Tag Archives: travel

alpujarras, bubión, spain, españa, autumn colour, color

A Day in Las Alpujarras

At this stage of my Granadino expathood (2 years, 3 months), I really ought to have visited Las Alpujarras more than twice. Any discerning expat in Spain will attest to that. The first time was when I attended and (rather tamely) participated in the mother of all water fights in Lanjarón, to help celebrate el día de San Juan – the longest day of the year. The second outing came recently, perhaps at the best time of year to go considering the late autumn we had last year.

La Alpujarra’s unspoiled and natural beauty is as unparalleled as its unique microclimate, provoked by the constantly melting snow from above. In sharp contrast, the landscape below is much more arid and sparse.

A few facts and a little history…

  • The etymology of ‘alpujarra’ is unclear, though the most credible suggestion is that it derived from the Arabic word al-bugsharra, meaning ‘sierra of pastures’.
  • The average altitude is 4,000ft above sea level.
  • Many inhabitants of La Alpujarra descend from Galicians, after thousands were relocated from Galicia following the reconquest of Granada in 1568.
  •  Mulhacen, the highest peak in Spain at 3,482m, is contained within the mountain range.
  • It contains Trevelez, the highest village in Spain, at 4,843ft above sea level.
  • The Alpujarras covers roughly 2,500km.
  • The Mediterranean, seen easily on a clear day, is just 40km away.

The enchanting, sky-scraping region spans two Spanish provinces – Granada and Almería – and comprises around forty small mountain villages. Its history is fascinating. The Moors were the first to settle there in the late 15th century, after being driven away by Spanish Christians who had recaptured Granada. This was where they remained until a hundred or so years later, when the Christians expelled anyone of Arab descent from the Kingdom of Granada. Following that, the Christians – many of them from Galicia in the north-west of Spain – resettled in the area, though much of the traditional Moorish architecture was preserved, and still is today.

Rio Poqueira

It is, of course, impossible to explore each area of Las Alpujarras – unless you intend to stay for a longer period – so most day-trippers tend to stick with the main three tourist attractions: Capileira, Bubión and Pampaneira. They are all formed on el rio poqueira – a deep, yawning valley that drops towards the neighbouring villages of Órgiva and Lanjarón. Each village is characterised by its narrow, winding streets, old-fashioned crafts shops, flat clay roofs and tall, rounded chimney pots.

We began our day with a tour of Capileira – the second highest village in Las Alpujarras – and a coffee at local bar and restaurant Casa Pilar y Paco Lopez, where we were treated to spectacular views. The village brims with colourful, wooden-beam arts & crafts stores, all filled with local goods from handwoven rugs to homemade jams.

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The next village heading downward is Bubión, where there are yet more arts & crafts stores, art galleries and several cafés and restaurants to cater for hungry hikers. There is also a small folk museum called Casa Alpujarreña, which was free to enter when we passed by, though the real draw – as with the neighbouring villages – is the frankly ridiculous view of the Alpujarra all around you.

If you plan on completing the circuit I’d recommend you take the steep, tumbling backstreets that lead into the woods before arriving in Pampaneira. During autumn the trees’ colours turn glorious shades of yellow, red, orange and green. And if you’re wearing orange-tinted sunglasses like I was you’ll wish you could take pictures simply by blinking your eyes.

There is supposedly an abundance of wildlife in the alpujarra – mountain goats, birds of prey and even the rare lynx are sighted often – but we were not to see any other living creature except the odd, fellow rambler and a penned herd of fat, soon-to-be-slaughtered pigs. Can’t complain though, with views like this:

(click for slideshow)

 

Our hilly walk finished in Pampaneira, where things are a bit livlier. Each bar buzzed with the sound of chatter and glasses being clinked by families and groups of friends, laughing and joking. The sun was up, the scenes were classic Spain and the beers were – at least for their brief life span – blissful. There was even a chocolate factory.  Yes, that’s right – a genuine chocolate factory – which, save for an edible theme park and a few oompa-loompas, was everything I’d expect a chocolate factory to be. Namely, there was lots of free chocolate. It’s curious how at first you act all coy and indifferent in the interest of being polite, but the minute hands start swooping in for the flavour you’ve got your hawk eyes on all such nonchalance suddenly melts away. ‘There’s only one chunk of caramel biscuit left and you can think again if you think you’re getting to it first girl of eight‘. Seriously, I actually took candy from a baby. Tasted great too.

