Visiting Seville on Two Wheels: a Bike Tour through the City’s Main Sites

My first moment of consciousness was fragrant – the orange blossoms outside my window were finally in bloom, and I could smell spring wafting in between the persianas.

I deliberately left my jacket hanging on a dining room chair, breathing in the azahar and the sizzle off of the pavement as I crossed Triana towards the center of town. On the eve of Holy Week, I would be touring my city on my favorite form of transportation besides my own two feet. 

take a bike tour in Seville

Given that Seville is Spain’s most bike-friendly city and one of the European leaders in two-wheel transportation, it was only a matter of time before cycling tours caught on in the Andalusian capital. Andalucía Tours and Discovery had written me in November to invite me on a tour, and I was finally able to take them up on the offer on the first true day of spring.

Before moving to Europe, I imagined buying an antique bike with a wicker basket and doing my shopping  – a flaky baguette, a dozen apples and fresh cut flowers – by cycling. In reality, I use my bike Feliciano to get to and from work, often arriving sweaty and panting.

Seville Bike City

When I arrived, I was immediately surrounded by around a dozen Dutch tourists (I can’t make this stuff up!), adjusting their bikes in front of ATD’s bike and segway warehouse. I jumped at the chance to leave my rickety bike behind and use one with full tires, fully-functioning brakes and a bell that hadn’t been stolen. Rosalie helped me get my bike adjusted to my height and urged me to have a quick ride around to make sure everything was in tip-top shape.

Andalucia Tours and Discovery Bike Rentals

As someone who sticks to bike lanes whenever possible, I was wary to ride on the streets and sidewalks, especially in such a large group. But them group’s founder, Carlos, had another plan for me: we took off down Santas Patronas, using a pedestrian shortcut to pick up four lost Dutch women and deliver them to the tour group, which had already crossed the Triana bridge.

Bike Tour El Arenal Sevilla

Bike Tour Torre del Oro

The tour was in Dutch and German, so Carlos tagged along to conduct what felt like a private tour. In Plaza del Altozano, he gave me a challenge: ¿Qué no sabes de Sevilla?

As it turned out, plenty. We rode through the narrow alleyways of my neighborhood and he peppered in anecdotes and lore, from architecture to origins.  I continue signing up for tours of my adopted home town for this very reason – a city with more than 2000 years of history is full of secrets.

Bike Tour Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

Carlos kept me in good company – as a former school teacher himself, he knows how to keep a crowd entertained – and our conversation drifted from history to Spain’s political climate and everything that has changed in the seven years I’ve been a resident and the seven years he’s owned a small business. In a city whose tourism business is booming, Carlos is ethical and innovative, looking for clients in their own countries and doing things 100% by the book – a far cry in a city whose political corruption is glaringly evident at times.

Tour por bici en Sevilla

Bike Tour Sevilla Patio de las Banderas

Winding through the historic center and the palcos set out for the upcoming processions, we ended up in Patio de las Banderas, sandwiched between Barrio Santa Cruz and the Alcázar palace.

“Do you smell that?” he asked, pointing his nose towards the line of orange trees that had just begun to bloom. “Huelva has the light, Granada has the sights, but Seville is all about the smells.” I breathed in more, immediately sneezing. Spring in Seville is a double-edged sword for allergy-prone people like me.

Carlos pointed out places for me to take a picture of myself with the bike. I was already half a step ahead of him and handing my camera over.

Bike Tour group photo

Nearing the end of the tour, the guide brought us to a bar near Plaza de España to partake in another local pastime: having a drink. The Dutch ladies who had been lost before asked me inquisitively about how it was that I’d ended up in Sevilla.

While that’s a loaded question, I kept it simple: the weather, the cheap beer, and the fact that I can commute to work by bike.

Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

A tour on bike is perfect for anyone active, and especially recommendable if you’ve only got a day to see the city’s main sites and want to learn a little bit about them. The tours last around 3.5 hours, can be categorized as easy exercise and costs 25€, 19€ for students, with rental, tour, insurance and a drink included. Find out more about their tours and cultural activities on ATD’s website.

Have you ever been on a cycling tour on your travels?

