Zaragoza, Spain

I’ve been living in Zaragoza, Spain for six months and after hosting a few visitors and doing ample exploring it seems a good time to share some of my favorites in the city. Zaragoza is located between Madrid and Barcelona. It is easy to reach by train or bus and also has a small airport with connections to London, Brussels, Paris, Milan and more. Zaragoza is far less touristy than its neighbors but I believe it offers easy access to Spanish culture and acts as a gateway to the beautiful Spanish Pyrenees (just a short two hour drive North). 

WHERE TO STAY

Check out Airbnb & aim for anything in the “Casco Antiguo” area. I live in El Gancho, another older part of town just next to the center which is an up-and-coming neighborhood rich in diversity and home to some of the best tapas in town on Calle San Pablo (check out Taberna El Broquel, Los Faroles Taberna, Lo llevas crudo, Bar Gilda and Bar Pollería San Pablo). Excellent wine selection at Casa Perdiguer if you’d like something to take home afterwards. The Parish Church of San Pablo gives the area its name (meaning “the hook”) and The Espacio Las Armas cultural center offers many events with music, local craft shopping on the weekends (see Zaragena for event info). Lastly, for gluten-free goodies La Mar de Cookies bakery and in case you need to make a run to the pharmacy, Farmacia San Pablo (Moral Gomaz/Jorge Moral) has a beautiful vintage interior.

THINGS TO DO | PLACES TO SEE, BE

  1. Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar “The Pilar” – the GIANT cathedral, you won’t miss it and go inside- it’s free! Look for the two holes in the ceiling from bombings (three bombs were dropped none exploded the third spot is marked by an X on the ground and is located in front of the cathedral in the Plaza of Pilar) and art by Francisco Goya on the ceiling (the work is unfinished in the rear of the building). Finally, go up the Tower “Torre de Pilar” for views of the multicolored roof of Pilar + the city. The viewpoint from Puente de Piedra is great for a photo. IMG_7723
  2. The Aljafería Palace (free on Sundays) takes my breath away. I love the inner garden and the park surrounding, the tour is in Spanish but you can ask for an English audio guide.IMG_8605
  3. “La Seo” (Iglesia Parroquial del Salvador la Seo) doesn’t look as impressive as Pilar for the outside but inside you’ll find a wonder for the eyes. IMG_5460 4
  4. Parque Grande is a beautiful getaway from the busy center and easy to access by Tram (go to the the Emperador Carlos V stop – the tram going towards Mago de Oz if you’re coming from the center of the city)* IMG_4565
  5. Zaragoza’s museums are decent and without the lines of those in Madrid or Barcelona, the structures are most impressive to me at CaixaForum (check out the rooftop) and IAACC Pablo Serrano (free!). When visiting the Museo Pablo Gargallo start on the top floor and work your way down. 

  6. The aquarium genuinely impressed me (its a river aquarium- unique since most I’ve visited are marine) and is in a very unique part of the city with neat buildings, an area to see. Perhaps some fine dining to follow at Celebris?
  7. Check out the outdoor viewpoint at Museo del Teatro de Caesaragusta to see roman roots in the center of the city or IMG_7691

*note that you can but a tram card at any Prensa kiosk for 10 euros which is fine to share amongst a group and brings tram/bus tickets down to 70 centers per ride. Scan your card upon entering and note this doesn’t work for the bus to/from the airport but will for all others within the city. 

The most exciting time to visit the city is in the fall for the Fiestas del Pilar. During the biggest celebration of the year in the city you’ll find music and events happening all over the city all week. The famous Cierzo wind is a force to be reckoned with but weather is generally mild in fall (September through early November) and spring (March through May).

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Pilares Plaid

SHOPPING

All of the major Spanish brands (El Corte Ingles, Zara, Mango/Mango Outlet, Pull and Bear, Stradivarius, Oysho, Decathlon, Bimba y Lola, Ulanka…) can be found along Paseo de Las Damas. Grab some food afterwards at Ric 27. Tequila Sunset is my favorite boutique.

EAT

My two favorite picks for sit-down style dining are Nolasco and Baobab.

Start every morning with a Spanish BREAKFAST! Here in ZGZ I find more people eating croissants with their coffee (last year in Murcia it was always toast with tomato). Since the Spanish breakfast of bread (churros/croissant/toast w jam or crushed tomato) + coffee with milk “cafe con leche” + fresh orange juice is pretty solid everywhere I go for a nice ambiance to start the day. Check out Doña Hipólita (great for brunch/has a good selection of cakes too!), Gran Café or Café Botánico. For BRUNCH La Clandestina Cafe. A few other great cafes are Marianela, La Bendita and Koalalumpur. El Criollo is also a local favorite coffee spot. Masa Madre has great baked goods.

