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52 posts categorized "*Traveling around Spain"

How to Plan a 48 Hour Trip

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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:
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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!!

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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!

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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!!

 

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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€! 

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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!

 

xx,

Kimi

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.

Your Sevilla Itinerary: Places & Food

It's no secret I love Sevilla, but almost every person that I have talked to that has also visited this quintessential Spanish town has told me they wished they had more time there. No one is able to escape the special feeling of it. Even Spaniards I've talked to says it has a certain, "encanto" or charm. If still not convinced by my ode to Sevilla post or my photos, I challenge you to talk to people who have been or just go and visit to see for yourselves! If you've already made the decision to visit, here are some of my must-see places and restaurants to check out!

 

Things to do

 

1. Plaza de España

 

This is one of those places where no photos can do it proper justice. I urge you to walk around the base and walls of the Plaza to admire each of the Spanish provinces displayed, cross the bridges and take a boat ride around the river and just take in all the details. Afterward, walk around Parque Maria Luisa (right across from the Plaza) and enjoy the beautiful gardens and pathways.  

 

2. La Catedral y La Giralda

 

 

The third largest church in the world and the largest gothic church, you will not be disappointed by its grandeur. Don't forget to stop by Christopher Columbus' remains which also lie here. La Giralda (the bell tower) was originally a minaret turned Catholic bell tower after La Reconquista. You can climb to the top and look out over the city — I insist though, the best view overlooking Sevilla is on top of Las Setas (See #5). 

 

3. Real Maestranza (Bullfighting ring)

 While the bullfighting season takes place from the end of April to the end of September, they offer tours year round. Bullfighting has become extremely controversial in Spain and some provinces have even banned it. Still, I recommend it as a cultural experience, even just the tour. If you visit and wish to see a real bullfight, go for it! I did when I studied abroad. I'm glad I went, but wouldn't do it again. It's a one time thing. But I'm going to leave it up to you.

 

 

4. See a Flamenco Show

 

Did you really go to Spain if you didn't see Flamenco? I recommend Museo del Baile Flamenco or Casa de la Memoria. Museo del Baile Flamenco offers more seating and while a bit "touristic"provides the audience a great show. Casa de la Memoria is also a fantastic option if you really want to see authentic flamenco: the small room gives the audience a sense of intimacy with the performers and the performances are top-notch in my opinion. 

 

5. Las Setas (Metropol Parasol)

 

For the best view of the city, go here! Las Setas (meaning: the mushrooms) is a wooden structure in the city center, you really can't miss it! For just a few euros, you get to go to the top for a drink. Tip: head here before sunset since it obviously becomes very crowded, but the view is incredibly worth it. Below Las Setas is the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains are on display in a museum.

 

6. El Alcázar 

 

 

For all you GOT fans, this is Dorne! For everybody else, this is a royal palace developed by Moorish Kings. If you're going to Granada and visiting the Alhambra, feel free to skip this, since they are very similar but still beautiful, or if you're really into royal palaces, go for it! 

 

7. El Rio Guadalquiver

 

If you want to truly feel like a Sevillano, take an afternoon stroll (dar un paseo) along the river while many stores shut down for siesta. It's a nice way to relax while seeing another beautiful part of the city. There's always people biking, walking and running along the path. 

 

Restaurants & What to Order

 

1. La Brunilda

 

 

Brunilda is hands down my favorite restaurant, perhaps of all time. It's a great lunch spot, but get there early to put your name in because it gets crowded! I recommend ordering the patatas bravas, mushroom riostto and the pork shoulder with sweet potatoes. Some of the best food I've ever eaten — If the wait is too long, they have a sister restaurant (with the same chef) that is called "El Bartelomeo" and is right around the corner.

 

2. El Rinconcillo

The oldest bar in Sevilla, which has been running since 1640, is a great place to take a quick break with drinks & tapas of course. You can't go wrong with some tinto de verano, cheese and espiñacas con garbanzos. And it's right in the neighborhood where I studied abroad :) 

 

3. Las Tabernas Coloniales

For the ultimate and authentic Spanish tapas, go here! Warning: portion sizes are huge! They don't take reservations, but you can put your name in on a chalkboard and order a drink outside while you wait. I recommend the chicken in almond sauce and the spinach croquettes. 

