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 Spain, Spanish life

Christmas in Spain

How do the Spaniard celebrate Christmas?

The Holiday season in Spain spans from December 24th to January 6th and is refer to as Navidad.

The Christmas shopping season is officially kicked off on November 24th with the lighting of the Christmas lights.  Take a look at Malaga this year. Just spectacular!

Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve called the Nochebuena, the “Good Night”.  The Nochebuena is very similar to how French Canadians Québecois celebrate le “Réveillon de Noël”.  A large family dinner party is enjoyed until the early hours of the morning.  In Spain, I am told that it often lasts until 6 o’clock in the morning.  Gotta love those Spanish party people!!  The Misa de Gallo, Spain’s midnight mass, is now attended by fewer and fewer Spaniards.

Most homes, churches and streets display Christmas decorations, some nativity scene and a Christmas tree.

December 26th is Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) day and is also celebrated with another family gathering.

Presents are given on January 6th morning, however, children usually receive one or two presents on Christmas morning, December 25, brought by “Papá Noel”, which is a non-traditional imitation of Santa Claus. There is a special Christmas dance called the Jota which has been performed for centuries in Spain during Christmas and many towns also have a Christmas Parade like this one in Nerja, our town, on Dec 23rd.

Terry and I will be spending Christmas like we do every year on Christmas Eve with Cava this year instead of Champagne and a few tapas I will be preparing such as olives, manchego, serrano & iberico ham, chorizo al inferno, albongidas, croquettas and langoustines Pil-Pil!

Feliz Navidad to everyone.  We wish you a wonderful Christmas with family and friends.  In the end, these are the most important moments in life!

Stay tuned for how the Spaniards celebrate New Year’s Eve! Another fun fiesta celebrated in their own special way!!


Posted in Spanish life

Why do the Spaniards call red wine vino tinto instead of vino rojo and what the heck is Tinto de verano?

The color red in spanish is rojo but, for red wine, they say vino tinto, not vino rojo.  Why, you may ask?

It essentially relates to the latin origin of the word “tinto” and also to the process of wine making.  “Tinto” comes from the Latin word “tinctus”, which means “dyed”, “stained” or “tinted”.

If you know about the wine making process, you know that it is the skin of the grapes that gives the wine its color.  Green grapes for white wine, red grapes for red wine unless you only use the flesh of the grapes.  Therefore, red grapes tint the white juicy flesh and dyes it its distinctive color.  Therefore, it is not really “red wine” it is “tinted wine”.

In Spain, you can order vino tinto, vino blanco, vino rosado which is rosé wine and Tinto de Verano!  What the heck is tinto the verano?!!  Its literal translation is the “Red wine of summer”.  It is a refreshing drink Spaniards enjoy in the hot summer months made of vino tinto and a lemon sparking pop called Limón.  I know, it sounds terrrible but believe me, it is deliciously cooling and perfect for the boiling hot summer days of Spain.  Most tourists will have a sweet and juicy Sangria but Spaniards on the other hand,  will for the most part, enjoy an icy cold, not too sweet, Tinto de Verano!




Posted in Spain, Spanish life

In Spain, you say going Tapas, not going to eat Tapas. Find out why here.

One of Spain’s true joys are Tapas.  These are the small dishes now so popular around the world who originated right here in Spain.  A Tapa is simply a small snack or appetizer traditionally consumed at lunch or in the early evening before a main meal. They are always enjoyed with a glass of wine, a beer or water if you don’t drink.  You never have a coffee or tea or cocktail with tapas in Spain.  It is just not done.  Also, the Spaniards will rarely drink without eating something at the same time.  The proper way is one tapa for each drink you order.

The word tapa means top, cover or lid in Spanish. The most likely legend is that the first Tapa was simply a slice of bread which was placed over the wine glass to keep the flies out.

The most interesting fact learn last night about tapas is that the Spaniards do not say, lets go eat some tapas.  They use the word as a verb.  It is an action to go Tapas, meaning getting together with friends for a drink, a bite and some fun social time.  Don’t you love how they live!!

