Sleeping in Spain: A Guide to Accommodation (and 30€ Voucher Giveaway!)

If there’s one thing that’s weathering the Spanish economic downturn (no doubt tied to the weather itself), it’s the tourism industry. Accounting for nearly 11% of 2012’2 GDP, Spain constantly pushes the envelope within the tourism industry and has grown to be the second-largest in the world!

Where will you be pillow hugging tonight?

One aspect that sets Spain apart is its ample offering of accommodation and luxury brands. Iberostar, Melià and Bareclò hotels are considered some of the best brands in the world, and backpackers can find a haven nestled on cobblestone streets or just steps from a private beach. Still, in an ever-changing industry, there’s quite a bit of confusion as to each type of accommodation, and sometimes where to find it at an affordable price (don’t worry, there’s an entrance to a voucher at the end of this explanation!).

The view from the rooftop bar at Seville’s Hotel EME.

Hotels, like in any country of the world, are plentiful and of varying quality. There’s also been a recent surge of new hotels offering boutique accommodation, quirky decor and plenty of character. Spain’s tourism board has instituted a nationwide ranking, using the Q of quality and between 1 and 5 stars. Hotels are marker with a white H and the ranking below. High season is during the summer months, local festivals and Christmas time, so expected steeper prices and less availability.

The Spanish government now controls a network of historic buildings converted into luxury hotels, called paradores. From castles to convents, a night in the sumptuous lodging will typically run you more than an average hotel, but booking during the low season can ensure a one-of-a-kind experience in a historically important building.

Tiles on the outdoor terrace of the parador in Carmona, Andalusia.

Hostels and Albergues  are often considered a common type of backpacker accommodation, they are as varied as one could imagine. Typically, they can be found in city centers and offer beds in shared or private accommodation, shared bathrooms and common areas such as living rooms, rooftop terraces or kitchens. Most beds in a shared dorm are less than 20€ a night, making it an ideal place to meet other travelers through free events and walking tours.

A typical dorm room in hostels. This one is Grand Luxe in Seville.

Slightly nicer than hostels, pensions (pensiones) are more budget-friendly than hotels and are typically smaller, too. Most similar to boarding houses, one can expect loads of hospitality and often meals!

Thanks to Spain’s varied landscape, rural accommodations are becoming popular, particularly for families wishing to escape city life.

A bed at Almohalla 51, a luxury rural house in Archidona, Spain

Apartment Stays are also becoming a popular way to live like a local in larger cities. Available for days, weeks or months, a piso turístico will allow travelers the privacy of their own space while having access to amenities. Typical rates for a month can be between 500 – 800€, depending on the season.

Camping remains a cheap and popular option for staying in Spain, particularly on the coast. Rates are low, even during the summer season, and most offer on-site food and washing facilities.

No joke, I spent a night here in the Islas Cies.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in a tent on the pristine Playa de Rodas in Galicia, an ancient piso in front of the Basilica Santa María del Mar in Barcelona and a friendly pensión within earshot of the tingling churchbells of Santa María la Blanca in Seville. My head has rested in sumptuous hotels from Toledo to Valladolid, as well as old fortresses, which is why I’m excited to present you all with my newest giveaway.

I’m teaming up with Your Spain Hostel to offer a giveaway of a 30€ voucher to be used on Your Spain Hostel on any property in any city you’re interested in visiting in Spain. Simply enter by leaving your email address and telling me in the comments where you’d like to travel to in Spain should you win the voucher (extra points if you send a postcard!), or otherwise!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

From a bungalow on the beaches of Ibiza to a casa rural in Cangas de Onís, Your Spain Hostel is your one-stop destination for unique and quality accommodation around Spain. The site also provides discounts on tours, entrance to sites, food and even taxi pick-up! You can win extra entries by following both Your Spain Hostel and Sunshine and Siestas on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy travels for 2013! Where are you headed, and where do you like to rest your head at the end of a long day of tourism and tapas? Got any great recs?

