What to do With Outdated Travel Guides

I learned the hard way just how tedious and difficult it can be to research a guidebook. After study abroad in Spain and reading every.single.page. of Let’s Go Spain 2005, I felt I knew the Iberian Peninsula in and out. I wanted to travel and eat in restaurants for free, go on tours and ride in buses to far off places, all in the name of budget travel and a small wage.

So, when I was contacted by one GG of Rough Guides, I jumped at the opportunity to help contribute to The Rough Guide to Andalucia (out May 1, 2012 – look for my mention on page 933!). I set off on the task, determined to uncover new places and tout the old ones.

The work was long, often frustrating, and needed various re-writes.

I got in contact with GG in February of 2011, and we met the following month to hammer out the details. I didn’t actually complete the work and get paid until the beginning of 2012 – due to an overhaul of the book’s design, there was more work and research to be done. Additionally, with the new government in place in Spain, the economic crisis and the normal turnover of businesses (Qué! reported in February that 14,000 new business were founded in 2011 and over 5,000 went defunct), I often had to frantically tap out an email to GG to report that a place had closed or changed hours.

Guidebooks are often obsolete the second they go to press. While they provide an excellent way to get started on planning on a trip, they often can’t be relied on blindly. So, then, what happens after your trip to SE Asia? That enormous Lonely Planet or Frommer’s you shelled out money for, what will become of it?

Trade-ins and Book Drop Offs

One of the best moments I had on my first trip to Amsterdam was browsing in the American Bookstore off of Damm Square. I was clued into the Dutch reading habit by my friend Martin, whose small apartment was full of books in many languages. My travel partner needed to do some research for her thesis proposal, so I parked it on a beanbag and browsed titles, running my fingers over bindings and through coffee table books, not wanting to start and not be able to stop a novel.

Similarly, I spent money and luggage space on books bought in Hungary at an English book exchange with incredible organic coffee. If like minds do indeed think alike, the pairing of musty old books and strong java was my idea of haven for a chilly afternoon. In expat enclaves worldwide, book exchanges and drop offs have become a way to recycle old friends and sometimes make a bit of cash.

In Seville, you could also leave your book at the Centro Norteamericano on Calle Harinas, 16-18, in the library. As one of the largest English-language collections in the city, the place takes in all of leftover books from the American Women’s Club book fair and takes up the upper patio of the restored villa. You can find Gaye, the woman in charge, during the workweek from 8:15 until 10pm (8pm on Fridays), though note that the system is based on honor, and you MUST be a member of the AWC to check books out. Similarly, the Phoenix Pub in nearby Bormujos has become a book-collecting haven for English language goods.

Leave it behind at a hostel, train station or airport with a note

Knowing my family would soon be traveling to Ireland, I picked up a copy of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes at the American Women’s Club book fair. Starting up the book in Málaga at the airport, I boarded the plane with a two-hour delay, sat on the runway for another two, was in the air for three, and sat on the ground again waiting for a gate another hour. With nothing better to do on a cramped Ryan Air flight, I damn near finished the book. I also hated myself for not having such a traumatic childhood like McCourt did. The book thoroughly depressed me.

Three days later, we arrived to still Limerick on Christmas morning. The chill and the absence of people made McCourt’s Limerick a reality to me, so I left the book on a bench near the historic center with a note on the inside flap: Reader Beware. I signed my name, printed the date and walked away.

Could you imagine picking up a book or short story in an airport and diving in? Books are to be treasured, so parting with a beloved friend can, in turn, pick up someone else’s day. Likewise, hostels are always hungry for books and provide an eclectic collection for travelers. Your old guidebooks – or books – can find a home here and become an uncovered gem for a like-minded traveler.

Decoupage

As a kid, I loved doing all kinds of crafty work and my mom took us almost weekly to Michael’s for paint, hot glue guns and the like. I started decoupaging anything I could get my hands on – often using travel magazines and the Chicago Tribune Travel section to cover notebooks, shoeboxes and pencil holders.