Next came the food (chocolate didn’t count). A steakhouse by the name of El Castaño had been strongly recommended by a friend and since none of us had EVER enjoyed a good steak in Spain before we simply had to indulge. It was perhaps the best meal I’ve had in Spain yet, and if it weren’t for the impending and inevitable traipse back up to the car in Capileira, I might never have moved again.

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I’ll be back to Las Alpujarras soon, especially now since there is snow on the mountains. It’s a walkers paradise and absolutely unmissable if you are planning on visiting the Granada province of Spain.

Getting There

Given the distance between Granada and La Alpujarra (70km) I’d recommend taking a car. There are only three buses that leave from Granada per day and the first is at 10am, meaning you’ll have missed the entire morning by the time you get there. The cost, however, is probably cheaper in comparison at €11 return, though if there are four or five of you it may work out only marginally more expensive to hire a car from either Granada city centre or Granada Airport. The bus timetable is as follows:

Granada – Capileira

10.00     12.00     16.30

Capileira – Granada

07.00     16.45     18.15

All services stop at Pampaneira and Bubión too, 5-10 minutes before and after respectively. The journey takes roughly two and a half hours. Go to alsa.es to book tickets.

 

Have you been to Las Alpujarras? Which other villages would you recommend? Was this article useful?

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Fireworks, Edinburgh's Hogmanay

My Year in Review

So long 2013! You’ve been good to me. I might not have quite fulfilled every ambition I set out to achieve at the beginning of the year, but definitely most of them. I’ve seen much more of Spain, started writing editorials and publishing in Spanish, started a new blog and had more work published on other sites. I’ve also met and connected with several other bloggers who’ve given me some fantastic advice and ideas – Molly of piccavey.com for one, and Marianne of East Of Malaga another (who actually gave me the idea for this blog post).

So, without any further ado, let’s get to it.

 

Last January I was lucky enough to spend my New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh for the annual Hogmanay celebrations. Although it wasn’t my first time in the Scottish capital, it was – needless to say – a wonderful place to see out 2012, and a great opportunity to test out my new camera. Hogmanay, I’ll be back.

I was also published on Gapyear.com, with a piece about my time in Canada’s Rocky Mountains in 2009.

 

February was particularly memorable on account of the deluges of snow upon which the Sierra Nevada was bestowed. It snowed heavily several times, which made for perfect conditions and the best I’ve ever skied in Spain.

I also had my Step by Step Guide to Cadiz Carnaval published with The Olive Press. Take a look at it here!

 

In March I traveled to Ronda for the weekend which was, ironically, cut short by the same snow that I had been so thankful for in the Sierra Nevada just days before. Didn’t matter though; two days were enough and Ronda is beautiful in any kind of weather…

I also attended the annual Dragon Festival held in Santa Fe to celebrate the Spring Equinox. My review was published with Clash Magazine.

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I’ll level with you: I can’t stand Semana Santa, so when April comes around I hit the road, and this year I headed north to escape the Andalucían crowds. My journey took me to Bilbao, San Sebastian and Pamplona. All three cities were individually fantastic and really opened my eyes to a completely different way of Spanish life.

I also had the best experience I’ve had in Granada so far: the epic Piste 2 Playa day trip, which ultimately led to the decision to stay yet another year!

 

May kicked off with one of the festivals of the year – SOS 4.8 in Murcia. I saw several of my favourite bands and DJs, including M83, Justice and The XX. Once again, I reviewed the weekend for Clash Magazine. Read it here.

I also went on the best beach trip of my Spanish stint thus far, to the tiny pueblo of Las Negras in Cabo de Gata, Almería. The town is as sleepy and charming as they come, and the beaches have actual SAND!

 

June provided me with the most fun I’ve ever had inside one hour: Lanjarón’s enormous and legendary water fight. It occurs on the night of San Juan, as does a plethora of other festivities in most other Spanish towns and cities – particularly along Spain’s south coast.

I also worked for a national British newspaper for two weeks in London. It was useful in the sense that it made me reailse that I never want to work for a national British newspaper.