In the spirit of full disclosure, ATD offered me a free tour. The awkward tanlines and opinions are all my own.

Four Great Mobile Apps for Keeping in Touch Back Home (and free talk time giveaway!)

When I studied abroad in 2005, my host family didn’t have internet. If I wanted to check in with my family back in Chicago, I’d have to walk down the street to the locutorio and buy credit for a pay phone.

Nine years later, Telefónica’s green and blue phone booths are but an icon of the past and everyone seems to be glued to their smartphones. Ever since breaking down and getting one in 2011, I’ve been able to keep in touch with my family and friends back home far more easily, sending photos and videos of the Feria de Abril to just about everyone in my contacts list!

If you’ve got a smart phone, you have a wealth of apps to help you connect with your loved ones (or just make them jealous of the cheap prices of wine):

Whatsapp

Whatsapp took Spain by storm a few years back, as it was one of the first free messaging services that used wi-fi or 3G for texting. 

To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with Whatsapp. It’s so great on paper – texts, photo and video sharing, and you can even share your location. But nothing beats a phone call.

Anyway,  the first year is free, and then you have to start paying, but it’s worth it for group chats, sharing, and not freaking out at your phone bill!

Get it! Android | iOS

Postagram

As a proponent of still sending snail mail from time to time, I think postagram is fun and pretty much genius. This app allows you to send a picture right from your phone in real postcard form for the same price as it would cost to send it by mail yourself – you just save the trip to the post office (aka the waiting room of doom in Spain) and what you send is more personalized! What’s more, you get 140 characters – just like a tweet – to send a message.

Get it! Android | iOS

Snapchat

I have to admit that I love snap chat. Originally created (in my mind) for teens to send gross pictures of themselves, I love getting shots of my friends on coffee runs or in beer gardens, or of my niece, Bounder the Mutt.

What snapchat does is it sends 10-second videos or photos to the contact(s) of your choice, which are then deleted and take up no space in your phone’s memory. There’s also a new chat feature where you can hold down the record button and have some face time with your amiguitos back home.

Get it! Android | iOS

toolani 

Move over, Skype and Viber – toolani has just blown my mind. 

After struggling to hear my family on Skype because of a nagging delay and loads of dropped calls, I needed to look for a new way to do our weekly calls. Most Sundays, I’m out having lunch or at a Betis game, making it hard to coincide with my family. toolani works as a phone filter that doesn’t need an internet connection to make cheap international calls – dialing the US cost less than $0,02 a minute! 

With toolani, you can call and text about 150 countries, and your contacts are automatically loaded onto its server. The app also allows you to buy more credit easily.

Just last week I called my family to catch up for cheaper than calling their landlines, as well as shot the breeze with my friends at Jets Like Taxis, who are currently in Austria. Not only were the calls well-priced, but the call quality was top-notch, and there was no delay.

Giveaway!

I’ve partnered with toolani to bring you guys free talk time on their service. There are 100 free vouchers available for Sunshine and Siestas readers with the code toolsunshine. Download their free app and present the code at checkout, and you can talk with people around the world. 

The voucher code is available for you guys from today, May 16th, until Saturday, May 30th. toolani is compatible with both smartphones and iPhones in just about every corner of the globe!

If you like the service, consider connecting with toolani on Facebook or twitter, or surprising one of your friends back home with a call!

What other apps are on your phones?

FluentU – Learning Spanish Through Video

The best day in high school Spanish class was “La Catrina” day. Profe would stockpile those episodes freshman year until she had absolutely no willpower against nearly 30 teenagers with made-up Spanish names (and the popular girls fighting over who got to be Margarita this year). Videos and songs brought Hispanic culture and language to life for me (and MI BISABUELA was our comeback for all of high school).

As a language teacher myself, I’ve found that my students tend to engage whenever technology is involved – no overhead projectors in Spanish classrooms! Anything related to videos and listening has their ears perked up, and I’m always impressed when my FCE students tell me they’ve watched a program in English or translated songs and picked up a few new words.