LUNCH is the biggest meal of the day. Get a menú del día (three course meal) some good vegetarian spots for this are Baobab and La Retama.

TAPAS

you have so many great spots to choose from! Some favorites: El Champi (yummy mushrooms and beer), best croquettes in town = Taberna Doña Casta, gorgeous interior Meli del Tubo, local feel El Angel Del Pincho, CHEESE Bar Estudios, Vegetarian + craft brews Birosta.

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Bar Estudios

On Thursdays check out Juepinchos a tapas event from 8-10PM where around 50 different cafes offer a drink (wine/beer/water) + tapa for just 2 euros! Top picks include Alma Criolla Empanada Bar, Barrio Sur and Bar Gallo.

Fine dining in the center– Casa Lac.

DRINK

Go for cocktails at Umalas, Chilimango or Moonlight Experimental Bar, shots at Espit Chupitos or craft beers at Hoppy, Beer Corner or Taberna Craft Beer Ordio Minero.

Sip wine at La Bodeguita Real on a cool day or at Terrace Rincón de Goya in Parque Grande any sunny day.

My neighborhood natural grocery store is Biokenzo, pick up some food at Pasta Fresca de Zecchi and go for the rest of your groceries at any Mercadona (my favorite supermarket chain). 

NIGHTLIFE

I have yet to check it out but I heard good things about El Plata Cabaret (and their patio is a great spot to sip some drinks on warm evenings)

Salsoteca El Sol – free Salsa dancing classes Wednesday through Saturday

I <3 Amsterdam.

Holland/The Netherlands was immediately lovable to me. I got a sense of kindness and curiosity from the locals I met in a gas station, on the bus, walking on the street… friends told me good things about Amsterdam and it sure didn’t disappoint!

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Tip number one: grab a giant bar of Tony’s chocolate. This company has humanity on the mind (plus it tastes like heaven). Albert Heijn supermarket is a good spot to pick up these sweets and other groceries but note they are cash (Euros) or EU debit card only.

My visit being in January meant that riding bikes didn’t happen (though plenty of braver, tougher people than us were rolling around despite the frigid temperatures). I also didn’t book anything in advance (the Van Gough museum and Anne Frank House notably) so those are still on the to do list.

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The Anne Frank House can be found near “the nine streets” it is really something to just take in the area today and imagine the atmosphere when she was writing. I hear 80% of tickets are reserved 2 months in advance and 20% are made available same day (a local advised us to visit around 6:30pm for shorter lines).

My time in Amsterdam was successful thanks to some amazing tips from friends (thanks Vernon + Atreya) and residents (thanks girl seated beside me in BlaBlaCar from Cologne, Germany who knew the hip spots!). I did a free walking tour (I love these on day one!) the “alternative” option meant we learned about drug decriminalization, squatting and daily life in the Jordaan neighborhood (an area I quite admire). Next time I visit I’ll ride a bike through these streets. Grab some apple cake/pie from Winkel 43.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path check out the Noord part of the city. You can take a free ferry over from Centraal Station. I loved Pllek. Plenty of cool street art and container houses to be found here. For city views you can visit AMSTERDAM Tower.  (For free city views head back across the water to the rooftop of the NEMO Science Museum).

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Find food from around the globe at Foodhallen. It’s busy and loud but the atmosphere is cool. If you happen to be visiting on a Sunday head to Volkshotel for a rooftop hot tub experience.

I’d like to live in Amsterdam…

 

Where to Spend a Weekend in the Spanish Pyrenees

I moved to Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain this year and want to share my favorite weekend escape: the Spanish Pyrenees

You’ll want a car (rent from the Zaragoza airport or train station) to fully enjoy the area but it is possible to get to Jaca by train or bus.

I’ll start with my favorite: Broto

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This village is an easy escape from the city (just about an hour North of Huesca) and sits near Ordesa y Monte de Perdido National Park. (I actually haven’t even ventured into the park yet – the hiking trails are abundant around the village and neighboring Torla so I have yet to expand into the NP territory)

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Torla with Ordesa y Monte Perdido NP behind

Why Broto? Torla is its slightly more popular neighbor, the gateway to the national park aka the first stop for tourists. So in my typical fashion I look for the next closest spot and there Broto is found.

