Five Places in Spain that Surprised Me

When you’ve criss-crossed Spain as I have – both on four wheels and on foot – you’re bound to see a number of sites, of cities, of open road. While Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Granada are the cities most synonymous with a ten-day itinerary through Spain, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the, um, surprises in lesser-known cities and towns we’ve hit along the way.

Some have been planned, others were by pure luck or a because of a tummy rumble, or the place where I’d planned to rest my head. If you’re planning a trip to one of Spain’s big cities, there are plenty of other stops to consider not too far away:

Don’t go to SEVILLA: go to Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz)

Sitting smack dab in the sunflower fields between coastal Cádiz and Seville is Jerez de la Frontera, a city renowned for its sherry and purebred Andalusian horses. Their fair is open to the public, their pubs fun and cheap, and the city is a gateway to the pueblos blancos in the region (as well as the beach!). I love Jerez because it’s like Sevilla lite - all of the andalusian salsero without the cost or the snobbery.

read more about Jerez.

Don’t go to OVIEDO: go to Avilés (Asturias)

Choosing a place to start the Camino del Norte last year was easy: we had two weeks, so we counted back 14 stages and ended up in Avilés, the third largest town in Asturias. While we’d heard that the city was smelly, industrial and a little unwelcoming, Hayley and I explored the town on foot the night before starting the big hike and found it a beautiful juxtaposition of traditional and up-and-coming. The food choices were outstanding, the buildings colorful and there were small pocket plazas and green spaces throughout the city center. It’s a quick FEVE ride from Oviedo and worth an afternoon.

Read more about Asturias

Don’t go to CÁCERES: go to Garganta la Olla (Cáceres)

After a disappointing visit to the Yuste monastery in the backwoods of Extremadura, we steered our car down the steep, cherry-blossom covered hills to the hamlet of Garganta la Olla. Rumor had it that it was one of Spain’s most beautiful villages – and it was – but it won me over with its bountiful free tapas, its dilapidated wooden porches and its local legends. It’s a bit out of the way, but a wonderful little place to wander through.

Read more about Extremadura

Don’t go to BARCELONA: go to Girona

I ended up in Girona after booking two flights with a long layover in the RyanAir hub of the same name. I expected to find an airport with something to keep me entertained, but instead saw little more than a snack bar. Plan B: get my poor culo to Girona and walk around to kill time. The city’s colorful buildings seem to tumble into the river, and its medieval alleyways and religious statues provide plenty of entertainment. It’s also home to some of Spain’s best dining! I don’t like Barcelona, but Girona is a quick escape away.

Read more about Cataluña

Don’t go to BENIDORM: go to Calpe (Alicante)

I was psyched to be invited on my first blog trip, #Calpemoción. I knew very little about the beach destination, other than that it was just north of Benidorm. From our first glimpse of the Ifach to the fresh seafood to stand-up paddle surfing, it was a beach escape worth repeating. What stood out about Calpe were the people we met, who had worked hard to be sure that tourism – while the city’s lifeblood and its most important sector – didn’t take away its charm.

Read more about Calpe

Spain is most like itself in its small towns and off-beat destinations. There are plenty of other places I’ve really enjoyed – Murcia, Cádiz, Alcalá de Henares – and others that are pure hype. Sure, Madrid has its museums and Barcelona has Gaudí, but getting out of the big cities makes trips more and candid. Thanks to a new house, I’m sticking close to home for my next few trips – Valverde del Camino, hiking in the Sierra Norte and a quick jaunt to Madrid with a visiting friend.

This post was brought to you by Booked.netTop Destinations to Go There Booked.net – Top Destinations to Go There, and I’m encouraging other bloggers to take part. So let’s hear it, Jessica | Mike | Tiana | Kaley | Courtney!

What’s your favorite city or town in Spain? Why do you love it? Have you been to any of the places listed above?

A Peek at Life in India: the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

From where we stood, halfway up the hill to the Monkey Temple, the waning light was turning ‘The Pink City’ a pearly, golden hue. The jagged skyline’s stack of buildings and telephone poles, a thousand candles, was like a fanciful birthday cake.