 

July was a busy month, though not especially so for blogging. Instead, I was tied up with work I am actually paid to do: teaching English to foreign folk. Usually these summer schools seem like never-ending nightmares, but this year I worked for The University of Oxford who – thankfully – pay well and do not deprive you of a social life.

I did, however, find time for a fleeting visit to Nerja, a gorgeous beach town just east of Malaga. Read my feature with The Olive Press here.

img 1323 My Year in Review

Head of The River pub, Oxford

Still busy with teaching in Oxford, it wasn’t until the end of August that I had time to travel. However, I did have a lot of free time in the evenings, which spurred me on to get my brand new part-time travel blog up and running. Watch out for official launch coming soon!

Perhaps my biggest victory – other than surviving two months of teaching intensive Business English to squealing Japanese teenagers – was creating and publishing my very first post in Spanish.

 

September has been my best month for two years running now. This year and last year I kicked it off with back-to-back music festivals in Croatia (review here). Somehow, I managed not to end myself in the process and came out well enough to continue traveling through Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia and Hungary. Needless to say, good times were had. You can read about them on my new blog.

In October and back in Granada, the hunt for a new apartment proved more difficult than first thought. Eventually, I was able to find the perfect place just a stone’s throw away from the Alhambra. And now – for the first time ever since moving to Spain – I am completely happy with where I live and who I live with. No nasty kitchens, no miserable housemates. Only took three years.

Other than that, not much happened.

November was far more interesting. I went to Sevilla for the annual ACIEA conference, where I instagramed the place to death and finally got to see El Parasol. I also saw the Alhambra dressed in autumn colours – something I’ve wanted to do since moving to Granada. I had my first piece (another review) published in Spanish, which you can read here, and I was named among the top ten expat in Spain bloggers by Which Offshore.

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Clouds over Las Alpujarras (Source: Ramiro Ramirez FlickrCC)

Ordinarily I have myself a little holiday at the beginning of December, but this year I stayed closer to home and took a long day trip to the mountain villages of Las Alpujarras in the Granada province of Spain. There’ll be a post on that soon. I’ve also reached elementary level French, so there’s one goal more or less reached for my fourth year in Spain.

I also started collaborating on a couple of new projects, neither of which have been launched just yet but should be soon! Now here’s to further and greater success in 2014! Feliz año nuevo!

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personal goals objectives

Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

I’ll tell you a secret: I am terrible at setting myself personal goals. Worse still, I am even more terrible at fulfilling them. I suppose this is because I tend not to actually write anything down, rather choosing to set them to one side in my invariably forgetful brain.

Since my official leap into the blogosphere I’ve come across various posts embracing this sort of topic, and in truth often found them to be a little too self-interested for my liking, but recently I think I’ve come to understand the usefulness of them. Being open about this sort of stuff not only serves as a continuous reminder of what you want for yourself but also invites valued encouragement. At least that’s the theory of it anyway. In practice? Well, let’s wait and see…

One: Study Spanish properly and pass an exam

manten la calma y usa el subjuntivo Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Highs and lows have been aplenty during my three-year tussle with Spanish – the highs generally featuring around May/June time when I reflect on another year’s progress (or when blind drunk and I am inexplicably able to speak perfect Spanish), the lows about this time of year, when I realise how much I’ve forgotten over the summer.

All in all I think I can be proud of how far I’ve come, though for all my efforts I’ve never actually gained an official qualification. At this stage one would be integral to my career prospects, so this year I’ll be taking on either the B2 (upper–intermediate) or the C1 (advanced) exam. That means el subjunctivo is going to be my new best friend for the next few months but hey, at least there won’t be any more lows.

bart y el subjuntivo Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Two: Learn another language

 french flag e1380126340360 Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

OR

croatia flag big Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

?

Meanwhile, I want to at least get to grips with another foreign language. During my recent month-long jaunt through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Hungary, I was reminded of my hunger to learn language – any language – and my unshakable frustration at not being able to communicate with non-English speaking locals.

So, it’s going to be either French (already ordered a copy of the Michel Thomas Beginner’s French audio box set) or Croatian, which is understood in most other Slavic countries and would be useful for when I return next year to fuel my Croatian festival addiction. Wish me luck.