Now that I’ve been in Europe for over four years, I save all of my museum entrances, bus tickets and even napkins from memorable meals to decoupage photo albums. I have my camera on me at all times – even if it is just my phone’s – so my pictures are often an integral part of my trip. Signing up for photo sharing websites like Snapfish or Shutterfly will usually get you anywhere from 20-100 free prints, and I’ve scored hundreds of others for simply subscribing to the sites. My whole Ireland trip for the shipping and handling costs? Genius.

note: Amazon UK will ship for free to Spain for orders over 25£, Book Depository offers free shipping to Spain.

Plain old leave it on your nightstand, bookshelf or coffee table

In reading Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-term Travel, I realized that I sometimes just need a bit of inspiration to get me through a few hours’ time prowling for cheap flights. My two books that I bought back in 2009 (updated in 2008, then) serve as a good jumping off point, but I find that they’re much more practical at home than lugged in my bag. I treasure the creased pages, underlined routes and worn binding that brings me back to the souqs of Morocco or Asturias’s green coast.

My 2009 guidebooks still just sit around my house, reminding me of the thrill of going to a new, unknown place. They’ve found their home next to cookbooks and old copies of secondhand books in English and Spanish. I’ve got little trinkets all around my house that serve the same purpose – a wooden sculpture from the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, bottles of Coke in Arabic, a Chinese New Year calendar made of plush animals. Even a good travel book can take me to destinations that seem too far to even think about visiting – as proof, I still have my first Let’s Go! Spain book, a Green Guide to Paris book from a 2006 Art History Class and a second-hand Lonely Planet to China that adorn my bookshelf back in good old America.

Calling all Andalusian-based expats: clue me in on where I can get my hand on more! I caved and got the Kindle, but love to pick up books for the beach or weekend trips.

A Beginner’s Guide to Turkish Food

While I’m off dancing my brains out at the Feria de Sevilla, the most wonderful time of the (Sevillian) year, here’s something to make your mouth water and to tide you over till Camarón and I return later in the week.

It’s no secret that my stomach has just as much fun traveling as I do. Traditional plates are something I spend my big bucks on, preferring to take public transportation or walk than skip eating something typical. Turkey was a treat for my eyes and ears, as well as my tummy, and we stopped as often to try food as we did to take pictures of the gorgeous, old as dirt city after buying our airline tickets. Sometimes our bellies smiled, sometimes they weren’t so satisfied, but here’s a rundown of Turkish food for beginners.

Kebabs

I couldn’t wait to get what was seemingly Turkey’s national dish in my tummy. Every street had a token kebab stand, meat swirling before our very (large) eyes in front of a heater. We tried to hold out, we really did, but caved the very first day. A friendly man at a kebab shop near a touristy area of the city carve us hunks of seasoned chicken and offered us a good price. While there was no sauce (I’m a condiments type of person, much to all Spaniards’ dismay), the chicken was practically roitesserie and the vegetables crisp. Kebab shops are scattered around the city and are cheap, quick and really really good. #glutton

Price: 1,50 – 3,00€ for chicken, slightly more for beef

Simit

As our hostel owner, nicknamed Beanie, made us coffee one morning, he pulled out a round loaf of bread with seeds and said, “The Breakfast of Turkish champions.” I don’t know what shocked me more – that there was a Turkish cousin to the bagel, or that Beanie actually knew some English.

Street food carts are all over the city, from hole-in-the-wall places in the old town to small glass pastry shops on wheels on the Galata bridge. We had corn on the cob, churro-like pistachio sweets, nuts and simit served up hot and when we needed it, which makes a great break while touring (or waiting in line at the Haya Sofia). Simit was by far my favorite, a poppy-seeded luxury from back home, piping hot and easily eating.  I couldn’t wait to eat the stupid ring of dough.

Price: = 0,50€

Meze

Meze is to Ottoman cuisine what tapas are to Spanish cuisine. Small dishes meant to be shared, meze can be of any scale, from savory to sweet, varied to simple. We tried a spread, which is typical to share before the main course of a meal, while watching Agamemnon’s dancers in his palace that included humus, babaganoush, vegetables and a potato salad, but a quick wikipedia search will show you that the variety depends on location and scale of the dinner.

