3 Must-Have Spanish travel experiences

After a looong hiatus, I’ve decided to start blogging again! So why not start with some summer vacation stories!

For fellow travelers thinking about hitting the south of Spain (Andalucía), I’ve got some suggestions for a unique experience!

1) Sleep in a Cave Cuevas el Abanico, Granada, Spain

I’m not a huge fan of experimentation when it comes to sleeping arrangements. My entire day can be ruined by a lack of sleep, and I am slightly murderous before my morning coffee, but this is something I highly recommend to everyone! Not only does it have a natural cool temperature (no air conditioning required!) but the bed is comfortable and the cave comes with a kitchen and living room area as well! I wouldn’t recommend a visit in the middle of winter, as it might get too cold inside, but it’s a perfect resting place for a summer visit to Granada!

Avg price/night – 60€ for two people. Reserve here.

  

2) Sleep in a castle – Hotel Castillo Santa Catalina, Malaga, Spain

Who doesn’t want to feel like royalty for a night? You can have a temporary fairy tale and prance around the beautiful gardens of this spectacular hotel. It is a REAL castle, mostly used as a wedding venue nowadays. Make sure to book ahead of time, as they only have 8 bedrooms available! My iPhone pictures don’t do it justice. 

Avg price/night – 140€ for two people. Reserve here.

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3) Eat deliciously fresh seafood – Pedregalejo, Malaga, Spain

Pedregalejo is a small fishing village outside of Malaga city. It features a series of restaurants right next to the water, where you can enjoy a romantic evening on the beach while the chef cooks your meal right in front you!

Avg price -dinner for two 30-40€

  
   
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What To Do With Miscellaneous Travel Photos

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a billion photos after a weekend trip. In addition to 50 awkward yet identical selfies behind a famous landmark, I’ll also have pictures of the landmarks themselves, and trees, flowers, dogs – you name it.
When I moved into my apartment recently, I planned on buying the standard wall painting from Ikea – flowers blowing in the wind, contemporary art that makes no sense, or a wall rug.
Instead, I developed those miscellaneous pictures from my travel collections, and created a travel collage.
Maybe it’s not up to National Geographic’s standards, but it’s a personal memory that creates a story, a sense of nostalgia, and most of all, it generates a way more interesting answer than, “I bought this at a generic furniture store”.

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A Storybook breakfast

After having a drink at the beautiful Le Stanze bar in Bologna, I was in search of a nice place to have breakfast on a Sunday morning. I love places that offer something different- whether it be the style, the menu, or surrounding atmosphere. Les Pupitres, in Bologna, Italy, is probably the most adorable little coffee shop you could imagine.

The prices are great (cappuccino €1.20, croissant €1.00) not to mention a series of delectable baked goods for under €5.00. They also serve lunch and alcoholic drinks.

The location is perfect (near the famous Due Torri) and they play Lucio Dalla in the background during breakfast.

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Working in Spain or Italy: Legally vs Illegally

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If you’ve decided to teach English and live la vita bella or la vida loca in Spain or Italy, you have to be ready for the onslaught of paperwork that will head your way (especially if you’re North American).
If you are planning on staying in either of these countries for more than three months, and you are not a European citizen, you must apply for a work or student visa in your country of origin.

Before I renewed my European passport, I was forced to go through this process which involved buying private health insurance, and printing out my bank statements in order to prove I had enough money to survive in case all hell broke loose.

The people you will deal with at the embassy or consulate in your country of origin will definitely be very mean to you. I’m pretty sure when they hire people, they ask them to sell their souls. I don’t know what it is about consulate workers, but they aren’t happy balls of sunshine.

-TIP: Photocopy- Make several copies of documentation. If the office misplaces something, you can immediately fax or send whatever may be missing ASAP.

When you receive your visa and head to your destination, you must go to the police station in order to receive a card either called permesso di soggiorno, or certificado de registro (see picture above).

-TIP: If you don’t speak the language, bring someone with you who does. The police officers probably don’t speak English, and the receptionists aren’t much better, so if you have someone next to you who can fully explain what’s going on, you’ll save yourself a headache.

