There’s something about doors that just make my brain fill with wonder. Like travel, doors always lead to something new and often to something unexpected. Like the story of the Lady or the Tiger or Let’s Make a Deal.
This door in Barcelona seems to lead to a classical place where graffiti monsters rule. Aren’t you curious what lies on the other side?
Does this door in Bergamo, Italy actually lead to anywhere? Why is it locked. What’s it hiding? Does it lead to Narnia?
Is there a French family drinking Bordeaux behind this French door? Can you almost hear the laughter? Oui.
This Brussels, Belgium door is altogether more serious. Are there great works of art on the other side or serious EU business going on?
Couscous perhaps? Maybe a carpet shop? What does your imagination say is behind this door in the Fez Medina? What about this door from a cave in San Bernardino above Grenada in Spain. How do the troglodyte gypsies pass their days. Beer, fortune telling, black magic? Or just a card game and some cooking.
Finally this one in the magical city of Marrakesh. Don’t you feel like you are falling in?
Lao Tzu famously said that without opening your door you can see the world and I think that might explain the fascination with travel. We all wonder just what is on the other side of the door and sometimes it’s even more wonderful than we imagine.
Looking for a Madrid hotel? Here are five of the best upscale and boutique places to stay in the Spanish capital…
Found in the Palomas neighbourhood, close to Juan Carlos I Trade Fair Ground (IFEMA) and Barajas Airport, Osuna Hotel might seem best-suited to business travellers on first appearances – but it also has a lot to offer those in Madrid on leisure. The city centre is ten minutes away by taxi, and the hotel itself has a whole host of fancy facilities. One large, secluded pool lets you take your morning dip, while the poolside restaurant El Mirador serves up Mediterranean fusion cuisine. All rooms have internet access, air conditioning and smart modern décor.
THC Bergantin Hostel
Found just a block from Madrid’s main square the Puerto del Sol, THC Bergantin Hostel is perfect for first-timers to the city as it puts you within walking distance of all the main sites. The beautiful Royal Palace, Real Theatre and Almudena Cathedral are all easily reachable on foot from your front door, as well as party areas like Huertas where you can get plates of tapa alongside every drink. The hotel itself has just 15 tastefully-decorated spacious rooms, so it’s great for a more intimate and romantic break away. Perks include Wi-Fi access, air conditioning and free city tours arranged by helpful staff.
Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via
Next to Madrid’s famous main shopping-and-sightseeing thoroughfare the Gran Via, Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via puts you in the centre of the action. Other must-see places nearby include the gorgeous Parque del Retiro and Madrid’s ‘golden triangle’ of museums, the Prado, Reina Sophia and Thyssen. The Reina Sophia holds Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica. At the hotel itself, you’re treated to the ultimate in style and comfort for relatively low rates – rooms have plasma TVs, airy balconies and hydro-massage showers in bathrooms. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the building, and a full breakfast is served daily. You can also rent bikes from reception.
High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto
If you’ve got an early flight to catch, you’re travelling on business or you just like the fuss-free convenience of staying near the airport, High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto has everything you need and style in spades. There is a free shuttle bus to and from the airport, so you don’t have to worry about catching a train or shelling out for a taxi. The hotel owns a large outdoor pool for taking advantage of the city’s famous sunny days. Inside, your room is kitted out with the latest fancy technology, including a flat screen TV, hydro-massage shower and free Wi-Fi access. You can also sweat out your cares in the sauna, or treat yourself to local delicacies like Iberico ham at the restaurant. Popular business and conference areas Fuencarral, Chamartin and the Paseo de la Castellana are on your doorstep.
THC Latina Hostel
Found in the stylish La Latina neighbourhood, about half an hour’s walk south of Madrid’s main square the Puerta del Sol, THC Latina Hostel offers stylish and affordable rooms that feel like a home away from home. With luxuries like LCD TVs, parquet floors, modern décor, pretty balconies and free Wi-Fi, you’re sure to be comfy here. Outside, the neighbourhood is calm and safe, and you’re only a short walk from the bustle of local bars and restaurants that Madrid’s tourists haven’t claimed for their own yet. You can rent bikes from the front desk ,and La Latina Metro station is four minutes’ walk from the hotel – from here you can whiz to the centre of town in ten minutes flat.
Although famous for its white sandy beaches, delicious cuisine and super-cool culture, there’s another reason why the Basque city of San Sebastian is such a coveted holiday destination. Each August, the city becomes a feverish hub of activity for Semana Grande, or ‘Big Week’ – a spectacular festival featuring Papier-mâché bulls, hundreds of pirates, and many thousands of fireworks!
For the San Sebastian locals, Semana Grande is the highlight of their cultural calendar and seemingly every resident will don costumes and take to the streets to party on each day. This year’s Semana Grande, held between the 11th and 18th of August was no exception, and throughout the seven days of the festival dozens of activities took place across the city from cookery lessons to outdoor sporting tournaments, though certain unforgettable events really whipped up the crowds.