Price – from 5€ and up

Çorba

My favorite Spanish dish is lentejas, so I squealed with delight when I read in Allie’s guide book that Turks love their lentils, too. I was dying to try çorba, a red lentil soup. At a little backstreet self-service right near our hostel, we found a big vat on a chilly night, and the bowl and bread cost us 0,75€! Stretching back to the Ottoman times, this dish has been well-copied, but we got homemade deliciousness by form of lentils, onions, paprika, potato and vegetable stock.

Price: 0,75€ – 2,00€ per bowl, often with bread.

Sweets

My body in Spain follows a well-worn eating habit, which includes a coffee sometime in the 90 minutes after I have lunch (the exception being Friday nap time). In Turkey, those bitter little coffees were often washed down with sweets, either Turkish Delight of baklava.

I grew up across the street from a Greek family, so the gooey nothin’-but-butter-and-sugah pastries have always been one of my favorites. Every coffee came accompanied by a round of baklava for us seven to split – flaky pastries layered with honey and butter, pralines and pistachio. Being a pistachio fiend, I really loved the ones flavored by the nut (which even took its green coloring!) and the round rounds that resembled tiny nests with candied pistachio eggs inside. We stumbled upon Saray Baklava, just off the beaten track. The owner serves up about a dozen varieties, but weighs the goodies instead of just giving you three for 9,50€. You’ll find it just opposite the entrance to the Basilica Cisterns, in front of a shop called Finito de Córdoba. who would have thought!?

Price: 20 – 60€ / kilo

Having loved the Narnia books as a kid, I couldn’t skip the Ice Queen’s favorite treat – Turkish delight. Kinda nougaty, kinda starchy lokum, as it’s called in Turkish, the varieties are endless. Rose, lemon, mint, pistachio and walnut seemed to be in abundance, and there were stands and stores hocking the sweet around the main tourist drag, Istiklalal. I personally prefered baklava, but picked up a few boxes of Turkish Delight for my boss and hosts in Zaragoza.

Price: 2€ for a 500g box, much more from the shops.

Of course, there’s more – kafta, humus (not so propio, but easy to find), fresh fruit drinks, shepherd’s (spicy) salad, eggplant, rakibut a girl’s only got so much room in her stomach!

Any other memorable food travels? Have you ever done a gastronomic trip?

92 Reasons to visit Seville

In working on an article for The Spain Scoop, I paid a visit to the Seville Tourism Board’s website. On the main page, to coincide with the World’s Fair in Seville’s 20th anniversary, the board proposes 92 reasons to visit Seville.

Among my favorites are things I enjoy about living here, like 88 (eat a montaíto de pringá), 74 (buy a flamenco dress),  55 (eat el jamón bueno bueno) and 58 (sleep a siesta). Then I remember the insane amount that I still have before me to do, like visit Doñana National Park, spot the Duquesa de Alba, see the Derbi between Mi Betí and Sevilla FC, walk el Rocío to Almonte.

I do think they gave up towards the end, as the last reason is, because you feel like it. So, so sevillano of you, VisitaSevilla. But who really needs to list 92 things to do in and around this glorious city whose history stretches back over 2000 years, whose sunsets are breathtaking and whose cuisine is tó lo bueno. Seville is more about feeling it and living it than seeing it.

Take a look, and tell me what’s on your Seville itinerary, or the reasons you’ve been here before. The Tourism Office hooked me up with this year’s Fiestas de la Primavera poster, and it can be yours if you’re chosen!

Turkey Story

They say a cup of Turkish coffee is worth 40 years of friendship.

Between the seven of us, we barely had seven years of friendship, but we suddenly found ourselves in Istanbul, straddling two mighty continents and our own expectations for Turkey.  We laughed, we scowled, we ate a lot of baklava. This is our Turkey Story.

Our first day was rainy, so we spent the morning ducking in and out of mosques, listening to muezzin calls in stocking feet, relishing in feeling the carpet beneath them. After the trek downhill from Taksim and crossing the Galata Bridge, the two peninsulas that make up the European part of Istanbul, we found ourselves at the feet of the New Mosque. Our shoes came off, and the scarves went on.

Wandering the back streets of the neighborhood, we ducked inside of a brightly lit coffee house and enjoying our first cup of Turkish java. The first sip was bitter, even while we stared out at a soft rain and men playing backgammon in stumpy stools. As the cups were drained, we looked for signs of the future in the grinds. No Hogwarts-like fortune telling here, though.