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I fell in love with Casa Rural El Portón de Murillo. This rural guesthouse is set on top of the town and staying in the penthouse suite was absolutely breathtaking. I’d stay in any of the rooms here though, truly an at-home experience I highly recommend.

img_0118 3Another good option (if you aren’t staying for more than one night/the above option minimum) is Hotel Latre.

There’s a great pizza place called Pizzería la Tea and a Spanish spot, Restaurante Arazasara R.

Be sure to check out the Cascada de Sorrosal (waterfall)

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There are many hiking trails accessible from town so you can leave your car at the parking lot for the falls then head in any direction until you find a path (or consult a map  or/and a local). Note that you will likely run into many cows!

For a new view drive 10 mins North and park at the tourist center in Torla. I didn’t care for the town much (too touristy for me) but there are dozens of hiking options both from town (just cross the bridge) or just along the road en route to O y MP NP! I recommend you pack a picnic and climb to the tip top of one of those mountains for stellar views.

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Broto feels like a dream escape for me and I hope you enjoy it to the fullest.

For an alternate expedition you can explore the city of Jaca and find many more great hikes around Villanúa and Canfranc-Estación.

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Sicily, Italy

Two friends and I did a long weekend in Sicily (Sicilia “Seesheelia”) and it exceeded expectations! This part of Italy is definitely worth going (or returning) to.

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Myself, Amrai and Arta

Two options for flights: Palermo or Catania. We went for the latter.

My experience was in the Southeastern part of the Island.

We rented a car from the airport in Catania (booking in advanced is recommended since there happened to be a shortage due to a Spanish holiday weekend). We drove about an hour to a small town called Licata and our Boutique Hotel, Villa Giuliana.

To be honest we didn’t spend much time in the city besides a fantastic dinner outing at Ristorante la Madia. HIGHLY recommended but $$$$. Italy is the place to enjoy fine dining in my opinion. W had an unforgettable multi-course meal:

Having a car was key. Our first day trip destination: Scala dei Turchi (Stairs of the Turks)

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We explored the geological awes then sunbathed for an afternoon.

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Here I am sitting on a giant source of natural (mineral) sunscreen! Zinc is what the beaches of my dreams are made of! A local showed me how to make a mud paste from this limestone which worked as a water-resistant sunscreen.

The drive was really nice along the coast and on the way back we went for a walk around Agrigento and antipasto + wine then a patio pasta dinner at a random restaurant hidden away in the narrow alleyways of the oldest part of town. We ran out of time for the Valley of the Temples but it looks quite interesting..

On day two we decided to drive the other direction. I had Caffè Sicilia in Noto (known for their ricotta gelato and more) fixed in my mind…BUT we got very lost on the many country roads and ended up in Syracuse instead.

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This was a rather happy accident because the city was fun to walk around and we went for a bottle of wine by the beach at sunset. Make sure you try arancini: a fried rice ball + the local cheap beer, Peroni. We loved ArancinaGlutenFree.

 

A few lovely days in Heaven aka Switzerland

I love love love LOVE Switzerland. Part of that has to be the company of my amazing friend and host Arta (who I met at a hostel in Costa Rica and instantly knew I loved), but it is a place that makes me feel happy in just about every moment. Starting with the basics- the air and the water are unbelievably pure. I honestly miss breathing there.IMG_3952

There are public water fountains all around Zürich. Be sure to bring a reusable water bottle when you go (or just buy something in a glass bottle once you get there then reuse it) because the free, unlimited Evian-esque refreshment can’t be missed.

Another thing that cannot be missed is the chocolate. We literally went directly to the store and bought all of the kinds following my arrival at the airport. My top grocery store picks: Ragusa (dark chocolate), Branche Classic and Torino (both milk and dark). My mouth is watering as I write this. I’m not ashamed that the grocery store was also my last stop and I filled my tiny carry on bag with as much chocolate as I could carry home. For finer flavors head to Läderach (their white chocolate with berries is one of the best things I have ever tasted. Ever.) My number one tip is to indulge– you CAN take it with you.

For couple of days in Zürich

On the first day wander around the old town, getting a little lost on purpose. Maybe try fondue? (It’s not for me but when in Switzerland…)

I loved seeing the Christmas Market in late November. If you do visit during the colder months please don’t miss hot spiced wine on sale at cute little kiosks. To drink something bubbly while seated on a fur-covered outdoor patio would also be ideal.