Working illegally: Many Americans and Canadians choose to travel and stay in Spain or Italy without a visa. After the three months are up, they continue working and living at their destination. This is 100% possible and fairly easy to do. You arrive, you stay, and no one checks. It may save you the initial headache by avoiding paperwork and visa costs, but you run into several problems:

– You don’t have a real work contract. You have no rights as an employee, because you aren’t “really there”. They can “forget” to pay you, and you can’t do anything about it. Moreover, you don’t have access to free healthcare, which is automatic if the contract is real, and you pay taxes.

-You can’t travel. Sure, weekend trips to neighbouring countries might not be a problem, but if you go to the U.K, or have an officer look through your passport during a domestic flight, you’re screwed. (I forgot my residence card at home, and had a lot of explaining to do at the London airport customs office)

-Deportation. In the unlikely event you get caught at an airport without a visa and an expired passport stamp (you have an entrance stamp over three months old), you can get a huge fine, face deportation, and be prohibited from entering the E.U for “x” amount of years.

I’ve met people who work both illegally and legally in Spain or Italy. In the end, I highly recommend you follow legal procedures and do things the right way. A bit of stress at the beginning will save you a lot of worry in the long run. If you have any questions about travel/preparation, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Bologna: A drink under frescoes

My new favourite bar in Bologna, Italy is Le Stanze. It is a bar located inside a former 16th century church that was later deconsecrated. You can enjoy cocktails, beer, wine, and the famous Italian Aperitivo(6-9pm), that is served with sandwiches, chips, and mini pizzas. The traditional Aperitivo drink is the “spritz” made with carbonated water, dry Italian wine, and either Aperol or Campari. The drinks cost around €3-8 euros. Le Stanze is also a restaurant where you can eat a good meal for €10-30. If you’re not too hungry, grab a cappuccino and stare at the beautiful frescoes surrounding you.

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What Happened When I Stopped Watching T.V

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I’m just like everyone else. After a long day at work, my favorite thing to do on a weeknight was to pass out in front of the television. Most of the time, it didn’t even matter what I was watching, I just needed something to lull me into my zombie-like sleep.

This past summer, I decided to move to a different city here in Italy. After having lived in Milan for several months, I decided that I hated the city. It was too grey, too expensive, the people are always pissed off, and most importantly, it was full of litter with few green spaces (a big deal for a Canadian). So I headed off in search for a new apartment in my new city of residence, Bologna, Italy.
After having found a temporary apartment, I met with the landlord.
“You know there’s no television at the moment, right? We can look into getting one though, if you’d like?”
WHAT?! You mean no re-run marathons of my love-to-hate reality shows?!
“Nope, it’s no problem for me, I don’t want one.

Now don’t get my wrong. I love films and t.v series (Big Bang Theory and How I met Your Mother in particular), but I felt that the 2-3 hours of “couch potato time” per night was taking away from self-improvement and productivity.
So what did I do with the free time I was suddenly given?

1. I started my blog. I forgot how much I loved to write. It would be a waste not to write something down in my situation. I’m living abroad and moving from place to place, yet I didn’t even have a journal! Even if nobody reads what I write, I’ll have something to look back on after my 20s are over.

2. I started taking classes at the gym – I love the gym, but it’s hard to commit to going regularly, especially during the winter months when you want to curl up in front of the television. Since I didn’t have the t.v option, I forced myself to look at the classes offered at my local gym in the evenings. I signed up for body pump, among others, and made this a regular habit before bedtime.

3. I started reading regularly – I’ve loved reading since I was a child. It’s a habit I’ve carried with me throughout high school and university, but it died down a bit once I began working full time. I replaced the t.v stand with a bookshelf, and I choose something to read before I curl up on the couch and fall asleep. Reading makes me feel positive. Each time you read a new book, you open yourself to a new world of imagination, something that’s obviously missing from many television shows.

4. I made things – A travel box (see post), scrapbooks, photo albums, etc. making things makes you feel better, especially when you feel down. It’s really great to see a finished project that you designed yourself. The feeling of fulfillment that used to come from coloring books and crafts as a child has followed me into adulthood.

5. I stayed informed on my own – The news programs we see are biased. If you don’t make an effort to look for a second opinion, you don’t see both sides of the story. The internet has a mass amount of information from different countries with different political and social opinions. It was great to see how Italian television, BBC news, and CNN, all morphed the same news stories for their own benefit.

6. I had a drink with friends – When you’re exhausted on a Monday evening, the last thing you want to do is get dressed and go out. Actually, don’t even need to get dressed, just go out. Having a drink with friends after work was surprisingly therapeutic. Laughing about my current frustrations allowed me to sleep better, and I found myself walking home smiling after catching up with some friends.