The Hagia Sofia, a momentous Byzantine structure marked as a “museum” left us in awe. Low-hanging chandeliers and larger-than-life mosaics and script adorned the cavernous space.

Lunch was on everyone’s minds, so we hunted down a cheap chicken kebab and washed it down with freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. I remembered being warned about fresh juice in Morocco – the juice stung my gums and left my teeth purple, but I didn’t fall victim to bad water.

The Blue Mosque was on the docket for the evening, and we traipsed through Sultanahmet Square as the wind howled. Just as we passed under the gate, the call to prayer began, and tourists were barred from entering. We were forced to contemplate its size and greyish hue from the outside. Truth be told, we were over mosques and all of that effort it took to take off our shoes, wrap our heads up, and then undo it all upon exiting. We decided baklava was a good alternative.

The rain beat on, and Julie slipped into a bar. We ordered beers for us and one for Katerina, but our friends didn’t follow us in. when we left the bar, the waiter just replied, “There is the door, go away.” So much for Turkish hospitality. Since we’d pay for a dinner and music show at Agememnon’s (we think that’s what he wrote on the receipt…kind of), all of us chickens watched as the dervishes bowed before the altar and set to whirling around, soft-footed, as we ate our sausage kebabs. I was entranced and set my ISO to 3200, just to get the swirling effect.

The next day awoke us, sunny and warmer, which was a treat after arriving to the hostel with wet boots and a broken umbrella. Craving a view of the Bosphorous and Marmara Sea, we paused at the Galata Tower, an ancient lighthouse and fire department building, to marvel in the boats zigzagging their way through the harbor and the sparkle of the sun on the river.

Our attraction of the day center around the Topkapi palace, a fortified wall sitting on the end of the Eminönu peninsula. The imposing main gate, men dressed like old sultans and views of the channel were nice, but I left unimpressed and uninspired by the grounds and the prostitute bay, even after turning my camera’s color filter to bold.

Our hungry bellies lead us to a kebab shop off of the main strip, where I was bursting to pee. We had our first lentil soup there, called çorba, which we ate with fluffy white bread. As we chowed down our kebabs, one of the girls with a headscarf at the table adjacent to ours leaned over and began talking to Katerina. I was on the other end of the table, so I ate happily, interrupted. When I asked the waiter where the toilet was (non-verbally of course, just be jumping around like a little kid about to pee his pants), he pulled me outside into a hallway and encouraged me to play a game of tag with him up the stairs, around a few corners and directly into a squatty potty. International toilets – 6 (China, of course); Cat – 0.

As it turned out, she and the girl who accompanied her were executives at a publishing house, and they happened to be dining with an author whose books were being translated into English. She invited us to tea at their company office, a few doors down. Remembering a friend’s insistence that Islamic faithful are encouraged to share what they have, we had some tea with the girls, who rewarded us with free pins and books from the author.

Outside, the day was quickly turning to night, so I suggested we visit a place a student’s mother had recommended to me. Lover of all things macabre, I’d been talking up the cemetery that had been converted into an outdoor garden to smoke water pipes and have a tea for the duration of the trip.

Çorulu Ali Pasa was my favorite part of the trip. Through a narrow alleyway, we walked by stoves cooking hot coals in thin tin pots, and the men-to-woman-ratio was 10:1. Small groups of men sat on fraying woven blankets around pipes, with beautiful tiled lanterns overhead. It was twilight; the lanterns sparkled with the sun’s last daily effort as we ordered apple tea and a strawberry flavor for the pipe. I can’t say I’m a big shisha consumer, but we all relaxed as the men around us attended to businesses affairs or sat alone and smoked.

We retired to Taksim, nibbling at street food along the way. As we watched the sun cast an eery, moonlit glow on the mosque towers and Byzantine temples, I finally got the feeling: we were in an Islamic country. Only one thing left to do, then: head to Asia.

