Five Things You Should Know About Málaga

Eight years ago, I welcomed my parents to Spain for the first time. They arrived to Málaga via bus after several cancelled flights and a mad scramble to get them from Heathrow to Andalucía before Christmas Eve. Once they finally arrived, jet lagged, smelly and not amused with my cry of ‘Bienvenidos a España!’ we grabbed our rental car and beelined out of the Costa del Sol’s capital and didn’t return.

We missed out on the opportunity to explore what is becoming a cultural capital and a city that embodies cool, and I have yet to really get to know more than Málaga’s airport.


Paolo Trabattoni via Creative Commons

Many visitors to the golden shores of Spain’s Costa del Sol choose to bypass Málaga in favor of the nearby beach resorts. It’s a shame – this vibrant city offers a great selection of cultural sights and historic gems, plus great dining options, all on the Mediterranean Coast. If you’re visiting for the first time, you may be surprised by these five facts about one of Spain’s up-and-coming cities.

Picasso’s Mark on the City

Arguably the most influential artist of the twentieth century, Picasso remains one of Malaga’s most renowned citizens. Nestled in the heart of the city’s historic center, visitors can explore the artist’s birthplace and family home during his formative years.

An exhibition displays artifacts from his childhood and personal mementos from his family. From here, art fanatics can visit the Picasso Museum located in the 16th century, Buenavista Palace. Showcasing over two hundred and thirty pieces, it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to marvel at some of Picasso’s best works. Plus, it’s just a stumble from great tapas joints (and we stayed at an awesome AirBnB nearby for my despedida de soltera!).

Feria de Málaga

I mean, it’s no Feria de Sevilla, but Málaga’s beachside feria is allegedly just as much fun (and without all of the pomp). The annual fair takes place in August and was established to commemorate the Catholic reconquest of the city in 1487. The weeklong celebration is the time to enjoy authentic Andalusian cuisine, marvel at the trajes de gitanas and take part in a sevillanas dance if you’re fueled by rebujito.

La Feria en Crisis

And it’s ok to go in street clothes – this fair is far more low-key than Seville’s, so you don’t have to put on the airs or sneak your way in to a private tent.

Antonio Banderas and his Devotion

Picasso isn’t the only famous malagueño: another notable native is Hollywood A-lister, Antonio Banderas. Born in 1960, the famous actor began his studies at the College of Dramatic Art in Malaga. Although he no longer resides in Spain, Banderas does return every year to celebrate the Holy Week festivities.

Taking place from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, Banderas joins in several of the processions as a costalero, or a brother charged with carrying the heavy floats through the streets of the city.

Biznagas Malagueñas

Spend a short time in Malaga and you’re sure to come across the handcrafted flowers, Biznagas Malagueñas. Traditional to the region, these are often sold by street vendors, known as biznagueros who are often dressed in an outfit comprising of a white shirt and red waistband.

The floral creations are famed for their sweet smelling scent, usually made with a combination of dried thistle and freshly picked jasmine. Many people are unaware that they have a secondary purpose – they’re also said to repel mosquitoes.

An endless summer

It may come as no surprise that the capital of Spain’s Costa Del Sol receives some of the best weather in Europe, and that it’s not limited to the summer months. With roughly 300 days of sunshine every year, this destination is perfect for a sun worshiper’s fall getaway. The winter also stays pleasantly warm with very few days of rain and highs reaching an impressive 20 °C. The vitamin C alone is worth it.


Laura Flores used under the Creative Commons

With so many affordable flights to Malaga, there’s never been a better time to explore this beautiful city. From the winding streets and traditional tapas restaurants,  lively nightlife and 

Read more about Málaga: Cooking in the Malagueño Countryside // Ronda, the White Village Capital // Walking the Caminito del Rey near Málaga // Málaga’s El Tintero Restaurant


I need a weekend escape to Málaga – what should I see, do and eat?

Let’s Have a Little Talk About Spanish Toilets

The smell hits me like a pata de jamón to the head: a cocktail of bathroom disinfectant, spilled hand soap, ancient pipes and bleach. And that’s only if the person before me hasn’t bothered to flush.

Verdad verdadera: if you drink liquids, you have to pee. If you drink beer, you have to pee twice as much. And if you drink beer in Spain, you have to pee in a filthy, poorly lit bathroom that likely doesn’t have toilet paper (and if it does, you’d better steal what’s left of the roll and stash that contraband in your purse).

In the eight years I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve not been able to get over Spanish bathrooms.I’d do a silent fist pump when I’d find a few scraps of toilet paper, or a toilet seat, or even hand soap (also known as the váter Holy Trifecta) in a public bathroom.

But váter, you and I have to have a talk.

Let's Talk About Bathrooms in Spain

It was on a sweltering July night at an old man bar in my neighborhood that I actually considered shuffling three blocks back to house to use our facilities. But I’d had several vermouths, so I handed the Novio my purse and scuttled to the unisex bathroom.