Three: Visit ten unseen Spanish cities/towns

8212534564 aa3797405d b Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Salamanca (Source)

Spain is massive, and there is so much of it that I still haven’t seen. Essentially, I want to go everywhere, but that might be a tad too ambitious in just one year. Ten seems a reasonable figure – with Salamanca, Valencia and Logroño being the absolute must-sees of the list. Any less obvious suggestions would be most welcome.

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Vinyards in Logroño (Source)

Four: Get better at techy stuff

css template Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

With blogging comes the inevitable requisite to understand a thing or two about technology. I’m sure many a blogger out there can relate to this. Coding, for example, is just pure gobbledygook to me, and no matter how many times I trawl through WordPress.com’s support forums looking for say – how to make my font bigger or how to add a slider to my homepage – I can never figure it out even though the instructions are ‘super easy’. At times I think I’ve got it, but then I am plagued by doubt and worry that I will mutilate my blog into a permanently disfigured monster, thus, nothing ever changes.

 Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Then there is HTML, ‘plugins’, SEO optimisation: all things I want to understand better. So I’m going to take an online course in web development, or something similar. I’ve done some research and found sites like this, but again, any other suggestions are most welcome.

 

Five: Be a better cook!

badcook Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

One thing I really haven’t developed very much since coming to Spain is my culinary skill set. I’ve a few winning fares in my locker – the brilliantly simple tomate rallado for instance, or the timeless tostada de beans (joking) – but I think my problem is that there are just too many great cooks around me, wherever I go. I’m the sort of guy who is put in charge of nibbles or chopping carrots at dinner parties, and even then I am watched carefully.

I should mention, however, that I recently took on – and nailed – the classic Spanish Tortilla when couch surfing in Croatia. I was asked to cook something Spanish and this felt like the simplest yet most authentic option. So thank you Lauren of Spanish Sabores for your excellent step-by-step recipe, the success of which has spurred me on to add yet more Spanish sabores to my feeble repertoire of foodstuff.

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Tortilla (Source)

So, this year I’m going to either trade English classes for Spanish cooking classes, or – failing that – take on one dish at a time solo, using Lauren’s wise words and all the other marvellous Spanish foodie blogs out there, such as Anne’s Gambas & Grits. Tostada de beans will take some beating though.

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trevor huxham, spain

A Spanish Inquisition: A Texan in Spain

spanish inquisition A Spanish Inquisition: A Texan in SpainI have zero statistical evidence to back this statement up but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the expat blogging community in Spain is the world’s largest.

If I’m wrong, I can’t be far wrong. There seem to be hundreds of us, forever finding new and exciting experiences to try out and enjoy so that we can then bring you, our beloved readers (or random visitors), and each other a consistent stream of quality content. It’s a wonderful community where new bridges are built every day and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

However – and this is a big however – we are seriously lacking in man power. I’ll admit that there are heaps of man-powered sites out there run for the purpose of selling something or brand-building, but when it comes to other, personable blogs about Spain, geared to a slightly younger crowd like my own, I rather feel as though I am flying the flag solo (if I’m wrong do let me know below!). Frankly, I am not bothered by this; all those lady-powered blogs out there (you know who you are!) are excellent resources for both laughs and information, and in theory this apparent lack of man blogs should mean I reap a wider audience. Should mean.

So when I stumbled across Trevor Huxham’s blog, A Texan in Spain, a couple of weeks ago, I was understandably delighted to have finally found another blog about Spain composed by a dude (Robin over at A Lot Of Wind is another rare example). Like much of the younger US crowd here in Spain, Trevor is enrolled in the Auxiliare Language Assistant Program, allowing him the opportunity to live, work and travel within Spain for one year. His blog chronicles his small-town life in the rural village of Úbeda and all of his jaunty endeavours while aiming to provide other auxiliares with handy tips and how-tos.

So let’s say hello shall we?

Name: Trevor Huxham

From: Plano, Texas, U.S.A.

Occupation: North American Language and Culture Assistant

Time in Spain: Since late September 2012, although I’m home in the U.S. for the summer.

