Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Spain’s Semana Santa is all about tradition and devotion.

Semana Santa is Holy Week in Spain, the week which leads to Easter. This is a BIG event for Spaniards. Some say that it has been celebrated since the 12th century, for certain since the 16th century, in Sevilla.

At first, you might be surprised by such a display of religion but Semana Santa in Spain can truly be enjoyed for what it is. A wonderful tradition and display of devotion. Please take a minute to read on to find out what it is all about and why this tradition is an important one in Spain.

Photo credit:

My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.


My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, huge statues carried on floats called “Pasos”, some as old as 300 years, representing various images from the Passion of Jesus Christ take to the streets in processions that last up to 12 hours almost every day during that week and on the “Madrugá”, the Holy Thursday night, the processions run all night long through to the next day!

The people who carry the floats are devoted locals, performing an act of penance, repenting their sins. They are called Costaleros and wear a protective garment on their head to take the weight off the float. There are 20 to 40 costaleros per float and they practice all year long even in 40C August! That is devotion. Some of the floats weight a ton and costaleros can switch out every hour or two to take a break. I have read that each year a special section of the hospital opens up to treat costalero injuries.

Photo credit: Tío Spanish

My photo taken this Holy Thursday in Nerja.

The cone like head dress you see in all the processions are worn by “Nazarenos”. No, they are not members of the Ku Klux Klan. The attire is born from a desire to repent sins without revealing the identity of the person. There can be up to 3,000 nazarenos participating in some of the bigger processions in Sevilla. Kind Nazarenos will carry bags of sweets and give them to kids as they go by so they know they’re friendly!

Photo credit:

We are in Sevilla now for 3 days and could not be happier to have been here to experience the tradition, pride and solidarity this annual event is all about. Come to Spain during Semana Santa and feel the passion!

Some of photos were taken in Nerja on Holy Thursday, a smaller and more intimate event where you see the floats up-close. The others were taken by myself in Sevilla this weekend.

Posted in Spain

When you invite friends and family to Spain, they will come. Here are my comments on our experience.

When we rented our beautiful house for the winter months on the Costa del Sol, I felt a little guilty to have all this space just for two people and a 3 kilo dog. I also thought that it might be a little lonely being away for this long.

Terry and I like to share and entertain so, it was only natural to offer a visit to family members and several close friends. I then explained that we would not be tour guides and what we offered was a place to stay for a few days while they explored the area.

A total of 10 people came and stayed with us. Two came in January and February and 8 in March. What fun we had to see them all and be able to share our beautiful little town we love so much. All of our guests have been fabulous. Everyone was truly awesome in respecting the house we rented and gracious even if the weather was not the best at times.

Most wanted to come in March of course, when the temperature crosses over to 20 Celsius normally. However, we had a full month of unsettled and cold weather when most of our guests were here, from the end of February to end of March. It was the rainiest, windiest and coldest winter in Spain in over 50 years! We had two “deluges” during that period. I had never seen so much rain before. Not even in Vancouver. Can you believe that!!

While we enjoyed our time with them very much, it became redundant towards the end. We had developed a schedule and sightseeing route including the best restaurants and cafés which we repeated with each one of them. Think about what it is like to do the same circuit 6 times in a row over the span of a few weeks. Oh la la!

Entertaining for this long, this many guests is quite tiring as well. You had to plan breakfasts, some full meals and bites with aperos. You have to plan walking routes, excursions, have alternatives in case of bad weather. Some guests don’t always want to do what you have planned for them. And of course, you have to wash sheets, towels, clean bathrooms and the rest of the house non-stop.

One thing I would do differently however would be to spread out the visitors or bunch them up together. It would be much less work and redundant for us to have two or three couples at the same time instead of three couples one after the other.

One group per month would be ideal and 3 or 4 days is perfect to see the sights in the area. This way, we will be refreshed and looking forward to spending time with them.

All in all, we feel blessed to have had such good guests. Everyone picked up after themselves, did not make one complaint and were a true pleasure to have around. There was not one awkward moment. It strengthens every relationships. We made memories to cherish forever.

Thank you Universe for allowing Terry and me to have such abundance of great relationships in our lives. In the end, sharing and caring for each other is all that matters!

Here were our guests this year!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

What happened to sunny everyday Spain?

Look at this Vancouver Canada style of rain we are having today!  As I have reported before, rainy days in Spain are rare. We have been here for 4 months now and only had a few days of rain. It rarely last a full day or 2 days at most before the warm sun returns. January and February are however cooler with more overcast days and showers. But again, this rarely last more than a day or two, until now.

A powerful late-winter storm, given the name Storm Emma, is bringing rounds of heavy rain in all of Spain, Portugal and France. Total rainfall through the weekend could reach 250 mm (10 inches) in the hardest hit locations of northern Portugal and western Spain. We are in the south, thank God!

The bad news is that as Emma lifts northward toward the British Isles on Friday, another storm will target the Iberian Peninsula with more rainfall and believe it or now, a third storm will then arrive early next week, bringing additional downpours and gusty winds.