I scanned the horizon across Jaipur, noting the immense desert city that sat sprawled between mountains. We’d come because the city that had been painted the color of hospitality was rumored to be beautiful but gritty, busy but manageable. The Amer palace was the draw, but I had my eyes locked on the cake topper in the center of the cake – the Hawa Mahal.

Our tuk-tuk driver, Ali, warned us that the Hawa Palace was not really worth seeing. “It’s a house. A pink house. Better at Mughal market for the shopping.”

I’m sure you say that to all the ladies, Ali. Tu t’aime las filles, after all.

On our only full day in Jaipur, we did a whirlwind tour of the Fort, skipping the elephant ride as we climbed the hill on which the intricate palace sits before seeing the Janta Mantur observatory. While Ali tried to persuade us that it was better to skip the pink palace for a lassi drink and browsing the spice market, I couldn’t get over the pink lattice windows that peeked out above the city palace.

Like in many countries I’ve visited, the Hawa Mahal is essentially a fancy brothel, beautifully constructed living quarters that once included gilded doors and extravagant fountains against a facade that resembles a honeycomb. The five-story building is riddled with staircases, rooms, windows and lattice-work, allowing its inhabitants to see life on the streets below without actually being seen themselves.

Hayley and I saw a great deal of India from a tuk tuk, not quite on in a hit-the-pavement sort of way I had craved when we booked tickets. Even through the kindness of hotel owners, who helped us when we were scammed, through driving tuk tuk down deserted roads, to posing in pictures with sari-clad Indians in front of the Taj Mahal, I feel as though we barely scratched India’s expansive surface.

Like the women who once lived in the small bedrooms of the Palace of the Winds and could witness the trading and chaos, the wandering animals and the comforting hum of daily life in Jaipur, our India experience felt like theirs – someone not quite on the inside. I suddenly had the urge to skip Mumbai and stay in the Pink City, to consider India in the future. After five days, two train rides and countless interactions with strangers, I knew one trip to India would never be enough for me.

Ali was waiting for us at the Tripolia Bazaar, feet up on the narrow dashboard of his motorized tricycle. “So, very boring, yes?” he questioned as we climbed into the back and he sped off towards the spice market.

I somehow knew India had gotten under my skin in that very moment.

Have you ever wanted to learn more about a destination after you’d visited? Or do you see things and then mentally cross it off a bucket list?

Learning by Watching and Doing in India

There is no way to prepare yourself for India. Not by reading books or watching Monsoon Wedding or scouring the latest edition of Lonely Planet.

Nothing can prepare you for the heat. The crush of bodies. The smells (both good and bad). The menagerie of animals eating trash on the street. The traffic. True to every single thing I heard about it, India was an assault on the senses.

I woke up groggy every morning from listening to the cacophony of tuk tuk horns that had my ears ringing all night. Every meal seemed to taste better than the last. I was humbled by the simplistic nature of the barefoot kids who were happy in their ambivalence. I have a newfound love for Bollywood tunes, marigolds and milky chai tea.

India got under my skin in a way that only Spain has.

But India comes with a learning curve as steep as they come. After more than 24 hours of travel from Seville to Delhi, and countless more hours awake, Hayley and I were burped out into a muggy, overcrowded city, which was beyond foreign. And our room wasn’t ready either, so we gingerly ventured into the mess of streets in the Kailash Colony area of South Delhi, only to get lost, whine at one another and take a tuk tuk to the closest thing on our map, the Lotus Temple.

After a nap and shower (and a fresh change of clothes), we wanted to see the Jawa Masjid temple in Old Delhi, in the shadow of the overpowering Red Fort. We took the metro to the wrong stop, couldn’t fend off the dozen tuk tuk and rickshaw drivers who tried to pick us up. We walked through a part of town where it seemed that tourists were anywhere but, finally using the call to prayer to direct us to the beet-colored Muslim mosque.

We had a disastrous first meal in India at the celebrated Karim’s (WHY would we order mutton? We must have been that jet lagged…), and then after having women ask to take pictures with us Hayley the streets and dodging every sort of traffic imaginable, including pushcarts, cows and people crawling, we treated ourselves to frozen yoghurt and a sleep not punctuated by anything else but blackness.