About blog: While my blog is primarily travel-oriented, I try to avoid the “we did this, then saw that, and ate here” approach in favor of easy-to-read yet smart, introductory posts about individual cities I’ve been to in western Europe and Morocco. Additionally, I try to give helpful how-tos for the language assistant crowd and write an honest account of what expat life is like in Spain.

profile trevor huxham A Spanish Inquisition: A Texan in Spain

Questions:

 1. Complete this sentence:

“Spain is a fascinating and laid-back sort of country, filled with festivals, history, and simple, tasty food. However, there is too much regionalism and not enough international food.

2. Why did you move to Spain? Why Úbeda?

I moved to Spain to work as a language assistant in a bilingual primary school in Andalucía, but I applied for the job because I wanted to travel and finally become fluent in Spanish. I ended up living in Úbeda, a World Heritage-listed city for its Renaissance architecture, because it was half an hour from the small village I taught in.

3. What is one of Úbeda’s best-kept secrets?

Something that makes the town really unique is its longstanding pottery tradition. Craftsmen cover all sorts of plates, cups, and jugs with a gleaming green, copper-based glaze that dates back to Muslim times. Three of the six remaining Moorish kilns in Spain are in Úbeda!

4. How would you describe the culture there? What type of people tend to thrive, and what type don’t do as well?

With a population of only 36,000, Úbeda’s no big town; however, it doesn’t have the sleepiness associated with most tiny villages. The city puts on frequent cultural events in the Hospital de Santiago’s auditorium, the main drag in town has tons of Spanish and international shops, and countless bar-restaurants will serve you tasty free tapas with your drink.

c3babeda trevor huxham A Spanish Inquisition: A Texan in Spain

Úbeda, Andalucía, Spain

5. What have been (briefly) the best three experiences you’ve had since moving here?

1) Hiking 115km on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage; 2) Getting to explore Moorish and Mudéjar buildings across the southern half of the country; 3) Going out for tapas every few weeks with Spanish and American friends and perfecting my andaluz accent.

6. What has been the worst? And how could it have been avoided?

I know it’s a self-diagnosis, but I’m pretty sure I got Seasonal Affective Disorder aka the winter blues this year—yes, in “sunny” southern Spain! It rained well above average this winter, so I had no control over that, but I probably should have purchased a space heater, taken a Vitamin D supplement, and gone for a paseo whenever the sun was shining.

7. How much Spanish could you speak before you moved to Spain? What’s the best way to learn?

One of my majors in college was Spanish, and I came into Spain fresh out of school and conversant in the language. I don’t think the traditional classroom setting is the only way to learn, though; you need grammar/vocab studies and practical, real-world conversation. Sometimes simply hearing what people say in Spanish is difficult, so I subscribe to podcasts like Notes in Spanish to practice listening.

8. Money is a thorny issue for any would-be expat. Do you have any tips on working, saving, banking etc?

I feel like I lucked out with the steady teaching assistant job I got in Spain. One of my British friends in the area in the same program got paid a few months late yet subsisted entirely on private English tutoring and income from working in an English academy. For Americans, I recommend getting a Charles Schwab checking account since there are literally no ATM fees whatsoever.

9. Finally, what’s the best photo you’ve ever taken in Spain? Tell us about it!

When I was in Sevilla for the first time back in April, I had in mind this shot of the Torre del Oro at night with the Giralda in the background, so I knew I’d have to go across the Guadalquivir River somewhere. On the western bank I waited for about an hour for the sun to go down until the exact moment when the sky went this deep cobalt blue. I got the photo I wanted, but as I walked back across the San Telmo bridge, this beautiful composition appeared and I couldn’t resist another shot.

sevilla trevor huxham A Spanish Inquisition: A Texan in Spain

Torre de Oro, Seville, Spain

If you’re a language assistant in Spain or are considering becoming one, then click here for a read of Trevor’s post ‘A Day in the Life of a Language Assistant in Spain’ for a thorough breakdown of what to expect.

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las negras, la bodeguiya, spain, cabo de gata, josh taylor

Roadtrippin’ Las Negras, Cabo de Gata

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Las Negras, Cabo de Gata, Spain

Recently, I posted about why I’ve decided to stay in Granada for another year. I cited five worthy reasons, plus a couple of honourable mentions to tapas and Spanish women, yet I neglected to point out perhaps the best reason of all.

Travel.