The purpose of this post is to remind you that you’re full of ideas and creativity. Routine has a way of draining us of our imagination, but we don’t have to let this happen. Staying informed is easy with the internet, so you won’t be missing out on anything, but discovering a new sense of self that you thought disappeared a long time ago.

Tip 1: Save for A Dream Vacation

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Maybe you’ve stumbled across a beautiful destination in a magazine, or read one of those “Places You Must Visit Before You Die” lists, and thought, “Wow! I have to go there!”
But the same old always happens. You get caught up in paying the bills, student loans, or whatever, and your ideas get tossed on the back burner.
It’s hard to save for a romantic escape to Venice or a bike tour in Amsterdam, but it’s very do-able.
My advice? Visual stimulation. Many people will tell you to open up a travel savings account. That didn’t work for me. When I was running low on cash, I took it out of my savings fund. However, last year (and this month) I’ve made a travel box. Since it’s both my boyfriend and I who are planning on travelling together, we are going to add the same amount of money to the box each month. If someone does something unproductive (ie. starting a fight about which movie to watch) we add 2 euros to the box.
What makes the difference for me are the pictures. Last year, I had a visual board of Spanish beaches that were on my desk next to my bed. I would see these every morning and was reminded that it was something I really wanted to do.
This year, the pictures of my s.o and I will do the trick. It’s much more personal than a savings account and a daily reminder. We decided to put around 50€/person a month in the box. That’s 1000€ by next summer. It will give us more than enough for a trip to Santorini, Greece. Even if you’re traveling alone and put less in your own box, you will still have a substantial amount by the time you reach the intended travel dates.
For those of you that think saving a little cash is impossible, it’s really not. Cook dinner at home once in a while instead of going out. Have 1 beer rather than 2 or 3. Make a coffee at home rather than spending money at a Starbucks or cafe. Don’t buy another pair of shoes. After all, a dream vacation is worth suppressing temporary temptations.

 

5 Things That Happen When You Date Someone From Another Country

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So you’ve met the love of your life! Or maybe, the love of the moment? Regardless of the situation, if they are from a different country or a background completely diverse from your own, you’re setting yourself up for a series of events that can be insanely enjoyable and full of unrestrained suffering at the exact same time!

1. I have no idea what she just said.
So it’s time to meet the parents of your significant other. The problem is, you don’t share a common language, not yet anyway. There are going to be a lot of smiles, and even more nodding. You are going to feel like a toddler at the dinner table because questions will not be asked to you, but about you.

You won’t be able to form an instant relationship with his or her loved ones. There will be a moment where you feel a bit inadequate in comparison to their ex – because you can’t even say “hey, thanks for this great food!” without a ridiculous thumbs-up gesture. When you’re out with their friends, the conversation gets even more complicated, so you just sit there, smiling. Everyone thinks you’re a psychopath because that’s all you do. You become extra grateful for the one friend that speaks English. Eventually, it gets better, believe me.

2. Jetlag is my middle name
Travel is automatically included when you’re dating someone from a different country. If the two of you aren’t living in the same country, and doing the long distance thing – you better like spending what is leftover of your paycheck on planes, buses, or trains. If you eventually find yourself in the same place as your significant other, there will always be family visits from one homeland to another. If you like traveling, this will be a pleasant surprise. (I think you almost HAVE to love traveling in order for this kind of relationship to work).

3. Pass the pasta, please.
If you love eating as much as I do, you’ll be thankful for the world of new cuisine presented before your eyes.There’s no better way to get to know people than to see how they eat. Meal times are often reflections of a specific culture, and eating with loved ones may be the most important part of the day. What people eat, how, and what time, say a lot about the specific country at hand. Unfortunately, I’m Canadian, so I can’t offer much in exchange to my Italian counterpart (other than poutine, but I’ll pretend that doesn’t exist).

4. Are you yelling at me with your hands?
When it comes to arguments, people fight differently. You might mean one thing, and your significant other hears something else. Words and actions may be misunderstood due to cultural norms. Not many Canadians can express “you’re acting like an idiot and I can’t believe you would say that to me, are you crazy?!?!” with 3 hand gestures. I find this part more interesting than infuriating. Regularly, I come across a response to a situation that would be considered weird, offensive, or surprising in Canada, yet here, its completely normal. It’s fun to discover the ins and outs of a relationship based on the cultural differences that each person brings to the table.

