Madrid

Madrid

The first thing I think about when I hear Madrid is of course bullfighting alive and well in this beautiful city in Spain. (Now outlawed in Barcelona, the original bullfighting ring has turned into a multi-level shopping centre in the historic part of town near the famous Las Ramblas.) Some people I talked to believe it will be outlawed in the rest of Spain, eventually.

My scenic drive inland to Madrid took nearly 4 hours and was longer than I thought it would be, but lovely and relaxing, nevertheless. Driving in Spain on perfect highways was the norm. All drivers are required to go to the far right at all times unless passing. Then, immediately after passing, they are needed to move back to the right lane. The result is quick moving and stress-free driving with speed limits averaging 120 km an hour, slowing to 100 when near off-ramps and 60-80 when taking an off-ramp. Frankly, they have it all over North American drivers in this regard in my opinion with the very little horn honking. I didn’t see one incident of road rage either.

I arrived in Madrid around 3 in the afternoon and probably at the beginning of their rush hour. I didn’t mind- the slowness of the traffic gave me a chance to check google maps to see if I was heading in the right direction. Luckily, I only missed the street once and had to reevaluate, but I ended up where I needed to be. A quick call to my host Enrique met me on the road a few minutes later, and he showed me where to park the car in the lot a block away. After a quick tour, he handed me the keys. I arranged to pick up tickets for a flamenco show later that evening which he offered as part of the service.

The building was an old one, and I soon saw it was more like a series of small rooms off a long hallway. There was no common area as one would expect, but there was a laundry room right off my room, which I would use during my three night stay. The ad, which had mixed reviews which were mostly very good, however, listed as, HABITUATION 2 GRAN VIA CENTRO PUERTO DEL SOL 

It was probably the smallest bedroom you could find in all of Spain. But, it had everything you could want; a single bed, hairdryer, bathroom, shower, small fridge, coffee pot, cups, dishes cutlery, towels, soap and even a drying rack with which to hang your clothes after washing. Granted, it took up the whole room when it stretched out, but it was terrific how well stocked this room was. And at around $52 a night it was reasonable given its proximity to everywhere I needed to be over the next few days.

After another nap (it was getting to be a requirement) I decided to head out and explore for a bit. I found by accident the meeting place Puerto Del Sol, where I needed to be for the next day’s tour and took photos of the surroundings. Then I headed over to the entertainment district, about a 20-minute walk, to catch the Flamenco show. Firstly, I stopped and had dinner at the bar of a tiny but bustling restaurant where they served Moscow Mule Cocktails, something I had tried in Canada a few weeks before. It is a lovely drink made with vodka, ginger beer and mint and traditionally served in ice cold copper mugs. Delicious! However, the food and familiar to most places I ate were too salty, although tasty nonetheless.

The theatre where I was to watch the flamenco show was intimate and cosy. You could choose, according to how much you paid, general seating, a private table with dinner,(not worth it a friend of mine warned before I left Canada,) or just a seat and a drink. I chose the show only, and because I was alone, I was able to secure a prime one on the aisle, just three rows back from the pricier ones. It was riveting and easily worth the 20 euros I paid.

I meandered back to the hotel, getting lost at times but taking lots of photos of the bustling streets filled with people enjoying drinks and food at the many bars and cafes along the way. Again, another prime opportunity to people watch and take pictures, and I made the most of it. 

Day 2 The next day, I had booked a “free tour” with OGO Tours. I also had another one booked with them for the next day, which was 16 euros (around $20 CDN), so I left a 15 euro tip at the end of this one. In hindsight I should have left more, it was that good. I was interested as it advertised itself as being in Old Town, and history buff that I am, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the city. The ad read: 

Discover the secrets of the capital of Spain with our Madrid Free Walking Tour through the Old Town. For about 2,5 hours we will explore the main attractions of Madrid de Los Austrias neighborhood,designed during the period of Spanish Empire, one of the largest empires in world history!

