Category Archives: Spain

February blues? Head to Andalucía in Spain for some sun and sangria

It’s tough, just after the festive season, the feel good factor of giving and receiving has receded out of sight and the long wait for the January pay packet has come and gone. Winter is still gripping tightly to the north and the grey skies are a sullen reminder that spring is yet to have sprung.

All is not lost however, the recess before Easter brings some great bargain flights; provided that you steer clear of half term price hike. Although warm weather destinations can be difficult to find in advance, last minute shopping for flights has the added advantage of knowing the current temperatures before booking your escape.

North Africa is much in the news right now with travel to Egypt and Morocco somewhat dilated. For a touch of the Moorish style without a Molotov cocktail thrown in for luck Andalucía touts itself as a calm port in the storm of unrest.

reception at picasso's corner
Continue reading February blues? Head to Andalucía in Spain for some sun and sangria

Suddenly Salamanca

The drive across the northern plains of Spain lulls me into a dull monotony, featureless landscapes containing acres of not very much at all. The main route from Portugal, the A62, is fast and empty; I have to check the speedometer to ensure that I am not clipping the speed limit, in danger of a radar beep from a hidden patrol car and a ticket from its uniformed occupant with nothing else to do in the midday sun.

The “kilometres to go” sign on my GPS drops rapidly as I search the horizon for any sign of my destination. Surely I must be mistaken, perhaps entering a similar name that is just a small hamlet but no, a sign clearly states that Salamanca is close. Appearing rapidly in the distance, shapes form and the unmistakable change in the land around me tells me that civilization is close. A slip road beckons and the car seems to pull itself off the highway with a desire for company and the natural urban environment.

square at night

After driving through such a stark plain it comes as somewhat of a shock to arrive at the fabulous university city of Salamanca, I had heard great things about the place and was determined to explore as much as I could in the short time allotted before carrying on to my ferry back to the UK. I had booked the Salamanca Youth Hostel, conveniently situated close to the centre, however on arrival we found that the hostel had a staff shortage and was closed. They had made alternative arrangements and had booked us into a private room for the night which was more than acceptable.

The city itself is very manageable and for the main interesting parts walking is by far the best means of getting around. Leafy squares lead on to interesting alleyways and all roads, it seems, end up at the Plaza Mayor, the focal point of the city.

With a much embattled history Salamanca has a lot to tell, being fought over and conquered by the Moors and home to a devastating battle in the Napoleonic Peninsular War. It is the other side of the coin that we see today however and the fruits of an academic history started in 1218 with the foundation of the University of Salamanca by Alfonso IX of Leon. With over 33,000 students the vibrancy that these eager beavers bring to the nightlife of Salamanca is telling in the range of good cheap eateries and a stoic nightlife.

romanticaly lit streets of the old town

Of course eating and drinking are second nature to the Spanish and the Salamantinos are no exception, there are some great bars and restaurants dotted around the approaches to the Plaza mayor and it will not take very long until you come across one that suits your taste. I should mention that tapas are free in most of the bars and can vary from a small bowl of peanuts and crisps to some lovely little morsels of fine ham and cheese. For those in search of finger food the best range of tapas bars are in the Calle Van Dyke often called the “zona de tapas”, for very good reason.

If you are after a boogie or nightlife try the Plaza de San Justo for a good selection of bars and rocking tunes and ensure you at least pop into Tio Vivo Bar for a cocktail or two…as they say “La vida es un tio vivo”.

plaza major night

One of the first things you notice about the historical centre is the wonderful glow of the sandstone buildings; an ethereal light seems to bathe the city and as the sun changes its position in the sky so too does the mood of the place as it turns from bustling marketplaces in the morning to languid afternoon lounging in the parks and squares.

A visit to the main tourist office is recommended to get times and prices for the many attractions on show here and hit the bricks. The building is a masterpiece itself, the House of the Shells, one of the most famous buildings in the city.

The top spots for my money include the Plaza Mayor where you can take a stroll in the amazing square and mingle with the crowds, it’s not only tourists here the locals love to take a coffee or dinner in one of the most beautiful squares in Spain. Check out the University facade and play find the frog among the fascinating detail. Mosey on down to the Cathedral and admire the multi era design with Spanish Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque features on show. After palaces and cathedrals have had their way with you take a walk along the river to the Roman Bridge and stretch your legs over the 26 arches.

cathedral

I had far too short a time here and am already looking forward to coming back in the university term time to once again enjoy tapas, music and the great ambience that Salamanca has to offer.
Useful Websites for Salamanca:

www.salamanca.es
www.aboutsalamanca.com
http://www.alberguesalamanca.com the Salamanca Youth Hostel
http://www.tiovivosalamanca.com the Tio Viva bar

24 Hours in Barcelona

Assuming you are healthy, have a hearty appetite and a rapacious capacity for Rioja and Cerveza we are set for a real travellers city. The best way to move around, with a few exceptions, is on foot and is an excellent way to keep of the calories while enjoying Barcelona’s fantastically varied cuisine.

In keeping with our theme we are going to plan out a 24 hour assault on the Catalan capital and explore the nooks and crannies of this exciting city in a time frame that many travellers have either chosen or had to make do with. So grab your day pack and a bunch of Euros and let’s hit the streets.

street scene barri gothic

First we need to find somewhere to stay; there are plenty of options, however as with any popular city getting value for money can be a tough challenge. As this is quick and dirty I am suggesting either the Alberguin Hostel near Barcelona Sants station (great for a quick getaway) or the Kabul Hostel in the Plaza Real just off La Rambla (party central) the choice is yours.

Continue reading 24 Hours in Barcelona

The ritual of the bullfight: Seville, Andalucia

The Bullfight; Passion and blood in the Plaza de Toros

You could hear the passion in the voices of the two men arguing in the corner of the small bar.
“That matador is rubbish” the older one said, gesturing at the poster on the wall.
“Well, Juan Carlos isn’t so great either” said the other, “I don’t know why you insist on his prowess.” The debate went on, each attesting to the bravery of one matador or another.

picadorsparading

The scene was replayed all around as, like the supporters of a football, team they discussed the merits of the players in the game with passion, toasting with drinks and raucously cursing in high spirits.

We had come to Seville in Andalucía at Feria, the start of the season, to watch a bullfight at one of the most important bullrings in Spain, The Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza. This Historical venue is an impressive sight, with a capacity of around 14,000 spectators it is a prime venue for the sport and is packed to capacity most of the season.

For travellers who do not want to see a bullfight, but still want to understand the history and pageantry that surrounds it, the arena has tours every 30 minutes or so every day and can give you a glimpse into the history of bullfighting in Spain and the grandeur of the Maestranza.

If you want to see a traditional bullfight then this is certainly one of the best places in Spain to do so. A seat will cost around 20 Euros and should be bought well in advance from the taquilla (box office at the plaza de toros) if you want to avoid sitting in the sun. Tickets are sold as either sol, sol y sombre or sombre i.e. sun, sun and shade or shade with prices getting more progressively more expensive the cooler the seats.

matadorslineupforphotos

Having purchased our tickets and taken a few cold beers at a nearby bar it was soon time to join the crowds on their way to the bullring. The resemblance to a soccer crowd stops at the lack of chanting but the excitement in the air was palpable. Television cameras were stationed at the entrance to capture the spectators, food stalls were doing a roaring trade and the beers were in full flow at the bars.

Continue reading The ritual of the bullfight: Seville, Andalucia