Before coming to Spain, I checked out loads of books in Spanish, as well as films, to up my español game. Now that online learning has become so big, there are loads of cool ways to brush up while sitting at your computer. I recently tried a new Beta version of FluentU, a wildly successful company whose video training in Mandarin Chinese is now tackling the world’s second most spoken language.

Using authentic videos, audio scripts and flashcards, FluentU tracks your progress and suits all levels of language learning.

Lo que me gustó (What I liked)

From novato to native: Right off the bat, FluentU asks you what level you are, giving a sound description of what your language abilities are at each level. I chose Native since I’ve already got a C1 DELE degree, and the software recommended word lists and videos suited for advanced learners.

Videos for every taste: FluentU has videos about everything and anything – from politics to culture to human interest stories and songs. When I checked out some of the videos at lower levels, it was clear which grammar and tense concepts they were drilling – I loved that there was even a Jarabe de Palo song to teach the usage of the adjective ‘bonito’!

Manageable chunks according to level: The videos were an appropriate length for level, and you can hover over the subtitles under the video to see the definition and pronunciation for each word. The video stops, so you won’t miss anything.

Tracking progress: Language learning builds upon prior knowledge, so the FluentU software tells you how much of a video you should be able to understand, based on videos and word lists you’ve already done. There are also quizzes and you can create your own study lists, making it easy to see how far you’ve come.

Lo que se puede mejorar (What can be improved)

Native level: Not to fanfarronear or anything, but apparently my Spanish is considered native level already. I didn’t run across any unknown words, but chalk that up to the focus being for newbies. There was also a lack of the Castellano accent in upper levels: Most of the videos in the upper levels are reserved for a South American accent, and I didn’t hear any from Spain. There were a few at lower levels, however.

Speaking is absent: Speaking is one of the most important language skills (and often the hardest to master), and this sort of learning doesn’t lend well to strengthening them. Your vocabulary and listening skills will probably grow, but you’ll need to practice oral expression another way.

Want to try it for yourself? FluentU is offering 30 SandS readers the chance to test drive their new Spanish version for free! If you’ll be coming to Spain for the language assistants program, this is an awesome way to brush up on your listening skills and learn a few phrases before jetting to Spain. You just need to provide your email address! You’ll have until April 25th to sign up, using the rafflecopter widget below, and leaving a blog post comment. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How did you learn Spanish? Would you like online learning? If you’re looking to learn Spanish in Seville, Madrid or Barcelona, get in touch!

FluentU allowed me to use their software for free for two weeks, but todas las opiniones son mine.

A Cooking Day in Málaga: Preparing Spanish Dishes in Andalucía

Spain is a country that’s easy to get lost in. I don’t mean the culture or the romanticism – I mean, GPS systems are absolute crap, and it’s easier to end up on the wrong road than it is to arrive to your destination calmly and on time.

Stuck in our constant chatter, Mickey and I missed our exit, had a local forget we were following him to Almogía, and ended up on a dirt road. I called Mayte, one of the women behind A Cooking Day, and she told me she hadn’t heard of the town we’d just driven through.

“There will be wine,” Mickey soothed. “There is always wine on a Spanish table. Don’t stress.”

 As it turned out, we were in Mayte’s driveway, but wouldn’t find that out before turning around again. But Mickey was right –  as soon as we’d sat down in the airy courtyard of her country house, dripping with Bougainvillea and antique lanterns, I felt at ease and over my road rage.

Mayte and Keti announced the menu before anyone had been introduced – ajoblanco, a citrus salad with cod and spring onions, fideuà and quince pastries, plus homemade bread. As with any Spanish weekend meal, we’d snack our way through the process, eating olives they’d marinated and malagueño cheese with homemade fig marmalade.

Prepping our meal

After meeting fellow blogger Robin Graham and his partner, as well as locals Ute and Sergio, wicker baskets were distributed and we went into the small huerto to pick fruit. Oranges, persimmons, figs and lemons are ripe at this time of year, and we’d be using several in our recipes.

Once back in the house, we donned aprons. Robin and I set to peeling shrimp while Mickey and Sergio pounded almonds using an iron mallet and a stone, a traditional method. As an American used to my fish coming headless and my chicken breasts cleaned, it was refreshing to know that we were truly making farm to fork food.

