We’re back from our honeymoon. I missed you all too. Hehe. We got back on Tuesday night and my father was right: it takes about a week to recover from jet lag. In the days following our return, we would get sleepy around 6-8pm, and then be wide awake around 4-4:30am. IT SUCKED. I think we’re finally up to speed. Yobo has returned to his semi-night owl tendencies and I’m slowly getting back to my old people body clock. Sleeping early together for about a week was nice while it lasted…
I hope to be able to follow up on all my “shit talk” about my gripes with travel posts about each city we visited and add a dose of The Realness with Jed™. 😉 This is going to be a long post, so I hope you’re in a wanderlust-y mood with a mug of tea/coffee/spiked drink next to you.
If you’ve been to Spain/Paris/Europe before (or live there), feel free to refute/add/agree with me. If you haven’t, you’re in for a super detailed treat from a first-time visitor to Spain/Europe. Questions welcomed.
I am writing this post because I have terrible memory and I want to look back on this adventure with every detail I can still remember. I’m also writing it in case someone is thinking about going to Spain without an official guidebook. I really hope this helps you! I know it’s a lot to read, but I’m writing the kind of post I would have liked to have found when I initially started my research for our Spain trip.
Before I get into specifics, we had the best time, and I miss traveling already. I can’t wait to go back to Europe. I feel like it is a balm for the soul to experience a different culture and way of life. You appreciate the world with bigger eyes, and you appreciate what you have back home. (Also, the honeymoon was rightly a loved-up bubble con mi marido, so I think we’re starting the marriage off nicely!)
Let’s get started: Yobo and I decided that since we’re not yet old, we were not going to go the Way of The Tour Group/Bus. As you can see from the map above, we decided to do the honeymoon our way, and we learned a lot. We flew into Gibraltar and rented a car just outside the Gibraltar/Spain border and drove to Tarifa (about a 45 minute drive). Our plan was to spend some time in Andalucia, have a day trip in Morocco (specifically in a town called Chefchaouen), and then move up the coast to the more well-known cities of Barcelona and Madrid. We would fly back to LA from Madrid, making it our last stop. (Also, we were supposed to go to Ronda, but I’ll save that story for another post.)
A few notes about driving and transportation should you follow in our footsteps:
- You would think that with the beauty of Spain (and especially in their coastal cities) that there should be a rail line that traces the coastline. NOPE. (California doesn’t either, so WTF.) Since this was our plan, we realized that we had to drive some of the way there. And since we were on a semi-budget, flying from city to city was not in our game plan. (When I realized that there was no train going along the coastline to city-hop, it made me wonder if we were the first people on earth to ever attempt such a vacation and go from south to northeast to center. Obviously not, but still…)
- Valencia –> Barcelona has a rail, so you’re good.
- Barcelona –> Madrid has a high speed rail (AVE), so you’re covered there too.
- We rented a car. Fortunately, you can rent a car and drop it off at any branch at your next destination. The company we went with was Europcar. If you are coming from another country, I’d recommend you make an online reservation first.
- Some Americans don’t know this, but in Spain, the driver is on the left side of the car, just like in America.
- YOU MUST KNOW HOW TO DRIVE STICK/MANUAL. As an American, I’m spoiled with driving an automatic, but at least Yobo knows how to drive one. #manpoints #husbandpoints
- GET READY, because Spain is all about the ROTARIES. (Or roundabouts, whatever you can them regionally.) There are no traffic lights, so at first you will be stressed out and confused because the flow of traffic never stops (which is efficient in its own way). Take a deep breath. You can do it. I learned something new about reading directions when there rotaries present: “exit 2” is the turn to your right; “exit 3” is going around the roundabout and continuing ahead of you (as if it wasn’t there); “exit 4” is turning left around the roundabout and turning left; “exit 1” is essentially a U-turn. The locals know what they’re doing so don’t panic, and also, you’re in a car so no one can hear you scream in frustration as you figure it out.
- I brought my car GPS to use in our rental car and that did not work. That stupid thing could not locate us, so just bear in mind, it could happen to you if you do the same. Best to use the GPS on your smartphone; just get a good intl data plan. (Or, see further down in the post about apps.)
