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!





Posted in Spain

Granada and its Alhambra, a gem in Spain’s jewellery box

Terry and I went to Granada this week which is about an hour’s drive north of Nerja. The city was extremely busy as it was the last couple of days before January 6th, the “real Spanish Christmas” when gifts are exchanged. There were people everywhere rushing to get their shopping done. It was quite difficult to walk little Amy Lou in the busy streets of Granada. We had to carry her a lot but we managed and truly enjoyed the city’s incredible energy.

The Albaicín neighborhood and the Alhambra were undoubtedly the highlights of our stay. A friend of ours said that the Alhambra is a gem in Spain’s jewellery box. I would totally agree with this statement. What is the Alhambra you may wonder?

You may have heard that the Alhambra was a palace and fortress complex built for defense purposes by the Moors but it was in fact much more than that. It was truly a city of three parts: the alcazaba (military citadel), the alcázar (the palace) and the medina (the city).

It was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until 1238 when Mohammed Ben Al-Ahmar, the Nasrid Emirate of Granada started to build the Alhambra we know today. It was converted in a royal palace by Yusuf 1, Sultan of Granada in 1333. I was surprised to learn that the Arab civilization occupying Andalucia called the Moors, occupied Andalucia for over 800 years, a much longer period than most might think.

In 711 the Islamic Moors of Arab and Berber descent in North Africa (Moroccans) crossed the Strait of Gibraltar onto the Iberian Peninsula, and in a series of raids, conquered Christian Hispania. The Christian re-conquered the Andalucia territory in late 1400s, “the Reconquista”, and the Alhambra site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand & Isabella. Throughout the Alhambra city, you can see both Catholic and Moors art and architecture. It is truly fascinating to walk through the fortress and castle and learn how the Sultan lived.

The name Alhambra means “The Red” in Arabic for the sun-dried brick of which the outer walls are built.

The Alhambra is like a book that you can read, mostly stories about Allah and the sentence “the only conqueror is Allah” is carved or etched 9000 times on its wall.

Take a look at these few pictures. Unfortunately, they do not come close to the beauty and grandeur of the site and art. You must plan a trip to experience Granada and its magnificent Alhambra yourself.

We spent 3 days, 2 nights to see Granada and it was just about right. You could do it in one day but you would need to be prepared for a very full day. Make sure to book the Alhambra several days in advance. Some say months but it is easier if you book a 3 hour tour and is well worth the extra money I found.

Posted in Uncategorized

New Year’s eve in Spain, one big party!

New Year’s Eve in Spain is known as Nochevieja (old night) and it is an awesome time to visit Spain. It is a time of fiestas, traditions, and superstitions.

One well known and followed superstition is wearing red underwear on New Year’s eve. It is apparently an important step to bring good luck, especially if you are looking for love.

After a meal at home or a restaurant with family and friends, you head out to the town square where every one gathers to celebrate the new year. City hall usually offers a complimentary ‘pack’, consisting of a small bottle of Cava, a bag of twelve grapes and an assortment of funny paper hats, noses, moustaches and noise makers.

One of the biggest Spanish New Year’s traditions to bring more luck to the year ahead, is to eat one grape on every chime of the last 12 seconds of the year so that by the time it strikes midnight, you will have eaten a total of 12 grapes. Many supermarkets sell a small package of 12 grapes ready for you to bring to your party.

Cava, the deliciously dry Spanish “champagne”, is, of course, the most popular beverage to celebrate with at New Year’s Eve. The new year is officially welcomed as the clock strikes midnight by raising your glass of Cava and toasting the new year.

Some Spaniards put a gold object at the bottom of their glass, like a piece of jewelry or a coin, to bring them good luck and wealth for the year ahead. The idea is to drink the whole glass of Cava in one go and collect your golden object at the end.

The origin of the twelve grapes tradition goes back to 1909, when the grape growers in Alicante thought it was a great way to get rid of their huge production surplus that year. The idea caught on and now, almost every Spaniard observes the tradition. This habit of the 19th century has now been extended to several spanish speaking countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica.

The city will usually have a magnificent display of fireworks to ring in the new year and immediately after that and many people in Spain believe that the correct way to begin the New Year is with your right foot as in ‘start on the right foot,’ or the Spanish saying, ‘enter with the right foot.’ So when you walk away from the fireworks or step down from the dinner table, make sure it’s with your right foot; that way you can start the year the right way and bring luck for the future.

The next morning, the traditional breakfast is hot chocolate and ‘churros’, a delicious deep-fried pastry which you dip in a thick hot chocolate. Simply divine!

On New Year’s Day many Spaniards will enjoy a lunch of lentil and chorizo (a delicious slightly spicy sausage) soup or stew. Lentils represent small coins and are said to bring prosperity.

I have read that throughout the day, certainly well into the afternoon, you will invariably see people wandering around town still dressed to the nines with party hats and all, although by this time looking a little disheveled. The Spaniards sure love a good party, and I sure love them for that!!

Terry and I will be on the Balcón of Europa in Nerja tonight for New Year’s eve. There will be live music, fireworks, Cava, the famous 12 grapes and dancing until the early hours I am told. I will be sure to let you know how the night went.

Happy New Year everyone! Feliz Año Nuevo! Feliz 2018!!

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!!