Here in Granada we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by a myriad of stunningly beautiful areas. Some are reachable by car or bus in less than an hour, like The Sierra Nevada or Almuñecar, and some are just two hours away by train, like majestic Ronda for instance.

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The Sierra Nevada, Andalucía

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Ronda, Andalucía

Others take a bit longer to get to, and it’s these sorts of outlying locations that make all our late spring Puentes so worthwhile. The idea is simple: pick a spot, hire a car, sort out your accy, pack a bag, go.

Inevitably, what with all this superb weather we’ve been having, last weekend’s Puente called for a 2-3 day soothing sojourn by the beach. I didn’t care too much which beach, but Cabo de Gata of the Almería province had always been somewhere I wanted to visit; anybody I knew who’d been there before had invariably come back lauding the place to no end.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one with a hankering to go. Several friends had already arranged to stay in a friend of a friend’s apartment in the small, sleepy coastal town of Las Negras, within Cabo de Gata Parque Nacionál. One swift camping reservation later and we were joining them.

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Granada to Las Negras by car. Journey time: 2 hours 10 minutes

By sheer coincidence, I had heard and read about Las Negras for the first time only the day before, thanks to this smile-jerking ‘Flamenco at Las Negras’ post by expat resident Margaret Merry I stumbled upon in my reader. I went back for another snoop around and found plenty of useful information and striking photos. It was great to be able to gain a proper insight of the place before I arrived so thanks Margaret!

We actually travelled by bus to get there as the others had left with the hire car the day before. The journey was fairly straightforward: 11.45am bus from Granada bus station to Almería, and then the 15.15pm connecting bus to Las Negras from there (this is the only service of the day).

Our campsite, La Caleta, was just as we had hoped. There was a restaurant, a bar, a private beach (albeit rather rocky), a quiet swimming pool area and clean and fully functioning bathrooms. The only downsides were the onsite supermarket, which was only open from 9am-10am (WTF!?) and the tent peg inimical terrain we had to make do with. If it weren’t for E’s robust, Ryanair measured cabin bag and my crate of increasingly warm lager, I’m fairly sure my tent would’ve ended up stuck to the side of the overlooking cliff before nightfall.

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‘Super’mercado, La Caleta Camping, Las Negras

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Piscina, La Caleta Camping, Las Negras

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We spent the balmy evening sipping G&Ts at said friends’ rented apartment and wandering along Las Negras beach before eventually settling down to a round of enormous pizzas at a pizzeria I’ve now forgotten the name of. Later, we headed back towards the beach via the pueblo’s sloped and narrow streets, stopping at La Bodeguiya for several dark green and label-less bottles of 1925 Alhambra – my favourite Spanish beer. Bliss.

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View from La Bodeguiya by day

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La Bodeguiya, Las Negras

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Next morning we awoke to a suffocating combination of fuzzy hangovers and hot, clammy air inside a tent that had at some point during the early hours of the morning become an oven. We burst out and made a beeline for the campsite’s plush swimming pool, which was surprisingly quiet given how many people appeared to be ambling about the place.

The rest of the day was spent on the camp’s private beach, chomping on fresh watermelon, drinking yet more beer and unmindfully letting my feet burn to a crisp. At least it wasn’t my armpits this time.

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More of the previous evening’s antics ensued that night, which culminated with a friend being chased out of the campsite in his campervan by the security guard at 3 o’clock in the morning. It’s a long story, but needless to say, our neighbours were not best pleased, particularly as the getaway vehicle in question had an engine that sounded more akin to a plane taking off.

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Our camp and the van

Unfortunately we had to make a hasty departure the following morning as our ride was headed back to Granada and there are no public transport links between Las Negras and Almería on Sundays. On the way back we stopped at Playa de los Genoveses near Nijar, where the sand was thankfully a lot, well, sandier. This meant that the process of tiptoeing into the sea was far less painful, though the big girl I am I only managed five minutes before shivering my way back to the towels.

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Playa de los Genoveses, Nirja, Almería

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Unintentional juxtaposition…

It was a great weekend, and a wonderful reminder of the short-distance travelling opportunities we are so lucky to have here in the south of Spain.

Where else is great to go along the south coast? What’s your favourite beach in southern Spain?

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online resources, expat, living away from home, travel, blog, josh taylor

My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

online resoures My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

We had a power cut the other night.