The first of these was the annual Pirate Attack, where some 3,000 amateur seamen took to the waters of San Sebastian in their handmade boats – dressed in the requisite pirate outfits, of course! The pirates made the journey from the San Sebastian harbour towards La Concha beach, clinging anxiously to their shaky crafts as crowds cheered them on their way.
Next up was the procession of the ‘gigantes’ and ‘cabezudos’, the giant and big-headed puppets that are carried through the streets of San Sebastian each day and accompanied by music, dancing and a highly zealous crowd. As per tradition, the giants and big-headed characters singled out members of the crowd to chase, which delighted many of the local children and caught more than a few unsuspecting tourists off-guard!
As night fell, the crowds filled the streets again for the Encierro de Torros de Fuego, or the ‘Running of the Fire Bulls’ during which large Papier-mâché bulls with fireworks for horns were paraded through the streets every evening, as more fireworks exploded over the darkened bay. This was part of the annual contest between pyrotechnic companies to produce the most stunning, spectacular and superbly designed fireworks display, of which the winner was announced at the end of the festival – a title that’s so coveted, the companies will spend the entire year planning their entry!
While I ‘m here, I’m constantly singing The Barber of Seville,
The opera is featured in the Our Gang comedy, “Our Gang Follies of 1938”, in that Alfalfa is tired of just being a crooner and decides instead to actually sing opera, auditioning for “The Barber of Seville”. In fact, after his intro in the follies, he comes out on stage with an accordion shout-singing “I’m the Barber of Se-VILLE!!”
It is pretty here at night though…and seems to be a pretty nice city, which aside from a lack of garbage pickup has a lot to offer…especially if you are into drinking…which, these days I am not.
ABC stores have made it to Spain! Not just Hawaii anymore!
While it may mean that I end up in hell, I freely admit that I just went to Burger King and ate a whopper with onion rings plus a caramel sundae and it was completely delicious and satisfying. The king for this king.
(Originally posted 04 April 2009)
This was a post I wrote back in early 2009 – right on the cusp of my life taking a dramatically different turn. This was one of those points where life is giving you many roads you can follow – and the one you choose will determine your entire future. I considered staying in Granada….and there were many paths I could have followed from there. I wonder where the many roads from Granada might have led – but as I sit here in 2020, living in Hawaii with my Moroccan wife and our beautiful daughter, I can only tell you where this one led.
Ernest Hemingway wrote “How lazily the sun goes down in Granada, it hides beneath the water, it conceals in the Alhambra!” and he is not the only artist to note the beauty and wonder that surrounds this place. Shakespeare said “Every inquisitive traveler keeps Granada in his heart, without having even visited it.” Chateaubriand said “Granada is like the crystal bride of our dreams, whoever beholds it has the illusion of visiting it again.” And perhaps that is the case for me, but I only know that this city, the energy that exists here, and the people that inhabit it are a wonder worthy of noting. Granada is one of those places that stays with you, whether you go there by plan or simply as one of those last minute holidays that fate pulls from nowhere and springs on you like a wondrous surprise.
Here are a few of the moments and people that have made the past few days so wondrous.
This is Lisa, an English girl with whom I ate delicious meal, drank coffee in a magic coffeehouse, and rambled through a dusty used bookstore with. I loved her adventurous and literary spirit. And these are the eyes of Nieves, Susana, and Constantina…three of my many companions today as we strolled through the gypsy parts of Granada exploring the caves that the gypsies live in, seeking flamenco, braving the rain, eating paella, and visiting the homes of friends.
Along the way we visited a crowded patisserie and got coffee in a dark sheesha bar.
We found the king of the Barrio Abayzin at the highest point he could find.
Alhambra is beautiful. Together, with these new friends, how can there be anything as enjoyable to the soul.
Perhaps I will run out of money, come back to Granada, move into a cave like the one below, clean it and then get evicted by the gypsies who own it when the work is done, this, I am told, is what happens. I could enjoy a cave like this, do you think it has internet access?
The weather here has changed a bit and rain and thunder come down. The hardest part of travel is to leave friends behind and as I move along, I too, find this difficult. Here in Granada, as in Barcelona, I have made friends that I don’t want to leave. It’s the same in Hawaii, Salt Lake City, and everywhere I have found new and wonderful people. When I find them, I don’t want to leave.
Tomorrow though I will head to La Linea and Gibraltar and then on to Morocco. Before I leave Spain though, I should note a few things. In The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Thereaux noted that the Mediterranean coast cities are filled with dog shit. It’s an offensive description, but no one here will deny it is true. Three out of five of us today stepped in dog shit at different points. Susana said that here they say that when you step in shit, it is good luck and people go to buy lottery tickets. We agreed however that we don’t need shit.