5. The Future
Eventually, this topic will come up. It’s the elephant in the room. If you and your s.o are from different countries or continents, one of you will have to make the move in order for it to continue. This is probably the most difficult part of any long distance relationship, let alone, a relationship where you’ve got a body of water called the Atlantic Ocean between the two of you. Whether it’s job security or personal preference, making the decision change your home for another person is a big deal, and can bring both positive and negative issues into the relationship. I’m a believer in the concept of always being able to find a way, as long as both individuals are on the same boat.

I would love to hear about other experiences similar to mine, please comment or message me and tell me your story!

The Tapas Phenomenon

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It’s 9pm in Spain, what does that mean? Dinner time of course! You’re off with your friends to go bar hopping (no, not for shots). You will try a series of “tapas” at various different bars, each having their own speciality. What is a tapa? It is best defined as an appetizer sized dish that varies from seafood to meat – mini sandwiches to a bite-sized dinner. You can wash it down with a caña (a small beer) or some wine. Almost every city in Spain offers a “ruta de tapas” meaning, a tapas route – a scavenger hunt for delicacies. Each bar usually has a speciality (some may have even won awards for their tapas).

Whats the best part about a taste-testing night on the town? Socializing. There is no better way to end a long day at work than having a meal with some friends. The Spanish have a word for this that doesn’t exist in English – sobremesa.

“Sobremesa”refers to the time period after eating where you stay out with your friends having great conversations. The joy of staying at the table once your food has been cleared to have a chat and catch up on what you’ve missed in one another’s lives.

Sometimes I feel like the Spanish solved a mystery that North Americans haven’t. We often get caught up in work, school, kids etc, and forget how important it is to unwind, have some regular downtime with your friends, meaning real human interaction. No texts, no phone calls, just a really good meal, and a little too much wine (but thats not always a bad thing, is it?).


Recommended Tapas Bars:

Los Zagales, Valladolid, Spain

Las Tres Bellotas, Valladolid, Spain

Txirimiri, Madrid, Spain

Bar La Eslava, Sevilla, Spain

Bar Dos de Mayo, Sevilla, Spain

Please comment or add your favourite bars to the list, I’m heading off to Spain for a visit again soon, and need some new suggestions!

Pizza, cappuccinos, and calcio!

I haven’t blogged in a few days because I had a 9 hour flight to Rome, plus a four hour train ride. Add some jet-lag to that and you’ve got a lost-in-translation mindset for a few days. Once I’m cured of my temporary insomnia I’ll be able to write real paragraphs again.

First impressions of Bologna, Italy: Although I always go through a “sad” phase in my first few days in a new city, trying to adjust to my surroundings…Bologna is beautiful. It’s a photographer’s dream. However, for the artistically challenged like me, it’ll be hard to give it justice using my iPhone.

As for the blog, I can’t believe someone other than my mother reads it. I’ve even received a lot of questions about my travels, so I figured I’d answer them here.

Why did you leave Canada? – Canada is a fantastic country where you are guaranteed financial stability if you’ve graduated or have any form of educational training. You will get a job, and even if it’s waitressing at a local Italian eatery, you’ll be making double the wages offered in a real Italian restaurant in Italy. I originally moved to Spain, I loved it and I’m hoping to return. I was tired of being comfortable. I was born in Canada, raised in Canada, and if I hadn’t lived abroad- I wouldn’t have any stories to tell. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re stuck in sticky situations.

How can you afford this? – I live in a shared flat with another person (several people in the past). I work as an ESL teacher, and I make enough money to pay my rent, eat, travel using low cost airlines (yay Ryanair and Easyjet), and go out once in a while. An ESL teacher in Spain or Italy will make 1,100-1,300 euros for 25-30 hours a week. Private lessons (at home tutoring) pay about 25 euros an hour. This is a good option for some extra cash on the side.

Any advice for people who want to move abroad?- If you’re ok with making enough to live on, do it. You will learn a new language, meet new people, and grow in ways you never believed possible. These are experiences you cannot have living at home. Do it while you’re in your 20s and haven’t got a family or children to worry about. Just don’t fall in love here, it’s a bad idea 😉image