- If you do end up driving along the coastline (we drove from Tarifa to Granada), a few things:
- You’re going to hit quite a few toll roads, so get those Euros ready! (Some toll booths have an option to pay with card, although we had a bit of trouble with one, but I think it’s because someone was working on the back of it.)
- When you fill up your rental car before returning it, you will NOT be able to fill up your own tank. There is an attendant there who will fill it up for you. He will ask you, “¿Completo?” and you should answer “Sí, lleno, por favor” to fill up the whole tank. When he’s done, go inside and pay at the register. Don’t forget to say “gracias.” (If this gas station situation is different elsewhere in Spain, my apologies. This is just what we discovered in Granada.)
WEATHER IN SPAIN IN LATE APRIL
I’m an Angeleno, so the feeling of temperature is all relative, but it was COLD. Not witches-teat cold, although I did feel that way in the evenings in Madrid. Brrr!
It rained twice, once in Granada in the morning, and once in Barcelona in the morning and early afternoon. Still, in the daytime, it can get fairly bright despite a light chill. The breezes are delicious, especially for us because L.A. is stingy with breezes. Especially if you’re a tourist, you will be walking around pretty much all day on hard marble, cobbled stones, and concrete, so your body will warm up. Local women in the daytime are bundled up in a chic way with tailored coats and snazzy scarves, shivering. Then again, they were all rail thin and probably didn’t have the protective American layer of blubber that I have. Sometimes I would sweat!
Bring sunglasses! Spain is pretty bright in the afternoon. Don’t let any balmy spring morning fool you. Bring a really good and sturdy pair of walking shoes. I’m not used to walking a lot (or exercising nyuk nyuk) so by the end of the day, my feet were killing me. I can only imagine worse if I hadn’t been wearing a good pair of shoes. If you can, pack a travel umbrella for the sudden showers or ask your Airbnb host if you can borrow one.
Also, the hills are alive with POLLEN! I had crazy allergies in Spain, especially in Madrid. Bring Claritin, or you can easily buy them at a pharamacy. Pharmacies are everywhere in Spain. You can easily identify them with a green medical plus+ sign, which made me giggle, because that same symbol is for a different kind of “medicine” in L.A.
Ladies, I recommend packing a nice winter coat, a hoodie for casualness, and a cardigan of medium thickness or a chic moto jacket with a scarf.
HELPFUL APPS YOU SHOULD PROBABLY DOWNLOAD BEFORE YOU LEAVE
I was on the 300 MB intl plan and I juuust made it to 16 days using all the apps listed. (Besides, when you’re traveling, you should be as off the grid as possible anyway.)
- The app of your airline, so you can check in and out with ease (and check on timetable of your flight for updates)
- BlablaCar – We used this rideshare car service to get from Granada to Valencia. It’s like Uber but you’re hitching a ride from people who are usually driving long distances that already have plans to head in the general vicinity of your next destination. You split the cost of the ride and you get to make a new friend. (For a 5 hour ride, it was roughly 50€ for the both of us. Not bad!)
- Download the language pack of your travel language (in our case, Spanish) in Google Translate before you leave for your trip. You will be using this a lot. P.S. If you’re going to Barcelona, download Catalan too.
- Don’t want to eat up too much of your international data? Download HEREMaps. The app lets you preload maps and use them offline. We did this for all of the our cities and it saved our butts. It is extremely useful for when you are driving because it’s fairly accurate in getting you to the next destination. [Props to the husbeau for finding this app! <3]
- YELP! Spain has Yelp! Hooray! As an Angeleno, I use this app very often to make sure that my eats are good eats and not alimiserandus™ (a word I invented this year from the Latin words alimento (food) and miserandus (disappointment) for when you are eating something that looks good, but it fails you on every level of taste and you go into a temporary spiral of depression and disappointment because you expected your tummy to be happy). I found, when doing research in the States for places to eat, it wasn’t that accurate to use Yelp even when I had the zipcode of the Spanish neighborhood. Yelp works better when you’re actually there and on the go. Another tip: Our Airbnb host in Barcelona (Burak) told us that people in Spain use Foursquare and TripAdvisor the way we use Yelp. (One last thing about Yelp…a caveat. Since it is an American-based app, you will be finding places based on reviews from tourists, mostly written in English. We found an amazing restaurant in Madrid called El Sur, which did not have a single local in there when we went around early dinnertime. So it’s a hit or miss if you’re also hunting for a restaurant and looking for a more “native” experience, if you will.)