Also two innovations that I can’t believe don’t exist in the USA. First of all, when you wash the dishes here, there is no dish rack, the rack is actually the cupboard where you keep the dishes, right above the sink. Also, here there are variable flush toilets that allow to use less water for #1 and more water for #2.
This was the first Christmas blog I ever posted – waaaaaay back in 2005….things were different then, this was a different blog, but it’s still a fun bit of Christmas!
Pooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Here is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.
The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger
A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.
In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.
The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:
Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.
The exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.
The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.
The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Christmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.
The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).
4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.
Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.
Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?
Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?
Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.
Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.
5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to
If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.
Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.
Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.
If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.
6) Don’t learn any of the local language
Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.
Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.
Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.
Here’s a fun video I put together that hits some of the video I shot on my travels during 2009-2012 in Serbia, South Korea, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey, Egypt, and a whole bunch of other places – I wasn’t real sure what to do with these so I proudly present to you – Vagobond Travel Dramatic. Please be sure to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. I’ve had several people ask me who the singer is that is just chilling out next to the Thames and grooving – I have no idea, but I enjoyed his impromptu show. He could be someone very famous for all I know…
I arrived in Spain back in early January of 2009. It was a mind blowing experience. I’d been couch surfing for several years but I arrived in Barcelona at the height of the platform being great. Barcelona was hosting a European Couchsurfing Meetup so there were hundreds of CSers and hosts were going all out to showcase their city.
I need to talk about what Couchsurfing was at that time for you to understand – there was no AirBnB and social media was still a toddler. Couchsurfing was a way for like minded global citizens to meet each other, share their cities and countries, and become friends. It was absolutely astounding. No one was charging for rooms and we hadn’t reached the point where baby boomers trying to save money on their travels were trying to use Couchsurfing as a way to get a cheap room. There was no such thing as a ‘global digital nomad’ and working remote was still a thing that was the exception rather than the rule. Only the oldest of millennials were on the road – this was mostly a young cohort of Gen X before marriage or startups slowed us down. Travel blogging was a thing – but it was a NEW thing and food blogging, mommy blogging, and those kind of niches weren’t around yet because we invented them later. There was no Instagram, Youtube was a real struggle on the road, and everyone carried an actual camera – digital, but not a phone – a camera.
So there I was – arriving in Spain, making new friends, and finding out that there was an entire world of people like me. It was exhilarating. I wish it could have lasted forever. Just a few years later – it was an experience that couldn’t happen again. Condenast and other Boomer travel magazines had found that Boomers could save a few bucks using CS. Date rapists and scammers had infiltrated the CS community and put everyone on edge. AirBnb came along and showed everyone that rather than giving their rooms away they could rent them out, and then the ‘boomer mini-me’ generation came of age and made everything that had been cheap more expensive as their digital nomad lifestyles, van lifestyles, and desire for foods that had been cheap (avocados, ramen, saracha, granola, brown bread etc) made those foods and experiences expensive. And of course, smart phones, Instagram and the other tech we take for granted today made a lot of what we did impractical or unnecessary. Back in those days hosts were guides, friends, ambassadors, and sometimes lovers – as were the other CSers we met. 2006 to 2011 were the glory days of Couchsurfing – if you missed it – well, maybe you can get a sense from this video.
A few days ago, I asked readers if budget travel is worth it. The overwhelming answer is – yes, of course it is. And, actually, I totally agree. I admit that sometimes you need to bite the bullet and spend a little bit extra to avoid discomfort and inconvenience – but for the most part, if the choice is between no travel and budget travel – take budget travel.
Maybe you’ve noticed that I manage to see quite a few places and you’ve thought to yourself “It must be nice to have enough money to travel like that – I wish I had the money to do that!”
The fact of the matter is, so do I. The other fact of the matter is that I don’t. In the past several decades it has been the exception rather than the rule for me to have a job where my time belongs to someone else. I don’t usually have any savings. I’m in debt up to my ears (but am constantly deferring my student loans) and yet even in that condition, I’ve managed to travel to 50 or so countries, have a fabulous wedding in the Sahara, and get quite a few little side trips and excursions in too. How do I do it?
Honestly, I’m not sure, but the following is some of what I’ve figured out about how to travel for next to nothing. Hopefully, it will inspire one or two of you out there to get off your butts and hit the road like you’ve always dreamed of. If it does and your life changes forever, feel free to buy me a beer someday.
A trip to a theme park costs most than I spend on most of my solo international adventures. World travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are many times that it is free.
Of course the travel agencies, cruise lines, and airlines don’t want you to know that. Big hotels and resorts live off of people who don’t know where they would stay without Hilton or Marriott to house them. Those guys and the talking heads in the media earn their salaries selling trips to all-inclusive resorts and big time guided tours of places you can walk through for free.