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I keep to a relatively low budget (#teacherlife) so I opted for a few grocery store takeaway meals (not bad veggie quiche) from Co-op or made some pasta where I was staying. Grabbing a coffee while you’re out and about (and carrying a few chocolate bars in your bag) during the day is survivable for a few days 😉

A wonderful (and low budget) activity in Zurich is a hike to a lookout in Uetliberg. IMG_8143 2It takes about 20 minutes from the main station to Uetliberg on the S10 train. I like to get off one stop before Uetliberg and walk up more of the mountain. The panoramic view from the top is incredible and there is a hotel with a nice restaurant and patio. They have a very nice pumpkin soup which I pair with bread and wine. There are many little trails around the top so leave time to wander around for  a few hours up there!

IMG_3737Arta and I took a day  trip up to the top of the Matterhorn Glacier in the Alps. We didn’t go to bed early the night before trying to catch the first (6am) train and we did miss it. After eating a pretzel for breakfast + coffee from a vending machine, we were on our way. The journey is long. I recommend booking train tickets as far in advanced as possible because they only get more expensive. If you are staying for a few days look into rail passes. We journeyed to the ski town of Zermatt then rode several gondolas up to the top of the world. It was a complete blizzard for a while so we had a soup and waited it out… and finally the glacier was revealed. The intensity of the conditions up there, the beauty and scale of the natural features.. I can feel the energy of that experience even now as I write about it.

In warmer months I recommend a trip across Lake Zürich by ferry.IMG_5945

An easy route is to train from Zürich to Rapperswil then have a lunch, walk around (see the castle etc.) before ferrying back into Zurich via the lake. I had a lovely meal at Kaffee Klatsch in Rapperswil.IMG_0110

I hope to return to Switzerland again and again. It is a place that instantly felt good and is home to some very dear friends as well. Happy travels – enjoy Suiza!

Greece: Athens + Islands

I just returned home to Murcia (Spain) after an amazing trip to Greece with two fantastic women: Amy and Lucia. We were also joined by Annie. Coming off of time with ladies who support one another and enjoy each day fiercely, I’m feeling quite lucky. I’ve made a new commitment to center future travel more around who I’m with than where I’m going. I believe this will lend more community to my life. I feel deeply that it is the interaction we have with others, the love we share, which fulfills. Here is some information about our time in Athens, Mykonos, Delos and Santorini. I hope it will inspire other groups of friends to take a journey with their people and I hope these beautiful destinations will be enjoyed as much by all of you readers as they were by me.

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Traveling with my girls Amy (center) and Lucia makes me happy!

First stop: Athens.

I recommend taking an Uber from the Athens airport into the city center. We found many great Airbnbs available. Avoid staying in the Omonia neighborhood. I’ve heard mixed things about safety in Athens. We were cautious but felt safe during the day in the tourist center. We headed home before midnight (when the train shuts down).

I got a lot of AMAZING info from my friend Brittany who’s lived in Athens. Thanks girl!

We had one full day in Athens and one half day. We started day one with a free walking tour: https://www.athensfreewalkingtour.com/en/ which we really enjoyed!! Our tour guide was knowledgable and made the history of the city come to life. He recommended a great Lunch at Vegan Nation afterwards. Then we walked through the romantic Plaka neighborhood en route to the side entrance (shorter line) of the Acropolis. After an unforgettable morning, we headed for afternoon cocktails at A for Athens – a fantastic rooftop bar with an incredible view of the Acropolis and ruins below! The rest of the evening included greek salad, tzatziki, muscat and the most delicious baklava. Greek food is so good!!!

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Getting to see the Acropolis in real life is overwhelming. SO MUCH HISTORY HERE!!!

Day two focused on the National Archeological Museum (free for students!). My history books came to life in this place. I recommend a full day with a break for greek coffees and spanakopita in their garden cafe halfway. This, for me, was a must in Athens (like the Acropolis).

We took a very nice high-speed Hellenic Seaways ferry to Mykonos and happened to come across Sakis Gyros upon arrival. This place became a (cheap!) staple- we enjoyed one vegetarian pita per day (or try the chicken souvlaki pita if you’re not veg) on the rooftop patio of our Airbnb. We had a lot of rooftop meals because food is pricey in the touristy Mykonos town and our view was incredible. Try to find the AB grocery store (it’s next to bus station and doesn’t appear to be on Google Maps) for decent (but still price inflated) grocery items.

For (stupidly expensive!!!) cocktails, two recommendations: Passo Doble for the good drinks (I loved the passionfruit mojito) and Bar 180° for an unbeatable sunset view (order the “porn star”)- it’s well worth the uphill trek (don’t wear heels).