I hate power cuts, and especially when they happen at night; I am invariably prevented from doing anything that I want to be doing (if my laptop battery is low, which is often) and I can’t boil the kettle or use the hob, therefore am unable to make myself a cup of tea, which causes the sort of anguish that no man should ever have to bare.

As a kid, I’d jump for joy if ever there were a power cut, and then rush off to the loft to unearth some dusty board game (usually Risk or Monopoly) while Mum sorted out the candles and Dad waited in a dark corner with the torch held under his chin, ready to click it on and petrify me when I emerged with the board game underarm.

On this occasion, my instinct reaction was very different. I swore, sighed, got up (still swearing), wandered off to fetch a candle and then began reading a book. Of course I like reading books, but not when I am forced to do so and generally not at night – it’s much more of a daytime, terrace, coffee and sunshine thing for me.

Inevitably, the lights flickered back into life within moments of having sat down, and my untimely, darkened interlude was over almost as abruptly as it had started. I drifted insentiently back to my computer and settled down into my swivel chair to resume my evening of mindless web browsing.

And that’s when it hit me – just how reliant I have become on the internet as a tool not only for casual distraction, but for everything I do. Before coming to Spain, I hadn’t been so unremittingly consumed with it. Facebook, uni stuff, fantasy football league and one or two news websites were just about the extent of my web browsing.

Evidently, that’s all changed now, and after a bit of a ponder and several cups of Yorkshire’s finest, I’ve drawn up a list of the online resources that I deem to be categorically invaluable to me, as a young (barely), working, travel-fervid expat here in Spain.

If you live under similar circumstances or have done before, then perhaps you’ll be inclined to agree with some. If you’ve never called yourself ‘expat’ but are thinking about it, then I assure you, ALL of the following will be hugely helpful in the settling in process – I only wish I hadn’t had to find (most of) them myself…

#1 Couchsurfing

couchsurfing logo 1 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

Fair enough, you don’t have to be an expat to become a ‘couchsurfer’ – the worldwide social networking site is for anyone, anywhere – but if you’re living away from home, you’ll invariably be surrounded by new and interesting places that you will no doubt want to investigate on a regular basis.

Couchsurfing is the perfect way to go about doing this. You save lots of pennies and meet lots of very friendly, local people, who are likely to show you around town or at the very least send you on your way with an elaborately modified map.

What’s more, couchsurfing also offers expats the opportunity to meet other, like-minded people in their own cities. It wasn’t until my impromptu trip to Pamplona last March that I realised the potential benefits of attending regular meet-ups here in Granada. Before that experience, couchsurfing had only ever been a service I occasionally needed whilst travelling or offered to other travellers. Now I attend the Granada forum’s intercambio every week and meet new people from all over the world. It’s a huge part of my life.

#2 Car sharing websites

carsharing 2 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

In a recent post about SOS 4.8 Festival in Murcia, I alluded to the Spanish car-sharing website amovens.com. This particular site is probably my favourite, as it never seems to let me down. I’ve also used blabacar.es and carpooling.es, albeit each on just one occasion, but both were equally as positive experiences.

To give you an idea of the savings I make using these types of sites, consider that a one-way train ticket to Seville from Granada costs €29 and lasts just over three hours. Now consider that I made that same journey in almost half that time at a third of the price. I’ll say it again…

There is of course that element of risk involved, but I’ve never heard any horror stories to put me off. Girls, understandably, are and ought to be more cautious, but like couchsurfing, many of these sites function on a reference-based system, so that any would-be passengers may give their would-be drivers the onceover before making arrangements. The golden rule is that you do not fall asleep; this is both rude and dangerous!

amovens2 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

#3 Tusclasesparticulares.com

It took until my third year here in Spain to stumble across this gem of a site. Whether you are planning to stay in Spain as a short-term or long-term expat, you will, inevitably, at some point begin teaching English. It’s the easiest job to find and with a bit of luck you’ll be able to find a decent academy who treat their staff well. I am fortunate enough to be able to count myself among the few English teachers here in Granada who are paid well, on time and most important of all – legally. Others aren’t so lucky, and often find themselves scrapping for hours and desperately trying to seek out private students.