They are banking on the fact that your imagination stops at your credit card and that most people are just too damn scared to take a chance when they leave the confining comfort of their own home. I’m about to spoil that misconception. Unless those guys start sponsoring me, I’m going to keep giving away tips and tricks that open up the entire world to you.
Nothing holds you back more than fear. Fear of the unknown. FDR said it right, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Face it, you’re going to die and you’re going to lose everything. We all do. You have very little control about when that is going to happen. The thing that makes most people miss out on the joy of travel is that they think they can control it and so they stay at home watching Netflix until they die of a coronary. They know the geography of the world, but they’ve never seen it. If you don’t open the door, you won’t see anything but the television.
Tip #1 for Cheap World Travel:
Let go of all that routine that arises from you trying to control your own dead end. The best thing about living is new experience and you can have as many as you want for free. Once you step away from your societal imposed responsibilities, you find that the world opens up and gives you more joy than you’ll ever find trying to buy your future security at the expense of the present.
When you start breaking free of your routine, you will discover the wonder of new faces and places, taste incredible new foods, and discover secrets about yourself and the world that you never expected to find.
Each new wonder unfolds before you like a road that was hidden from view and like any road, a new experience will often lead you to another and another and another. When you walk the road of travel, you get to experience life differently from when you take a package vacation or go through the daily motions in your ‘home’. In fact, the world is your home, if only you choose to accept it.
Sunsets are free. Mountaintops don’t cost a thing. Walking through a public market takes not a dime. Striking up a conversation with someone working beside a road you are walking down can lead to adventures you can’t imagine. Just being in a new place will provide you with more insights about yourself and the world than all the new clothes, fancy meals, or well rehearsed tourist trips can ever give you.
Your mentality is the primary reason why world travel costs a ton. Change it and you will find that few things are as cheap.
Here is another destination from my bucket list in the Canary Islands. I’m not sure how long this place would be fun, but I’d certainly like to check it out. It might be some time before I’m able to venture forth from Honolulu, but there’s no problem with being stuck in Hawaii. Happy Summer!
Costa Teguise is an intentional tourist coastal town in the Municipality of Teguise on the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands of Spain. It is a completely planned tourist city which offers four natural beaches Playa de los Charcos, Playa de las Cucharas, Playa del Jablillo and Playa Bastián.
Costa Teguise is found on the far east side of Lanzarote Island. Those who delight in water sports or just enjoy beaches and sunshine return to frequently the Costa Teguise for scuba diving, surfing, windsurfing, sailing, fishing, diving and much much more. In addition, it is said to be a great place for golf, horseback riding and just lounging around. Costa Teguise gets an average of 300 days of sunshine each year. No wonder it was picked for a planned tourist destination.
Crystal clear glowing blue waters rich with life provide the right environment with 500 distinct kind of species of fish within itss exclusive aquatic surroundings. Costa Teguise holidays are pure super styling. In terms of accommodation, Costa Teguise has many five star resorts to choose from. A few of the beach front resorts offer entertainment, tours, and beach activities in house so that you don’t need to go anywhere else.
Of course, it’s nice to get out and check out the nearby villages on Teguise too. On Saturday mornings, the village has a massive open air market with stalls and everything from souvenirs to hand made loaves of bread. Folk singers and dancers in native costume are also to be found.
The big attraction to Costa Teguise though is the nightlife. Hundreds of bars, clubs, restaurants, live music and pubs are filled with holiday goers and for pretty reasonable amounts of money, you can live like a superstar. Costa Teguise holidays are the stuff dreams are made of – if your dream is to live it up in style.
While it is known that the Phoenecians were there, followed by the Romans and the Arabs then settled the island, the French explored it, and the Spanish conquered it – most of the archeological evidence has disappeared under lava in the eruptions of 1730-1736 so, if you are looking for a cultural holiday – this isn’t the spot. This is a party scuba dive, wind surf place. In terms of handicrafts and the local economy- the island thrived for a while by producing cochineal, an expensive, crimson dye taken from the carapace of a scale insect that lives on cactus. Cochineal is used for dying fabric, decorating china, in cosmetics, and as a food colouring. You can take a cochineal dying workshop if you must do something cultural while you are there.
What to do and where to go? Near Costa Teguise, four amazing beaches wait for you. Playa las Cucharas is the biggest and most beautiful; however, it is also very crowded, especially in the summer season. Tourists come from all over Europe to enjoy the sun here. The other three beaches Playa Bastian, Playa Jablillo and Playa Los Charcos are better if you don’t enjoy crowds or want to get away from the hustle you find at Playa las Cucharas, but these beaches are famous for their hot white sand and turquoise water.
