October 31, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

This week, I bring you a guest post from Agness; a Polish vagabond who, after graduating in 2011, left her comfort zone, setting off for the journey of a lifetime to China. She has been constantly traveling the world since then, living like a local for less than $25 a day. She has become passionate about photography and adventure blogging, sharing her enthusiasm for life as well as her travel experiences.

The Rock of Gibraltar: You’ve probably heard the name before, but how much do you know about it? Did you know that it’s home to some 300 monkeys? Or that it’s the perfect place to try both traditional Spanish and British cuisine? Or that it offers up adventure on the cheap? Allow me to introduce you.

Where is Gibraltar?
Gibraltar (meaning “The Rock”) is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom (yes, the citizens of Gibraltar are British people so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier), which sits at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, it is also bordered by Spain to the north, so you can easily border hop by car or foot to carry on your travel adventures. Most of the visitors land in Spain to get to Gibraltar, but you can also fly there.

Why did I go and how long did I spend there?
My two friends (Cez and Barbara) and I rented a car in Malaga and drove all the way to see Gibraltar. We slept in the car and parked outside of the “Rock,” so that we could do it cheaply and comfortably — let’s face it, at only a short walk away, Spain has more space for parking lots and hostels, and is therefore a lot more budget friendly. We spent one whole day in Gibraltar, which — despite its small size — may not have been enough. There’s definitely more for me to see when I visit next time.

Why should you visit Gibraltar?
Gibraltar is one of a kind: It’s small and intense, expensive on hostels and cheap on duty-free, tiny on the map and huge on sightseeing. It’s got it all.

Things to See and Do on a Budget

1. Exploring St. Michael’s Cave
St. Michael’s Cave is a stunning natural grotto attracting a million visitors each year. The cave formations are colourfully lit, and travellers can read displays documenting the caves’ history. The entrance ticket is £10 ($16) and you can spend a whole day there if you wish to.

2. Watching monkeys in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve
The Upper Rock Nature Reserve is a great place to see wildlife as well as numerous plant species that are rare or unknown elsewhere in the world. Moreover, the scenery seen from the top is simply breathtaking. Be careful as there are plenty of cheeky monkeys around trying to steal a wallet or a piece of jewellery from you!

3. Shopping
While, you may think that such a small destination might have not-so-small prices, this is not actually the case in Gibraltar. Because of its political stance, it serves as a duty-free heaven for shoppers from around the world. Although the British Pound is the official currency, dollars, euros and other currencies will be happily accepted by shop-owners.

Where should you stay?
I am a budget traveller, hence I would not recommend staying in Gibraltar. Within just a 30-minute walk, you can be in Spain, where accommodation prices are much more attractive.

What and where should you eat?
Gibraltar is full of food and booze (British influence maybe?). Cafes, pubs and bars are scattered all over the place and will look very tempting on a hot Mediterranean day. You should not leave Gibraltar without a full English breakfast!

What’s the best way to get around?
A pair of trainers or sandals will do just fine. It’s a small place and everything is within walking distance. Nevertheless, I would recommend getting a cable car when you go to the top of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. And, since the way back is easy and picturesque, you may as well just walk again.

Now that you’ve become acquainted with the famous rocky mass that is Gibraltar, I suggest you get to know it in person. With a mixture of adventure, cultures and scenery, it’s a European stop that shouldn’t be missed.

Follow Agness on:
The eTramping blog

April 10, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

I started following the spunky identical trio over at the Traveling Triplets awhile back. Via their blog, they cover everything from their adventures, to favorite recipes and even fashion tips. Recently, Megan made a stop in Barcelona and had the chance to go to a fútbol (err soccer) game. As my latest guest poster, she gives a quick rundown of the highlights. (And because these ladies are just too adorable for words, I’ve embeded their intro video below, as well.)