As we crawled into the tuk tuk the next morning, I was not excited. In fact, I was ready enough to leave India without seeing the Taj or eating aloo gobi or giving it a second chance. I kept my feelings silent to Hayley for the entire day, realizing that this was her dream, too, and that the only way to make up for the previous day was by opening my mind and heart back up to incredible India.

We soon found that adapting to locals’s customs was the only surefire thing we could do to not stick out as a gora as much as we already did. We watched, and we repeated.

Customs and Religion

India is full of idiosyncracies, especially across regions. In such a large country, each part of the patchwork is just a little different from the rest. I maintain that just walking across the street, one can see everything and nothing, an array of headgear, mustaches, body types, sari styles, skin tones and accents. It’s not called a sub-continent for nothing!

The head bobble: Ah, the Indian head wiggle. While in Delhi, Hayley and I didn’t see much of the ever-famous head movement that is used to communicate both yes and maybe.

 

But when we got to our hotel in Jaipur, run by a family from Kerala, we were taken aback but the range of motion used when communicating a simple yes or no. It took us a few days to perfect, but on our last day, we had a conversation with a five-year-old girl from Pune, in English, who mostly answered by wiggling her head. Learn it and love it.

Clothing: Other travelers suggested buying a salwar kameez, the long tunic worn over loose-fitting bloomers, and not bringing sandals, but sturdy sneakers. I figured we’d buy something in India, but those salwar blouses looked far too hot for the 90° and humidity. 

We did stick to modest clothing, but in urban centers like Delhi and Mumbai, we saw younger women sporting everything from dresses to leggings to saris. Dress modestly at all times, but wear what’s comfortable and breathable. Just like the Camino, we brought clothes that would dry easily and a bar of laundry soap. I caved and bought sandals, as well – my feet couldn’t take it!

Men holding hands: In Spain, many female teenagers hold hands with one another. In India, it was mostly grown men. We observed, and we did, but only for fun and because we love each another.

Bartering: It’s common knowledge that there’s an added gora tax in India – if you’re a Westerner, you’ll have a more inflated price than an Indian. This was evident in none other than the Taj Mahal, where we paid ten times as much to see the world’s most beautiful building (and elbow people out of our pictures).

Bartering is quite common in India, for everything from taxis to clothing. We couldn’t really watch locals haggle, but we’d watch them walk away, only to have the salesman follow and seemingly offer a better bargain. I personally like Hayley’s take on bartering: only offering the price she was willing to pay, and repeating that figure over and over!

Touching Feet: One morning, we found ourselves at the Agra train depot on our way to Jaipur. Our train had not only moved tracks, but had also been delayed several hours. As we staved off sleep and tried to take in everything around us, a crawling man approached us and touched our feet as we watched, bewildered. 

As it turns out, touching feet is a sign of respect called pranama, and it is usually performed by children to elders, or by women to their husbands. After leaving us (and asking for money), he did the same to other travelers, who shooed him away.

Travel

No getting around it – there are 1.2 billion people or so in India, and they’re mostly crammed into its major cities. The sheer amount of bodies and cars and rickshaws and random cows on the street are enough to make you considering a private driver (we did in Agra and Jaipur).

Crossing the street: As Todd from the hilarious show Outsourced quips, crossing the street in India is like a real-life game of Frogger with people. When we’d timidly set out to get from one side of the road to another, one of us would pull the other back, until we decided to stick with big packs of locals and cross when they crossed, or just start walking and hope we didn’t get hit.

After all, the tuk tuks always seem to find a place to squeeze into!

Tuk tuks: Our favorite way of getting around was by tuk tuk, which looked like glorified tricycles with a backseat and a roof. Not only is this option economical, but also hilariously scary when you’re zipping through traffic.

We saw entire families cram into one backseat, so we treated our trekking bags like small kids and stuffed them between us so as to evade possible bag snatchers. We also learned early on to ask the price of your trip and reach an agreement before getting in (head wiggles works), and please keep your limbs inside the moving vehicle. May not be Disneyland, but the same rules apply.