Tired of the beach? Have fun in a water park or shoot a round of golf. The only water park in Lanzarote is near Costa Teguise. The kids will love it. There are many fun attractions for older people too. If you don’t want to waste your energy in the water park, you can play some golf. Costa Teguise Golf course is just a few miles away from the water park; the view from the greens are gorgeous. A visit the Castle of Santa Barbara will take your breath away. The streets and houses will delight you as well: their style and structure is unique in Spain.
The island has been a World Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO) since 1993 and there is some interesting flora and fauna to be found. Here is the bottom line – beer is cheaper than coke and wine is cheaper than orange juice – accommodations are resort style and the best thing to do here is to spend your days enjoying the sun and water and your nights partying like a rock star.
I know that the rain is Spain falls mainly on the plains but for me, Madrid is hot and dusty and not really the top of my destination list in Spain at all. Most people go straight for Ibiza or the Canary Islands but the following five are my favorite Spanish beach destinations.
Barcelona – I’ve heard some people claim that Barcelona has become too saturated, it is past it’s prime and that it is no longer the place to visit. I heartily beg to disagree. Barcelona is seeped in art and everything from the paving stones to the upper stories of grafitti speak to the creative. From the Sagrada Familia to the bars and clubs along the shore. This is a city that you don’t want to miss! I love Barcelona and you will too. Spain’s second city, full of modernist buildings and a vibrant cultural life, nightclubs, and beaches
Granada is the ultimate destination for cheap Spanish holidays with free tapas and cheap drinks but there is more to this city than just a great vacation destination. This stunning city in the south, surrounded by snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, home of La Alhambra and a sizable population of gypsies. In fact, Granada holds the Alhambra, one of the most beautiful palaces of Europe, built by the Moors when they occupied Spain and once lived in and rhapsodized about by Washington Irving. Add to that the usual beautiful cathedrals, the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, and the gypsies of San Bernadino and suddenly, you are in love with Granada.
Alicante is a town I think of and then I think of Popeye the sailor. Maybe it’s the Popeye cafe or the Popeye Hotel or maybe the fishing boat called Popeye – but that’s the truth. In fact, this is a magnificent coastal town only recently discovered by tourism. Amazing hilltop fortifications and castle, magnificent beach. Yes, Alicante well deserves to be on this list.
Valencia. Paella was invented here.. My first visit to Valencia was far too short. I didn’t get into the undercurrents of dance, romance, and technological verve that serves this city. Home of the first oranges in Europe and home to some incredible monuments and cathedrals, classic Spanish architecture and the far out City of Arts and Science.
Tarifa is a city best experienced in the warm months. If you head there in January or February (like I did the first time), you are likely to find it all closed up and looking windy and grim – but head there in the warm months and the city earns it’s nickname of the Hawaii of Europe. Sure, nothing compares to Oahu or Maui, but Tarifa is a fun place with plenty of pubs, nightlife, great wind surfing and easy day trips to Morocco if you have a mind to take one. Spain is a country that is best experienced slow and low – so don’t try to see it all in two weeks!
Tenerife is another one of my island bucket list destinations.
Since Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, is so far away from each of the continents in distance, its culture and history are very different and isolated from Spain, and other countries. Though these are Spanish islands found in the Atantic Ocean, they are closer geographically to the African nation of Morocco.
The history of Tenerife, and the other islands in the chain, were uniquely written according to the trips of Christopher Columbus. During Columbus’ exploratory time, the Canary Islands natives were called Guanches, and some documents confirm some facts about them and the Spaniards who came to the islands. It is assumed that the Guanches were of North African origin from modern day Morocco, and they lived among the volcanic mountains, eating the island’s bounty of fruits and vegetables.
According to their culture, they were known for their sculptural and folkloric traditions. On the islands you can find some great sculptures made by: Sevillano Martin de Anduhar, Rodrigues de la Olviva, Fernando Esteve and Lujan Perez. All existed after the XVII centuries.
One of the most well-known historical events that took place was a battle with English Commander Horacio Nelson in 1797. Santa Cruz, which is the capital of Tenerife, was attacked; Horacio lost his battle and his arms. The natives numbered about 15,000 at the time they got attacked. Moreover, the attack divided the island into 9 partitions, and each one of them was under the authority of a “Mencey”. Alexander Von Humboldt gave life back to the islands and made them great tourist destinations for people from all over the world.
The main reason Folkloric events became popular on the islands was because of the Spanish and Portuguese arts, and their heritage. Music and dancing is a mix between Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American melodies and they are danced typically with a guitar of 4 or 5 strings only. These events always occur with the Sabadeno Festival during September in La Laguna. In the Playa de los Cristianos, the International Folklore Festival takes place in August. On November 18th, a volcanic eruption in the Chinyero volcano took place in 1909, and these islands are famous for their volcanoes and volcanic sand beaches.
