1. The cheapest way to get around Spain is definitely ALSA (the biggest Bus company). They have a promotion for Erasmus card holders under 26 years (only available on their ticket machines on the bus station, giving you a 15% discount on domestic buses and 12% on international connections. Also they go almost everywhere. Just don't download their app, it's not worth it! If you have an Alsa bus connection, don't think one second about blablacar, the bus is cheaper anyway. Also buy tickets in advance. You can find really good promos, e.g. Madrid – Barcelona 5 euros, if you buy it around one or two months in advance. To go to Andalucia, the cheapest way is Madrid – Granada (18 Euros), night bus to Lisbon around 30 Euros.
2. Alsapass: Offer from Alsa: 15 or 30 days unlimited Bus travelling with their buses for 125 or 195 euros. You can save a lot of money if you use it right.. We used it for two weeks during the semana santa holidays travelling by night buses, showering on the beach and by day enjoying the places.
3. To find bus connections, use www.horario-autobuses.com. Since there is no good search engine and many many many bus companies in Spain, you can search which bus companies go from one city to find connections. Watch out, the data might not always be the most recent.
4. Visit volunteers: Go to visit your contacts from the trainings since they always have a free couch for you!
5. Use Couchsurfing: We meet really great people via this platform and you have a bed gratis ;P
6. If that's nothing for you use AirBnB, e.g we slept for 20 Euros (3 persons) on a boat in Gran Canaria, great experience!
7. Use budget airlines to visit the Spanish islands. From Madrid there are very cheap flights to the Canarian and Balearic islands. We went to Gran Canaria for a weekend 40 Euros return trip by Ryanair for example! Also Vueling has great offers!
8. For going to Madrid, Ávila or Talavera, ask locals if they can take you. There is a WhatsApp group with a lot of spam, but also people posting when they go where and if somebody can take them. We met greater people and they took us for free or for very cheap money to Ávila and Madrid. The group is called EnGredos, ask Monia or Roland to add you!
9. You can hitchhike between the villages around, it's not recommendable to go hitchhiking further away since it's practically illegal and very hard to do in Spain.
10. Take your own food. Cook some pasta or cereals with muesli, you'll save a lot of money.
11. Don't use renfe (Train), it's really expensive and also there are security controls like on an airport, not very convincing. If you do and want to go by AVE (High speed train), you can use compartirmesaave.es to get the cheapest price. The cheapest price is buying tickets for a table with four persons, on the website, somebody buys this and you can buy the single tickets from him for the cheaper price. Also, Ida y vuelta tickets are cheaper with renfe.
12. There are some few buses going to the regions around, look at the timetables in the bus station. I higly recommend to visit Candeleda (really close) and to go La Vera (Jaraíz de La Vera), the home of pimentón de la vera. From there there are also connections to Cáceres, Badajóz and Plasencia. There are buses on Monday and Friday to Talavera, from there you're close to Toledo. Also Ávila is worth a visit and close too. Portugal isn't far neither...
13. Problems with money for your Trip back to your country? Flixbus goes to Barcelona and you “technically” have no baggage limit since nobody will check your bags. ;P I (Arne) booked a ticket Barcelona – Düsseldorf (21 hours, 2000km) for 40 Euros.
18 km to the South from Arenas de San Pedro, while taking the most beautiful road through forest and with lots of curves, you can find a city in miniature called Candaleda, also known as “La Andalucia de Avila”.
Why city? Because it has all attributes need to be a city, including Plaza Mayor:) And why in miniature? With population about 5.000 people and being located in Gredos mountains, surrounded by lots of palm trees, it has its special charm.
There is one bus during a day that goes from Arenas to Candaleda, so one sunny Saturday, we decided not to lose opportunity to visit this happy town and to see what is going on there.
While walking through the streets you can easily practice your Spanish, because people are very friendly and they want to talk with you:)
We were surprised to see Madrid Audio Club race there. It was really nice, because Arne is fond of cars:)
People just sell handmades works and local products on the streets.
You can`t be lost there, all streets bring you to "La Capra".
We also went to see the town from the hill, that is on the way to "La Puente del Puerto de Candaleda" (famous historical place far away in mountains).
After exploring Candaleda, Arne decided to go back to Arenas through forest following mountain’s routes (that takes in total 29km) and Iryna stayed to enjoy more the Candaleda’s spirit, and came back to Arenas by bus.