 

4. El Contenedor

For the foodies who want a nicer and a little more of a sit-down restaurant feel, this is the place to go! It's considered a slow-cook restaurant and the place really goes for a holistic experience from the ambiance to the food where the servers cater what you order to the order it is brought out. The service is outstanding. They recommend sharing plates as to not overeat and to try more options.I recommend the duck. Tip: Definitely make a reservation online. 

 

5. Bar Estrella 

Bar Estrella is on Calle Estrella, a tiny, tucked away street about a 10 minute walk from the Cathedral. It's small and quaint with its outdoor seating and the tapas are absolutely delicious — I recommend ordering the solomillo al whiskey. You will not be disappointed! 

11 Free Things To Do in Madrid!

Madrid is a city bursting with life; literally ALL DAY & ALL NIGHT, there is just so much to see, so much to do, so much to EAT and so many things to spend money on! But sometimes, you just wanna go out, have a good time and NOT spend any money. Or maybe...you're just broke for the moment and you're in between paychecks...or you're an auxiliar and have a fixed monthly stipend--No pasa nada, you'll find something you'll like on this list whether you live in Madrid, or if you're just passing through! Check it out!

  1. Stroll around the Ópera, Gran Vía, Retiro, Sol and Goya Metro stops--these areas are PACKED with tourist hot spots, Instagrammable scenery and you literally just have to walk around! If you so happen to have a couple euros on you, this could potentially buy you a delicious ice cream and a small snack! Hours of free fun with your significant other, visiting family, friends or just a simple solo trip...
  2. Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid It's free to stroll around the garden and admire the palace up close. Carve out an hour or so of your day for this...you're gonna wanna take pictures (see my picture above) and stroll on over to Almudena Cathedral!

3. Admire the Almudena Cathedral --just a minute's walk from the palace. Even if you're not religious or just not Catholic, tourists from all around the world love to visit the Almudena Cathedral. Over a century years old, this Roman Catholic church is a sight to behold from the outside in. You can even donate 0.20 euros to send a prayer to the Virgin Mary. If you have an obsession with gorgeously gothic and artful doors, you'll love the one below outside of the cathedral.

4. Experience the famous Mercado San Miguel This market is a must-see! This culinary paradise holds wines, candies, paellas, tapas and so many Spanish delights! If you're looking for a taste of Spanish culture, step on in! It's free to take in the sights and smells of all the delicacies, but if you've got 5 euros on you, you'll be able to try Spanish Paella, taste a chupito of yogurt, have a cup of wine or share a couple tapas!

 

5. Stroll along El Capricho Park This park is precious! Large green trees, vibrant flowers and autumnal leaves welcome you...you'll also find precious treasures and lakes as you make your way through the park. It's a great way to get some free exercise and enjoy nature with your lover or friends.

6. Wander around Retiro Park Madrid's Retiro Park is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Hundreds of people enjoy the park in multiple forms. You can paddle boat, bring your dog, picnic, drink, eat, enjoy a museum, run, do yoga, play sports and almost anything you can do in a wide open space with plenty of grass!

7. Write a poem or read a book at Desperate Literature This perfect little bookstore just opened 2 years ago offers plenty of the newest and best selling books in English and Spanish. They even have an adorable reading corner for children--along with English children's books. Some books even cup with a shot of whisky if you decide to purchase them. You can even write a poem on an old-fashioned typewriter--don't forget to leave your name--they may publish you!

8. Check out the sunset or sunrise at the Temple of Debod The Temple was a gift from Egypt; so here you'll find a piece of Africa in Spain! As you can see in the picture below, it's quite a picturesque place. It's also right by Calle Serrano, a posh shopping district where you'll find Nike, Louis Vuitton and other high end products.

9. Head up to El Corte Inglés's Top Floor - Gourmet Experience It really is a gourmet experience. In Sol, this famous Spanish mall has it's food court on the 9th floor. You can actually step outside and enjoy a quick bite to eat or just simply to enjoy the sites. The view from the top is marvelous--and you don't have to spend a dime to enjoy it.