Our guide, Tatiana, was bubbly and friendly and knowledgeable about the history, sites we visited, and Madrid’s life in general. The small group of 12 was manageable as we wandered the streets. We stopped at all the points of interest that included the world’s oldest restaurant, continuously running since 1725, (yes you read that right), and favoured by Ernest Hemingway who often lived in Madrid to write Sobrina de Botin. Their speciality was Roast piglets in the original ovens. In addition to that, we covered many other sites starting at the Puerto Del Sol Square

It was an incredible tour, and at nearly 3 hours, tiring as well. I gave it a 5 out of 5 and looked forward to the next one in a couple of days.

My next adventure was that very night. The Original Madrid Tapas Crawl intrigued me, advertised like this:

I offer you a real, local tapas crawling journey. Over 3 hours we’ll be visiting 5 spots, including a market cuisine restaurant, a well-known ice-cold beer bar for locals, a new slow food tavern, and a one-century old bodega in a high quality and non-touristy tapas area, which we madrileños love. You’ll be able to see people from Madrid going out for real tapas. And you’ll feel like one of us. All the included spots are a family-owned business, and I’m lucky to know the owners (Manuel, Jesús, David, José y Paco) since many years ago. I grew up in this fantastic district called Chamberí, and I have been trying their many bars and dishes throughout my life, so I know them in detail! There’s a lot of food on our tour (12-15 tapas servings), we recommend you make a light lunch!

I took their advice and skipped lunch, so I was pretty hungry when the tour started. There were ten guests, from all walks of life and parts of the world. Over the fantastic food and many drinks, we bonded quickly. I overate (and drank far too much) which made me uncomfortable later that evening, but it was definitely worth the time and money as we visited numerous pubs and restaurants. Our guide, Raul, was excellent and passionate about the food, the local owners and the neighbourhood. Everyone had a fantastic time, and I would recommend this tour to anyone, especially someone travelling alone as it was a great way to meet people.

Day 3 – Today was the day for my second OGO Tour with Tatiana as my host. One of the great things about this tour and there were many, was that I was once more the only participant. It made for a very personalized tour. Tatiana tailored it around me as to the starting time we made for 2:00, and which gave me a few hours to visit the Prada in the morning by myself before meeting outside the famous museum later. We also planned to end the tour back at the Puerto del Sol to find my way home quickly.

Before I get to the tour itself though, allow me to tell you a bit about the Prada, which people told me I should not miss. First of all, I booked with Skip The Line, a company designed to presell tickets so that you won’t have to wait in line, ever for entry into any museum. They are all over Europe (maybe even the world)and saves long hours of standing in the hot sun. Well worth the $20 or so euros.

I copied the information from the museum site:

The Prado Museum opened on November 10, 1819. The building designed by Juan de Villanueva conceived initially as a house of science but, encouraged by his wife Maria Isabel of Braganza, King Ferdinand VII finally decided to use it as a museum, to store the royal paintings. Years of private donations and acquisitions led to a notable expansion of its collection.

At the start of the Spanish Civil War, the artworks were moved to the basement and sandbagged to protect them against possible bombings. Then, following the League of Nations’ recommendations, they were forced to Valencia and finally evacuated to the Geneva headquarters. When the Second World War broke out shortly after, they returned the collection to Madrid.  

The Prado Museum, which is commemorating its 200th anniversary this year, is the crown jewel of one of the city’s most popular tourist itineraries: the Paseo del Arte, where you’ll also find the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía museums. The Prado walls are lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Vequez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s Third of May, 1808. Its collection comprises 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures, so we recommend deciding what you want to see before stepping into the museum. If you are short on time, the Prado’s website suggests three itineraries, lasting 1, 2 and 3 hours and covering the museum’s most important masterpieces.

I am happy I did not miss this critical museum as in addition to architecture and history, art and music are passions. It is lovely to say I have added it to my growing list of important museums and galleries that I have visited in the world, and I consider myself very fortunate indeed.