In Andalucia and other parts of Spain, a tapa will often be given to you for free.  Yes, gratis!! when you order a drink.  How wonderful is that!!  And they are delicious, sometimes a culinary experience and source of pride for the bar.  Take a look at the feast we had on a night out with our wonderful Spanish school, La Escuela Idioma de Nerja.

Tapas are just another wonderful reason to come to Spain and enjoy its culture!  Salud!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

Madrid and driving on Spain highways

Madrid and driving on Spain highways

We are just back from a great 3 days getaway in Madrid. Here are our tips and notes which you might find interesting or helpful if you plan to go someday.

We drove from the costa del sol on highway A4 and it took us 6 hours including 2 stops of about 20-30 minutes each. Driving in Spain is fantastic. The roads and drivers are very good, safe and there were no tolls are all! There are lots of gas stations/restaurants on the way. There are very few rest areas however. This makes sense since the Spaniards love to enjoy lunch. The gas stations toilets are remarkably clean. Spotless bathrooms everywhere. We have noticed that Spaniards are, in general, very clean people. Their tile floors are spotless everywhere you go even in public places. Look at this gas station toilet!!


Amy Lou was a doll on the road. Not a peep. We had her in her large carrier for part of the way and some of the way in her comfy velour bed where she dozed off a little. She is an amazing traveler!!


We rented a small penthouse apartment in Plaza Major in the center of Madrid’s Centro. What a perfect location. Walking distance to everything. We saw all the sites on foot over two full days. The first day we went to Puerto del Sol, the Prado, Retiro Park and the Gran Via. We stopped for coffee at a really cool cafe recommended by my Spanish friend Sandra and had lunch on a sunny terrace off the Gran Via. We had dinner at the Mercado de San Miguel where you grab a glass of vino or cerveza and eat your way through sampling tapas! What a great spot to sample and mingle. We met an exuberant American and a friendly Italian!!

The second day, we walked to the Palacio, Plaza España and did a little shopping on the Gran Via. We had a long lunch at another fantastic sunny terrace. We stayed in our little apartment at night after a short stroll in our neighborhood.

A few notes regarding dogs in Madrid. They won’t let you in with your dog in Museums or other government buildings. We tried to go in with her incognito in her purse carrier but they scan the bags so, we could not go unfortunately. Also, in restaurant, unlike the costa del sol, they won’t allow dogs but we had her safely hidden in the purse bag and was able to take her out at the end of the meal on terraces. She was a hit everywhere we went. Spaniards are major dog lovers and could not stop saying “que lindo, muy préciosa”, so cute, very beautiful!!

Madrid is a BIG city with a LOT of people everywhere. So many that it is hard to walk. With a small dog it is good to have a carrier or this type of legs out knapsack otherwise they might get trampled.

We liked Madrid but we can’t say that we loved it and are dying to go back soon but probably will someday to explore more thoroughly.  The weather was cool and the city very busy. It must be insane in the summer. The main attractions are the museums and art galleries and we were not being able to see them with Amy Lou very unfortunately.  I would have really liked to see the Prado especially.  If and when we go back someday, it will be in the early fall and I will make sure to plan ahead to leave Amy Lou with a trusted friend to be able to go to the museums and galleries.

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel, an absolute Foodie’s paradise

We just got to Madrid and discovered the Mercado San Miguel right next to the little apartment we rented for 3 nights by Plaza Mayor. What an amazing place. Muy maravilloso!!! We have never seen anything like this. It is an epicurean’s delight of food to buy and eat on the spot with a glass of wine, beer or premium sangria. Wow! Look at that food. Everything is so fresh and delicious. A feast for the eyes and the palate. What a great idea to be able to just walk in with a friend, and have a bit to eat with a drink. Can’t wait to go back tomorrow!!


Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Here is my Spanish language friend Sandra!

I completed my first two week Spanish course but I need much practice.  I therefore found a friend to speak with a couple of times a week.  Here is the gorgeous and fun Sandra.  She is mucho guapa y muy sympatica!!  We talk of everything and nothing and she is very patient even if I am struggling a lot.  She gives me great tips about the culture and what to do and see in Spain.  She lived 12 years in Madrid and had great recommendation for our getaway to the capital next week.  Stay tuned, I will share them with you!!