- Pocket – OMG. I cannot recommend this app enough (!). I was looking at so many blogs and copying and pasting and printing all the tips and recommendations and putting them in my notes, BUT Pocket is better than all that! You can save your researched blog posts and read them OFFLINE. When you save each page to your account, you can tag them with labels so you can pull up “Madrid” when you need to without using data. It saves your data and sanity.
- (optional) Conversion Calculator for currency
- If you have AT&T, you should download the AT&T Passport app. When you are on an intl data plan, the app will help you find hotspots or free Wifi points so you won’t eat into your data.
- Airbnb – You obviously need this app if your ‘where to stay’ is an Airbnb location. You can talk to your hosts, and use this app to get directions linked to your maps of the house/apt, etc.
- WhatsApp – In Asia, they prefer Viber (bec we Asians love our GIFs and cutesy emoticons), but Spain and many other Spanish-speaking countries seem to lean towards WhatsApp. If you’re doing Airbnb, this is a good way to connect with the host when they provide you with their number.
WHAT ELSE?! (TIPS & OBSERVATIONS)
- The food culture in Spain is different than in the U.S. Duh. We had a one day layover in Paris which was also similar. Americans are very work-oriented, busy and always on the the go. We have a sizable industry for takeout containers. I didn’t see any wrappers or containers in street bins like in L.A. In Paris, you get a funny look for asking for takeout. Some places have them but it’s for hand food like bread, pastries, pizzas, and sandwiches. In Spain, those sandwiches are called bocadillos. In general, you don’t take meals to go. It’s considered rude/weird. You go into a tapas restaurant, chomp on your tapas and caña (small beer) and hop to the next place to do the same. If you eat at a sit down restaurant, the mentality is that you take your time eating, and you use that time to chat with your friends and family, or follow up with a digestif or another beer/wine. The waiters don’t even bother you or clear their throats hinting at you to get lost when you finish your meal. It is a huge effort to flag them down for your check. Both a lovely departure from our go-go-go U.S. culture, and semi-vexing if you’re a tourist trying to cram all of Spain into a few days. (Don’t get me wrong: there were a few places here and there advertising para llevar (to go) but it still wasn’t for full-on meals.)
- In some places, you bring your own container(s) to buy food, and you get a discount! Definitely eliminates waste. Hello, U.S.!!
- Everybody (90ish% of the population) in Spain (and Paris) smokes. It just added to the congestion I had from the pollen. Ick.
- Eating al fresco is the norm in Spain. I dig it. Aside from the secondhand smoke, it’s really nice to people watch!
- Speaking of your check: similar to Vancouver, they have a portable credit card machine that runs on Wi-Fi to ring up your receipt. The U.S. should adopt this too!
- Typically, you don’t tip in Spain. They must love us Americans who have this habit ingrained.
- The Spanish are really into hamburguesas. I wish it wasn’t the main food influence from the U.S., but ’tis so. They also like Italian food a lot. Pizza everywhere.
- Living in L.A., I am very used to Mexican Spanish and their slang terms and nuances. In Spain, the lisp is a real thing and they speak Spanish like it’s a Micromachines auction. The people there are lovely and friendly though so when they realize you’re a turista who can kind of speak Spanish, they will slow down for you.
- I can’t stop comparing my L.A. habits to my time in Spain, but another thing I noticed is that the consumption of water in Europe is significantly less there! Do y’all not drink water?! When we had to ask with our meal, before we ordered anything else, the puzzled waiters looked like they were going to scoff. I typically drink almost a gallon daily in my “real life” so I was dismayed that my European piss was a radioactive yellow. I would try to drink as much water in the Airbnb before we’d head out, which left me scrambling for a Water Closet 10 minutes into our day.
- Baño = Aseo = WC = Water Closet = Bathroom
- One last thing for now: it is VERY easy to get lost wandering around in Spain, and that’s part of its charm. It’s not built like a grid, so there are narrow streets, elevated streets, and winding streets. Enjoy being lost. ^__^