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The view from Bar 180

For a little touristy excursion, take a day trip to Delos. The ferry costs 20 euros round trip. Head down around 9am and you’ll be back around 2/2:30. Pack a picnic! You can hike to the highest point of the island for a phenomenal view (and a momentary escape from other tourists if you’re fast)!

Next up, Santorini

In Santorini  we stayed in Finikia in a very cool cave house (pictured below and again, an affordable Airbnb) which is walking distance from Oía (pronounced ía).

We loved the food and house white at Lefkes & visited a nearby winery Domaine Sigalas – walk in, try the vinosanto.

If you’re in Oía please go for dinner at Fino. Fantastic. This is where we celebrated my birthday. Marykei bar is the only bar in Oía but it’s lovable. They serve ice cream during the day and cocktails at night. Smart. A few other good places to eat in Oía: Kyprida, Melitini and Sunset Cafe (we tried the first and were told the last two were good though we opted to cook at home a bit to save money)

A highlight of our experience was the scenic Oía-Thira 10k hike. We took our time, stopping for a picnic halfway. In Fira (Thira) we were able to grab groceries at the supermarket then we took a bus back to Finikia.

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We loved visiting the town of Pyrgos for a day! It was orthodox Easter Eve and the city streets and rooftops are lined with candles- truly a sight to remember.

Other things to do on the island of Santorini: Many people enjoy renting four wheelers to get around but the bus is also cheap & easy (this was our option). We visited the black sand beach briefly. There’s also a red (rust) colored beach and white (beige)- many colors due to volcanoes!

We loved traveling in the off-season/shoulder-season (late March/early April) because prices and crowds were LOT lower. Still, I’ll note that this trip was quite a bit more expensive than I’d imagined- we all double our daily budget. FYI.

Bon voyage!

A (new) local’s guide to Murcia, Spain

 

FOOD

The photo on the left is my first meal in Murcia! El Rincon de Las Anas is still one of my very favorite places to eat. This is a prawn surrounding a scallop on a bed of lettuce with sprouts and salsa and chili pepper on top. Four euros and phenomenal. Paired with a local white wine from Jumilla.

IMG_7261La Tapa in Plaza Flores: (you MUST try their croquettes w goat cheese, rosemary and honey- photo above) The photo above on the right is of their mushroom gazpacho. It has fancy foam on top and it’s only 3 euros- what?!

I walked by El Jardín de los Dragones* one afternoon and happened to be so hungry that I ran right in. I’m sure glad I did! This is now one of my favorites! I go for tapas + beers or a menú del día (multi course lunch). P.s. it’s vegan!

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favorite vegan lunch spot + company

In Plaza Cristo Resucitado you’ll find *Dragon Lab (El Jardín’s child) and La Terraza del Girasol.

Urban Burrito Bar = saving Murcia from an American-Mexican food shortage. I’m so glad this place exists! It’s a staple for me now. They have a good vegan chili as well. I’m a regular.

Mano a mano has fantastic pizza. I love to take a slice to go and eat on a bench in the sunshine while people watching.

Llallao – tangy soft-serve frozen yogurt with dark chocolate coating YES PLEASE. It’s a chain but it’s originally from Murcia.

DRINKS

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Coffee spots: Cafe Lab, El Gallinero & Socolá are all amazing.

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Mercado de Correos is a gorgeous spot to grab a drink day or night.

Please note that I don’t go out at night much. But when I do, I…

Grab cocktails (gin and tonics are most popular- try Seville’s strawberry variety: Puerto de Indias) at El Perro Azul on the patio. Late night stop: Revolver for giant glasses of beer & live music. Bizzart is  my favorite spot for dancing.

TO SEE 

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https://murciatoday.com/real-casino-de-murcia_7848-a.html

IMG_7320The Casino + CathedralSanta Clara Monastery (Museum)

IMG_0049Fuensanta cathedral on the side of a Mountain with nice views and little trails around

Street art at Plaza Academia General del Aire

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SHOP

Pequeña Moma is my favorite shop for airy pants and dresses in the city.

Day Trips from Murcia

IMG_8335Cartagena day trip to see Roman theater + veg lunch spot: Chef Momo

The town of Bullas has a waterfall and swimming hole called El Salto de Usero. It’s a great place to go on a hot day! You can get there by bus from Murcia.

I enjoy hiking at El Valle. Just a short city bus ride from Murcia’s city center, there are many trail options, green mountains and fresher air.

On my to do list:

Mazarron beach and the pink salt lake: Las Salinas de Torrevieja (for this one I’ll need to rent a car)