10. Check out all the cute things in HEMA, Tiger and ALE HOP. Seriously, just walk in! It's kind of like a Spencer's mixed with the irresistible $1-$3.00 bins at the front of all Targets plus a PG rated Novelty Store in Las Vegas.

11. Chill at Plaza Mayor. This plaza is highly Instagrammable! There are always events going on here; tons of vendors will sell there wares and you'll find a lot of performances. If you're thirsty, they have great restaurants and little shops to grab a drink or some lunch!

BONUS - CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN MADRID

Plaza Mayor in Sol has over 100 vendors with nativity scenes, Christmas trees, toys, winter clothes, books and all things Christmas! It's free to look around and take pictures--but trust me, you'll probably want to bring a 20 euros or so to purchase some Christmas swag!

I will continually add to this list, but Madrid ALWAYS has a lot of events--especially in Lavapiés and in the Sol and Malasaña areas. You can find so much to do! You could spend the day window shopping or just getting lost in the mesmerizing narrow streets. Comment below if you'd like to add to the list!

As always, follow me on IG for more travel tips @KamalaAlcantara

xx,

Kamalía

City Spotlight: Segovia

Ever since I visited Spain two years ago, I've been raving about how Toledo is my absolute favorite city in the entire world.

But now, I think I’m going to have to say I have a two-way tie, because I just visited Segovia for the first time and am already in love.

Just like Toledo, Segovia is a magical place. Walking through its old, narrow streets I felt as though I had walked through a portal in time, with the city’s ancient buildings and vestiges of the past inviting me to contemplate what the world used to be like centuries ago. An overwhelming sense of humility and awe came over me as I took it all in, and as the bus took me away, I was already eagerly planning my return.

Whether or not you’re inclined to such emotional and philosophical reactions to ancient cities as I am, Segovia is certainly a place all can enjoy! Here are three reasons why Segovia is an absolute must-see:

1) Alcázar de Segovia IMG_1004
Disney fans will be delighted to know that this majestic castle is rumored to have inspired the Cinderella castle in Disney World. I would highly recommend touring the inside and enjoying the breathtaking landscape views from the castle's mighty tower.

2) Acueductos de Segovia IMG_0950
As one of the city's only remains of Roman times, the aqueducts are a glorious sight to behold. They stand tall and proud smack in the middle of the city, surrounded by adorable shops and restaurants. Also worth a climb to the top!

3) Catedral de Segovia IMG_0897
A testament to Gothic architecture, the cathedral is simply awe-inspiring. Its intricate designs and powerfully looming presence make it a worthy visit. 

Other notable Segovian sights are the Plaza Mayor, Casa de los Picos, and Barrio Judío, among many others. In short, a highly recommended and very easy day trip from Madrid!

Salamanca and Ávila

The Journey

Jenna, Maria, and I decided to take a day trip to Salamanca and Avila through a company called Smart Insiders. The company is a multicultural organization that specializes in trips and event planning. We were to meet the group at 9:00 am and head straight to Salamanca. The three of us decided to pack some to-go champagne and breakfast for the trip since we weren't going to make any stops before arriving to our destination. Once we arrived at the meeting point and were on the bus we headed off on our day adventure and it was a beautiful drive. There were rolling hills filled with small farm houses with many animals such as cows, horses, pigs, and dogs. The three of us were enjoying ourselves chatting and taking in the sites. We arrived to Salamanca at 11:30 am, and decided to take a quick break, grab a coffee, and start exploring.

Salamanca is a pretty small city so we knew we would be able to see the majority of it in the 5 hours that were allotted before heading to Ávila. Salamanca is on a hill with a University: Universidad De Salamanca, Old and New Cathedral, good shopping and restaurants, and a beautiful plaza in the center of the city; Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is a large plaza located in the center of Salamanca, used as a public square. It was built in the traditional Spanish baroque style and is a popular gathering area.The whole city seemed a gold brown color because of the ornate sandstone architecture. 