Trains and Undergrounds: We hadn’t yet been assigned seats (India Rail’s website is the most inefficient and confusing mess of words ever), so we inquired at the ticketing office.  The elderly woman scribbled something on our printout and directed our gaze to the electronic board, which announced comings and goings.

It had been easy to find out seats the day before en route to Agra, as train cars were clearly labeled, and the train stopped completely on the tracks for five minutes. First class seats are assigned, whereas lower classes have simple wooden benches and people cram into the compartments.

When our delayed train finally showed up, patrons were jumping onto the platform from a still-moving train. There were close to 80 cars, and not one was labeled as first class. A man snatched the ticket out of Hayley’s hand and showed us onto a sleeper car. 

We tried to protest as we were shown a berth where an elderly couple sat drinking chai. The morning before, we’d shared a table with a wonderful older couple who had shared stories as we had a complimentary breakfast. Snackless and exhausted from an early wake-up call and over waiting, we fell asleep right away, and when we woke up, the couple was gone.

I ventured out to see if there was a snack car, or at least someone who could tell us where we were and ended up in third class. It was muggy and I had about 100 eyes on me. Turning on my heel, I reported to Hayley that we were on our own until we saw the station. As we watched out the window, Rajasthan’s deserts and stark hills soon came into view, and we arrived to the Pink City three hours after we were meant to. (for more on trains, check out this episode of Outsourced)

Delhi has an underground system that was a life and penny saver when we visit the capital city. While the system itself is not complicated, we found out the hard way that you have to pay in exact change to get a token, which you then place into a machine. This token must be kept until you exit the system.

We were delighted to find that every train has a specially designated “Women’s Only” car, meant to keep gropers at bay. The cars were clean, roomy and air-conditioned, though we were in for a shock when we arrived to the hub at Central Secretariat, where we had to change platforms and run to the other end of the train for the women’s car. We did as the Indians do: pushed hard!

There’s also hella security in the underground. Apart from having to actually pass your bags and body through scanners, there’s always a man with an AK-47 right at the entrance to the trains. I can honestly say I felt safe in India!

Food

Confession: the real reason Hayley and I wanted to go to India was for the food. My mouth watered for baby corn masala, naan and fresh coconut water from the moment we touched down in Mumbai. Thanks to my strong stomach, I had zero problems with food while in India.

Indian meal times are similar to Spanish meal times, but a tad earlier – breakfast usually before 9, lunch around 1 and dinner at 8 or so. To everyone who told me not to eat street food, I both love and hate you – so much of it looked so enticing, from fresh coconut slices to fried churro-like candies.

Meal time was one of our favorites – we could relax, plan the rest of our day and tuck into delicacy after delicacy. I have a new appreciation for vegetarian cuisine, for long meals and for using my hands and pushing pieces of bread as a utensil. 

Safely eating: “No, no, you eat this way.” The man in 32K next to me shook out the dried spices and sugar into his mouth, chewed it up a bit, and spit it in his napkins. “Very nice breath!” he said with a smile, and I followed up my Indian dinner on the plane following suit.

I clearly know less about Indian food than I thought.

After a disastrous first meal at Karim’s, we decided to give its second branch, near Humayan’s Tomb and the Hazrat, a try. Tucked into a small street in the Muslim Enclave, the place oozed Far East. The wait staff lead us to a table in the corner, under and air vent, and the power went out as soon as we ordered.

A British couple sat next to us, sharing our table and their stories of three months of non-stop travel around India. They explained things on the menu to us and warned us against eating anything that was able to reproduce. Paneer, a bean curd tofu, stuffed chapati and aloo gobi became our staples during the week, and we mixed them with different sorts of sauces and curries.

We also tried to avoid uncooked food or anything fresh. I missed vegetables and yoghurt after a few days, as well as beer. Taxes on alcohol are exorbitant in India, so lay off the slosh if you want to spend your money elsewhere. I did order a “pitcher” of beer at Leopold’s that was easily three litres.