The space was hardly larger than a broom closet (in fact, it probably once was), and my toes rested right next to the door when I closed it. I was wearing sandals, so the bottoms of my feet became soaked in who knows what. As I squatted, my butt hit the wet pipe attached to the flush, and I struggled to find the light switch in the dark. The pipes creaked as I attempted to flush a running toilet, so I gave up entirely, ran my hands under the faucet obsessively and ordered another vermouth (though grain alcohol to kill any germs might have been a better option).

I won’t call out any names here, but as a rule of thumb, if it’s a brightly-lit cervecería frequented by old men, you shouldn’t expect anything special. A step up might be a restaurant frequented by the same old men. I won’t even get into the toilets at discos – particularly the outdoor terraces in the summer. I mean, even the Parador de Zafra, a luxury hotel owned by the Spanish government, has a problem keeping toilets stocked with toilet paper!

Not all hope is lost – any place that caters to tourists or business travelers has a better shot at possessing the Váter Trifecta. But Andalucía seems to be the worst when it comes to bathrooms. A friend of mine runs food tours and trained her Seville guides to always bring a small pack of tissues for tour guests, lest they be forced to drip dry.

What are toilets like in Spain

My buttload of gripes has grown as I’ve gotten older. I mean, I went to a large Midwestern University where Saturday morning tailgating meant either sneaking into a stranger’s house on Melrose Court, or finding an alternative solution. But a civilized country deserves a civilized sort of outhouse.

First off, women’s restrooms in Spain tend to double as storage closets for empty beverage bottles, stacking crates and even cleaning supplies (so where the cojones do they keep the toilet paper?!). On more than one occasion, I’ve had to crawl over a pile of crap just to get to the toilet.

I’ve made it abundantly clear that toilet paper is noticeably absent in a high percentage of bathrooms. If you’re a lady, whenever you feel the urge, you either have to rummage around in your purse for kleenex, discreetly ask a friend, or grab a wad of napkins from a table. But Spanish napkins aren’t designed to do anything more than mop up wax, so you’re better off not even trying with them. Note to self: add Kleenex packets to my shopping list.

But don’t throw tissue (or waxy napkins, or really anything non-liquid) into the toilet bowl, because you will cause stress on already overworked pipes and clog the toilet. I once made that mistake and couldn’t show my face in that bar for two months – TWO months! But don’t worry, there will be a NO TIRAR PAPELES AL WC sign affixed somewhere in the room just in case you forget. “We won’t replace the toilet paper for months because we don’t want you to accidentally throw it in the bowl” seems to be every old man bar’s mantra.

bathroom soap in Spain

Soap and paper towels have no place in a  Spanish bathroom either, so even washing your hands can be futile. Alternatives are your jeans, your jacket, or simply walking out of the toilet with wet hands, people moving away from you as if you were covered in blood or leprosy sores. Makes you want to wipe your hands on the bartender’s jeans instead.

And let’s talk briefly about you can only use bathrooms if you’ve had a consumición at the bar? I’ve had to resort to slamming a beer and beelining to the bathroom or ordering a scalding café con leche and have it sit waiting for me as I squatted over yet another shitty (pardon the pun) latrine. Even the holes in the ground in China and Turkey seem more sanitary than the “marvels of modern plumbing” in Iberia.

My first vision of Spain was from a bus that pulled into my study abroad city, Valladolid. I pulled the Iberia blanket off of my head and groggily stared out the window as we stopped at a stoplight. A young mother was holding her child at arm’s length as the little girl let out a steady stream of pis. On the street. In plain daylight. Consumption at a bar be damned, this kid is peeing on a tree.

Pues nada.

This post is a little NSFW, yes, but a constant topic when I’m with my guiri friends. Have any other bathroom gripes to add?

Wine Tasting for Dummies: An Afternoon with With Locals in Spain

“Wine snobbery is ruining the pure pleasure of a nice glass of wine,” Adolfo remarked as he poured us a young Verdejo from Northern Spain. “You like what you like, period.”

We studied the color of the pale yellow liquid before sloshing it around a tasting glass and lifting it to our noses. I don’t pretend to be a wine snob or even to know much about it, but after spending the afternoon sampling wine in Adolfo’s living room, I was convinced that I never would be nor need to be a wine snob.

Wine Tasting for Dummies

Adolfo’s three-hour introduction to wine paired with tapas – plus a short tour around the center of quaint Utrera – was part of the WithLocals experience I was invited to attend. An initiative that began in Asian countries before expanding to Spain and now Italy, WithLocals connects travelers with locals in tourist destinations with the aim of providing organic experiences, from cooking lessons to hikes to excursions from big cities.

In the spirit of full discolsure: I was skeptical about paying someone to spend a few hours with me, especially having been approached as a potential host. But peer-to-peer platforms like AirBnB, BlaBla Car and Couchsurfing have become some of my go-tos for saving money while traveling as well as a way to forge connections with locals, plus learning about wine is something I’d spring to experience (and pay for!) in another country. I have become increasingly disillusioned with tours and operators, but wanted to give wine (and a company in its infant stages in Spain) its fair chance.

how to open a wine bottle correctly

Adolfo called to us from his balcony, which looked over a street appropriately named for a type of regional wine. Part of the WithLocals philosophy dictates that events be held in hosts’ homes whenever possible, so a table was set with three tasting glasses, a few tapas and the tools of the trade were set in his living room. I brought along my friend Hayley, a wine drinker far more experienced than myself in the grape and its magical properties (magic, as in, turning sugar into alcohol, of course).