The islands were at first famous for their sugar cane, which was one of the most popular plants grown and exported. Then wine came through the Malvasia grapes which became the source of the island’s economy during the 16th century, and the wine trade gradually disappeared over the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Some cities sprung up among the islands, thanks to the natives and changes in their lifestyle. Cities like Santa Cruz have over 200,000 residents, and La Orotava is located in a fertile valley, while La Laguna was founded in 1497 on the shares of a lake that has dried up in the last century, leaving only culture and history.
I hate to admit that my travel has been seriously curtailed these past couple of years by a couple of things. First, living in the USA has caused some serious changes in our lives. Unless you are in the top 10% of wealth, living in the USA is expensive and requires one or both parts of a couple to work fairly constantly – the time constraints of that alone make travel difficult and then add in the monetary constraints – especially living in Honolulu, Hawaii – one of the least affordable places in the USA. So, time and money and then the constraint of having a school age child. Essentially, we are both needed for school drop-offs and pick-ups, swim lessons, etc during all but the peak holiday travel periods – which in the USA means that our family only has the opportunity to travel during the periods when travel companies raise their rates by as much as 50% for airlines, cars, hotels and more. The point is – living in the USA generally makes travel unaffordable for families. Living in Hawaii with a family (because you have to fly to get anywhere from Hawaii and we don’t have budget airlines like RyanAir in the USA) makes travel not quite impossible, but for people with our income level – close to impossible. Still, I’m not complaining – we love it here and I still enjoy putting together future trips. With that in mind, I bring you Majorca (also spelled Mallorca sometimes)
If you are like a lot of people, when you hear Majorca, you think of British retirees basking in the gorgeous sunlight and enjoying warmth and fresh air while they enjoy the retired life. The truth is Majorca has a lot going for it if you are looking for adventure too. These three adventures are just a small selection of truly awesome Majorca adventures that are not for those with heart conditions or severe vericose veins (though they might be doable even if you do have those things)
Majorca Adventure #1: Canyoning
Canyoning involves walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling and/or swimming through a canyon. The limestone in Majorca’s Tramuntana mountain range boasts many canyons that have been carved out over millions of years by water. These narrow gorges, with beautifully sculpted walls and waterfalls provide a striking setting for this all-action activity. This is one activity that your grandparents are not going to be seen doing during their Majorca holidays.
The sport is practised throughout the year in Mallorca with the best weather from October to April when the rainfall is at its heaviest. I don’t know why it’s better with heavy rain, but for some reason, that’s the season to do it. Could have to do with the lush greenery and scenic waterfalls – or maybe the mud makes it more treacherous.
The top places to go canyoning on Majorca are Torrente Coanegre, Torrente Na Mora, and Torrente Sa Fosca
Majorca Adventure #2: Sea Kayaking
Sure, you might be thinking of calm seas and easy paddling, but the truth is there is some incredibly challenging blue water around Majorca. Whether you choose guided or self guided, the place to start is Playa d’en Repic Beach in Puerto Soller. Paddling north along the coastline, in the direction of Cala Tuent, you will find caves, blowholes and rocky inlets, and if you are lucky you may come across a dolphin or two.
A nice destination is s’Illeta, a small island, about 4 kilometres from Playa d’en Repic which is home to a large colony of cormorant and has an exceptionally large cave – the Vell Mari – which is more than 500 metres deep. Are you brave enough to paddle in?
Majorca Adventure #3: Cliff Jumping
It Cala San Vincente, close to Pollensa, you can find some amazing cliffs overlooking the sea. You can jump in – if you dare. The cliffs can be up to 15 meters high and it’s an amazingly terrifying experience! Make sure if you decide to jump that you wear sensible shoes, you know the depth of the water and you aim for the right spot. In fact, an organized cliff jumping trip with a group, where you will be guided by an expert is probably a good idea. The cliffs are very sharp so it’s important that the currents are not too strong, but this sport can take place all year round thanks to the warm temperatures in Majorca.
In 2008, I left Hawaii in the midst of the great recession. My entire life changed as a result. One of my early stops after I had crossed America by train was the city of Valencia in Spain.
Valencia is a city known the world over for the Oranges that bear its name. And yet, most Valencia Oranges come from Southern California – or so I thought until a bit of research indicated that most now come from Florida. And did they originate in Valencia, Spain? Nope. They originally came from India. Who knew?
Its name comes from the city of Valencia, Spain, known through history for its sweet orange trees, originally from India. The patented orange hybrid was later sold by William Wolfskill to the Irvine Ranch owners, who would plant nearly half of their lands to its cultivation. The success of this crop in Southern California led to the naming of Orange County, California. The Irvine Company’s Valencia operation later split from the company and became Sunkist. Cultivation of the Valencia in Orange County had all but ceased by the mid-1990s due to rising property costs from urban sprawl, which drove most of what remained of the Southern California juice orange industry into Florida and Brazil.