Hi! This is Megan from Traveling Triplets where my sisters and I blog about traveling and life as an identical triplet. I recently returned from a trip to Europe during which I was able to spend a few days in Barcelona. One of the highlights of our visit was going to a Fútbol Club Barcelona game at Camp Nou!

You can’t go to Barcelona without going to a fútbol game, as Fútbol Club Barcelona has become a symbol of Catalán culture. Barça is more than just a club, they are international champions supported by a huge fan base – both in Catalonia and around the world.

Before going, I got my tickets for only 43 euros here. And almost just as important as the tickets, was learning the chants and picking up a team scarf before the game (not only to support the team, but also because when we went in February it was absolutely freezing!). The only thing better than going to the game? The fact that Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 2-1, and Lionel Messi was even more amazing in real life!

So grab a hot dog for a few euros and experience Barcelona’s passion for fútbol. I recommend getting to the game about an hour early to beat the crowds, because on your way home there is no escape. Have fun!

To learn more about Barcelona see our Top 10 list here!

December 20, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain, Travel

I knew l’d like my latest guest poster, Lauren. After all, she hails from the US, is married to a Spaniard, and loves Spanish food with the same unconditional passion as yours truly. With that in mind, she and I decided to swap guest posts this week, waxing poetic about none other than our not-so-secret love affair with our adopted cuisine. Once you’re done working up your appetite here, be sure to stop by her blog, Spanish Sabores, to read my post about holiday foods you should plan to pig out when visiting Spain during the winter.

As Christmas draws near, I once again find myself struggling to buy last minute gifts for friends and family. After traveling back and forth from Spain for almost three years now, the pretty fans, colorful ceramics, and cute flamenco aprons just won’t cut it anymore. So what do you do when you run out of gift ideas but your loved ones expect something Spanish? Resort to food gifts– and trust me, no one will complain!

Spain is full of potential food souvenirs. In fact, Spaniards themselves often bring a famed food from their town or region when visiting family and friends. Whether it is a homemade blood sausage, some marinated olives, or cookies and pastries made by the nuns in the local convent, Spaniards love giving food gifts.

So what can a visitor to Spain take back as a gift? Here are my five suggestions for delicious food gifts that will have friends and family wanting to hop the next flight to Spain!

Note: Unfortunately, as an American, my list cannot include any of Spain’s delicious pork products. Individuals are currently not allowed to transport sausage, ham, or other meat products into the United States. For more information about what you can and cannot bring into the US see this page.

5 Delicious Food Gifts from Spain

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Did you know that Spain is the number one producer of olive oil in the world? Every year the country produces a variety of different olive oils that vary in taste and texture. Pop in to any supermarket and be prepared to see a wide selection.

2. Pimentón de la Vera: Pimentón is the Spanish word for paprika, and the most famous comes from La Vera in Cáceres, Spain. But if Cáceres is not a part of your itinerary, don’t worry, most supermarkets and specialty shops carry this coveted spice. Pimentón de la Vera comes in three types: sweet, semi-sweet, and hot. It adds an amazing smoky flavor and a nice orange-red color to Spanish dishes.

3. Artisan Honey: I never realized how many honey varieties there were until I came to Spain. Here you can find flavors like rosemary, thyme, lemon and orange. There is creamed honey, honey with nuts inside, and honeycomb. Different regions compete each year to be called the best honey in Spain.

4. Marzipan Sweets: Marzipan sweets are made primarily of almonds and sugar. They are most famous in Toledo, where each shop has its own special recipe, but you can find them sold all over Spain. A box of marzipan makes a delicious gift, and the sweets are also quite beautiful to look at!

5. Red Wine: Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world and has several excellent wine regions. My favorite is the Ribera del Duero region in Castile and León. A good bottle of Spanish wine can be found for around 10€, making it worth your while to bring back a few bottles.

So forget about the shot glasses and T-shirts you were planning to buy and try the supermarket or (even better) local market instead. You’ll have some great, unique gifts and your family and friends will get a real taste of Spain!