. The ad read:

Back to the second tour with Tatiana, who was even more engaging and enthusiastic as we made our way on foot. The ad read:

Discover the exact place where Miguel de Cervantes was buried

Explore the majestic Madrid of the Bourbon dynasty

During this 2,5 hour tour we will discover two fascinating stages in the history of Spain, the arrival of the Bourbon dynasty which transformed the country and the Spanish Golden Age, a period of flourishing in arts and literature never seen before (Miguel de Cervantes, Diego de Velazquez, Lope deVega, Murillo, Quevedo, Calderon de la Barca among others).

During the first part of the tour, we will visit the emblematic “Barrio de las Letras” (Literary Quarter) where the great geniuses of Spanish literature lived (16th-17th centuries). All writers, poets and playwrights settled in this neighbourhood when they came to Madrid seeking fortune and success. It was undoubtedly the most exciting district in Madrid at that time: taverns, brothels and inns were full of “Madrileños” and strangers. It is said that even King Philip IV, a great lover of arts, visited in disguise this neighbourhood to feel this unique atmosphere.

After this part, we will discover the majesty of the Bourbon Madrid, an area designed in the eighteenth century full of palaces, gardens, boulevards, museums and monumental fountains. With this project, the new dynasty wanted to equate Madrid with other major European capitals like Paris or Vienna.

After the tour, I felt as if I had made a new friend, and we hugged goodbye and promised to stay in touch. I have kept all contacts in my WhatsApp if I ever return, or someone reading this would like to experience the beautiful excursions I have throughout my trip.

Getting out of Madrid the next day was tricky, and I could not for the life of me figure out why my GPS kept turning me around in circles. I belatedly saw later, after hiring a taxi to lead me out (20 euros well spent) that I had set the settings to walk, not drive. Another important lesson learned one I am happy to say I did not need a repeat.

Next stop was the beautiful and intriguing city of Granada.


Valencia

Valencia is a city I always wanted to visit. Even the sound of the name sounded romantic. As the 3rd largest city in Spain, it sits on the Turia banks on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula and fronting the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea.

My drive from Barcelona to Valencia took about 3.5 hours through beautiful countryside. Towns dotted the highway along the route, and sometimes I could catch a glimpse of the ocean on my left as I headed south. Best of all, the vast storm Spain had just experienced a few days ago had seemingly passed, and it was clear sailing (so to speak) and sunny skies all the way. My mood had lightened after my experience at the airport, and I was more than willing to put it all behind me.

As I neared the city, I set my GPS to the street address of the Airbnb I had booked for the next two days. Other than a sailing trip, I had no other plans, and after my somewhat busy schedule in Barcelona, I was prepared to do less sightseeing and more just relaxing and taking in the culture. In other words, no plans other than to let what happened, happen!

Driving through Valencia was easier than I expected until I neared the street I was to be on, and then all systems seemed to fail me. I found myself driving around the same blocks over and over again. Finally, I called my host, Andres, for help. Andres told me he knew where I was and waited for him to rescue me.

After the problems I saw I would face driving in cities in Spain, I had decided that from now on I would park my car and take bus, transit or Uber to places I needed to go. My host took me to the parking garage a block or so away from the apartment he shared with his wife, Romina.

The Airbnb was an extremely affordable $31 a night which is why I chose it, frankly. However, as I walked towards the apartment lined with graffiti and rows of what looked like tenement housing, I was honestly a little concerned.

The ad on Airbnb sounded interesting though, and because Andres and Romina were considered super hosts with great reviews, I took a chance after I read the following:

This accommodation is super Comfortable with WiFi bright with all the amenities to make your stay as pleasant as possible. In the heart of Valencia, easy to arrive from the airport, yellow bus N150 stop a few meters from the apartment.

We are a couple that we like to share our house with everyone who wants to know the beautiful city of Valencia. We are very pleased with the exchange of cultures and languages.

 We enjoy meeting new people from all over the world as we are passionate about travelling.

I needn’t have been concerned. Although small the apartment was super clean and tidy and the room more than adequate for my two-night stay. Besides, Andre and Romina could not have been more excellent and more helpful. Andres even walked me to the parking garage the day I left so that I wouldn’t get lost in the maze of streets. I am somewhat bidirectionally challenged after all. Coincidentally Romina worked at Valencia’s first Tim Hortons but confided that her Canadian guests told her the coffee is not the same.