Mayte’s kitchen is spacious and modern, blended seamlessly into a century-old farmhouse that’s full of interesting pieces from her travels around the world. She and Keti, a longtime friend, set up the cooking classes in both English and Spanish earlier this year. They cater groups of two to just six, ensuring that everyone will get their hands dirty.

There would be blanching, chopping and stirring, but not without a glass of Rioja and a few stolen almonds.

Making our Food

First up? Kneading the bread and preparing it to rise. Mine refused to cooperate with me, and coupled with my lack of kitchen skills, I was toast. Ha. The day was a bit damp, causing the bread to need more time to bake and rise. I took another sip of beer.

We focused on the ajoblanco next, peeling away the case and chopping garlic – it was a dish I’d surprisingly not tried before. Mayte dumped everything into the blender and turned it on, and we were sipping it a short time later between nibbles of our baked bread and organic olive oil (Mayte’s recipe is below).

As we peeled the oranges we picked and chopped them, along with the ripe spring onions, the shrimp shells we’d discarded and the monkfish boiled in separate pots to serve as brother for the fideuà noodle dish that would be our main plato

Keti showed us a family secret – frying the noodles with a bit of oil and garlic so that they’d not get too hard later. As a last-minute addition, we made a simple alioli sauce of egg whites, garlic and olive oil to accompany this traditional noodle dish that resembles paella. 

La sobremesa

Nearing 4 o’clock, we  sat down to eat. The fireplace crackled as Mayte served us the salad. While I didn’t think I’d be too keen on mixing salted cod with oranges and onions, the malagueña salad was surpassingly good and felt layered, despite its simplicity.

Our bellies were happy and in good company around the table. Sobremesa is a Spanish term that refers to the conversation and camaraderie that always seems to happen around a table. In fact, the work for striking up a conversation is entablar, which perfectly encompasses sobremesa chat. I chose to bring Mickey because I knew she’d be right at home. Like me, she loves wine, food and good conversation.

As Keti finished the fideuà, we drank up, a rich Rioja that blended well with all of the flavors on the table. The noodles were cooked perfectly, creamy and with the right amount of flavor. Again, I was taken back at how flavorful something so simple could taste.

The Takeaway

For someone who loves food and dabbles in cooking, the outing was a fun was to spend a day. We rolled up our sleeves and got to see the process through, from picking the fresh fruit to taking the quince pastries out of the oven. Perhaps by my own election and in the name of art (and Camarón), I didn’t cook as much as I expected.

Mayte and Keti are personable, helpful and patient, and they make great company. I appreciated that they came up with a menu that pleased palates from five different countries and our two vegetarian counterparts, and the food was simple enough to repeat, yet filling and delicious.

Ajoblanco
Print
Ingredients
  1. 150g almonds
  2. 2 cloves of garlic
  3. 2 slices of bread (crust optional)
  4. 1/2 glass of extra virgin olive oil
  5. 1 litre of water
  6. salt and white wine vinegar to taste
Instructions
  1. Blanch the almonds blanching hot water until the skin peels off easily. Peel and chop the garlic cloves into fine bits. Soak the bread in water to soften it, then break it apart into smaller pieces. Put everything in the blender with the olive oil, a bit of vinegar and salt, and blend until you get a fine paste, adding some water if necessary. Add a litre of water and the salt and vinegar to taste.
Notes
  1. Tip: day-old bread works best for this recipe.
Adapted from Adapted from A Cooking Day Blog
Sunshine and Siestas http://sunshineandsiestas.com/
 Mickey and I were gracious guests of Mayte and Keti of A Cooking Day, but all opinions belong to me. A Cooking Day is available to speakers of English, Spanish or French for 50€ a head, which includes the materials, food and drink, plus company. Mayte’s cortijo is located just off the A-7, right outside of Málaga. For more information, consult their website.

Picking Winter Fruit in Southern Spain

In the winter months, citrus fruits, figs, mushrooms and chestnuts are ripe and ready to be picked. Olive oil harvests begin, and crops like pumpkins, avocados and leeks begin to pop up in supermarkets.

