Driving in Spain

It pays to know how to drive a manual car because in Europe it is much cheaper to rent one than an automatic. We don’t have our own vehicle in Madrid so we rent from Europcar. Zipcar hasn’t added Madrid to the map yet but they are in Barcelona. If you only want to rent a car for a couple hours every now and then in Madrid then you should check out Bluemove Carsharing. I haven’t tried it myself but I know a few friends who really like it.
There are a lot of car rental agencies out there with tempting cheap prices online but we always stick to Europcar. For a while there was a glitch in their websites between their US and Europe sites where you could rent a car with unlimited miles from the US site much cheaper than the Spain site but unfortunately they figured it out and corrected the glitch. Tip: always shop around. Also, renting from the airport and train stations usually adds on an additional cost.
When we rent we always use an American Express card. They have an auto insurance plan that costs $25 per use and covers more than the “packaged Europcar insurance”. Once we even had an accident where the frame was damaged, it would have cost us a lot without insurance (I can’t remember but it was over $400). But American Express covered it all, it just took a long time and some communication on our part to connect the 2 companies to settle the issue.
If you do rent a car, it doesn’t hurt to get your international driver’s license from AAA; It only cost $15. I’ve rented cars without one but you can never be too sure what to expect if you get pulled over.
Driving in European cities can be really annoying, there are a lot of roundabouts but don’t be intimidated. The roads and highways are fairly easy to navigate and it is worth the cost because you have more freedom to travel and can explore all the hidden places off the beaten path that Spain has to offer.

Semana Santa Almeria 2014

semana santaalmeriaI am super upset because I forgot to bring my camera charger on this semana santa trip. Things have been crazy between planning this trip, tying ends up at work, helping the visiting parents, applying and interviewing for grad school; it has been a few crazy weeks. But I’ll never regret more not capturing the most epic Easter procession in Almeria on the night of Palm Sunday or Holy Monday. I was left dumbstruck, hypnotized by the power of the music. I couldn’t reach for any form of technology I was motionless. It wasn’t until my suegra hit me that I realized oh my god I haven’t been recording this beautiful moment, and maybe it is better that way but deep down I wish all the world could have experienced this incredibly moving night. Here is a clip after the most emotional cornet solo ended, the solo that left me weak in the knees and the soloist who disappeared in the wink of an eye. If anyone knows the name of this group or can link to an updated clip of this night and the solo, it would make my night.

Granada Revisited

alhambra gardens Last year we went to Granada twice but it is such a wonderful city we went back this April and will probably go again during the summer months. This time we had a chance to see the Alhambra gardens.
You can purchase general entrance to the Alhambra and the Generalife gardens for only 8.40 euros per adult. This ticket covers in and out entrance into the fortress plus the tower, gardens, garden palace, but minus the Palacios Nazaries. This is a great purchase if you are just showing friends around but make sure your friends have entrance tickets to the Palacios Nazaries (if they’ve never been) because they are incredible. Last year we were at the Alhambra in December and didn’t have extra time so we skipped the gardens. But this year we took our time and it was beautiful. If you have never visited the Alhambra and are trying to cram a visit in during the spring or summer months then I would definitely recommend booking 2 separate days to view the place, especially if you are older. There is just so much to take in and you could and should spend hours here, it is like a whole other world.
This year we visited during the height of Semana Santa. We had a bit of drama booking a hostel but in the end Hostal Costa Azul hooked it up. Mirador bell tower

san nicolas miradorWhenever I’m in Granada I try to find a great spot to watch the sunset. The Mirador de San Nicolas is one of the most touristy spots for a view of the Alhambra as the sun sets, but not really the best spot (head to Sacramonte). But this year we went up the San Nicolas bell tower for 2 euros for some great views. And below us was the Asociación Artesanos de San Nicolás selling all kinds of wonderful jewelry and crafts. After the sun went down we headed back down through the Albaicín and flamenco dancing into the darkness and came out upon the lights of a triumphant Easter procession. A great end to our wonderful day in Granada.

Valentine’s Day in Getafe

I spent Valentine’s day not with my boyfriend but with a wonderful girlfriend and colleague at the Auditorio del Conservatorio de Getafe.  We experienced a wonderful free symphony concert, the director was Francisco Aguado Marti and the program was awesome.  We heard Navarro, Respighi, Kimura, Soutullo y Vert and ended with Bizet a wonderful end to the night.Banda de Musica de Getafe

I can’t wait for the next concert.  You can follow them on bandamusicagetafe.es or even on Facebook.

Navibus Madrid

We finally took the Navibus!And it wasn’t worth it at all.
We waited on line for 2 hours @ Plaza Colón (Calle Serrano, frente al número 30, junto a los Jardines del Descubrimiento).
Then it started raining.  But even if it wasn’t raining it wouldn’t have been worth it.  We sat atop a double decker bus and saw the christmas lights of Madrid.  Honestly, it would have been better by foot.  If you have kids this could be a fun distraction for them but even for the  2€ ride it isn’t worth waiting in line for that long.
If you do want to check it out buses usually start the 5th of December and run until the 6th of January.  You buy your ticket on the bus.

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Snowy Vienna

Austria during our Semana Santa break was just what I needed.  Being a New Yorker I really have missed the snow.  I have been traveling around for a while and haven’t made it back to NY for the beautiful snowy winters of the north.  This has made me a bit homesick at times but during March we had the opportunity to visit Austria and see Tom’s mom sing with the local choral from our hometown Warwick, in Austria.  Lucky for us and maybe not for many others, it was snowing like crazy when we arrived.

We explored every bit of Vienna while we were there.  It was a short visit but here are some mini highlights.

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Carnival in Cibeles

 

This year Carnival was February 9- 13th and in Madrid there was a long program of events.  It was a bit difficult to see all of the parade but we caught a few glimpses.  The fireworks were set to the music of Giuseppe Verdi’s Triumphal March in Aida. Definitely a free event worth checking out if you are around for Carnival.

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Christmas in the Alps

Christmas vacay 417Christmas vacay 458I have no words for our time spent in Trentino; the food, the wine, the company, the language… I could go on for pages and pages on what a wonderful time we had.

So when in Italy you must visit Trentino.   It is a province full of quaint little mountain villages and of course Trento, amazing hikes and vistas, history, tradition, the incredible Dolomites and much more.  We headed towards Pedazzo and Bellamonte to spend the heart of the holiday with family.

Here are a couple must do’s:

-Go hiking or skiing amongst the Dolomites.  Or even sledding under the moonlight (or lack thereof) like us on Christmas night.

-Take the Skibus for FREE everywhere.

-Visit the Geology Museum in Predazzo (if you are into that sort of thing).  It is super cool and great for the kids.

-If there from December 8-January 13th you MUST go to the village of Tesero and follow the display of nativities through the town.  Even if you are not there during the winter you MUST visit Tesero, it is magical and as if you have stepped through a time warp.

-Spend at least a day in Trento.

-Explore, explore, explore!