After a nap and a shower and change, I ventured out into the neighbourhood with my camera to capture the local scenery. I was intrigued by the graffiti and snapped many photos of the neighbourhood buildings before stumbling onto a street of small cafes, restaurants and bars a few blocks from the apartment. I decided to eat at one of the restaurants because the owner himself came out to talk to me and tell me (in Spanish) all about the restaurant, how old it was and that the speciality was the authentic Paella, made with rabbit and chicken. Since it was unlike the Seafood Paella I had just learned to cook in Barcelona, and that Angeles had talked about in the class, I knew I had to try it. The owner, who was delighted that I was from Canada, even gave me a tour of the restaurant, proudly showing off ancient bottles of wine in the cellar at the back. Besides from my vantage point at a small table outside the restaurant, I was able to people watch and take photos of a procession that was unfolding before me.

The costumes, the owner explained, were often sewn with real gold thread and cost thousands of dollars. They were beautiful, and at one point, I left my perch while the owner saved my seat, to take photos of the participants. Unfortunately, my Spanish was not good enough to precisely understand the special occasion, but I gathered it was something religious since it was outside a small church. And I didn’t think to ask the waiter who spoke perfect English to translate what the owner said. Lesson learned- one of many on the trip.

Day 2- I had initially booked a 3-5 hour sailing trip which sounded fabulous but received an email a couple of nights earlier which told me they were cancelling due to high seas. It was probably because of the recent storms that had swept through the area days earlier, which tragically resulted in fatalities from the floods.

I searched Airbnb for an alternative and settled on this one at the cost of around $119:

NATURE WALK

Adventure! Hot Springs + 60m Waterfall

I used to have a description of myself here, but this review is way better 😉 “Two weeks in Valencia and this trip with Mike was the best day here and also one of the best days of my life. Mike is like an old friend that you haven’t meet for a while. You could see how this trip is a passion for him. The day trip to all these beautiful places was unforgettable. Mike is also very passionate about taking amazing photos to have memorable pictures from the trip. Thank you, Mike, so much, hope to see you again! With love Zack & Valtteri.”

Soft drinks · Water · WineDuring the day I will stop to places where you can refill your water bottle. At the tapas place, I will offer complimentary wine and local liquor tasting. Transportation will be by minivan or bus. We will pick you up at a central location. The tours go to five unique off-the-beaten-path places in the middle of the beautiful mountains surrounding Valencia.

The best way I can describe this trip is WOW. Mike picked me up at a private school around the corner from the apartment, so it was very convenient for me that he dropped me off there, too.

The group was a small one of several students from the USA, young and energetic, which was so much fun. The 8-hour tour turned into more like ten as we even took a side tour into a small village to watch their version of the running-of-the-bulls. It was exciting, although probably the lone bull calf was less than thrilled by the commotion. Still, at least it wasn’t a bullfight, and he was not tortured or hurt in any way that I could see, the object of the game is to drop a ring onto one of the horns without getting gored. We were the only foreigners and a source of curiosity, but everyone seemed super friendly and answered our questions when we asked. As for the tour itself- The scenery, the falls and swimming in a beautiful pristine river were the highlights, but so was lunchtime at a local restaurant high up in the hills. Drinking wine from a skein is not my forte, but I gamely tried it anyway.

Our host, Mike is originally from Montreal, and so it was nice to talk to a fellow Canadian about what it was like to live in a foreign country, as it is something I do as well in Mexico. I asked him why he chose Valencia, and he told me that it was “for the love of a woman.” Seriously, who could fault that? After my trip, I am considering for Europe on a one to two-month basis.

I would give this excursion a 5 out of 5 and absolutely zero complaints about any part of it. From the food, the tour itself and the host, everything was perfect.

Having said that and after doing further research, I realized I could have done with one, or even two more days in Valencia at the very least. With so much to do and see, I think that Valencia is definitely in my future for another visit. And maybe like Mike, I too could move there, for love.