As a kid growing up in the icy Midwest, we’d often have raspberry and tomato plants, which only came around in the summertime. My grandpa lived in Orange County and would send us navel oranges as holiday gifts – without fail, there’s always one at the very bottom of our stockings on Christmas morning.

Coming from a country that pumps horomones into everything we consume, Spain is a breath of fresh air. Horomone-free, that is. I have learned to live with seasonal products. Strawberries comes in the early spring, sardines are best eaten in the months without an R in the name, and tomatoes are available year-round, thanks to greenhouses in nearby Los Palacios. Winter means fig jam, roasted chestnuts and zucchini soup.

As part of our day in the malgueño countryside, Mickey and I searched a small orchard for the ripest figs, lemons, and oranges. Honeybees continued to flit around the fruit that had fallen to the ground and smashed open. Sergio crushed a few ripe olives, showing us how oil was traditionally extracted from Southern Spain’s star crop. Mayte explained how to pick the best fruit, which had been victim to little rain this year.

Later that day, our hand-picked lemons would dress up our fideuà, the oranges formed the base of a fresh salad with spring onions and cod, and the fleshy part of the figs were devoured, turning our lips red.

My experience at A Cooking Day was offered to me for free by Mayte and Kety. My opinions, and the extra calories, are all mine.

Camino de Santiago Packing List for Women on the Camino del Norte

As I kid, I used to marvel at how my father could pack a bag, pack the trunk of the minivan or pack enough goodies into the fridge to keep us happy.

I may have inherited his travel hacking skills and his love of beer, but girl did NOT get his gift of packing.

Hiking the Camino de Santiago posed a problem: I needed to find a way to pack equipment for a 200mile hike across Spain through both rain and shine. As a rule of thumb, your pack should weigh around 10% of your body weight, which meant I had around six kilos to work with for two weeks and 12 stages to Santiago. The packing should go more or less like this:

Like always, it’s been a battle of packing, unpacking, moving piles, reducing wares, rationing pills. Here’s what’s in my pack and now on my back:

The Footwear

If there was one place where I wouldn’t skimp in preparation for 200 miles on The Way, it was with my footwear. I had just two requirements: as these boots would be strapped to my feet for 3 – 8 hours a day, they needed to be comfortable, and due to the tendency of rainy weather in Northern Spain during the summer months, they also had to be waterproof.

Be aware that there are also two types of boots – those that are high and protect the ankle, and those that don’t. Had I known that I had weak ankles because of my years of gymnastics, I likely would have bought the higher boots to prevent twisting an ankle  – the Camino del Norte is also a bit more strenuous and full of hills, unlike the majority of the popular Camino Francés.

In the end, I settled on Quechua brand Arpenaz ankle boots with Novadry that weight 750g and have shock absorbers. I’ve been wearing them, along with my custom-made insoles from Podoactiva, as much as possible before the trek. I’ve also packed a pair of supportive Reef brand flip flops for showers, any stops at the beach and for exploring the stops in the evening.

Summary – hiking boots and flip flops.

The Clothes

The Camino is certianly not a fashion statement – I have left home my jewelry, my makeup and my hair products in favor of two-in-one shampoo/conditioner and a plastic comb, my cute rebajas steals for garments with built-in wicking

Decathlon, the French sporting goods company, is chock-full of outdoors clothing, but I was clueless – I’d rather spend my weekends in gastro bars and wandering around with my camera than climbing over fallen tree limbs. I went with the basics – t-shirts and tanks with built-in wicking for perspiration, anti-blister socks, pants that convert into shorts with just a zip, and a waterproof hat and a straw hat in case there’s sun.

Of course, I’ll need non-Camino clothes for when I’m not out walking, so I’ve thrown in a swimsuit (our first five days are along the beach), comfy pajamas, a lightweight cotton dress and a t-shirt from sponsor Walk and Talk Chiclana. Wicking be damned when I sleep!

Summary: Two Ts made of wicking, one tank, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, five pairs of socks, undergarments, a cotton handkerchief, a fisherman’s hat and a straw hat. I’ve also got sunglasses, since I’m hoping for some sun!