I’ve been to a few tastings – in family-run bodegas that sell al granel in DO Jumilla, in world famous wineries in La Rioja and even in a fancy wine shop in Seville, but I’d rarely learned much past the three-step tasting process. See, smell, sip and repeat until your brain’s a bit hazy and it’s time for a tapa.

verdejo wines Spain

Adolfo changed all of that: as an apasionado for wine whose hobby has become a lifestyle and job, Hayley and I fired off questions about soil conditions, favorite denominaciones de origen and how to find a decent bottle in a supermarket without knowing about that year’s harvest. Our host knew more than the number of ‘sommeliers’ and winemakers I’d drank wine with, but was quick to tell us his dismay for people using wine as a status symbol (to which I snuff, ponme otra cervecita, por favor). 

The Verdejo was crisp and, though I couldn’t snuff out the banana peel undertones in the smell, refreshing. We snacked on salty anchovies with avocado and onion puree between sips. What struck me was that we could have a normal conversation as friends once we’d sipped the first glass and discussed the mechanics of the fermentation process, how to tell when wine has lost its quality and why some bottles slope and others don’t. We were one glass in, and I’d already learned more than my brain could hold. 

tasting wine with locals in Spain

Spain still pits Rioja against Ribera as far as favorites, much in the way it does with fútbol, so Adolfo skipped the vino heavyweights in favor of a crianza from a little-known region tucked between Alicante and La Mancha, Utiel-Requeña. I’d never even heard of it, much less tried it.

Plates of chorizo, cheese and salchichón appeared as the cork was popped, revealing a faded crimson ring. The glug, glug and slight ring of the liquid against the glass preceded a sip and slosh around our palates, and I went so far as to try and gargle like the sommeliers do (it sounds weird, but the bubbling reveals even more tastes buried deep in the mouthful!).

Typical Spanish Charcuterie

We’d then try a grandaddy Rioja and compare the two tintos in color, smell and taste. I began to smell the earthy wood undertones and hint of black pepper as my sinus cavity cleared up and reminded my brain of the properties of a strong wine that had been aged for two years and then bottled for two more before entering the market. 

In the wake of turning 30, my mom reminded me that age is like fine wine, and Adolfo had saved the best for us to drink with duck paté and strawberry jam: a wine he’d inherited from his uncle from 2002. Even though wines depreciate depending on their aging process, the murky brown liquid still tasted amazing.

Three hours later, we sipped a sweet Pedro Ximénez from nearby Jerez, brains as full as our bellies.

How to Taste Wine:

Most everyone knows that wine tastings have three parts: first you check out the color, then provide a preview for your tastebuds by sniffing inside the glass before finally tasting the wine. But I’ll go further:

tasting wine with With Locals in Spain

Open the bottle correctly. Some restaurants will cut the aluminum cap that protects the cork right near the top, but you should do so under the lip of the bottle. Better yet, press firmly on the cap to pull the aluminum upwards in one piece.

Pour less than one fluid ounce into a proper tasting glass. Glasses should grow thinner at the top to help aromas reach your nose, and while stemless glasses are gorgeous, your hand can heat the wine and distorte its properties slightly.

Remember that red wines have varying properties, so know the differences between joven, crianza, and reserva when tasting Spanish varieties. Everything from the color to the depreciation and especially the taste will vary. Joven wines are very rarely aged in oak barrels, whereas crianzas will have spent 6 months in barrel of its two years aging. Reserva are aged longer in both bottle and barrel. So, the 2010 reserva we tried had spent two years in barrel and two more in bottle before being labelled for sale, but the joven we tried wasn’t half bad because it came from a reputable bodega.

Wine Tasting with Plus Vino Sevilla

The olfactory phase is the most important, Adolfo tells us, because our tastebuds can only perceive sweet, sour, salty and acidic. The nose can sense the nuances of flavors are snuffed out at this phase, and this is why you’re encouraged to move the liquid around in the glass. Take your time.

When you’re ready to taste, don’t swallow right away. Slosh the wine around in your mouth the get the full sensory experience.

If you’re trying more than one wine, pour 15-20 milliliters of the next wine you’ll be trying into the used glass, swirl it around and dump into a recipient.

Most importantly – don’t get snobby about wine. Everything about wine – from the soil from which the grapes grow to the content of the cork – is a science, so just open a bottle you like and enjoy it!

With Locals invited Hayley and me to be guests for the WithLocals wine experience in Utrera. All opinions expressed are my own – I like my opinions as pure as my vinate. Be sure to check out With Locals’s page for more inspiration, as well as Adolfo’s YouTube channel about everything in the Mundo de Vino.

What’s your favorite Spanish wine, and where do you buy it? Sound off in the comments below, and I’ll get down to the task.