ARNE: Two weeks after we moved into our new home, the casita, there was a special day coming up: My 18th Birthday. As the 16th November 2016 was a wednesday I didn't feel like celebrating directly on my birthday. So I decided to have a fun little fiesta on friday! I invited my new Spanish friends to a German dinner, including potato salad, meatballs, sort of German sausages and a lot more.
Because we were so many people I decided that we would eat outside. Obviously in November it is cold outside during the night and there was only one way to fight that, and that way is called Glühwein. It is basically sweet, warm wine with a lot of different christmas-style spices and for the extra internal heating rum is added! People were first shy but at some point accepted this new drink and it should not have been the only time we made it.
After some time in the house we went to the Moon&Rock where there was a jam session going on and this should not be the end of our night!
Of course there were also some presents for me, for example German beer or some handy pants, as well as Jorge and Juan, two animal-shaped slippers. I'm pretty sure that they're suppposed to be donkeys but people always say they look like dogs or elephants or koalas or dolphins, people are creative these days. But they're perfect for everyday use!
I never thought I would celebrate my 18th Birthday like this but it was a fun little fiesta, just as I wanted it to be!
DUNJA: Since we already have celebrated the 18th birthday of Arne, mine was next (23th). As the 28th January 2017 was Saturday, it was perfect for making dinner and sort of party on Friday night and than waiting for my birthday. Since we don't have much space in our house I decided to invite around 10 closest Spanish friends (including us 13), but at the end there was more than 15 people. J
I had to prepare some food and I wanted it to be something typical from my country or my family. So I started preparing it already on Wednesday – Russian salat, on Thursday – stuffed peppers and on Friday – noodles with plumbs. It was a big preparation but I couldn't imagine what kind of a surprise were my roomates preparing for me. :)
When all the guests came, we tasted all the food (but in the next three days we're eating the leftovers) and enjoyed chating with each others and playing guitar. :)
At the midnight the lights were off and everybody started to sing Happy birthday song on Spanish, Iryna and Arne were bringing the cake to me that they were making the night before after I fall a sleep and at that moment I took the cake with a few tears in my eyes. However, that wasn't the only surprise: after the cake my dear friends gave me the greatest present of all – a collage of photos of all my dearest friends from Spain where each person is holding one letter for ¡Feliz cumpleaños!. I started to cry because I figured out that I have the greatest friend of all. :)
After this wonderful moments we were hanging out in our house for little more time and then went out but we (Arne, Iryna and I) ended up in the forest, watching stars with Tony which was the perfect way to end that night. :)
In the morning there was another surprise: I got an umbrella, two queens (Dunja’s) and opium sticks. And the night before from the other guests I got perfume, scarf and flowers. :)
The day of my birthday was actually a lazy day and only in the evening we went out with Tony to Talavera, we had a dinner, went to the cinema and then went out to party. It was perfect!
Normaly I don’t celebrate my birhtday like it is something special but this whole celebration was perfect, I couldn’t imagine something better. :)
15/05/2017 or Birthday Hike 22.0
IRYNA: As my birthday was on Monday, and we had already booked that day to go hiking to La Mira, the day before we had birthday dinner with dear AJS team. I had the whole weekend to prepare all the food, so I tried to present ukrainian way of tapas:) Also just before birthday I got package delivery from Ukraine with some ukrainian products,so I had almost all ingredients to prepare something typical ukrainian. Varenyky and borshch are waiting for another moment ;)
Next day we started our hike to La Mira!
On my birthday we were lucky to hitchhike very easy, because it was long way to get to La Mira, so we had to start at least from Guisando.
The weather was perfect, that made our hike more easy. The way to La Mira is more advanced level, so you need to make efforts to get there, but it is worth it!! It is one of the most beautiful routes I have ever hike. It is also possible to stay there for the night and to see thousands of stars! On the way to La Mira there are few refugees houses where people can stay for the night. Also you can meet goats there, they are very friendly:)
Once I had to be in Madrid on Sunday in order to send some packages to Ukraine, so I asked myself why not to come to Madrid through Aragon, where I haven’t been before. I started my trip on Friday morning and I had already found new couchsurfing friends in Zaragoza:)
I didn’t expect much from the city, as it is not so touristic as others in Spain. But what I have seen and what I got to know about Aragon region - so impressive! Contemporary Zaragoza is very contrast! It lies by the Ebro river. Also near Zaragoza was born famous artist Goya, there is big gallery of his works in the city.