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Our first stops were the cathedrals and they were gorgeous. I couldn't believe how detailed the interiors of both were. Because we went on Sunday there were masses going on in both so it was nice to see how the church is utilized on a weekly basis.  ​​

Next, we decided to head to Plaza Mayor which is one of the most beautiful plazas I’ve seen. In Spain it is very common to have a plaza or meeting point located in the center of the city. In Madrid I live very close to Plaza Mayor, along with a few others for people to get together and socialize. Once we got to the plaza we were greeted with an old fashioned Flamenco street performance. We met some nice guys from Madrid who were also spending the day in Salamanca and we asked if they could take our picture.  ​​ ​​

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At this point in the day we were really hungry so we decided to go and grab some lunch. We went to a restaurant a little ways away from Plaza Mayor called Rio de la Plata. We arrived and ordered a wine and decided we wanted to eat some traditional Spanish fare such as pork, croquettes, and fried calamari. Croquettes are small breadcrumbed fried food in the shape of a roll. Usually the main ingredients are mashed potatoes or ground meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, and vegetables. Ours were ham and cheese and they were the best I've had in Spain so far. Salamanca is also known for their delicious meat so when I tried the pork I was very impressed with the flavor. I would go back to Salamanca just to have their meat dish again. Overall, I would rate the quality of food higher than in Madrid so I am excited to venture out of the big city to find other hidden gems in other cities around Spain. 

Ávila

After lunch we needed to get to the bus because we were heading to Ávila which is an hour drive from Salamanca. The city is the capital of the Spanish province of the same name, and is a city in the rolling hill country northwest of Madrid. It’s best known for its intact medieval city walls is known for it’s beautiful Roman architecture. On our way to Ávila I was taking in the beautiful rolling countryside. I thought it was even more beautiful than our drive to Salamanca. Once we arrived before we headed into Ávila, the tour guides took us to a looking point so we could take in the entirety of they city surrounded by the walls, and it was absolutely beautiful.  ​​

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Once we arrived in the city everyone in the group walked to the plaza, which as I mentioned before, is the center of the city. As it was getting dark the lights were illuminating on the stone walls and it was magical. ​​ Maria, Jenna, and I were getting tired so we decided that we would walk around for a little and grab some dinner. We went to this old cafe where they had hamburgers and other American inspired dishes. Since we already had our fill of Spanish food this sounded perfect to us. Once we ordered we sat and talked with our waiter and practiced a little Spanish.

At 8:30 it was time to go back to the bus and head back to Madrid. On the walk back it was dark and the city was gorgeous since you could see the lights very well, and get to see more details of the architecture.  I was happy with Smart Insiders and how they organized the day getting everyone to two cities. I look forward to more day trips like this in the future and being able to see different parts of Spain. 

From Salamanca, With Love

 

This past weekend I found myself in a beautiful place -- Salamanca.  Where to even begin?  

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My birthday trip was initially supposed to be to Granada.  But when Granada felt like too much for just a weekend, we had to regroup.  Where to go that was not too far and could be accomplished in a weekend?  Enter Rick Steves, or Ricky S, as I like to call him.  I’ve never been one to search through travel guides.  I’m not opposed to them, I think they’re quite fun actually.  And my dad usually manages to slip an Eyewitness sights-to-see book in my bag upon departure.  I guess I just rely on the internet.  This time I chanced upon Ricky S’ pages on Salamanca.  After “university town,” “Art Deco museum in a building from the same period,” and “perfect for a weekend,” I was sold.  Salamanca, ahoy!

There is a train to Salamanca that only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes from Madrid, but none of those train times worked with our schedules.  Instead we booked the train that takes just about 3 hours.  En route during sunset, outside the window we could see large, beautiful fields turning orange and purple as the sun descended.  Arriving in the dark in the US would probably bring people anxiety and empty streets.  In Spain?  No way.  We got off the train at around 9 and as we walked the streets towards our hotel, bars were packed, stores were open, and children were playing outside.  I love Spain.

We stayed at Microtel Placentinos, another Ricky S recommendation.  It was perfect: perfect location, perfect decor, perfect people.  It is behind the university and in a peaceful spot.  The breakfast included was also muy bueno: meats, cheeses, breads, croissants, yogurts, coffee, etc. etc.  I’ve grown to be slightly obsessed with these “free” breakfasts.  They save stress and money and take two seconds to get to!  Though one day I learned of Croissanteria Paris, and upon reading that one should go first thing in the morning to get the freshest croissants, I fled.  I returned with one croissant filled with spinach and cheese, one with milk chocolate, and another with raspberry jam and queso fresco.  This was pre-breakfast breakfast of course. 