Tapa Thursday: Tasting Jerez de la Frontera

I’ll admit it – I have a big ol’ crush on Jerez de la Frontera.

While Seville swoons, Jerez pokes and teases, yet always entices. It moves slower. It seems to stay for just one more round of ‘la penúltima.’ Jerez knows how to party, but it also knows how to stop and smell the sherry.

And at just an hour car ride south of La Hispalense, it’s easy to cheat on Seville with Jeré.


No stranger to Spanish wine culture, Jerez – along with El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – make up the Sherry Triangle and produce white wine of the same name. I discovered the Feria de la Vendimia thanks to Devour Spain‘s monthly newsletter, and though we’d missed the grape stomping and the sherry cooking classes, there was still one lingering activity on a sunny Saturday late in the summer: the Feria Gastronómica.

Feria de la Vendimia Jerez

Set in a shady plaza sandwiched between the Alcázar fortress and world-famous González Byass Wineries, nearly two dozen tents offered special tapas and a drink for 3.50€ under caseta tents. Rather than do a lap, we beelined straight to a brightly colored bar at the west end of the square. Being hangry is a good enough excuse for me to follow my nose and tummy into a tent.

Jerezano cuisine is similar to that of Seville, but because the province of Cádiz boasts both sea and fertile terrain, there is more fresh fish and seafood, plus heartier meats. The Bahía de Cádiz is famed for Almendraba tuna and bull meat, called retinto. While it would have been easy to choose croquetas and solomillo, I was determined to choose tapas that were more regional.

Here’s what we devoured:

Pepe Limon Sherry Spritzer

While I’ve become a sherry convert thanks to the Feria de Sevilla, my friends find it too bitter. Pepelimón is the newest product from the makers of a fino variety called Tío Pepe that is half fino, half 100% lemon juice. Like rebujito, it’s sweet and potent (and don’t fret, I had a glass of sherry after we’d eaten).

Destraperlo beer Jerez

Craft beer is on the rise in Spain (admit you just did a fist pump), and Jerez has a new kid on the block, Destraperlo. Irene invited us in for free samples of their pilsner and red brands. La birra más burra es muy buena – it’s got more body than local favorite Cruzcampo, but with less bite than an IPA, making it just right for the Spanish palate. 

Ensaladilla de Pulpo

Thirst quenched, we stuck around in the Guardia de Ángel tent for ensaladilla del pulpo. Octopus is one of those Spanish foods that I would have never thought I’d like, but mixed with mayonnaise and paprika, the salty taste was too overwhelming.

Albondigas de Atun

Sticking with seafood, I nabbed some albóndigas de atún con queso payoyo with homemade tomato sauce. Both alemndraba tuna and Payoyo cheese are native to Cádiz, and this was indeed the star dish of the day.

eggplant tapa in Spain

The berenjena con queso de cabra carmelizada en Pedro Ximénez came recommended at Bar Papanata’s tent. Washed down with sherry, of course!

Sampling sherry in Jerez de la Frontera

Realizing we’d only been on one side of the food fair, we got one more drink at Restaurante Bar Gula. I wanted to try the hamburguesa de retinto, a bull’s meat burger, but we opted for croquetas de tomate y albahaca con jamón and a chicken satay (hey, when you find international food in Andalucía, you order it!). 

After five tapas a piece, we were stuffed!

Croquetas in Jerez

That day was one of those typical Andalusian Saturdays where you look at your watch and ask, wait! Where did the time go? Between catching up on our summers, sampling tapas and ordering another round, it was suddenly after 5pm and time for merienda.

Spanish desserts and I broke up a long time ago, and Jerez’s dessert game seemed a little off (we were so desperate we hiked to a Foster’s Hollywood, the most jankity Friday’s you can imagine, to find it closed). We settled on cakes from a pastelería.

oreo cake

While Jerez’s food culture isn’t terribly different from Seville’s, I can never resist a decent food festival, especially when all of the bars are clumped together.

While Jerez may not be the food mecca, I have a feeling that Sevill’s kid brother might soon have its swan song.

Logo TNS-01

I visited Jerez’s Feria de la Vendimia with Caser Expat Insurance’s Typical NonSpanish project. All opinions and extra calories are my own.

Have you ever been to a Food Festival in Spain?

30 Things I’m Glad to Have Done Before Turning 30, part 2

Did you miss the first 16? You can find them here – from things I’m glad I learned to indispensable travel experiences along with career decisions.

30 things

My 20s brought me endless fun experiences and friendships, and my 30th birthday was the marriage of what I realized I needed in my life gong forward into my fourth decade: my family, festivals, a few beers.

Relationship Life

17.  Become Close to My Parents – My dad paid my sister and I a wonderful compliment this summer when he said that we were always a lot of fun, but even better to be around as adults. Margaret and I share a lot of interests with our parents – skiing and beer with our dad, shopping and eating out with our mom – and Margaret and her fiancé recently moved back to Chicago. The eye rolls I paid them as a teen are now hugs and the clink of beer glasses.

Additionally, I’m close to the Novio’s parents and younger brothers and count on them like I do on my family. Having a support system in two countries is an absolute privilege. 