Zaragoza hosted Expo 2008, a world's fair on water and sustainable development.
Must see in Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljaferia.
Thanks to my new friend, who hosted me in Zaragoza, I got so much essential information about Aragon!
In villages people still speak aragonese (what is mix of Spanish, Basque and Catalan) you can even have classes of Aragonese in Zaragoza! What I remember from aragonese is that letter “J”(jota) they pronounce like “CH”. So for example, Jorge would sounds like “Chorche”. Also aragonese consist of many words from Basque language.
And I have to admit that people from Aragon are very proud of Ambar (beer produced in Zaragoza) from 1900;)
One weekend we had opportunity to visit Palacio de la Mosquera in Arenas. Nice neoclassic building from XVIII century. Even Francisco de Goya was here for a while! The palace is almost empty, but sometimes there can be organized exhibitions.
With project of beautiful garden.
And with nice view of Arenas.
Next day It was tour guide to the castle in Arenas, but It was sooooo raining, that only Arne was enough "brave" to go there.
I couldn't go on such big trip with Dunja and Arne. But "Adventures calling!” So I bought one-way ticket to Valencia with plan maybe to visit Cartagena. On Saturday morning I came to Madrid in order to attend a Leadership Forum organized by Students for Liberty. One of my friend was giving a speech there.
For the night I was staying at the house of my Swedish friend Henry. I didn't know him before, but the curious thing is that when I was on the same conference organized by Students for Liberty in Prague I got message on Couchsurfing from him, because he wanted to visit Arenas !!!! That was surprising because Arenas is more popular for local tourism and not for foreigners. That was only 3rd requirest on Couchsurfing in 6 month living in Arenas. As I was in that time in Prague, we couldn't host him, but we were keeping in touch and we were acpected to host him in our "la casita" in May.
After Forum I met Henry and his friends and we went to Living room concert to listen to jazz music! Thanks to app meetup we could find lots of interesting events in Madrid!
On sunny Sunday morning I went with Blablacar to Valencia! 4 hours of road past very fast, it was very interesting to talk with driver Mario, who lives in Valencia and could gives lots of tips for all Valencia and Murcia regions! I even didn't need to open TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet :)
First 2 days in Valencia I stayed in hostel (meanwhile very nice and cheap River hostel). But as Valencia is very beautiful city and I wasn't hurry up at all, I decided to stay few days more at home of my friend.
Few reasons why Valencia is the most incredible city in Spain due to my experience (except Arenas of course):
1. Converted the riverbed into the park that snaking through the city over 9 km. With this "green snake" you can travel through time!! You can start your journey from Torres de Serranos (Ancient Roman Walls) and somehow while passing ancient bridges you will end up in the city of future ( City of Arts and Sciences)!
2. You can already feel a sea breeze in the city. It is so close to the seaside, you don't have to wait for a weekend to go to the sea, just make your siesta everyday there!
3. If from one side you have the sea - than from another side within minutes from city center you will be transported into the wilds of Albufera Natural Park, where is the largest lake in Spain!
4. The city is full of life! And dozens of events everyday. Just take into account that it is the most visited city under Erasmus programme!
5. Heard something about parkour? The best school is definitely here! R-Evolution school with idea of transforming physically and mentally. Cool guys are here ;)
5. You don't need to look for accommodation during Las Fallas if you already have chosen Valencia for living:) More about adventures of Arne and Dunja during Las Fallas here evsajs.weebly.com/blog/visiting-the-fallas-in-valencia
Valencia is incredible, but I have to move on! The next destination was Alicante. I booked Blablacar, the profile of driver was in Spanish, so somehow I tried to speak with him in Spanish but till the time that we both realized that we can speak in mother tounge , I mean in Ukrainian:) the driver Viktor was from Ukraine living in Alicante with his family, and of course, all the way as true ukrainians we were talking about our country&problems #нашілюдивсюди
In Alicante I stayed with new Colombian friend thanks to Couchsurfing. He was very busy with his work all the time, but he has great flatmates, who organized loooots of Erasmus parties. Also I met new friends from Couchsurfing meetings and volleyball games.:)
The most important from Thing To Do in Alicante is to see sunset from the castle. From April till September it is opens till 10pm, from such high point you can enjoy the view of the sea and sunset:) I was there almost every day during my staying in Alicante!