Next stop- Madrid


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Travelling Spain & Portugal Alone with Airbnb Experiences and Stays

For many years, a trip on my bucket list and my late husband’s was Spain and Portugal. Originally it was going to be our honeymoon in 2012. Unfortunately, Jim passed away in October 2013 and therefore never had the chance to realize his dream. I decided that this was the year I would do it for both of us – alone. 

To save money and to get a feel for how locals lived, I chose staying at Airbnb’s for my accommodation needs. I also decided that the right way for me to meet people since I was going solo would be to book Airbnb experiences in each of the places I was planning on visiting. My itinerary included starting in Barcelona, working my way south to the Agave in Portugal and finishing off in Lisbon.

 I considered buses and trains as my mode of travel but finally ended up renting a car. The drop off fee, although hefty, was worth it to me in convenience and peace of mind. Plus, the thought of travelling the open road free and on no one else’s timetable but mine, was very appealing. And reminiscent of my days as an importer of jewellery, travelling for months on end from town to town.

This series of articles chronicles my trip with Airbnb stays and adventures, hopefully, some insights into what worked, for me at least and what didn’t. It was an excellent time to reflect on my life- long hours of driving often does that for me – while at the same time wishing that my husband could have been there to experience it, too. So, in many ways, you could say it was a bittersweet trip of what was and what might have been. Either way, I’m glad I did it.

Barcelona

After considering many options, I chose to stay at an apartment located fairly central to everything, including the airport. The advertisement read as follows:

 Double room in our cosy, eco-friendly apartment. Enjoy the Eixample, a laid-back residential neighbourhood, right in the city centre, a stones through from all the main attractions of Barcelona. We are on the first floor but, although there’s a lift, there’s a few stairs to climb.

The room has a double bed (1’35 cm x 2m) best suited to one or two people—a clean basic room with a rack that you can use for your clothes. No lock on the door but, there is a latch on the inside. Bedsheets, duvet and towels provided.

This is our home. Enjoy it and come and go as you please. Feel free to use the kitchen to prepare coffee/tea and light meals, but please remember to clean after yourselves. Please, if any needs or enquiries, ask!

Although I had mentioned I was planning to arrive before noon, I missed Anya, my host, by less than 15 minutes. When I called her, she informed me that I would have to wait an additional 3 hours before returning to let me in. Disappointed I nevertheless took the opportunity to find a store where I could purchase a phone chip for Spain and a café in which to wait. Thankfully Anya called a short two hours later and told me she was able to return earlier. The directions were confusing; even the Uber driver didn’t know where it was, but Ana found the café I was in and helped me with my bags to the apartment. It was just as advertised- simple, basic, but clean. Price per night was less than $55 Cdn, which I felt was well priced. And Anya was an excellent host, with a great sense of humour, who unfortunately did not have a lot of time to visit with me due to work commitments – she worked for Apple, and they were launching a new product that week. One downside: Not mentioned was the noisy street construction that made afternoon siestas near impossible. Parking was difficult and expensive, so I opted to pick up my car at the airport after my stay instead of negotiating the city, a decision that turned out to be a good idea given the traffic, one-way streets and no GPS. (More on that later). But other than those two relatively small things, I would book again if needed. 

After a short rest on a small but quite comfortable double bed, and a quick shower, I was ready for my first Airbnb experience that evening.

Top Paella, Sangria and Catalan Cream

Knowing that I would have to eat dinner at some point and stay awake until at least 9:00 pm to avoid jetlag, I chose a cooking class of one of the most famous dishes in Spain- paella. The ad for the course read as follows and cost $76 per person.

ANGELES & CARMEN We are two happy sisters & very good friends. Both made a big change in our professional careers looking for something more exciting. ❀ Carmen ❝I am very foodie & passionate cook. I love teaching my guests how to make a very authentic and delicious Paella❞ ❀ Angels ❝I am a Professional Chef, with lot of background, working for a Michelin star restaurant and some celebrities in London❞ We decided to join our energies and started a project in common, our dreamed kitchen, where we love meeting new people and sharing our culture and passion for cooking. IMPORTANT: Please note that, we have 2 different turns, so if you book a class you will be either with Carmen or with Angeles, but not with the two of us at the same time. Looking forward to meet you!