 

PressReader Newspaper Application: A Review

When I was seven, my favorite place in the world was my best friend Megan’s farm. Even though she needed to shove her cats into the basement and vacuum the entire house so my allergies could be kept at bay, the farm and her mother’s cooking made for many happy memories. Among these were having her mother carefully split the comics section down the middle, serve us pipping hot pancakes and mason jars of milk and digging into two things I have always loved – newspapers and breakfast food.

I graduated from college 15 years later with a journalism degree.

While I’m abroad, my desire for news seems to be more acute. Even Spanish news programs are on at 3pm, the time at which most families are sitting down to lunch. I devour newspapers each morning over breakfast – this time with a cup of coffee instead of a mason jar of milk.

I recently took a test run of PressReader, the largest online kiosk for reading newspapers from around the world on a mobile device, tablet or computer. Over 2,300 newspapers in 54 languages are available for browsing, and my subscription started just before the 2012 Presidential Elections. I opened the application to find loads of information about the impending polling and last minute pushes in swing states, quickly saved a few English and Spanish language newspapers into my favorites and dove right in, cup of tea in hand.

They say no news is good news, but no news makes for a deprived Cat with nothing to do to keep her entertained in the morning. Here’s what I thought of PressReader’s application.

What I liked

The benefits of PressReader stuck out right from the beginning. I could easily move through titles, sections and languages and get a good feel for the applications and its capabilities.

Easy Navigation and Stellar Graphics – When each new newspaper is opened, found through a keyword search or by choosing a language, the front cover pops up and the sections can be found on the right hand side. Here, one can browse the sections that interests them the most, using either the table of contents or the thumbnails of the paper’s actual content. There’s also the option to download the paper to a mobile reading device or to send the article to an email address. The newspaper appears just as it was if it were in your hand, with crisp graphics and the ability to open a separate window with larger text and related articles. If anything, I’d prefer the icons for zooming in, turning the page and closing the article to be floating, rather than on the bottom.

Radio Option –  An automated reading of the piece is available in all languages, perfect for multi-tasking or downloading for later listening. The Spanish readings actually sounded better than the English ones!

The Price – After frustratingly trying to open articles to just browse and get my news fill, having to click to read through Facebook ro other social media was irritating. PressReader offers a close to unlimited number of views for a flat fee of $0.99 cents per download, or a rate of $29.95 a month. Considering you’ve got access to well over 2,000 newspapers and all of its content (including the crosswords!), it’s a great deal for keeping informed.

What could be improved

Small Type – The small type led to problems with me clicking on the wrong articles or links. I couldn’t find a magnifying glass to help me sort it out, either.

Not personalized enough from the beginning – Largely due to the enormous number of newspapers availble, the front page is a big jumble of popular articles, my saved newspapers and a dashboard. Trying to find articles that interested me was tougher than I expected, so I would have liked the application to begin with a short questionnaire about my preferences, geographic location and preferred language, along with the look of my homepage.

Overall Value

While PressReader is great for the traveler and the digital minded, I miss the slight weight of a newspaper and the smell of ink on my hands. Regardless, PressReader offers travelers an easy way to stay in touch with no pesky “two clicks a day” limit and a reasonable price to have it all at their fingerprints, no matter where or when they’re having their coffee and paper break.

PressReader generously offered me a multiple-month trial of their application for my desktop. As always, all opinion are my own.

How a misguided GPS lead us to a good find, but bad luck

“BUT I CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET OUT OF THE PARKING LOT!” I wailed, confused at how to even put the rental car into reverse.

“Dude, let’s ask PSY,” T suggested, and the site of a Gangnam-style doppleganger set me into a fit of giggles. Today was going to be a good day. After loads of back luck during 2012, I finally felt blessed, and that our trip would be  luck at the end of a bad streak.

I asked the car rental guy the easiest way to get out of Madrid, and he asked our destination.

Burgos, I said, as H responded with Logroño, our final destination.