I feel sorry for the visitors who are currently in Spain working their way to us in Nerja. It is always sad to leave rain or snow at home to come to a sunny destination and find bad weather instead. We are hopeful that things will turn around for your arrival next week.

One thing is for sure, the sun here is never far and when it comes out, it is incredibly warm and lovely even in winter months!!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

Road trip to Barcelona: Should you drive or fly within Spain?

The nice thing about Spain and Europe in general is that if you drive half hour in any direction you are bound to meet a village, town or city to explore and discover. The land is populated by quaint white-washed villages called in Spain, Pueblo Blancos, beautiful seaside towns along the coast, spectacular mountain villages or majestic cities all different from one another. It would take more than a lifetime to see them all. It is simply impossible to get bored in Spain. One will instead either be charmed and seduced or intrigued enough to plan a second trip.

Terry, Amy Lou and I went on a week long road trip last week, up the coast to Barcelona. We stopped on the way to Valencia and were incredibly surprised at how beautiful this first class city on the costa Blanca is. Wow! What a beauty this city is with endless beaches, first class art and culture centers and a gorgeous old city core. This is a classy city renowned for its fine restaurants and art galleries. We must go back for an extended weekend next year!

We then drove all the way to Barcelona. This elegant city is bustling with life and energy. The architecture from the modernist days of Gaudi adds a different look compared to other Spanish cities.

You can also hear and feel the very distinct Catalan culture here. Barcelona is a huge and very busy city. You really need to take a bus tour, like the hop on hop off bus, to get an overall look of what the city is all about.  Here is a picture of Amy Lou on the Hop on Hop off bus illegally and incognito in our carrier bag.  We let her head out while on the bus.  Such a good traveler!

The city has so much to offer such as; the Gothic quarter, the eclectic and artsy El Born, the chic neighborhood of Eixample, a walk down the super busy La Rambla, the surrounding area, the locals call “Las Ramblas”, the Port and its amazing marina restaurants, the majestic and avant-garde Sagrada Familia, and the other Gaudi designed masterpieces, Casa Milà, La Padera, and Parc Gruel.

So much to see and do in Barcelona. One must also sample the delicious Pintxos, which are the Catalan version of Tapas but mostly on a slice of baguette bread like the picture below.

We will definitely go back to Barcelona. Four days was good but it deserves a second visit just to soak it all in and live the Barcelona lifestyle. A word of advice about Barcelona, it is incredible noisy. The World Economic Forum rates it as number 7 noisiest city in the world. Bring earplugs to sleep well!

Also, while there were no tolls at all to drive to Madrid or Granada, there were tolls as you approach Valencia and all the way to Barcelona. See the cost below. Not cheap!

On the way back, we stopped for a night at the sea side town of Altea. Wow! We were pleasantly surprised at this beautiful old village where you can also stay in a small hotel on the pebbly beach with stunning views of two mountains extending to the sea. This is a really nice little town to stay for a couple of nights.

The drive to Barcelona is a total of 9 hours. Stopping one night each way cut the journey in half and was perfect for us and our little dog, Amy Lou who by now, has got the hang of road trips.  She loves hotels as well because we get to all hang out together in the big bed!!

You may wonder whether it is best to fly or drive from the costa del sol to Barcelona. If you have time like we do, driving is fun and you get to discover other places you would not see if you flew. When you add up the time spent to drive to the airport and wait to board, fly and cab to the hotel, all in all, it took us two more days but these were spent discovering new towns. We really enjoyed this road trip and would do it all over again someday.

As far as cost is concerned, here is the tally:

Flying from Nerja/Malaga to Barcelona
120 euros x 2 tickets + dog fee 80=320euros. (You can do it cheaper with Ryanair but they don’t take dogs in cabin. This was the fare with Iberia)
Parking car at airport = 50euros
Cabs to and from airport in Barcelona = 100euros

Total approx. cost of flying: 470 euros or $714 Canadian dollars

Driving from Nerja to Barcelona
Gas: 90euros
Tolls: 11 euros x2 + 35 euros x2 + 15 eurosx2=122 euros
Parking 4 days in Barcelona: 60 euros
Hotel in Valencia with parking and breakfast = 120euros
Hotel in Altea = 80 euros
I don’t count the extra meals because we would have gone out to dinner in town most likely anyway.

Total cost of driving: 472 euros! Ha Ha!! About the same. Who would have thought.

We rented a beautiful little apartment in the chic Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona. That was $675 Canadian for 4 nights. Contact me if you want the link.

Posted in Cost of living in Spain, Spain

Renting a car in Europe for six months and do you really need a car for your long-team stay?

When planning to go away for six months, we never even thought about not renting a car. For us North Americans, having wheels and the freedom it offers is a perceived necessity.

We have now been in Spain for 3 months and I can say that having a car is not necessary if you like to walk like we do and live close to the city center. Our house is a 20 min walk from the center of town and we love our walk to town every day. We often do it twice to run errands and go for lunch or dinner. We rarely use the car.

Having a car for us still makes sense because we like to explore and go on day trips and getaways. So far, we have driven to Madrid, Granada, Almuñécar, Frigiliana and almost weekly, to Malaga, our favorite big city. Next week, we are driving to Barcelona via Valencia and can’t wait to see the entire coast.

