a huge help! There are so many 48 hour city guides written by locals that give great suggestions on where to eat and what to see.

Be lazy and cheap if you can:
A week of teaching can fly by and sometimes it’s a challenge to find time to plan out your trip. So don’t! There are a ton of travel organizations specifically for young people. I used WSAEurope for my trip to Budapest and didn’t have to worry about anything. Our entire itinerary was planned and we had our own private guide. For my trip to Italy, I booked excursions to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast through TripAdvisor and Viator. These sites are super easy to use because you can compare the different organizations easily and read reviews before booking. For all of the other penny pinchers out there, use your international connections! Reach out to your foreign friends to see if you can crash at their place. Most likely, you’ll get a free place to say, a free meal, and your own personal tour guide.

Always do a free walking tour:
Since you’re on a time crunch, it can be overwhelming to decide where you should spend your time. Free walking tours are the perfect way to get the lay of the land, see the most important sites, learn some history and get a better idea of what’s worth going back to.

So take those red eye flights, drink a ton of coffee and explore the beautiful cities around you!

Running to 2018 with Madrid's San Silvestre Vallecana 10K!

Hello wonderful CIEE auxiliares and soon-to-be auxiliares/world travelers! Happy New Year and welcome 2018!!


Today I'm going to share with you two time-honored traditions that are celebrated on New Year's here in Madrid, Spain. 

  • The San Silvestre Vallecana 10K Run
  • Eating 12 grapes with the strokes of midnight! 


The San Silvestre Vallecana 10K Run

I'm a pretty seasoned runner; I've participated in over twenty 5K runs, 10 event runs (like the Color Run or Wipeout Run), now five 10K runs, three 15K runs and 2 half-marathons. I am ADDICTED to post-run endorphins, the race expos, collecting medals and keeping a strong physique and positive mentality. Though I have a hate/love relationship with weekly running and race training, running frees me and makes me feel good.

Over 40,000 people from across the globe run the San Silvestre Vallecana Run. It was only 20 euros to sign up (SUPER CHEAP compared to runs in the U.S. where I'm used to paying $50-150.00). They make you a run video, give you a sick Nike dri-fit long sleeve shirt (perfect for running and ALSO has your number already on it), and other goodies!


The race itself is PHENOMENAL and worth every single euro. It's super hyped up with LIVE bands at EACH kilometer. You run through the most beautifully festive streets adorned with bright colorful Christmas lights. There are plenty of Instagrammable and photogenic stops along the way--and runners DO stop to take pictures and video. (I saw someone running with a selfie stick!) There are HUGE decorations and ballon arches that encourage you to keep going, thousands of people cheer you on and kids line up alongside the course to give spirit-lifting high-fives. Runners DRESS UP and run in TEAMS. (For example, sharks, a taco, the Flinstones, the Incredibles, Marvel and DC superheroes, Sesame street, Gladiators, Matadors and so much more. It's just a wonderful spectacular event for anyone willing and able. It's a run you should not miss!!

Click here for some cool video!

Depending on your pace, (mine was >60) there are 4 waves--my wave was the last and we start at 18:15 or 6:15pm. The race finishes latest around 9pm for the slower runners...but typically you're done in 60-90 mins and can just go home after returning the race chip and receiving a post-race goodie bag!! 

Getting home was not too bad, the race ends 10 mins walk from a metro and even with all the runners, we got home in about 50 mins (normally 35 mins). Enough time to shower and head out for the festivities!!


MY fiancé and I wearing the shirts and cool scarf they gave us to wear!


12 Grapes on Nochevieja

This tradition is quite unique! Spaniards have been ingesting 12 grapes at the stroke of the new year for over 100 years! The belief is that if you can eat all 12 grapes in time with the 12 strokes of midnight you will have 12 months of good luck! This superstition runs deep and supermarkets now sell 12 grapes ready to eat with NO seeds to avoid choking! Below you'll see a picture of what I bought and successfully ingested for only 1,95€! 


Thousands of people usually go to Puerta del Sol where they have a live countdown and fireworks at midnight. The millions of others will go to fancy clubs, bars or stay home and watch the countdown on TV with their 12 grapes (this is what we did!)


However you celebrated, I hope it was fun and I wish you a very wonderful 2018 filled with adventure, delicious food and endless happiness!




Follow me on Instagram for more! @KamalaAlcantara 








I Left My Heart in Andalucía: Pueblos Blancos (and one blue town!)

I had a incredible puente.  Rented a car.  Drove on tiny streets of stone.  Saw a blue town.  Ate paella.  Caught a flamenco show.  Stood on the stage…  “Stood,” no, not “danced.”  Posed on it, too.  981 miles and a week of school later, I miss the trip.

It all began a Tuesday evening at an airport Enterprise office with a white car.  Every story at a car-rental office for me begins with a white car!  This time, though, I wouldn’t be driving/riding in Fletcher from Texas.  No.  In Spain?  Júzcar from Madrid--a name dedicated to one special stop on the trip.  

“Where is the parking brake?”  After being shown the car, I knew we needed to know the answer to that question.  Images of the car drifting down a mountain in Andalucía flashed through my mind.  All ready to go, I was hesitant to delay our trip even more.  We had to get 4 hours south to Córdoba for the night.  But this was worthy of delay.  A button with “P” on it next to the driver’s seat.  Great!  Let’s go.

Intimidated as I was by Spain’s highways, everything went rather smoothly.  We stopped once on the way to Córdoba at a Repsol gas station.  There we found cheese samples and cheese blocks for purchase.  We left empty-handed and empty-bladdered.  It was probably best that it was dark, we weren’t missing out on anything by hustling past everything in between Madrid and Córdoba.