The Equipment

Not only will I need clothing (and likely a change of clothing due to rain), but there’s a lot of other things that will make up my pack weight. I have a lightweight sleeping bag and sleeping bag, an aluminum walking stick, a rain poncho and a flashlight.

I’ve also been told to bring a collapsable bag for evening time to carry my camera and wallet, or to shop or carry groceries, so I grabbed a cheap one at Tiger.

Summary – sleeping pad, sleeping bag, shammy, rain poncho that both Hayley and I can fit into, a water bottle and a walking stick.

The Traveling Pharmacy

Veteran pilgrims warn of road hazards – blisters are rampant, food doesn’t always sit well with stomachs (though I think mine is pretty well adjusted to Spanish cuisines) and there is always, ALWAYS someone snoring in the albergue. I spent a pretty penny on items at the pharmacy, and it seems that the pharmacists in Coruña seem to understand what a pilgrim needs much better than those in Sevilla. Behold, my traveling pharmacy:

Included here is Betadine (antiseptic spray), suncream, a needle and thread to sterilize any blisters, earplugs, 10 big safety pins, anti-bacterial hand gel, a Compeed anti-rub stick, anti-allergy eyedrops, micropore (tape), and various anti-blister pads and bandaids. Not pictured are the ibuprofen and allergy pills. From all accounts, pharmacies along the way are well-versed in pilgrim care, so anything else we need can be bought on the road. The contents are light with all of the casing taken away, and will get lighter as the days wear on. I’ve got my medicine cabinet packed at the very top of my bag.

The Extras

There were other things I just couldn’t travel without on a normal trip – a small, paper notebook and a few pens, my Kindle, Camarón. These three things will be coming along with me on the Camino, worth their weight in gold (or albariño wine) as far as I’m concerned. I’ve also got a clothesline, a waterproof watch, a jackknife, and my electronics, which included an iPod and my two cameras. I may regret the electronics…

Other pilgrims choose to bring little trinkets from home, like packages of instant coffee or a small dictionary to help with the Spanish. Two things you cannot forget is some kind of ID card and your pilgrim’s passport. I was forced to bring my American passport for my RyanAir flight back to Seville, and the pilgrim passport works like one that allows you to travel between countries – at stops along the way in churches, albergues or Pilgrim offices, your passport will be stamped as proof that you’ve done the Camino. I got mine sent right to me by Petersborough Pilgrims.

The seashell I bought on my first trip to Santiago five years ago will also be affixed to my bag. Let the buen camino piropos roll!

The Pack

Apart from the importance of footwear, the backpack you choose will likely be one of the most important purchases you make before taking on the Camino. Meet my mochilita, who I will name Santi in order of St. James and his inspiration for this walk:

If you’re not a trekker, look for a bag that has a weight distribution that will put everything on your hips. This Forclaz 60L bag has meshing to help my back breathe, loads of extra pockets to put important things and a divider that separates the heavy things from the lighter ones further up my back. Santi will be, for better or worse, my closest friend on the hike, and like many pilgrims I’ve seen in the Plaza del Obradoiro at the end of the Camino, I’ll be resting against him, staring up at the spire of the cathedral.

Then it’s onto the spa to scrub all of the Camino grime off of me and massage out all of the knots!

The Giveaway:

Our official sponsors, Caser Expat Insurance, are treating Hayley and I to a few experiences once we arrive to Santiago on August 11th. We’ll be able to relax in the beautiful ancient city, enjoy the local cuisines and even get a massage, and Caser Expat wants to extend that to one lucky reader of Sunshine and Siestas, too. You’ll have the opportunity to choose a ‘La Visa es Bella’ experience, valued between 50-100€, to be used in Spain. You can choose accommodation or a spa/relaxation experience of your liking. This giveaway is only open to residents (or future residents!) of Spain, and the winner will be announced when I arrive to Santiago on the 12th and notified through email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t forget I’ll be tweeting and instagramming here and there over the next 14 days and 200 miles, so follow along at @sunshinesiestas and @caserexpat with the hashtag #CaminoFTK. Thanks again for all of your support, and buena suerte!!

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