Almost two months on the road. I’ve been from Honolulu to Portland to Sacramento to Salt Lake City to Ogden and back to Salt Lake City to Chicago by way of Denver to Boston to Providence to Lena’s town to New York City to Barcelona to Valencia and now going to head to Alacante.
Valencia is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia and the third largest city in Spain after Madrid andBarcelona, with around 809,000 inhabitants in the administrative centre. It is the 23rd most populous municipality in the European Union. Valencia is also Spain’s third largest metropolitan area, with a population ranging from 1.7 to 2.3 million. The Port of Valencia is the 5th busiest container port in Europe and the largest on theMediterranean Sea, with a trade volume of 4.21 million TEU’s.
Now, the country. Spain is remarkable. The bars don’t really start happening until midnight. From noon to about five pm most everything is closed. As I travel from East to West I start to see California everywhere I look only instead of adobe missions, I see huge stone castles and massive block apartment buildings built around narrow lanes. The water of the Mediterranean is the same incredible blue of the water in the Philippines.
The craggy mountains and yellow stone with brightly painted houses on rocky ground excites me. The cultures all seem to be individualistic, as if this were some nation cobbled together from many tribes Catalan, Valencian, Basque, and Spanish and yet, they are all a part of this incredible country that discovered the new world, or at least made the horrific contact and then proceeded to dominate, decimate, and reshape the cultures there.
From the gypsies I saw playing accordion and fiddle on the train to the musician/beggars who stand guard with palms out in front of the churches to the celebration of South American dance I wandered upon my first night in Valencia, there is a vibrancy to this culture that is perhaps best summed up by the concept of memento mori, the idea of something to remind one that death is perhaps not as far away as we may think it to be.
I can see this idea in the works of Picasso, Gaudi, and Miro but even in the way that my Spanish friends seem to live their lives. There is a feeling that seems to say that one must spend the last dollar, catch the siesta now, or love the woman of your dreams in this moment because the moment might be taken from one at any time. I think this is perhaps what most resonates with me here in Spain, this idea of carpe diem or living the present moment to the fullest.
Valencia was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC. The city is situated on the banks of the Turia, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, fronting the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. Its historic centre is one of the largest in Spain, with approximately 169 acres; this heritage of ancient monuments, views and cultural attractions makes Valencia one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Major monuments include Valencia Cathedral, the Torres de Serranos, the Torres de Quart, the Llotja de la Seda (declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996), and the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), an entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela.
As to my language studies, they are somewhat hopeless it seems. As I learn Spanish it is corrupted by my little French, then there is the Spanish as spoken by Italianos and Catalans. A guy in Valencia told me that the Spanish lisp (Buenath Notcthes) is the result of a king they once had who had a lisp and everyone in the country decided to speak like him. In any event, my Spanish vocabulary is growing, but confused and when I tried to speak Arabic to the Moroccans at the less than spectacular Pension Milano, I found that it is locked up for the moment in an inacessable part of my brain. As I start to access it, my vulgar spanish becomes corrupted by Arabic as well….
Cest la vie. Que sais. Al hamdallah.
The Museu de Belles Arts de València houses a large collection of paintings from the 14th to the 18th centuries, including works by Velázquez, El Greco, and Goya, as well as an important series of engravings by Piranesi. The Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (Valencian Institute of Modern Art) houses both permanent collections and temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and photography.
At this point, I have considered to discard my coffee cup and French press several times. I like the invention, but it seems unnecessary since coffee is one thing that is readily available and cheap. I’ve not used it nor my metal water bottle yet in Europe, but I have the feeling that as soon as they are gone, I will find myself wanting them maybe one more week and then I can get rid of the cup and press. They are easily replaceable and they haven’t been used on this trip yet at all, the water bottle it is more useful and I will keep it. (future note: both have been incredibly useful and are still with me 3 years later)
The city of Science and Technology was amazing to see, but was it worth the cost? Valencia is integrated into an industrial area on the Costa del Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast). Valencia’s main festival is the Falles. The traditional Spanish dish, paella, originated in Valencia.
The buses are more expensive between cities than I expected, I think this may be to the rise in gas prices last summer. 20-30 Euros for each leg so far. The ferry to Morocco should be about the same. Accommodation runs 10-20 euros each night in the hostels and pensions.
As for couch surfing, it isn’t really so much a way to save money as to meet new people and make new friends. If I hadn’t of couch surfed in Barcelona, I would have spent far less, but the experience would also have been far less. To be a good couch surfer, I think one should provide something to ones host, a bottle of wine, beers, a meal…something. Perhaps I am too generous, but this seems a small price to pay for the generosity I have recieved from my hosts.