Water bottles: India was just on the brink of the hot weather when we went in mid-April. Warned not to drink the water, we were sure to have a few bottles on hand for drinking and brushing our teeth, and were willing to shell out for untampered water bottles.

If you see that the security ring on the water bottle has been broken, return immediately. Some restaurants or roadside booths will re-use bottles and fill them with unfiltered water. Be cautious with the fizzy lemon drink that’s a popular alternative to pop, as well. Ask the waiter to open the bottle in front of you.

The Takeaway

India didn’t leave my consciousness right away – I had a nasty virus or parasite or magical fat burner for a week after returning to Europe – and it still hasn’t, a month after we returned to Spain and drinkable water. My body heaved a sigh of relief as soon as we’d been bumped to business class for our long haul flight, as if I didn’t have to have my senses sharpened and my head on straight all the time (I missed you, beer).

My boss was right when she said that India has all of the beauty in the world, but it is full of shadows. We were scammed and once put in a potentially dangerous situation. Women offered us their babies at corners. Heat, anxiety and lack of vegetables left us weak and then made us both quite sick. 

But I think that India is the sort of place that you have to plunge into, headfirst.

I sometimes envied the travelers who were seeing India on circuit trips between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. They didn’t deal with train delays or scams, but then again, they didn’t have any sense of adventure when it came to figuring things out on their own and recovering from mistakes. Hayley and I discovered more than we had imagined during out eight days in India, evident with her quick stride as she crossed busy avenues and pressing our hands together in the Namasté greeting.

India did as good a job embedded itself into my heart and my head as the parasite did in my rock-hard immune system. I just hope the memories of one last longer than the other!

Have you ever felt like a fish out of water on your travels? Tell me about it!

India: The Dream I Didn’t Know I Had

Have you ever dreamed about a place you didn’t even know you wanted to visit?

When Hayley mentioned the idea of going to Asia for Holy Week, I figured it was a pipe dream, given prices and our limited travel time. But what happens when it’s almost as cheap to jet to India as it is to fly round-trip to Berlin? On a whim, we chose to book Lufthansa flights from Madrid to Mumbai and figured we’d let the rest of the chips fall. No one could talk us out of 450€ roundtrip.

Many friends of mine have gone to India and can’t seem to shut up about how it lives up to its touristic nickname, “Incredible India,” but it was never a place I yearned to see. That’s a special place on my mental bucket list reserved for Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Seattle. But I bought a Lonely Planet off of Amazon UK and soon realized that India must have been buried deep in my conscious as a place I’m dying to see.

 

There’s been hold-ups with visas and how to get to and from Madrid with limited options, the immense task of whittling down dozens of worthy destinations to fit our short, nine-day itinerary, plus the the push-pull of two seasoned travelers with different ideas of what to see and how.

At the moment you’re reading this, I could be laying eyes on the Taj Mahal. Or pinching my nose in a marketplace in Delhi. Or picking out a sari for myself in Jaipur’s garment district. I have a feeling that my journey to India will be diving into the deepest dreams I’ve always had for my life – of travel, of discovery, of self-realization, of having that freshman feeling over and over again.

I think that’s what India will be to me – seeing life unfold before me, the contrasts that so seem to characterize the country. Mariellen Wallace of the excellent India page, Breathe Dream Go, refers to a traveler’s first trip to India as “Beginner’s Mind.” Experiencing India as if you were seeing the world for the first time and reminding my senses to wake up and associate new sights, sounds and tastes.

I’m reading Shantaram, a Novel, a book I can’t put down that explains life in the underbelly of Mumbai. Not three pages in, he summarizes the majesty and the poverty of the world’s second most populous country through its myriad of smells:

“I immediately recognize it. I know now that it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the small of gods, demons, empires and civilizations in resurrection and decay. It’s the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are on Island City, and he blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and raw. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense and freshly cut flowers…But whenever I return, it’s my first sense of the city – that smell, above all things.”

I expect India to be nothing short of overwhelming, exhilarating, eye-opening and heart-breaking. I expect to battle my stomach and the urges to talk to strangers. I expect to feel defeated and uplifted in the span of a day.

And at the same time, I don’t have too many expectations. I just want to experience India with an open mind and heart.