I couldn’t imagine not having a close relationship with my parents. They know every single thing happening with my life, and I see a lot of them in me (and a lot of my Dad in the Novio!). I look forward to long school breaks knowing that they’ll mean beers and hugs and often a plane ticket to explore.

18.  Said No When Necessary – When I took psychology in high school, Mr. Fitts correctly called me an ESFP at the end of our first week. I’m impulsive, a pleaser and terribly sensitive. And I have a problem with conflict.

Early on into my Spain foray, I found that foreigners are very easily taken advantage of. Learning to say no – and sometimes enter into conflict or disappoint people – has been a tough pill to swallow, but I am one person, and while I can do a lot, I can’t do everything. Those Nos have negated jobs with low pay, gypsy offerings near the cathedral and even poor treatment in my relationships.

19.  Been Broken Up With – Boyfriends were not on my mind at all in college. I was having far more fun meeting people, dating and studying to stop for a relationship. The one person I could have seen a future with in college and I went back and forth for years. It was always a question of timing and commitment, and when he told me to back off, I was devastated. 

I recently found my journal when cleaning out my childhood bedroom and had to laugh at myself for the sweeping fantasies of love and life.

where am I going

This guy and I salvaged our relationship to become wonderful, honest (and he reads this blog!), but in the end, we’re both glad it didn’t work out. I learned what I really needed out of a significant other, and the Novio came into my life a few months later. Finding a partner goes beyond attraction and mutual love – I needed someone who fit into my life and plans just as much as I needed to feel nurtured and encouraged by that person.

2o.  Waited to Be Married (and Be Confident in My Choice) – The Novio and I met when I was barely 22, and he was 28. Right away, the fact that he had a job and had bought a house appealed to me, and though the first years proved rocky between language and age differences, we made it through.

After nearly seven years together and four living under the same roof, he simply said, “Let’s plan a wedding.” There was no grand gesture, no ring and no doubt in my mind – I probably smiled, nodded and hopped right on Pinterest while he took a nap.

[Chrystl wedding photo]

It’s odd, in a way, to know that I have friends who are separating and divorcing. Some feel remorseful, and other feel powered. As someone who can be fickle and who often second guesses even grocery store purchases, I couldn’t tread lightly with choosing a partner. I didn’t feel ready to actually be married until we’d decided on the house and I’d said, sí, quiero, to more than just the Novio – I’d said yes to Spain, to a life abroad, and to making decisions with more than just me involved.

The day of our wedding, my usual nerves were absent. 

21.  Waited to Have Kids – I was recently carrying around a friend’s 7-month-old baby, a blubbering and inquisitive little girl who I’ve taken to. After getting married, I started feeling a lot more pressure to have kids. With María in my arms, I wanted to have one.

And then I went home, had a two-hour post-nap nap and realized I wouldn’t have been able to have that nap with kids.

luna cumple dos

While they’re likely not too far off, I’m relieved to have waited until turning 30 and doing the other things on this list. I’m taking a few more trips and preparing myself mentally and physically to become a mother, and I can’t wait to teach our kids to be fearless, confident and bilingual.

22. Learned How to Say Sorry and When to Forgive – Typical Leo: loves attention and has a quick temper. I get stressed out really easily and bark at anyone close enough. I consider it one of my greatest character flaws, though I am also the first to sheepishly admit my wrongdoing.

I am also incapable of holding a grudge – forgive and forget was ingrained into me when I was very young, and they’re words I live by.

Asturian Countryside

Sometimes the hardest part of growing up has been learning to let go of people who do hold grudges. I can’t deal with passive-aggressiveness, but thankfully read people well enough to know that they’re not interested in a friendship with me. My friend pool is large, but the inner circle has a select few. I’m a communicator and need people to communicate with me.

23.  Stayed Close to Elementary School and High School Friends – I have to admit that I get selfish when my friends start to move away from Chicago. When I go back home for Christmas or the summer, I want to have everyone I love from high school there for barbecues and beers. At my bachelorette party, an Uber driver asked how we all know each other. My youngest friendship was a ripe old 15!

Best friends at my wedding

Thanks to Facebook and whatsapp, I feel close to my family and friends, and an endless stream of visitors has come to see my sunshine and siestas lifestyle. When choosing my bridesmaids, I had no issues – my sister and my two closest friends from Wheaton Warrenville South and the UIowa. A vast majority our wedding invites were people we’d known for more than a decade, and many longer than I’d been in Spain.

Life Life

24.  Partied all Night and at Different Festivals – I’m never one to turn down small town fêtes or music festivals, and I’ve been to some of the greatest celebrations in Europe. Downing steins in Munich at Oktoberfest, sleeping on the ground during Santiago’s patron saint festival and slinging tomatoes at the Tomatina. I can’t say no to something fun and new, and I’m ready to curl up with a book and a glass of Ribera on a Saturday every now and then. My party girl days are over.

dressed in a dirndl at oktoberfest

25.  Grown to Love Beer – seriously! – The first time I got drunk was on four Mike’s Hard Lemonades my senior year of high school. I was terrified of being buzzed and passed right into the blackout phase, and vowed never to drink again.