The following morning, which dawned bright and blue, we took a passenger ferry from the Eminönu side of the Galata Bridge to the Üsküdar neighborhood. The tokens cost a little under one euro, and the trip was barely ten minutes, and suddenly, we were traversing another continent. While the Asian side doesn’t have many monuments, the views of the Maiden Tower and business districts of the European peninsulas are breathtaking.

We had tickets for the archaeological museum, thanks to our MUZE pass, so we spent hours traipsing through sarcophagi on the warm day and split off from Julie and Tilly, also making a stop off at the Basilica Cisterns, an overly touristic underground cave. There were even animatronics, if you can believe it.

Our dinner was a quick cafeteria-like place, frequented by young students in the Taksim district and policemen. Live music pulsated in the nearby bars, but I found all of the walking and eating was slowly turning me into a sloth. We decided to ask the staff of our hostel (who spoke very little English) for some recommendations for hamams, the traditional Turkish baths, and found one right near our hostel. It would wait until after the Gran Bazaar, though.

Though overly touristy, this enclosed maze of 61 streets is home to vendors of everything from Turkish football jerseys to pashminas to antiques. We split up to cover more ground and browse the stalls under arches painted in ochre, dandelion and celestial hues. Fountains and tea stands punctuated every small street and the antique pipe vendors had hidden gems. But I had an agenda: evil eye jewelry, a few spice grinders and an engraved dagger for the Novio.

After having bargained in China and Morocco, I knew the drill: start below the price you’re willing to pay. Listen to the vendor rant about feeding his children (I didn’t see a single woman selling). Raise your price by a few lira. Continue repeating this step until you think you’ve exhausted the topic. Try adding a few more lira to get two. If this doesn’t work, walk away until they call you back. Lie about another vendor offering it for a cheaper price, if necessary.

In the end, I got three spice grinders for 5€ each, the dagger for 13€ instead of 20€ and two evil eye glass bracelets for 2€. Satisfied and exhausted, we awarded ourselves with MORE baklava in oozing pistachio and walnut varieties before finding the others.

We had agreed to meet at the hostel at 5pm, but we were on the other side of time, so we took the tram. Being late in the day, our group got split up, so Kristen, Katerina and I had to wait on the platform for the others for six minutes. As the second train pulled into the station, we looked frantically for the other two when I was approached. Clutching my bag, I realized it was my friend from Sevilla, Alberto, also enjoying his Semana Santa. First my alumnos in Santiago, and now Alberto in one of the largest cities in Europe. Surprised as always, we caught up while the funicular climbed the steep hill, stopping to take picture proof in front of the square.

As we relaxed in the hamam (moe about THAT later), we knew our trip was coming to an end. Tilly and Julie back to Coruña, Kristen to Málaga, me to Zaragoza and the other three to Sevilla for the Madrugá. I thought back on all of the baklava, the people and the six towering spires of the Blue Mosque. My four days in Zaragoza were certainly nothing to write home about (except to Ashlee, winner of my passport contest, obviously), but I was happy to have pushed my travel limits (hello, the toilets still get me!!) and finally see the last country on my must-see list.

Have you been to Turkey? What did you like, or not? Favorite food? This is definitely a city I connected with and would love to travel back to! For great articles on the country, check out Hecktic Travels, as the Canadian pair is there house sitting and exploring beyond Istanbul.

How to Pay Taxes in Spain (aka The Day I Became an Adult)

Today was Tax Day in America.

As I sat telling my suegra of W-10s and 29-cent hamburgers, I realized I would have to turn in my borrador de la declaración de la renta before June 30th. I cursed, having never done it before. In 20120′s fiscal year, I worked not four months, therefore disqualifying myself. 2011 was different, and my measly 2% retention rate meant I’d have to pay, I was sure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLmuFcd2Gn4

After a quick tutorial on how to solicit the draft, I signed in using my Número de Identificación del Extranjero (called a NIE, or foreign resident card). Almost immediately, I was identified with my name and address. My mouth dropped as Kike howled with laughter. I had to claim a bank account, and from there, all of my financial information was extracted and laid out before my very eyes. Not counting the two months’ vacation or private lessons or camp, I had made under 20.000€. Sad but true.