If you’re interested in our itinerary:

We arrived to Mumbai early morning on the 12th and took the first flight out to Delhi.

Today, we’ll take the famed Shatabdi Express to Agra, where we should be now. We’ve heard Agra isn’t too exciting, so we’ll be there to see the Red Fort and the Taj and sunset and sunrise before jumping on an early train.

Jaipur is next on the list, and I’m psyched to shop and see the Amber Fort, which is supposed to be mind-blowing. 

We have a flight from Jaipur to Mumbai, where we’ll experience the city’s chaos and imperialism in Colbata.

You can follow me on twitter and instagram, where I’ll be uploading photos as wi-fi allows. If you’re interested in an India trip yourself, I’d recommend the monster Lonely Planet, with up-to-date information, fail-proof advice and loads of pretty pictures.

My 2013 Travel Round-up

Leonor predicted it – she said she thought 2013 would be my year. Apart from earning a master’s in Public Relations 2.0 from the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, I did big things in travel: crossing off a major goal from my life to-do list, traveling to my 30th country and celebrating world-famous festivals.

Oh, and I got a promotion, too!

2014, you better live up to this year in travel, one in which I visited five new UNESCO World Heritage sites, 30 cities, and eight countries, and took nine round-trip flights and a boat. I also walked 325 kilometers across Spain for charity.

July

For the fifth straight summer, La Coruña welcomed me with sea breezes, seafood and a smattering of festivals. I love returning to a city over and over again that I truly enjoy, and Coru is one of those places. The rain held off for all but the first and last day of camp, meaning a bit of beach time and more freckles.

It wasn’t all fun and pulpo, though, as I was working on the oral defense of my master’s thesis project, one that dealt with promoting Marca España in the US. I wish I could say that this blog was enough, but, alas, I had to catch a Vueling flight to Barcelona in the middle of camp. In 20 hours, I had flown across the country, met my group members for the first time face-to-face, had the Powerpoint stop working when I got to the numbers part of our presentation (for real, these things only happen to me), and then flew back with a 9,0 in the presentation and the need for a small celebration.

Once camp had wrapped up, I sent my rebajas-laden bag to Seville and traded it for a hiking bag and boots. I stopped in Oviedo to visit my friend Claudia and take in the pre-Romanesque churches of the city before spending the night in Avilés.

You know what follows.

August

When August hit, Hayley and I were about ten days from reaching Santiago de Compostela by foot. Traipsing through Northern Spain with our own two feet was at trying as it was rewarding, and I learned a lot about myself in the process.

Luarca, Ribadeo, Vilalba, Playa de las Catedrales and Cudrillero got our touristic euros, but I think we gained a lot more than we thought we would.

We reached the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela before Pilgrim’s Mass on August 12th. Going home, I experienced an enormous slump where I found decision making difficult, the heat unbearable and a body that just needed to move, move, move.

That didn’t last for long, because I had purchased tickets to go to the Tomatina. For an American, this is one of Spain’s claims to fame, and though I had a great time slinging rotten tomatoes, I’m not keen on going again.

September

I began the new school year with a new job title – Director of Studies – and new responsibilities. After a successful start (just a few hiccups!), I traveled to Frankfurt to visit my cousin, Christyn, who works in Kaiserslautern. We took an overnight bus to and from Munich to attend Oktoberfest.

As a beer lover, I think this was as close as I’ll ever get to Nirvana.

October

I traveled locally this month, going to a fancy dinner party in Jerez at a bodega, and then rekindling my love with the province of Huelva by attending their ham festival.

We ate and drank all weekend. Perfect.

November

November found me in Malaga twice – the first time was for a conference of Anglo Writers and Bloggers About Spain held in Pedragalejo. We got a warm sunny weekend, and spent the days under a tent at OnSpain, an innovative language school just steps from the beach. Hayley and I launched our up-and-coming business idea, as well as met other bloggers, like Molly of Piccavey.

Later that month, Mickey and I were invited to take part in A Cooking Day in the Malgueño countryside. While we got horribly lost, we did spend a morning picking fruit, and the afternoon cooking up local specialties  and eating, enjoying the Spanish sobremesa until it grew dark.

