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, 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!





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 Travelling with a dog

Requirements for bringing our dog to Spain, an unnecessary ordeal.

We think of ourselves as informed and organised people.  We like to research before making decisions and any plans.  Before deciding on this long-term destination, we ensured that our small dog could come with us.  Six months is a long time and we would never think about going away for that long without our little Amy Lou.

The requirements to bring a dog to Spain are relatively simple;

your dog needs to be microchipped and have a valid rabies vaccine.  “The first step to prepare your dog, cat or ferret to enter Spain is to have your pet microchipped with an ISO 11784/11785 compliant 15 digit pet microchip. For the rabies vaccine, you will need proof of a current vaccination that was administered after the microchip was implanted. If this is your pet’s first vaccination after microchipping, it will need to wait for 21 days before traveling. There is no waiting period after boosters as long as: the previous vaccination was administered after a microchip was implanted AND the previous vaccination had not expired when the booster was given.”

Easy, right?  Not so much as we discovered 3 days before our flight.

Part of the package of forms we had to complete with our vet included a CFIA form (Canadian Food & Inspection Agency).  This form had to be approved by a Vet from the CFIA.  The forms can only be completed 10 days before your trip.

So after our vet visit, Terry goes to the CFIA with all the forms required.  He was then told that because we had a layover in Amsterdam, we needed the Netherlands forms, not the Spanish forms.  We then had to go back to the Vet to get the Netherlands forms completed.

The next day, Terry goes back to the CFIA and was then asked whether Amy Lou had always had her rabies shots on time.  Terry gave the records to the CFIA vet who immediately saw that one of the vaccine she had in the past was 11 days outside the 3 year Canadian requirement.  This meant that Amy Lou could not get the CFIA approval and could not fly as scheduled on Monday!!!!!  What!??!!!  We were flabbergasted!  Our vet told us that in Canada, there is no problem being outside the period and this was totally ludicrous since the vaccine is actually good for 7 years in theory.  The CFIA would not budge even for such a short period several years ago even if she had always had her shots on time afterwards.

We then called our wonderful Travel Agent and friend Regine, who called KLM and was refer to the European Union website who simply showed the rules outlined above.  I also contacted Pet Travel who specialized in pet passport for the past 17 years and they confirmed that the CFIA approval was not required to fly to the EU.  The vaccine was fine as long as within the 3 year period.  We then contacted a friend who had several trips to the EU in the past few years and told us that the airlines or authority never questioned her documents.

We then reluctantly decided to go with all documents KLM required without the CFIA approval.  We essentially spent 3 sleepless nights for nothing.  KLM thoroughly checked all our vet health certificate and documents without asking anything further about her past vaccines or the CFIA approvals.

Moral of the story, you don’t need the CFIA for the EU but it is prudent to ensure that you always get your dog’s shots on time.

Bottom line, you need the microchip certificate, the vaccine records showing that it is current and your vet health certificate.

Needless to say, we celebrated our arrival in Spain with our sweet little Amy Lou and were incredibly relieved to make it here without further issues.