It sounded charming – I have never taken a cooking class before anywhere, but this seemed like the right place to start. (Note: 99% of the booked experiences were done at least 2-4 weeks before my trip abroad, while the others in the country itself).

I found my way to the cooking school and since I was a little early, took the time to stroll through the beautiful courtyard, surrounded by restaurants and fountains and some of the narrow side streets that teemed with people. It was a people watching paradise, and soon I was snapping photos of everything and anyone that crossed my path. Then, promptly at 7:30, I presented myself to Angles, our host for the evening.

In all, there were about 12 of us from all parts of the USA and China and other parts of Spain. I was the only Canadian.

Angeles was a wonderfully passionate woman who imparted sheer joy and enthusiasm as she lectured us about intricacies of Spain’s most famous dish. We learned the history of paella, the types depending on where you lived, and as well got to sample delicious and numerous glasses of sangria. It didn’t take too long for the group to relax with each other as we cooked. As a bonus, we took turns to stir, mix, and chop the ingredients needed, before sitting down to enjoy the food (and the sangria), together. The class was well worth the money, although my only regret was that Angles did not send us the recipe the next day as promised. Still, this is an experience I would endorse fully, in every way.

I give it a 5 out of 5 ratings.

Day 2 seemed like a good day for some exercise. I chose the following Barcelona and Gaudi on E-Bike tour to get me moving. The ad read:

Your route starts and finishes at the meeting point: Woobikes experiences & rental, where you can have a coffee and croissant (included) to get some energy for the ride. After that, you get on your e-Bike and start the adventure into the world of Barcelona and Gaudí! Discover worldwide known places like Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas; you will also meet other landmarks of Barcelona like Ciudadella park or Arc de Triomf as we travel between the different works of one of the greatest architects ever known! We also include a video of your experience using a GoPro action camera, and it will be sent later as it is a big file and requires time to upload.

I woke early and refreshed, lucky to never experience jetlag, and headed to Woobikes. Once again, directions seemed to be an issue for my driver, but luckily now that I had a Spanish phone chip, I could call my host, a young man named Gianpiero and walk the few blocks to his shop. As luck would have it, I was the only one on tour. Never having ridden an e-bike before, I was concerned that I would crash into someone, but now that at least was alleviated.

I can honestly say that this was one of my favourite tours, (although as it turned out, all of them throughout my trip were pretty great). But Gianpiero had excellent knowledge and information about Barcelona and its historical sites, as well as a passionate interest in the famous architect Gaudi, whose many influences and structures dotted the route we took. Since architecture is a subject I am keenly interested in, the tour was incredibly fascinating. 

Initially, I worried that the tour might be too long for me, but I soon saw Barcelona has the most extensive bike path system I had ever seen, on mostly flat terrain. That, combined with the fact that e-bikes are fantastic, I found the 3 hours flew by. I give this tour a 5 out of 5, as well as Gianpiero, my guide. And at $52 CDN, I thought it was a bargain. Plus, I received the Go-Pro recording as promised a few days later.

Day 3 required a little downtime, but I still wanted to sightsee. I have found a great way to do this in any foreign city I have ever visited, is a hop on, hop off bus tour. It has always been one of my most favourite way to explore. – time-saving feet and catching some rays in the sun on a double-decker cannot be overrated. In addition to the historical places I visited the day before, I was able to take a cable car ride to the top of Barcelona’s scenic Montjuic neighbourhood and a beautiful panoramic view of the city. On the way down, I was able to photograph the picturesque marina and yacht club. At about $35 for 24 hours, I think a sightseeing tour bus is a reasonable price for a day trip.

For the evening I booked a dance class that I was looking forward to, advertised as Rooftop Tango Lesson & Fun.