Then I went to college in the middle of a cornfield and was introduced to flippy cup, tailgating and cheap cases of Natty Light, and I reluctantly began to drink beer. 

In Europe, and particularly in Spain, beer culture is imminent – I feel that without a Cruzcampo, I’d not have experienced an integral part of this country. My language skills were strengthened when the Novio and I courted at local cervecerías and I made friends at Plaza Salvador with a fresca in hand. I would have been appalled if you’d told me at 22 that I’d drink beer with my main meals, but when in Sevilla…

26.  Voted – Speaking of Iowa, I was finally of legal age to vote during the 2004 straw polls. As a swing state, Iowa is a political hotbed, and I saw candidates stumped by celebrities, both from Wahsington and from Hollywood. I changed my voter registration to Iowa, knowing that a liberal vote in Illinois would count for very little.

American Flag in Times Square

Even from abroad, I vote in the only political election I’m allowed – the federal election. They say that when the US sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, and I wholeheartedly find that to be true. I may be one of 300 million, but I believe in the democratic process and the ideals of my country. It takes 20 minutes to register and the flick of a pencil to vote, so I shake my head at people who abstain because “Oh, I don’t really like anyone this year.” This isn’t Homecoming Court, so do your duty as an American living in a free country and vote.

End rant. Until next fall. And, yes, you can all come live with me if you’re dissatisfied (but only if you voted).

27.  Bought a House – It took me a year as a homeowner to realize how smart it was to invest in a property. I’ve had my moment where I literally thought of the popular Spanish refrain – tirar la casa por la ventana – as I struggled to curb spending habits. It’s been a while since I’ve hopped a plane to a different country, and I haven’t bought a new flamenco dress in a few years.

new house

But I have a place rooting me to Seville. A beautiful house with an enormous terrace in my favorite rinconcín of the city. I’m not throwing money into the bottomless pit that is rent and am buying functional pieces that are ours forever. I may miss my indulgences, but a Saturday at home with a bottle of wine and the Novio is a pretty good alternative (ugh, did I just say that?!).

28.  Moved Abroad – Much of all of this wouldn’t have been possible or wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t worked up the nerve to get on a Spain-bound plane in 2007. I have long stopped wondering about the what ifs – the decisions I’ve taken in the last decade have led me to this point, and there’s no turning back.

Moving abroad in my 20s meant letting go of a few of the dreams I’d had – living in Chicago, standing up in all of my friends’ weddings and having a job in radio. Even that second goal seems gratuitous, as I had to scrap my brain for an third goal. The older I get, the more I realize that my goals were always further on the horizon, away from the US and my comfort zone and my native language. While I never feel entirely at home in either country, creating a life overseas has been my proudest accomplishment.

Revuelto de Abril

I’m more confident, more independent and more wise after eight years in Spain. Just please don’t ask me how to be an adult in America – I know nothing about 401k, Obamacare or anything else “mature.”

29. Found Myself Content to Move Past the Last Decade – I’m the youngest of my group of friends, which was the worst when they all got driver’s licenses and could get into campus bars. All of them mourned the death of my 20s, saying “Welcome to the Club.”

Wait, you jerks told me that when I turned 22, so what’s different now?

I’m happy with how my 20s panned out – loads of new faces, foods, countries and experiences. And there are loads of other things I could add to this list – have a pet to learn about taking care of a living thing, joining a sorority to learn leadership in college, and working hard to go to the college I’d always to go to. Call it being satisfied or exhausted, but it’s time to be a grown up and move on.

My 30s are still a gigantic question mark to me. Where am I going professionally? Personally? I’m terrified. I feel far more vulnerable to mistakes and wrong turns. Maybe 30 will be a kick in the pants, but everyone says that the best is yet to come. I’m ready.

What have you learned in your 20s?

My Seville Superlatives: The Best of the Andalusian Capital

I’ve lived (in Triana and Cerro. a World Cup. the Tomatina). I’ve loved (teaching. long nights. tostadas. the Novio). And I’ve learned (how to fake your way to anyhing by playing the guiri card, mostly).

And after eight years as a sevillamericana – September 13th is my eight Spaniversary! – I think I can call myself a Seville expert. In a city as rancio as this one, two years as a guiri resident means you know the city like the back of your hand – or at least the back bar of Buddha.

The Best of the Best

And thus, dear readers, I present my curated collection of the Best of the Best, in an order as random as the streets of Santa Cruz:

Best Place to Watch a Sunset: As the popular song goes, El sol duerme in Triana y nace en Santa Cruz. My favorite place to see the sun go down is on the banks of the Guadalquivir with a clear view to the Triana bridge that links the city center to my neighborhood. There are loads of bars that way, as well.

seville guadalquivir river

Best Terrace Bar: As long as we’re talking about bars, rooftop bars got hella trendy right about the time I stopped paying rent by moving in with the Novio. This meant I had disposable income that went straight to having fun on the weekends, and I still love one of the first I went to: The Roof on Calle Trajano. Trendy and reasonably priced (as in, 7€ for a G&T instead of 10€), plus with views to the Setas and the Cathedral.