Tusclasespartiulares.com is a service that makes this issue a hell of a lot simpler. Students – of any language – and language teachers alike may create a profile and post short ads detailing their needs/services etc. Users can instantly see prices, hours of availability, relevant experience and so on.

Earlier this year, I created my own profile and received around 15 messages within the first week. Some came from private students and others from directors of local academies inviting me to an interview for a part- or in some cases full-time position. It’s a surefire way to get the moneys rolling in.

logo redes My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

#4 Expatforum.com

This site provided me with answers when I needed them most.

Last year, I went through hell and back trying to replace my lost NIE at Granada’s oficina de extranjero (complainy post in the works). Those of you who already live in Spain will almost certainly be aware of just how infuriatingly slow and tedious Spanish bureaucracy can be. I was desperate for a new certificate so that I could legitimately claim el paro (extremely generous unemployment benefit) over my jobless summer, but ran into countless stumbling blocks along the way.

expat top 10 april My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

Hours of frantic Google searches led me to expatforum.com, where I was at last able to read something concerning the matter in English and, after registering as a user, send beseeching messages to the senior, Spanish bureaucracy hardened members. Eventually, I resolved my issue by requesting and subsequently being granted a temporary residence card, but I very nearly had to cry in order to get what I wanted. I didn’t cry, but probably would’ve done had it not been for some expert guidance via the Spain page on expat forum.

#5 Second-hand / flat-share websites

I’m guessing sites like this exist in just about every country by now. The US has Craigslist and the UK have spareroom.co.uk, gumtree.com and flatshare.com. All of them work amazingly well. Here in Spain, you have to look a bit harder for the better ones. I use easypiso.com (branch of easyroommate.com) and loquo.com to find my digs.

flatshare My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

It’s just chaos in the mornings…

My first year using easypiso.com yielded a moderate apartment with excellent flat mates (except one, asshole) and the second pretty much the opposite way around; I now live in an incredible, modern, three-floor house with a terrace, patio and soundproof basement. However, my housemates and I do not get along, and I recently decided that, despite how in love I am with the house, the people with whom I live are more important, so I’ll be enlisting the services of easypiso or loquo once again this coming June.

I should also mention that loquo.com, as well as segundamano.es, are fantastic sites for buying second hand stuff. I’ve bought a phone, a bike and various other bits and pieces, and met with the seller in person every time. Waaay better than ebay.

  My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

#6 Wordreference.com, NOT Google Translate

Thanks to wordreference.com, I am able to trick people who I only speak Spanish to on Facebook into thinking that my Spanish is absolutely flawless. I can use words like ‘diluviando’ or ‘quisquilloso’ or (personal fave) ‘zarrapastroso’ and pretend as though I didn’t just look it up in two seconds flat. Better still, each translation yields two, three or even four uses of the word in context, so you are able to choose which word suits what you want to say best.

The same cannot be said for the erroneous Google Translate. Often, a search for a single word will turn up numerable results, with no contexts given as examples. If an entire phrase or paragraph is copied, pasted and translated, the result is even more inaccurate, as complex grammatical structures somehow seem too much for Google’s gargantuan brain to deal with.

 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

I must admit, since I downloaded the app for my smartphone I have perhaps become ever so slightly overindulgent. Beforehand, I used it as a quick fix whenever I was reading or writing in Spanish online. These days, it’s whenever I am momentarily unsure of how to say something, when in actual fact I could probably wrest it out of me if I just mulled it over for another minute.

#7 Twitter

twitterlogo My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

No list of invaluable expat resources would be complete without giving an honourable mention to Twitter now would it? Frankly, I’d be lost without it.

Since finally giving in and joining shortly before Christmas, it has become an almost exclusive news resource for me. There is, however, a lot of distracting, pointless dross that when clicked on swallows up a good chunk of my day. And that isn’t good.

I can’t keep up with it to tell you the truth, but I do like retweeting things I find funny or interesting. I’d retweet this if I hadn’t already tweeted it.

God that’s the most incredibly twattish-sounding thing I’ve ever said on here.

*Another useful resource that breaks information down into chunks such as Employment, Work Permits and Visas and Healthcare in Spain is Whichoffshore.

Expats, would-be expats and er, ex-expats! What are your most invaluable resources in your adopted homeland? Do pitch in!

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