December

The Novio and I finally escaped to his village, San Nicolás del Puerto, for the first time since June. In a town with not much to do, we find time to relax (although I did get a turn as a farm hand!) and attend a festival for one of the patron saints, Santa Bárbara.

December also brings me back to Munich, but this time I actually get to see some of the city!

Currently, I’m somewhere on the Danube River with my parents on a Viking Cruise. Along the way, we’re stopping in Passau, Germany, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava (oh goody, a new country!) and Budapest. I’ve already traveled to the majority of these places, but have not written about them on Sunshine and Siestas, surprisingly!

Then I’ll spend the 31st in the Madrid mountains with the Novio’s family, no doubt thinking about how good 2013 was to me, both personally and professionally.

On Docket for 2014

These itchy feet only have two things on the agenda for 2014 so far: a weekend in Tenerife visiting my friends Julie and Forrest, and a trip home to Chicago. I’ve also got to get to Trujillo from an invitation from Trujillo Villas, and am hoping to make Toulouse, Jaén, Ceuta and Dublin happen.

What did your year in travel look like? What’s up for 2014?

The Best Destinations for European City-Breaks

Editor’s note: Just last night, my friend Mickey and I were talking about our travel tastes. While she loves exotic, I prefer a weekend of city life – museums, hip coffee houses and pounding the pavement. Living in Seville, I have the chance to take city breaks every weekend, thanks to no work Fridays and tons of destinations under two or three hours away. Fall is a great time to travel because of the lower cost to fly and stay, and it’s ideal to come to Seville now. Where’s your favorite city break?

A city-break offers the ideal opportunity to glean a glimpse of local life. Indulge in your destination, its culture, history and heritage and enjoy iconic tourist attractions with a one-stop weekend away. Europe boasts a wealth of dream city destinations, just a short flight from UK shores.

With something to offer everyone, European city-breaks promise a weekend away packed with entertainment and enjoyment. With relatively reasonable flights to an array of European destinations, get set to start exploring.

Immerse yourself in Italy’s capital

From culture vultures and art enthusiasts to fans of fine dining and superlative shopaholics, Rome has something to astound every visitor. Steeped in history, Rome is a city of culture with iconic attractions at every corner. From the Vatican to the Colosseum, prestigious landmarks prevail. So much so that the entire old city centre is celebrated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Help make your holiday money go further. Find affordable flights here and make your selection from a variety of convenient departure points. Soak up the cafe culture or hit the shops with your savings.

Romantic Rome offers some of the most iconic historical and cultural experiences in the world so enjoy the majesty of this Italian jewel with an unforgettable weekend away.

More: Where to eat in Florence and Bologna.

Discover Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is a Croatian coastal delight, steeped in history – and one which is becoming increasingly popular. This walled city is home to Baroque buildings and medieval fortifications and overlooks the sparkling Adriatic Sea so it’s hardly surprising that Croatia’s tourism numbers were up to 6.6 million for January-July 2013!

Beautiful beaches and astounding architecture vie for attention and combine to create a varied choice for a spectacular city break. With everything on offer from superlative seafood to adventure sport facilities, visitors will want more than a weekend away to enjoy this fantastic destination fully!

More: read about walking the Dubrovnik City Walls and chowing down on spicy cevapi.

Soak up some Spanish culture

Barcelona remains a popular destination, combining heritage and history with contemporary and cosmopolitan city life. The historic quarters of the city intrigue with a network of narrow streets and the tree-lined, pedestrian street, La Ramblas proves ever popular as a destination.

The Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell showcase some of Spain’s finest feats of architecture. Several of Gaudi’s monuments are classed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and sit comfortably alongside Barcelona’s bustling modern districts and beautiful coastal location.

Plus, there are some pretty sweet hotels and apartment rentals to stay in while in the Ciudad Condal.

Read more: Barcelona’s whimsical Parc Guell, visiting the Sagrada Familia or Day Trips from Barcelona.

Where are you headed on your next trip? Or, since it’s a long weekend in Spain, where are you now?

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