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I digress!  I skipped to the croissants on Saturday morning.  Let’s go back to Friday night.  At check-in, the concierge cheerfully showed us a map of town and recommended a few places to go for tapas.  We dropped our stuff and trotted over to Bambú--apparently this is also a Ricky S recommendation, but I didn’t know it at the time!!!

No no no wow I’ve gone too far.  Let me go back to the walk from the train station to the hotel.  About 15 minutes in we hit one of the most amazing spots: the Plaza Mayor.  I was speechless at the time and I’m speechless now.  At night it is quite something, brightly lit and filled with people.  It feels like the place to be.  Will stop here and insert a photo below. 

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So, check-in, luggage left, Bambú.  The restaurant was crowded and everyone behind the counter was moving fast.  I felt we had two options: 1) we could take a seat, as most tourists might, to avoid the scary situation of having to stick out in the crowd of standing locals and fumble through asking what the display dishes are, or 2) we could conquer our fears, dive into the crowd of standing locals and own our tourist-selves.  I’m excited to say that we chose option 2.  And it wasn’t that bad!  In fact, it was wonderful.  We tried 7 various tapas and had 6 cañas (claras con limón).  The most delicious was an hojaldre of bacon and cheese.  Photos below.  Feast your eyes.

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Everyone was nice to us and we left feeling great.  We decided to walk on over to Cafe Novelty, a 1920s joint where I read they have special ice cream.  “We finished with the ice cream,” said the waiter.  Oops.  We left.  No problem!  Bambú had been a perfect first night adventure.

The next day we went first thing (after the Croissanteria Paris event and hotel breakfast) to the Oficina del Turismo in Plaza Mayor to collect our 4€ passes to both the Museo de Historia de la Automoción and Casa Lis--the Art Deco/Art Nouveau museum.  Easy peezy.  At this point I was feeling energized by my ability to go to a city in Spain and deal with tourist office things in Spanish.  We set off for the museums.

The car museum was fun--3 floors of automobiles from the late 19th century up until present day.  The Hispano Suizas were fun to see, as were the classic Rolls Royce, Ford Model-T, and Cadillac.  This museum is nice because the labels are simple, if you want to read them, and the point is really just to walk around and look at the cars.  After, we headed over to Casa Lis.

IMG_4808Casa Lis really is something to see.  Perched above the burnt orange rocks of Salamanca lies a facade of an Art Deco building, red flowers lining the multicolored stained glass windows.  Inside there are more stained glass windows that are fun to see.  The rooms hold everything from glass objects to mini-figurines to dolls to paintings.  It’s a mish-mash of things to explore.  I found the room with dolls fairly terrifying, but still interesting!  One of the nicest parts of the museum, though, is the cafe.  I sat in the cafe with a Viennese coffee while the sun shone through the windows and highlighted all of the vibrant colors of the room.  Surrounded by reproductions of paintings and objects in the museum, I sipped my coffee in what felt like a 1920s cafe.  I highly recommend this spot to anyone who finds their self in Salamanca.  Like, literally, not figuratively.  If figuratively, that’s awesome too!

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In an effort to not make this post into a novel, I’ll move on to some other Salamanca moments.  We took a 30-minute mini tourist train through the city and saw the Puente Romano from afar.  We searched for the frog and astronaut on the outside relief of the University building and Cathedral (upon renovation, fun images were added to the facades including an astronaut, a dragon eating ice cream, and more).  The frog is the symbol of the city, every type of frog is sold as every type of souvenir: snowglobes, shot glasses, figurines, fans, t-shirts, plates, this list could go on forever.  The university is from 1230, by the way.  The year 1230.  There’s something magical about the commitment to education that’s been there for so long.  And they hammer this point home for sure.  At the Convento de San Esteban, religious words are mixed with quotes that express a commitment to learning.  It’s cool, though kind of hard to accept, considering how many were excluded from educational opportunities over the centuries.  Or how many were thought to be “civilized” by this learning.  As a woman it can often be hard to see lines constantly talking of “a man’s spirit,” “a man’s this,” “a man’s that.”  But this certainly did not dull the magic of Salamanca the city.