Two months into this and almost 1/3 of my funds are gone. Yikes. We will see..the time will pass and the road will have its way with me as it always does. The lessons learned will be more than to simply be able to get by in other regions of the world, it will be more like how to get by in this life.
Once I hit Turkey, I will examine the prediction a client of mine once made to me when I was a stock broker. He said something like “Your destiny is to manage a guest house on the banks of the Bosphorus” , perhaps he was right, but if not then I will move on to India and then most likely to Korea to teach English… there is a lot of road between here and there though….
In 2011 and 2012, Vagobond was taking me all over Europe and Asia and even into North Africa. I was doing my best to save money so that we could emigrate from Morocco to the USA, and in the process, I often got lucky in discovering places I might have otherwise missed. I’ve placed a small slideshow of this visit at the bottom of this post.
World travel is at it’s best when you find something completely wonderful and completely unexpected. As I mentioned before, in order to get the cheapest flight from Fez, Morocco to Volos, Greece – I had to arrange a couple of stops and layovers along the way. The first one was just to get out of Morocco.
The cheapest flight was to Alicante – which I was tempted to take because I love Alicante – but the problem was getting a connection that would lead me to Volos. I needed to get to Milan and a flight from Alicante to Milan was nearly triple the cost for a flight from Girona to Milan and would have involved going several days earlier. I know, that wouldn’t have been so bad, but the truth was, I was already feeling a bit guilty about leaving my wife and new baby at home for a few days so I didn’t want to stretch this out any longer than necessary to get me to the sailboat and then back home.
So, I flew to Girona. I’d been to Barcelona before but never to Girona. I figured it would be just another RyanAir town and I might be able to get lunch, have a nice walk, and then after my 7 hour layover – head on to Bergamo/Milan.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Girona itself is scenic, historic, charming, and filled with a veritable treasure trove of things to see and do. I’m not sure how it would be to spend a few days there, but my seven hours were very nice.
From the airport it was just a couple of Euro to get the bus into the city center. From there, I just started walking.
Geographically set at the confluence of the Ter, Onyar, Galligants and Güell rivers, it has been a focal point of this region in Catalonia since prior to being part of the Roman Empire.
The Old Town is on the east bank of the river, with pedestrianized narrow streets surrounded by the old city walls. The “Rambla”, running parallel to the river, contains many street cafés and touristic restaurants. Tourist information is at the south end of the Rambla, beside the river. The newer town center on the west bank has wider streets contains more shops and hotels, plus slightly cheaper restaurants.
The town around the bus station is pretty blah in terms of just being newish concrete buildings with nothing particularly inspiring in terms of shops, restaurants or architecture. I walked along with what seemed the natural flow of traffic and soon found myself at the riverside La Rambla.
After enjoying a coffee, I walked up the cobblestone streets towards the largest spire in sight. It turned out to be the Saint Felix Church which since I always enjoyed Felix the Cat cartoons appealed to me greatly. With 2000 years of history, Girona is truly a jewel of culture and history.
The Força Vella (the old town) is surrounded by a beautiful wall which appears to have been either preserved or restored in a very authentic way. Inside, I especially enjoyed strolling through the ‘Call’ or Jewish quarter which was like wandering through a veritable maze of cobble-stoned, narrow and steeply sloping streets.
Inside the cathedral, I was told to not take any pictures by the harried attendant who was also telling about twenty other people not to take pictures. I stopped but I had already taken this one.
With a wide Gothic nave and a very impressive Baroque façade it felt like I was stepping back in time.
Of course, I had to visit the Arab Baths, El Banyos d’Arabs. It must have once been an incredible hammam. It was a nice reminder of the power the Arabs once wielded over southern Europe. The legacy of the moors is directly responsible for some of the most beautiful architecture in Spain.
Some interesting facts about Girona:
* The ancient cathedral, which stood on the site of the present one, was used by the Moors as a mosque, and after their final expulsion was either entirely remodelled or rebuilt.
* The cathedral contains the tombs of Ramon Berenger and his wife, the Count and Countess of Barcelona.
* It is possible to walk the entire length of the walls and climb the towers, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Girona and the surrounding countryside.
* The slogan of Girona is “Girona m’enamora – Girona inspires me with love”
For those interested in famous architects, the Red Bridge of Girona (which truly is red) was designed by Gustav Eiffel. I’m amazed at how many things I’ve seen that he designed – in fact, I’ll probably write a future post about his work.
And for those who are fans of Salvador Dali, there is a Dali Museum in Girona that I wasn’t able to see on this trip but that is reputed to be beautiful and wonderful.
After that, a sandwich and a beer and I hopped on a bus back to the airport to catch my flight to Bergamo/Milan for another 7 hour layover.But first I took a picture of this wine shop- you don’t see a selection like that anywhere in Morocco…