Best Scoop of Ice Cream: Ice cream shops abound, but my favorite is La Fiorentina on Calle Zaragoza. Who can resist cream of torrijas (a Spanish French Toast) or lemon with mint sorbet?

ice cream at La Fiorentina Seville

Best Park: María Luisa is charming and has a bunch of resident pigeons, but Parque del Alamillo is sprawling and includes a zip line and far less flying rats.

Best Local Festival: If you’ve read my blog long enough, you’ll know the cattle fair-turned Andalusian showcase the Feria de Abril is my favorite, but I’ll give the Velá de Santa Ana and Holy Week a nod, too.

La Feria en Crisis

Best Tourist Attraction: Ooh, my first tough question, but I’m going to say Plaza de España. It’s free, always open and is a special part of Seville’s history. Built nearly a century ago by famed sevillano architect Aníbal González, the tiles, benches and moats were the focal point of the 1929 Ibero-American Fair.

Best Museum: I love a good museum, and Seville is bursting with them. Seriously – this city is 2000 years old! From Flamenco to Fine Arts, ceramics to horse carriages. Espacio Santa Clara isn’t technically a museum, but hosts exhibitions throughout the year in an old nunnery. Find it near the Alameda in the Macarena neighborhood.

Espacio Santa Clara Fountain Seville

Best Museum You’ve Never Heard Of: I’ve heard of it but haven’t been, and my friend Karen McCann of Enjoy Living Abroad loves it: The Science Museum, or Parque María Luisa’s Casa de la Sciencia, which she lovingly calls the Little Museum of Horrors!

Best Tourist Attraction to Skip and Spend that Money on Beer: I mean, I would say the Cathedral because often skip taking people in, despite it being free for me, but the Giralda is worthy of you 10€ (or for far less, you can scale the Setas in an elevator for a view that includes the famous tower). The Torre del Oro and it seafaring museum are largely disappointing, and the view from the top isn’t any better from it because of large plexiglass barriers.

Bike Tour Torre del Oro

Or, just grab a liter of beer and sit underneath the Torre del Oro, taking in the sunset (see what I did there?)

Best Cruzcampo Bar: Loaded question. It seems that, in Seville, you’re never more than 100 feet from a bar or an ATM, and the question of who has the best pour is largely debated. I’ll go with my perennial favorite, La Grande in Triana, or nodescript La Melva in Sector Sur, and also give a shout to El Tremendo in Santa Catalina.

drinking beer in spain

Best Plaza for People Watching: Spanish abuelitos stalk Plaza Nueva, just adjacent to Avenida de la Constitución and town hall. You can also watch street performers, witness weddings and join in protests.

Best Plaza for Beer Drinking: While I think there is nothing greater than drinking a beer outside on a sunny day, I often take guests to Plaza del Salvador to stand beneath a salmon pink church that’s centrally located.

Best Chocolate con Churros: Churros on a Sunday morning are one of my treasured traditions, and none are as good as the ones at Bar La Rueca in Plaza del Juncal. It’s a trek unless you’re in Nervión.

best churros in Seville

Best Barrio: Crowing a neighborhood as queen of them all is difficult because of taste. I’m partial to a few for their cultural and gastronomical offering, and am a big fan of mi querida Triana. I also like bullfighting neighborhood El Arenal, hip Feria with its weekly flea market, El Jueves, and even Alameda is growing on me. 

Best Day Trip: Sadly, Seville doesn’t have too many quaint towns or natural highlights. While I’d spring to go to San Nicolás del Puerto at any free chance and hike the Vía Verde, I usually send other visitors to Córdoba. A 45-minute train ride straight to a quainter version of Seville and home to as Spanish of a corn dog as you can get, the flamenquín.

cordoba guadalquivir river

Best Montaíto de Pringá: This mincemeat sandwich is one of Seville’s culinary claims to fame, and most traditional tapas bars will have it on the menu. For me, Bodega Santa Cruz‘s is top notch and a perfect, hot snack if I’m in the Santa Cruz neighborhood.

Best Breakfast: I wasn’t a huge fan of breakfast until I moved to Southern Spain and got coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and bread with crushed tomato and olive oil for 2.50€. It ruined me. If I am craving something traditional, I love La Esquina del Arfe in the El Arenal district, but I’ll splurge with girlfriends at La Cacherrería on trendy Calle Regina every once in a while, too.

Bike Tour Sevilla Patio de las Banderas

Best Bike Shop: Seville’s is one of Spain’s best cities for biking (and within in the top 10 in Europe), and my beloved bike Feliciano gets his tune ups at Quique Cicle in El Juncal. A close second is my neighborhood shop, Ciclo Triana.

Best Haircut: Loli is more than just the lady who trims my split ends – she is my therapist, my language teacher and my biggest fan. Find her and her brother Manolo at Top Image in Puerta de Carmona.