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One highlight was taking funny photos with statues of the architects of Plaza Mayor.  Another was a band of students with horns playing Beatles tunes.  Just like these two moments the city is an amalgamation of old and new, history and present.  One minute you see Zara and Carrefour, the next you see a Gothic Cathedral built between 1513 and 1733 hovering high over the city.  Walking through the old, small streets of Salamanca, I felt alive.  It was a great place to spend the anniversary of another year of life.    

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20 Differences: Spain vs. Latin American Spanish

A Petite Traveler

When I first moved to Madrid, Spain at the beginning of August 2017, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country, and also by all the cultural differences, especially in the language. I learned Latin American and Mexican Spanish growing up in the United States. Here in Spain, I've learned European Spanish from my host family stay and from Tandem: a prestigious language learning school in Madrid. I'm still learning from my private Spanish classes, my intercambio partner who is a native European Spanish speaker, and from living in Spain! I've rounded up 20 differences in verbs, expressions, and what things are called here for your leisure. Of course, I do not offer an exhaustive list and I will continue to add to it! Please leave comments or follow me on Instagram @KamalaAlcantara if you have any questions or comments!

(All of my photos are purchased and licensed through Adobe Stock, except the one of me above, that's just a selfie! Haha.)

 

1. Vosotros

In the majority of American schools, our Spanish teachers skip this form and we only use "yo", "tú", "él/ella", "nosotros", and "ustedes/ellos/ellas". This is because they only use the vosotros form in Spain and there are over 20 other Spanish-speaking countries. Sorry, Spain! So if you're like me and you're immersed in Spain Spanish or otherwise called "Castilian" or Castellano, it sounds like a different language apart from Spanish!

For example: "¿Como estáis, chicas?" This means, "How are you?"--to 2 or more girls/women or even more basically: "How are ya'll?"

2. Vale.

In Spain, this word means "okay" or "alright". It is used in almost every sentence, everywhere, by EVERYONE! Once you start using "vale" you're on your way to assimilating into Spanish culture. 

3. ¡Qué guay!

This translates to "cool" or "awesome" or "amazing! This word is very highly used from children, to teenagers, to young adults, and to 30 to 40 somethings. 

4. Zumo

Juice. NO ONE says "jugo", no one...unless they're not from Spain... 

5. Conducir

This is the verb for "to drive". You may have learned "manejar". In Spain, everyone uses the word conducir.

6. Coger

I know, I know!  This is something Rated R in most Spanish-speaking countries, however, in Spain, this means "to take" (transportation or an object). For example, "Voy a coger un taxi." I'm going to take a taxi. 

7. Coche

This is the word for "car". You might have learned, or use the word, "carro". If you say carro, half the time they'll probably know what you're referring to, but everyone says coche here. 

8. ¡Genial!

Literally it means, "great!" You'll also hear this ALL the time! It's almost like "awesome!" For example, "Oh, I found an extra bottle of wine for the party!" You can respond, "¡Genial!"

9. Ahora Mismo

If you say, "ahorita" (translates to "right now"in Spain, you'll get some funny looks. They know what you're talking about; but it's more common to say "ahora mismo". It means "right now" or "this very minute" but it also can mean "in a couple minutes" or something you're about to do next!

10. Móvil

It's the word commonly used for "cell phone" vs. "celular".

11. Sobremesa

In Spain, we eat dinner around 9:00-10:00pm (21:00-22:00 Spain time). Late late late into the night, after dinner is over you'll find the Spanish still talking at the same table with friends, lovers and family. This time spent after dinner still talking at the table is referred to as "sobremesa". You don't actually use it in speech like, "let's go sobremesa", no! But just know there is actually a name for it! I love this culture...take your time and enjoy life!

12. No Pasa Nada.

You will hear this A LOT in Spain. It basically means "don't worry".

If you're taking too long at the grocery store to grab your card to pay at the cash register and you say, "Sorry! Just need to grab my card..." the cashier will probably say "No pasa nada". Literally this phrase is thrown out daily!

13. ¡Hombre!

This is literally just like saying "MAN!" or "Oh man (I forgot something)" in American English. Or like "what the heck!" This is usually said in excitement or exasperation. 

13. ¡Venga!