My phone buzzed with a new message from the Agencia Tributaria. They have my phone number, too!! There was a long code, which I was asked to introduce into a text box. Within seconds, a PDF containing all of my financial information from the 2011 fiscal year was compressed into an eight-page document full of words like retenciones, porcentajes and plenty more I didn’t understand. Kike checked for errors while I held my breath, waiting for the damage.

Um, it says here you can donate to a charity, Kike said. There were two options: the Catholic Church or “bienes sociales” which was probably for beefing up political salaries. I declined, writing off the for-once efficiency that seems to be lacking in every other bureaucratic issue I’d dealt with.

At the end of the seventh page, he announced how much I’d have to pay: a whopping 0€. I hadn’t reached the threshold and have no valuables, like a house or kid. So, I paid my taxes, the government knows a lot about me (but apparently not that I moved 22 months ago), and finally feel like a grown up in Espain.

But, for realz, why do I have to pay taxes if they won’t co-validate my degree or let me have a credit card?! Spain, you wack.

How to Dress for the Feria de Sevilla

Chhh, chh, chikiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!! Veeeeeh.

Why, WHY do store assistants have to cluck in this country, I sighed, my sinus infection suddenly growing worse as I waited for her to stride over to me.

Ehtá floooh, ¡qué noooo! Plucking the flower the size of a softball out of my hand, she replaced it with a bigger one. This one is right. I gawked at the mirror, laughing at my red, swollen eyes and the coral monstrosity perched atop my head.

I wished Cait was with me to witness yet another cultural mess up on my part. Just a few weeks earlier, I went to have my traje de gitana, or flamenco dress, taken out. My butt suddenly didn’t fit into it any longer, so the shop assistant clucked at me to come out of the dressing room, bare-assed, and stand with my it to the mirror while she adjusted it. This flower is for a ten-year old, much to small for your head.

It’s now sitting in my box of flamenco accessories, called complementos. I am no match for old ladies at the Corte Inglés.

Spring’s azahar and incense also bring along the liveliest festival in Andalucía, the Feria de Abril. During my first winter living in Spain, my friend Susana offered to take me to buy a cheap traje at the Molina factory outlet. Though simple, my dress made me fit in when I first showed up at the Real.

But I was CLUELESS about the complementos – I chose earrings and flowers fit for little girls. The rule of thumb is, literally, the bigger, the more gitana you are.

Case in point: The style every gitana’s wearing. The cani ruffle sleeves are big, as is lace, flouncier skirts (mermaid cut is soooo not gitana this year) and lunares as big as a melon.

I chose something a little more classic, with a scooped neck and long sleeves (I’d only had sleeveless before), three volantes and enough arte to knock Calle de Gitanillo de Triana (olé la más bonita de la Feria!) on its feet.

As for complementos, I had to venture of solo, as my Feria +1, Kelly, won’t be going this year, and Cait was in class. Remembering the equation of guapaness, I chose to match the coral colored rickrack on the volantes with just a toque of turquoise. My first stop was in Mateos Complementos, C/Francos, 6, where much of the jewelry was handmade.

Showing the attendant the color of my dress, he helped me pick out a pair of lovely coral hoops that were painted with a beige flower, matching my color scheme perfectly. He tried to show me a mantilla shawl, but I had one and assured him that the color was the same as the earrings. He said the bright color would look lovely next to my eyes and pinkish skin (I sound like a mole, ew).

Mateo opened a glass case and took out two beautiful combs  in oro antiguo, carefully positioning them in my ponytail. Alá tú! he crooned as I looked in the mirror. Sold and sold. ¿Qué pasa, te gusta la Feria? he asked to my scoffs. Asking me if I like Feria is like asking me if I like ice cream.

I peeked in the other stores along the street and in the token Don Regalón. No cheap plastic necklaces this year, I promised myself.

As I browsed the shelves at the Corte Inglés, Clucky came up to me with the flower. I knew I had no choice but to buy it, along with the earrings I bought in oro antiguo with just a hint of blue to match the peineta. I’m discovering that my ganas for Feria is becoming proportionate to the days left until the main gate, fashioned after the Iglesia del Salvador, is lit up and Feria officially begins.

Are you planning on heading to la Feria de Abril, or have you been? If you need me, I’ll probably be on C/Gitanillo de Triana, y olé! And now, a bailar!

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