November 22, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Expat, Spain, Traditions

Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year travel community website for backpackers and gap year travellers.

Little over two months ago I packed my bags in London and prepared myself for one crazy ride abroad in Spain. It was to be quite the transition.

Winding up in the arid, wild lands of Extremadura, and ending up in the small-sleepy city of Cáceres, I quickly had to learn to leave all thoughts of the Big Smoke, Big Ben and all the bring-your-own-beer Vietnamese restaurants of East London behind. Adjusting to small city living? Quite the challenge!

But I survived. And you can too! Allow me to help you prepare and cast off the shackles of those big city lights forever. Start embracing small city living in Spain now!

Embrace the Fame in Spain
When was the last time someone said “hi” to you on those big lonely streets of New York, Toronto or even Madrid? Can’t remember? Hardly surprising.

Get yourself in shape for small-town Spain then. Stardom and all the trappings of a fame-filled lifestyle are just around the corner.

Here you’ll need to get used to being accosted in the street, screamed at by young kids and have panties thrown at you from apartment windows above (those flimsy washing lines are purely coincidental).

Ok maybe that’s an exaggeration. Being the new face about town probably won’t cause Beiber-like fever, but you’ll at the very least be a curiosity. Better do away with those cold city manners now.

Show some warmth right back at those neighbourhood greetings and you’ll slip right into community life without a moment’s trouble.

It’s no surprise “Buenas” is the most commonly used Spanish word after all! Let it be the first to slip off your tongue.

Embrace the Siesta Shutdown
Cast off of any expectation you have for those round-the-clock shopping sprees you had going on in that big city you used to call home. Here in Spain the siesta rules supreme.

In fact you’ll have to adjust your body clock too. Popping out onto the streets between the hours of 2-5pm is likely to lead you into believing you’ve walked on to the set of a zombie apocalypse film. It’s that quiet.

Start sleeping in the day and fit it around your work schedule. Living is for the evening in this part of the world.

And don’t expect to be able to buy anything on a Sunday either. We’re talking traditional Catholic towns here!

Embrace the Bus
Got into the habit of treating your tube or metro ride in the big city as a moment of peace and a podcast? You better think again with your move to small-town Spain.

Riding public transport is exactly, as its name suggests, a very “public” affair. Expect rowdy, noisy, laughter-filled carriages that no background-noise filtering headphones known to man could ever hope to block out. Not that you’d even want to try. People actually talk to each other on public transport systems in Spain!

Shirk off your cold city sensibilities, do away with your suspicion of strangers and get chatting right alongside locals as you hop around your new hometown. Fun!

Embrace the Poster
Gumtree, Craigslist and all those hyperlocal news sites may do the trick for snagging an apartment, selling old electronics or even finding a job in the metropolis you call home, but in Spain community networking works quite differently.

Long live the poster, the wall, the adhesive and small-town telephone boxes, public noticeboards and boarded-up shops. Here in Spain these are the true foundations of breaking neighbourhood news and the go-to information source of choice.

Get used to using them and putting your laptop down or your mobile away. The quickest and easiest way you’ll find out about what’s happening in and around town.

Embrace the (Lack of) Variety
Chances are if you’ve come from a city of over 500,000 people you’re pretty used to being spoiled for choice when it comes to kicking back in your leisure time. You better scale down those expectations for life in small town Spain!

You’ll be lucky to find a cinema in some places, let alone a bowling alley. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to find new hobbies and new ways of entertaining yourself of course. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Make the most of this great country and engage with the culture. Learn how to cook Spanish style, work on your language skills, even choose a Spanish football team to support and show up in a bar wearing the colours.

Keeping busy isn’t the challenge you’d expect, there’s plenty to explore in even the smallest of cities.

In fact making the transition from big city to small town living in Spain needn’t be tough at all. Approach it with an open mind and you’ll slip straight in.

There’s no going back to London for me.