This basically means, "come on!" and can be said seductively all the way to angrily. It can mean "hurry up", or "let's go!" It can be said when an irritated dad is rushing a very slow 5-year old. You'll hear this a lot!

15. Puente

This word translate to "bridge" but in Spain it also refers to a long holiday break from work or school (like a 3-6 day weekend due to a holiday like Christmas or Semana Santa.) 

16. Ordenador

The word commonly used for "computer" or "laptop". In Spanish class in the U.S., you probably learned, "computadora". 

17. ¡Qué chungo! 

This word is a little versatile. Children and adults say it to mean "creepy" or "problematic". In this way it means "how creepy! or "how problematic!"

However if you were to say, as my private Spanish teacher said, "¡Ten cuidado! Ella parece una chica chunga." You're saying, "Be careful! She looks problematic", or like someone rough-looking that you shouldn't associate yourself with.

You can also say: "Estoy chungo/a" to mean something just doesn't feel right, or you don't feel well but you just don't know what it is.

18. Patata!

In Spain, instead of saying "cheeeese!" when someone takes a picture, you say "patataaaa!"

19. Cortado 

When you go into a café or one of the many delicious bakeries in Spain, you wouldn't say you want an espresso with milk, you have to say "¡Quiero un cortado, por fa!" They'll instantly know you mean you want an espresso with milk. Trust me, after 10+ cafes saying it wrong, my life is so much easier now!

20. "¡Ching ching!"

This is how you say, "Cheers!" in Madrid, Spain. It's also pretty widely used in other languages in other European countries--same sound but different spelling!

And there you have it! I'll be sure to add to this list as I learn more words!

xx,

Kamalía

 

For more travel tips and adventures, follow me on Instagram: @KamalaAlcantara

Barcelona on a Budget!

PArk Guell

Barcelona, Spain is an incredible city that you absolutely HAVE to see for yourself. You've probably heard of the famous Sagrada Familia, the beautiful Park Güell, and the epic market La Boqueria: The Mercat de Sant Josep. Travel can be quite expensive; but to be a savvy traveler, all you need is to do a little research and set a budget before going. I stayed in Barcelona with my fiancé for 3 days and 2 nights and we only spent 100 euro/per person. You could easily spend 300 euros per person in Barcelona, trust me! 

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In those 3 days, we explored the city by foot (free), bicycle (6€ for 2 hours), metro (4,50€ 1 trip), and bus (6€ airport bus)! We stayed at the Atlantis Hotel where we took advantage of the free and filling breakfast. When you go, spend a couple hours exploring and going into shops at Plaça de Catalunya, walking around and taking in the sights and landmarks like Arc de Triomf (above). We spent time strolling through La Boqueria and couldn't help but taste some of the delicacies (fresh oysters, fresh Yakisoba noodles) and of course savored some interesting yet tasty chocolates. Bring some euros with you because the minimums for credit/debit card are horrendous and force you to spend money! For example, chocolates can be anywhere from .50-5€, they also had oysters ranging from 3-9€ each, the minimums can be 10-20€. Food in Barcelona is super affordable with restaurants offering lots of deals and meals being anywhere from 2-12€! 

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We didn't end up going inside La Sagrada Familia since there was a lot of construction and the line was longer than a new Disneyland ride line (2 hours + wait) but it was wonderful to just SEE it! 

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There are tons of really cool shops and restaurants near the Sagrada Familia; you can easily take the metro there as they have a stop that's literally called La Sagrada Familia, haha. You can buy tickets to La Sagrada Familia here!

Park Güell is also budget-friendly and you have to see it as well!  The picture of my fiancé and I above is taken at Park Güell. It's wise to purchase your ticket online (9€/per person) to enter this part of the park. You definitely want to see it! You can order tickets online here

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A list of free places to see (can fill 2-3 days):

  • Park Güell (the top half)
  • La Boqueria
  • Gothic Quarter (filled with tons of amazing architecture, narrow pathways, cheap bars and restaurants to grab lunch or dinner)
  • Plaça de Catalunya 
  • Walk along the beach, port
  • The Arc de Triomf (pictured above)

I could write so much more! Any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out on Instagram @APetiteTraveler or leave a comment below!

 

xx,

Kamalía

 

 

 

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