The hotel in Cordoba was great.  It had lots of artwork around, a chandelier, grand old pieces of furniture, and tons of hot water.  And another free breakfast!  The breakfast was in a beautiful room with decorated bowls and plates all over the walls.  We sat by the window while enjoying una tostada con tomate, an assortment of meats and pastries, and most importantly, un cafe con leche.  We needed to fuel up for the rest of the day’s travels.  Next stop:  Arcos de la Frontera.

BUT, because I was doing research on the spot, I saw that Medina-Sidonia was south of Arcos and suggested we go there first and then make our way back up north to Arcos.  I read the GPS wrong when we were 20 minutes away and we ended up en route to the southern end of Spain--the ocean.  In an effort to turn error into impromptu exploration, we said “why not go down and see the ocean if we’re only another 15 minutes away!”  So we saw the ocean.  How wonderful it was to breathe in the open, blue air.

In Medina-Sidonia an odd and brusquely-speaking man came over to us upon parking and we gathered he was saying we had to pay 2 euros to park there.  And for a guidebook.  I tried to give back the book but he said it’s 2 euros anyways.  That raised some flags.  What raised them even higher was spotting him walking outside of a bar with a beer 10 minutes later.  Oh well.  I had to get over this betrayal, this person who had taken advantage of our tourist-selves.  Angry as I was, it was only 2 euros and considering the horror scam stories you hear of…  We left unscathed.  Not to mention the views from Medina-Sidonia are beautiful.

We headed north to Arcos de la Frontera with the intention of arriving in time for sunset.  Luckily we got there just in time.  After a gas station purchase of...gas...and jamón-flavored chips, we parked the car in an underground lot and walked up the hill to the old town.  By chance we were walking on a road along the edge of town with breathtaking views of Spanish landscapes at sunset.

We stayed in a family-owned home and were greeted with sangria on the roof.  The prime owner is an artist and her work is all over the entrance.  We were well-located and wandered the streets coming across white walls with potted plants hanging on them and many souvenir shops chock-full of trinkets.  

The next day we had a perfect breakfast of toast and jamón and headed out to our next stay in Zahara de la Sierra.  This drive would take us directly into the mountains.  Stops along the way included El Bosque, Benaocaz, Villaluenga del Rosario, and Grazalema.  We just drove through some towns, but stopped in Villaluenga del Rosario where there’s an award-winning cheese factory.  The local cheese is queso payoyo and it is delicious.  Walking through the town we also saw their small bullfighting ring.  The town was so small and so quiet and the door to the ring was open.  We were not in Kansas anymore (but for us Kansas = cosmopolitan city).  I wondered about local law enforcement.  Where was it?  Did it exist?  Did everyone coexist peacefully?  Questions left unanswered.  

Next stop Grazalema.  By this time, I was fairly knocked out.  We hadn’t eaten much and so deciding on a place was tough.  How does one choose what to finally consume after consuming nothing for so long?  We had wandered into a place with the door open only to be told they weren’t serving anymore.  Then why was the door open?!  At this point I started to feel like such an outsider.  That feeling weighs on you.  Everyone stares at you, everyone waits to see how you are going to speak when you are about to open your mouth, some speak abruptly to you indicating they have no patience for the tourist-thing.  I must say overall I’ve encountered nothing but kindness.  But the amount of driving had taken a toll and so had the stares of people in the small towns.  We saw the main square, purchased some souvenirs, and had some tapas at a family-owned restaurant.  

The next day, after being barked at for parking in a spot designated for taxis, we managed to get up the tiny streets of Zahara de la Sierra to a parking lot at the bottom of the lookout point.  We hiked up to the top for an incredible view of a turquoise lake and the surrounding mountains.  It was quite something to imagine this spot in the time it was created.  It was a lookout point to watch for invaders and was particularly important during the war for Granada.  What good vision older generations must have had!  No phones!  Distance a requirement for survival!  

After the great photo-op we headed to an olive mill I had found out was open.  The man on the phone said we could stop by and it just so happened a tour arrived at that moment.  We joined the tour in the room where the olive oil is produced.  What timing.  Juan, the owner of the mill, looks like a movie-star.  He gave us a taste of the olive oil and we couldn’t believe he lived on this small road in a mountain with very little to no traffic.

Setenil de las Bodegas was next.  WHAT a sight.  The main street is directly under a large rock.  This is the image of the town--streets with homes and restaurants below a giant rock jutting out of the mountain.  Here we had a great success:  sitting on a terraza overlooking the main street.

Júzcar and Ronda were our last two stops.  Júzcar is painted blue for a Smurfs film that either was to be filmed there or just advertised there.  When I asked a local shop-owner if everyone wanted the town to be painted, she replied, “yes, more or less.”  I can’t imagine living in a town of white homes and deciding along with my neighbors to paint it blue.  What a place!  Smurfs references are everywhere, in stores and on homes.  Some pitufos (Smurfs) are painted onto buildings and there also seem to be rides and attractions for children such as a small zipline and trampolines.  They were deserted, however, and contributed to an eerie, empty feeling on some of the streets.  It was most interesting to see a group of young kids clearly getting ready to do something for their weekend evening.  What do they do?  What’s it like to grow up here?  More questions unanswered…  There are a few giant statues of Smurfs for photoshoots.  Did I mention the town is on the edge of a mountain and to get there, one must drive along the edge on a small two-way road?  The town is on the edge of a mountain and to get there we had to drive along the edge on a small two-way road.

Ronda was where we spent two nights.  They have the biggest bullfighting ring in Spain, I believe.  It was quite something to walk in it and see the different collections they have.  They have weapons and toreador suits and all sorts of visual art.  There's more to say about Ronda, but this post is too long. 

It is also so listy!  But I really wanted to simply post some descriptions.  This was a trip to remember.

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