November 10, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain

This latest guest post comes from one of my favorite American expats here in Spain: Stephanie over at theViatrix. She and I connected over Twitter, later discovering a slew of strange connections, both Madrid and not-so-Madrid related. Now we meet nearly once a week to write…make that pretend to write while we gab about díos knows what. A tour guide with over six years of madrileña life under her belt, she’s my go-to chica for input on all things awesome in Spain.

Erin asked me to write something for La Tortuga Viajera a while ago, and given our shared love of food and sugar, I immediately thought a blog on hot chocolate would be perfect. But it was August, and hot anything sounded awful. So now that it’s November and the weather’s getting cold, the time is right to start seeking out those steaming cups of cocoa.

First, a bit of background. While Switzerland may get all of the attention today, Europe’s chocolate history begins in Barcelona, where Columbus landed after his first voyage to the Americas. The court paid little attention to the mysterious beans until 30 years later, when Hernán Cortés proposed mixing them with sugar and spices to make the bitter Mexican drink more palatable. And Swiss Miss packets were born!

Not really, but Spanish monks did begin producing the yummy treat for members of the court, which had by this time moved to Madrid. Aristocrats fell in love with the sexy new drink (and perhaps with each other after drinking it) and Madrileños became so crazy for chocolate that they asked Pope Pius V to exempt the beverage from fasting regulations. “Liquidum non rumpit jenjunium,” ruled the Pope: “Liquid does not break the fast.” Is that why we say chocolate is “sinfully delicious?”

Spaniards managed to keep their discovery secret for almost a hundred years. That is, until Jewish chocolatiers began smuggling the stuff with them when fleeing the Inquisition. They first went to Portugal, where they were kicked out again, before finally settling in Bayonne, France. Here, in this relatively tolerant Basque border town, they started their own production, using beans brought back by the famously intrepid Basque sailors. By 1870, the industry had grown to employ more chocolatiers than in all of Switzerland, firmly establishing Bayonne as France’s chocolate capital (bet you didn’t know that).

Jump back to Barcelona, where the milling process had become mechanized in the 1780s, turning the city into Spain’s chocolate-producing center. You can even thank chocolate for one of Barcelona’s emblematic modernista buildings: Casa Amatller. During Barcelona’s boom years at the turn of the 20th century, chocolate magnate Antoni Amatller commissioned architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch to build him a house on the famous “Block of Discord”—it’s the one next to Gaudí’s Casa Batlló.

But let’s get back to the good stuff, and the point of all this: chocolate-drinking establishments. Chocolaterías start springing up in Spain’s big cities at the end of the 18th century, and become important meeting places for intellectuals in the mid 1800s. This is also the period in which people decide it’s necessary to dip something doughy and delicious in the chocolate, driving each region to develop its own specialty. In Madrid, that means churros, fried sticks or loops of batter invented specifically for dunking. Today, churros con chocolate is the quintessential Madrileño breakfast (or post-club energy boost).

Barcelona has chocolaterías as well, but more interesting are the granjas, or milk bars, which spring up at the end of the 19th century. Who cares about dairy products when we’re talking about chocolate? Well, when your hot chocolate comes under a mountain of thick, unsweetened, freshly-whipped cream, you care. Barcelonians call this a “suís” (“suizo” in Spanish) and it’s amazing. Since churros are very un-Catalan, I like to eat mine with an ensaimada, a light and airy pastry snail, though many people would maintain that melindros (Catalan lady fingers) are more authentic.

And what about Bayonne? Well, rather than the dark, almost pudding-like Spanish hot chocolate, they whip up a super-frothy cup of the stuff, call it chocolat mousseux, and serve it with buttered toast. It may not be as thick, but it’s just as delicious—and all that butter doesn’t hurt either. 😉

If you’re traveling around Iberia and want to know which are my favorite chocolaterías in Madrid, Bayonne, and Barcelona, head over to theViatrix for my list of hot chocolate spots.