A view of Seville from the Setas

Best Teeth Cleaning: Dental care in Spain is way different than in the US, and while no one can top my Spain fanatic Dr. Clinton back home, my best experience has been with Dra. Ardila in El Centro (coincidentally, she’s just a few blocks from la Fiorentina…!)

Best Flamenco Show: Admittedly, I’m not a huge follower of flamenco, but everyone I have sent to Casa de la Memoria, housed in an old palace on Calle Cuna, has not left disappointed.

La Dalia Tapas Sevilla Croquetas

Best Tapas Bar: I’m often asked about where to dine in Seville, and while this is an entirely personal question, I always suggest La Azotea. Inventive takes on traditional and local fare, plus an unbeatable wine list and terrific service. I usually head to the one in Santa Cruz. Another favorite is Bodeguita A. Romero, which has loads of different types of dishes for any taste.

Best Dive Bar: Can I say I’m a closet metal head? It’s been a while since I’ve been to Matacas (think heavy metal juke box, SciFi movies and the only legit Jägerbomb I’ve had in Seville), but this Puerta Osario bar is one of the most underrated in town.

Madrid Typical Bars

Best Bar Manolo: Call it what you want – Bar Manolo, Bar de Viejos or Old Man Bar, but these establishments are seriously the salt of the Spanish earth. You get beer, house wine, vermouth and a shot of anís on the menu, but what they lack in choice they make up for in character.

In my neighborhood I hit La Estrellita and El Paleta Viejo; in Santa Cruz, Bodega Santa Cruz or El Goleta for orange-infused wine,  Bodega San Jose in El Arenal (it smells like cat piss, I know) or Bodega La Aurora in Alfalfa. Really, if there’s a Spanish abuelo outside, I’ll go in. 

Best Street: My opinion on this has changed yearly, and many streets have a lot of charm. I’ll go with Calle San Eloy in the smack dab center for its shops and gorgeous balconies.

The streets of Santa Cruz, Seville

Best Spot for a Selfie: Calle Placentines where it crosses Argote de Molina. You can get the entire Giralda in for free (though if you’re willing to pay, take the Cathedral Rooftop Tour).

Best Splurge: Seville can be done on the dirt cheap (hostels, bocadillos and beer buckets at La Sureña) or you can make it lavish. While it could be tempting to stay and play at Seville’s only f-Star hotel, Alfonso XII, I’d vote for the hammam and massage at Aire de Sevilla, tucked away in Santa Cruz.

Best Food to Try, Just Because: Caracoles, or snails. Look for them in the springtime. I prefer them to, say, coagulated blood in onions.

Snail Tale

Best Tour: Seville is a dream for travelers: budget-friendly, accessible and full of things to do. I’ve been invited on loads of cool tours but think my favorite would be Devour Spain‘s part-history, part-gastronomy tour.

Best Semana Santa Bar: I always take my visitors to a church to explain Seville’s reverance to Holy Week, and follow up with a beer at a Semana Santa bar, covered with relics and photos of this important celebration. I either do the Esperanza de Triana—Bar Santa Ana route, or skip the church and head right to La Fresquita in Santa Cruz, where the barkeep is a member of the Macarena and has a botafumeiro going every so often.

Carrera Oficial Semana Santa Sevilla

Best Menú del Día: three parts food and a million parts a wallet-saver, the menú del día is a fixed-price menu with two entrees, dessert, drink and bread for cheap. The choices at Bar Bocaíto in Nervión are plentiful and always changing, and you pay just 7.50€. No wonder the place is always packed! 

Best Local Market: I’m partial to two – Calle Feria‘s is set in a crumbling building next to a church with a bar on two of the four corners. In one of those bars, you can actually buy something from a fish stall and have it served up! The other is my local market, el Mercado de San Gonzalo. It’s gritty and cheap and was one of the area’s first permanent buildings.

mercado san miguel madrid seafood

Best Disco: I am not the person to be asking about this (look for me instead at the Bar Manolos), but I like Alfonso in Parque María Luisa during the summer months and Tokio during other times of the year for its proximity to the center.

Best Place to Catch Something Cultural: The Patio de la Diputación almost always has something on during the weekends and summer. Think movies, talks and free food samples.

cordoba tiles

Best Souvenir: If your carry-on can handle it, the hand painted ceramics on sale in Triana‘s multiple shops are my favorite things to buy for friends. Check Calle San Jorge and stop by the newly inaugurated Ceramics Museum if you can.

Best Month for Sevillanos: April. Orange trees are in blossom, the weather is perfect, Cruzcampo seems to taste better and, if we’re really lucky, both Semana Santa and Feria fall in April.

Best Month to Visit: I usually push for October, March and April because of the weather and cheaper prices. But seriously, Seville has a lot to offer whenever you come – even in the stifling summer months!

Plaza del Altozano Triana

Seville seems to have one foot firmly in the past and another stepping towards the future. It’s constantly changing within its parameters but hold true to its values and customs. In eight years, I’ve explored every inch of the city center and a number of barrios, become a fierce supporter of a local team, learned the lingo and have come to feel like one of them.

Challenge me on anything, and you’ll give me something to do at the weekend!

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