So, whether you want to rent a car or not is really a personal choice. If you are on a tight budget, you can certainly do without as most European cities are very walking friendly and you can rent a car only when you chose to go away for a few days.

If you decide on renting a car for the full duration of your long-stay, you will find that the cost is somewhat inexpensive compared to other countries. A week rental is about $250 Canadian dollars. It cost us $3600 for the full six months through a deal our wonderful travel agent, Regine Barry from the Travel Group, got for us through a broker and Europcar. This includes unlimited KM, insurance and two drivers.

Please note that the rental car company will contact you half way through your stay to change the car. Yes! You get a new clean car every three months. It is a requirement. We first got a Citroen C3 which I loved and now, we just got a brand new car Volkswagen Polo with only 7km on its odometer!!

Why such a small car, you might ask? Well, the streets are very very tight here and you will be smart to choose a smaller car, certainly in the first few months while you get used to driving in such tight spaces. The parking stalls are also ridiculously tight, so you will be happy not to be driving an SUV or other larger cars we normally drive in North America.

Happy driving and walking in Europe. Both are pleasant and easy!!


Posted in Spain

We finally made it to the famous Nerja Caves!

After waiting for a full rainy day or a visitor who wanted to go with us, we decided it was time we made it to the famous Nerja caves. What a surprise!! The caves are huge with an incredible display of stalagmites and stalactites of all shapes and impressive shades.


The Nerja cave is actually a series of caverns covering 5 kilometres and is home to the largest stalagmite in the world, a 32 meter high column.

The caves were discovered in 1959 by 5 local boys who noticed a flock of bats coming out of a cave. One of the boys, squeezed inside the very tight spot to see what was there, and made the phenomenal discovery. Once inside, the brave boys, found themselves able to descend to a huge cavern where they discovered a number of skeletons next to some ceramic pottery. Take a look at the skeleton of a 20 year old female from approximately 300BC.


The caves are quite large and impressive to walk through. The main cave is so large that it forms an amphitheater where concerts and ballets are regularly held in the summer.

Prehistoric paintings were also found in the cave as well and in February 2012 it was announced that possibly the Neanderthal cave paintings date back 42,000 years.

The Nerja caves are one of Spain major’s tourist attractions and we now know why!




Posted in Spain, Travelling with a dog

Deadly diseases your dog can contract while traveling abroad

Our sweet little Amy Lou is very precious to us. We don’t have children so, she is like a child to us. When we embarked on this six month journey abroad we did our research, ensured we could take her with us, read everything we could on how to travel with a small dog and visited our vet to get all the shots and paper work she needed to travel. You can read more about all of this here.

Little did we know that this was not enough. When you travel abroad it is essential that you research diseases specific to the country you will be visiting. You need to do this yourself because your vet will likely not know about diseases in other countries.

We had the good fortune to meet a vet in Nerja who casually mentioned deadly dogs’ diseases in Spain. “You know about diseases carried by mosquitos and flies here in Spain, right?” We had never heard of it. My heart sank as soon as he went on to explain that Dirofilaria and Leishmania can kill a dog within a couple of years.

Dirofilaria immitis causes heartworm disease, a chronic and potentially fatal cardiopulmonary disease which mainly affects dogs and cats. It is present in most of Spain, due to favourable climatic factors. Fortunately, there is a monthly tablet you can give your dog to kill the worms before they spread.

Leishmania disease however is more complicated and has no cure. Leishmania is an immuno suppressive disease. The chance of a dog catching Leishmania in Spain is extremely high, many veterinary put it as high as 30 to 35 percent. In reality, the figure is much higher because there are many stray dogs with the disease and the figure given applies only to dogs registered with a veterinary. It is often referred to the sandfly disease but this is misleading because the disease has nothing to do with sand or flies.  Your dog is equally at risk in town, country, woodland or wherever. The disease is carried by a certain type of mosquito, so small that it is virtually invisible to the human eye.  The creature flies at dusk and at night whenever the temperature is over 20 degrees Celsius. In the south of Spain, especially, this can occur in the middle of winter.

Symptoms are:
* Severe weight loss
* Loss of appetite (anorexia)
* Diarrhea
* Tarry feces (less common)
* Vomiting
* Nose bleed
* Exercise intolerance
* Skin issues

See more info here

Fortunately, there is a brand new vaccine developed in Spain which is 85% to 90% effective which a local vet gave Amy Lou right away. But it is not 100% effective unfortunately.

To maximise protection, you should never let your dog sleep out at night. Of course,  Amy Lou sleeps with, us in bed, tucked in between Terry and me, ha ha! Your dog should be indoors as soon as darkness falls and temperatures are 20 degrees Celsius or higher and open windows should be covered with mosquito netting or screens.

Bottom line, make sure to check with a local vet as soon as you arrive in the country and monitor your dogs health and behavior.

Here is a picture of our sweet Amy Lou in Torre Del Mar, on the costa del sol, the best traveler a fur mama could hope for!