Monday, April 1, 2013

It is all about Spain

Hola, Bonjour, & Bonjourno!  My husband and I are back from an adventurous vacation along the Mediterranean Sea.  I wanted to share my experience with you on 1 of 3 countries visited and I hope you will take away some useful information before your next European vacation.
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Madrid | Seville | Barcelona
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Spain is beautiful and culturally very rich.  The Spanish people are extremely warm and very welcoming towards tourists.  Although I suggest you should know a few basic words in Spanish so you can communicate with the locals, the Spaniards are more than willing to speak in English.  When traveling by train/bus, messages are translated from Spanish to English which was a great help to us. 
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In terms of food, I can't say I was super impressed by Spain.  There is a lot of red meat consumption (ham) which makes it difficult for people, such as myself, who eat chicken and very little seafood.  In addition, it is difficult finding vegetarian options, however we managed.

In Spain, tapas or small plates are very common.  You will tend to see people sharing tapas sitting outside a restaurant and people watching.  Each tapa can be shared between 2 to 3 people which is a great way to experience new dishes.  The cost of a tapa in most places is about 3 to 5 euros each. 
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On the other hand, the desserts, the coffee, and breakfast in Spain was awesome and more than compensated for the lack of vegetarian options.  We started each morning with a hot cup of Cafe con Leche (coffee with milk) and some kind of baked good, usually an ensaimada which is a baked bread topped off with powdered sugar.  I also enjoyed a Spanish cake called a magdalena which is very similar to a Lemon Muffin.

When it comes to wine I am a sort of a novice and if you are anything like me, I suggest going for a house wine, or copa (in Spanish).  Copa is so good and it comes at an affordable 1 to 2 Euro(s) a glass.  You can even order the entire bottle for less than 10 Euros which will get you about 5 glasses of wine.  However, if you really want a true taste of Spain, go for the Sangria which a blend of red wine and chopped fresh fruits, usually apples and oranges.  

Out of all the cities visited, I have to say Barcelona was easily my favorite due to its amazing architecture, widespread streets, and gorgeous weather.  If you do plan to visit Spain, here is a recommended itinerary: 
Madrid - 2 nights or more 
Seville - 1 to 2 nights, more for daytrips
Barcelona - at least 3 nights

Other Places to consider: 
Cordoba | Granada | Toledo | Costa del Sol | Ibiza

Travel Tips for Europe: 
- When traveling to Europe, opt for the house red wine which is dirt cheap. Cocktails (hard liquor) aren't as easily available so go for red wine which is also good for you. 
- Know the local cuisine before you go.  For example, pesto is the dish to order when staying on the Italian Riviera. 
- Dining out 3 times a day can quickly get expensive, to be frugal and romantic at the same time, grab a pizza pie and a bottle of wine and head to the beach.  You will find many locals/tourists doing this on the French Riviera, in particular.  
- Most European locals eat dinner later than Americans.  The best time for dinner is usually after 8 pm.  Typically around 5 pm I would grab a coffee and a dessert to curb my appetite for a few more hours. 
- Tipping in Europe isn’t expected as it is here in the United States, however it is appreciated to leave something.  Anything from 1 Euro to 4 Euros would be appreciated.  Also keep in mind a few places do amount for a cover charge, typically 2 Euros per person.  Again, it all depends on you and the service you receive.  
- Make sure you take an electric converter, there are universal ones available which you can use in almost every country. 
- Travel light!!!  I can’t stress this enough, travel light!  There are areas in Cinque Terre where cars are not allowed, so you literally need to drag your luggage to your hotel/B&B.  Also, if you have multiple destinations involved, it helps when your luggage is light.  
- Train delays are very common in Europe, particularly in Italy, plan alternative routes just in case. 
- Typically public facilities aren't the best in Europe so always use your hotel restroom prior to leaving.    
- Pick a city as a primary base and visit neighboring towns rather than checking in and out of multiple places. 
- Withdraw money from a well known bank's ATM to receive the best exchange rate.  Use cash as much as possible to avoid unnecessary foreign transaction fees. 
- Europeans drink their coffee different than most Americans do, and so if you want American Black Coffee, you need tospecify American Coffee (Caffe Americano).  The most popular types of coffee in these regions are as follows: 
Spain - Cafe con Leche (coffee with milk) 
France - Cafe au Lait (coffee with milk) 
Italy – Caffe Latte (coffee with milk) 
- Learn a few words before visiting a country, such as, Hello, Bye, Thank You, Please, Excuse Me, Where is, How much, I would like.  Know how to say the numbers from 1 to 5 at the very least.  Although most Europeans do speak English, as a visitor in their country, it is respectful to learn a few words in the local language to ensure basic communication.  

Now you can LIVE to EAT or EAT to LIVE?!?!?!?  I think I'm the former!  :-) 

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