The GPS navigated us out of Madrid and out towards Burgos. Being together outside of camp felt almost strange, but we chattered away to make the kilometres pass by as quickly as they got racked up on the dashboard.

Just past the border of Madrid and Segovia, the GPS spoke again to tell us to turn off the main road and onto a secondary highway.

“It’s probably just avoiding the toll roads or something,” H suggested when I told her that the Internet had suggested driving up past Burgos and veering off on the highway that stretches across the North, following the Ebro river that feeds the grapevines of La Rioja.

The mountain range that separates the two comunidades rolled out on the right side of the window as the vegas turned into golden-leafed forests. As we snaked into Soria – the most sparsely populated region of Spain – my eyes and brain begged for a coffee.

The GPS sounded, as if it read my brain. It directed us into a town on the banks of the Duero, San Esteban de Gormáz. I saw the town’s castle spires on our way in, and we drove as high as the rental car would take us into the town’s midget bodegas with cracked, wooden doors. The place felt a bit like Guadix with the homes carved into the walls, the creaky stairs and catwalks leading across the sides of the mountain. The ancient stones of the small town had lead the namesake to write El Cid Campeador, the famous novel of Spain’s chivalrous knights of the middle ages.

After a quick stop for coffee, we set out towards Soria, passing small towns not big enough for even a church. Coming around a bend in a small aldea, we came across a truck and a guardia civil car. The young office signaled us over to the shoulder and I gulped hard, stone silent in my fear.

Here’s the thing: I knew that the crime for driving without a license could be a 500€ fine and up to six months in prison. 

“Play STUPID!” T hissed as I rolled down the window and uttered hola with my best guiri accent. The cop asked for the car’s registration and my driver’s license. Kike had warned me something like this could happen not two days before, and to be extremely careful. I wasn’t breaking the law, but had been pulled over by a routine check on small country roads.

Using his iPhone as a translator, the cop told me I needed an international driver’s license to be able to rent a car and that we would be fined 100€ on the spot and get a “get out of jail” card until we made it to Logroño. I felt waves of nausea as I forked over two fifties and tried hard not to let onto the fact that I understood, even stifling a small shudder when his partner said, “Wasn’t it 500€ for driving without a license?”

As we drove away after a hurried buenos dias at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I felt my heart stop racing as we laughed nervously. Luckily, wine country was our destination, and it wasn’t long before I was taking the edge off with a glass of Rioja and cheap tapas. My friends were glad I was driving and that my guiri-speaking-Spanish impression was spot-on.

The rest of our weekend included me losing a cell phone, breaking a few wine glasses and having the worst wine hangovers of our lives, but there are few things I appreciate more than a good glass of tinto, my friends and new places.

Tapa Thursdays: Eating (and drinking) La Rioja

When it came to the last region of Spain left to visit, I didn’t have to do much planning: I was in La Rioja, Spain’s wine country, and I was going to drink as much vinate as possible.

But, as any adult knows, moderation is key, as well as stuffing your face to minimize the effects of the garnacha grape that’s been fermented.

One of Logroño’s most famous sites is Calle Laurel. This pedestrian stretch of street in the historic quarter is home to the city’s pintxos – the northern version of a tapa – bars. Being in Logroño on the weekend meant we had plenty to see, do and stuff our faces with, as the average pintxo and glass of house wine ran under 2,50€. As a lover of eating and drinking on the cheap, I felt almost too much at home in Logroño!

Stop One: Pintxo of Tortilla with a Spicy Sauce and glass of tinto: 2,20€

Parada 1: Pintxo de tortilla y tinto at Bar Sebas: 2,20€

Stop Two: Pintxo de Chorizo and a glass of tinto at Bar Villa Rita, 2,10€

Stop Three: Pintxo of Champi with shrimp and a glass of tinto at Bar Antonio: 2,80€

Stop Four: A Pintxo of Queso de Cabra con confitura de Mermelada, a pintxo of Pimiento Relleno de Setas y Gambas and a glass of tinto: 4,30€

I really just wanted Tana’s morcilla, though…

Stop Five: Meat on a Stick! Pintxo Moruno and glass of red at Páganos: 2,10€

self-timer portrait, yikes!