– First, relax and enjoy snacks and drinks/breakfast (depending on time) in our wonderful rooftop. Tango is a social and popular dance, it’s important to know each other a bit before the class. Also, you’ll have the chance to chat with locals, getting advices of secrets places of the city. We’ll spend 30-40 minutes here – A very dynamic lesson of Tango Argentino with professional dancers, no need any experience, also you can come alone. You’ll be introduced to the essence of Tango. As you may see the reviews, a lot of fun guaranteed. This class is a group lesson of 50 minutes approx. Depending on the day could be around 4 and 9 couples.

Once again, I had a tough time finding the place, and after several texts and frustrating calls with Ana Paula, the instructor, I almost gave up and returned home. I also think I felt a little cranky after my afternoon atop the bus, and not in the mood to go hiking through the crowds and narrow streets looking for an elusive door that looked like all others. Finally, however, I found the place – which coincidently turned out to be in the same complex as where the cooking school I had been at two days earlier. My sense of direction could use a little work. 

Ana Paula quickly put my crabby self at ease, and we all sat out on her rooftop, sipping a drink and getting to know each other a bit. I was feeling a little shy and nervous. Although I am a belly dancer, Tango looked hard to learn, and I was a bit afraid of making a fool of myself. Once again, I needn’t have worried. In just a short time, Ana Paula had everyone looking reasonably competent, a sure sign of a gifted teacher. And she filmed each of us executing the first five steps, which to anyone would not sound like much, but to us was everything. She even suggested that I have a “sensitive feel” and consider taking lessons in Toronto, a city near where I live in Canada and home to some excellent Tango schools. I glowed all the way home. The class’s price was reasonable and worth $38 CDN and yet another 5 out of 5.

Day 4 – Today, it was time to go to the airport and pick up my rental car from Hertz. The experience was mostly a nightmare, from pick up to trying to figure out the GPS to hitting the 8-lane highway with no idea which way was south and my next destination. As I drove out to the main road, I saw three huge signs with three destination choices. Saying a little prayer, I chose the middle one. After a mile down the road, I spotted a gas station, of which there are many in Spain and Portugal, thank God, and pulled in behind a row of taxis.

The first taxi driver I approached wanted nothing to do with me, but the second was more than willing to help. Whether it was because I had burst into tears or that I looked so totally lost, I will never know, but I will be forever grateful for his kindness. The first thing he tried to do was get my GPS to work. When that failed, he asked me for my phone. On learning that I had a Spanish chip, he programmed my destination into google maps, and with an assurance that I had picked the right road, he pointed me in the direction I needed to go. Within 5 minutes, I found myself on track to my next city and adventure- Valencia!

Liveability rating: As the first stop of my journey, I looked critically at Barcelona as a place to retire one day. The city was easy to get around in, very walkable, lots of green space, and beautiful sights to see no matter where you looked. Research told me that you could easily enjoy both city, mountains and beach and never be bored for lack things to do. I met a group of ex-pats at a little cafe one day, and they told me there was a large community of people from other parts of the world, who were retired or worked remotely, both categories I could easily fit. They did say that rents were high and climbing, due in part to the place’s popularity, as taxes if you opened your own business. But as of writing, they told me that someone could live, comfortably at 1000 euros a month.

 I’ve decided although I would visit again on vacation when I return to this part of the world, I am looking for something a little smaller and less busy. Unless I found a place in a very quiet out of the way neighbourhood, and at much less rent, it would be better for me to carry on my search.

To Be continued

Travel With Me

So nany people tell me that I should write about my travels and my experiences “on the road”. So – here it is. Finally. A real learning curve trying to figure out how this all works, but I hope my readers – mostly family and friends I am sure- will enjoy hearing about the joys, the trials and sometimes the downright amazing moments that travelling brings to you.

Perhaps my experiences will help you when planning your own journeys, with insights and pitfalls to avoid as well as to what to see and do as you garner travel adventures of your own. Whatever you do though- get out there and follow your heart and intuition, and let the road lead you to a richer life filled with love, laughter and joy.