Stop Six: Pintxo of Piruletas de Solomillo con beicon and a beer (noooo more wine!), while my friends snagged the last three mini hamburgers: 3,50€

I’d say we made out like bandits, but we really made out like fatties. We would return to Calle Laurel just once more, instead choosing to try Calle San Juan, where the pintxos were even cheaper and the bars less crowded.

How do you eat while on a trip? Have you ever been to La Rioja?

Seville Snapshots: Bartering at the Plaza de España

The first (and one of very, very few) feeling I ever had of notoriety was from one Cassandra Gambill, who started following my blog way back before I knew theat people were actually reading. Naturally, I was thrilled when she chose to come to Spain a few years ago and blog about, so I gladly accepted her submission from her most recent trip to Seville.

Rediscovering Sevilla after a brief trip south in 2007, I had to rectify my image of this Andalusian town. When I had originally visited, preparations for the subway system left the city dirty and dusty. Whenever I saw photos of iconic Sevilla, I couldn’t recognize them as anything I’d seen, including the beautifully tiled Plaza de España.

Even though the day was overcast when I finally made it back to Sevilla, I immediately appreciated the grandeur and color of this sophisticated square. Speaking of color, there were plenty of local characters who also made the place a feast for the eyes and ears. In this corner alone there were lovey-dovey locals, backpacking-toting tourists, a scarf-and-abanico vendor, and a wandering woman hoping to plant rosemary sprigs on unsuspecting sightseers.

——–

Going on her third year in the Spanish capital, Cassandra Gambill is now working towards a Master’s in Bilingual Education at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. Her motto? Where there’s a will there’s a way, and where’s a puente, there’s a trip in the making.

 

You can follow Cassandra via her blog and twitter:

Blog: www.geecassandra.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/geecassandra

Tapa Thursdays: The Gambas Blancas of Huelva

When people ask me where my favorite spot in Seville is, I can give an answer quicker than I can name the president of the Spanish parliament: La Grande. You could say that I fell in love with Spain, with the Novio and with langoustines here, all things that have made my life over the past five years what they have been.

For the price of 1,10€ at La Grande, you can get a beer and three boiled shrimp, as long as your middle finger, littered with coarse sea salt and picos. These gambas blancas were part of my Christmas meal and have made their way into my diet at least once a week.

…and this for a Midwestern girl who used to hate seafood!

What it is: The parapenaeus longirostris is a common prawn. At its most simple, they are boiled and sprinkled with sea salt, though it’s common to see shrimp in dishes such as paellas and pastas, and like potatoes to Anglos, can be served in many styles: boiled, fried, in garlic, in tempura, etc.

Where it’s from: These crustaceans are captured off of the Atlantic Coast of Huelva and Morocco, making their arrival to Seville quite quick.

Where to eat it: While I love gambas just the way they are from La Grande (Lopez de Gomara, 18), you can get them just about anywhere. Try a marisquería for many varieties, or a local frieduría for gambas rebozadas, which are battered and fried in olive oil. I also had a friend try tortilla de camarones, which is a smaller shrimp fried in batter. She would have liked it, had she not seen their faces.

HOW to eat it: I once told my friend Alfonso to come meet me at La Grande and bring his mujer gamba. Oops. Female shrimp is to Spaniards what Buttherface is to Americans. To really master peeling a shrimp, you have to have practice, and maybe a beer or two first.

First, rip the head off by placing your index finger and thumb at the base of the skull. My friends say that the brains are the best part, but I can’t get myself to suck it! Then, pull the tail off. Discard both shells. Carefully remove the outer casing of the body by pulling off its legs and peeling off the upper case. The shrimp should look more or less like your curled pinky finger.

If you like tapas, why not tell me which ones you’d like to see featured on Sunshine and Siestas? Alternately, there are more pictures on Sunshine and Siestas’s Facebook page.

 

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