And thank you, my friend Melina for lessons of Finish in Spain! Kiitos ;)
And one very special day we had reunion with EVS family! Arne and Dunja were in Elche, for one day they went to visit Alicante. We spent some time on the beach:)
Next reunion was in Madrid while coming back home!:)
Dunja was in Barcelona with her boyfriend and I asked her via Whatsapp late in the night if she wanted to accompany me to climb to the top of la Mira, one of the most famous mountains in the "Zona" of Arenas. The next day, I got the Answer "La Mira? I thought of going to Valencia to Fallas!" and our Plan was already made.
The only problem was the choice of transportation. There was a six hour local train for an ok price and buses every hour for almost the same, but they were two hours faster.
So on Friday we left Aredis, our usually friday workplace with disabled people a little earlier and took the bus to Madrid at 1PM. In Madrid there was so much traffic that in the end we were already more than one hour late and could not take the bus we originally wanted to. So, we ended up leaving Madrid together with 7 other buses from the same company with the same route, all headed to las Fallas some time later.
Now, what are Fallas? Basically it is the biggest celebration in the Valencian community, also very "tipical espaniss". Fallas are clubs, where people pay an annual rate to participate and build sculptures, also called Fallas. Traditionally those are made out of wood and paper, nowadays more out of wood and foam. The most important thing is that everything is burnable, but we'll come to that later.
In total, there were about 770 fallas this year and during the final weekend of the many more weeks lasting fiesta the population of Valencia almost triples. 90% of the hotels are booked three months before this spectacle. Luckyly, we had our contacts thanks to the meetings with other volunteers for example in Andalucia. There, we got to know Katrin from Estonia who offered us to host us for the weekend.
We spent a lot of time with her and her Valencian boyfriend Alex who could show us around a lot and explain us many weird traditions. We told them we would be at their very central flat around nine, half past nine.
But we did not expect the traffic at all. On the motorway, they took away one lane of the opposite direction and declared it another one going towards Valencia. Nevertheless, these three lanes were completely packed. So, in the end, we were exactly not faster than the local train we didn't want to take because it would take so long...
Sometime around half past eleven, we said hello to our hosts, but the day was not over yet. We went out to see one really interesting and different Falla which won some price for its illumination, and was truly impressive with over a million LEDs and a spectacular show. We also met another Friend of Alex who invited us to the, let's say very special or interesting party of his fallas club.
After exploring the city a little more during the night we focused more on exploring our cozy bed for the night.
But only because the next day was supposed to be a even greater one. First, we took a deeper look at the very nice city center. At 1PM we wanted to go to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento because one hour later there were the "Mascleta". Alex recommended us to be there an hour earlier to get a good spot to see the Fireworks, which basically is Mascleta.
The only special thing is that it's during the day, which, when you think about it, makes absolutely no sense at all because you can't see anything. But after having waited one hour in a not perfect spot at all in the middle of a gigantic crowd on a not that favourable spot and having seen this, we found out that the sense is more to deafen the people with the endless and stubidly loud bangs and booms passing through the narrow streets and being reflected by the high buildings of the city.
You could actually see the windows vibrating so hard that you were afraid they would break.
We checked this point from our To-do-list and decided to find our way to the beach. (Spanish) people told us it was impossible to walk there, it would take two hours. But still we successfully walked there, mainly through a dry riverbed that the city converted into a 8km long park going halfway around the city. At the end there is the very modern part of Valencia, the Ciudad de las Artes y ciencias, reminding me a little bit of the modern cities of the middle east like Dubai. On the way we also came by some more fallas. At one place they just closed a street and cooked paella (typical Valencian) on fires with gigantic pans, even accompanied by street bands.
Later that day we returned to the city center to see the fireworks, of course equipped with Tinto and Popcorn and after that exploring some horrible playback bands.
The next day we checked out the local museums, that on sunday are free to enter. First we had a closer look at the old silk market and one city gate from where we could hear the sounds of the Mascleta very well, although it was so far away. After that we visited the completely empty but yet filled with some very interesting exhibits Museo de los belles Artes. One of the special exhibitions was how modern fotographers would express paintings from the past centuries. There were some very funny results! After that, we again went the "two hours" by foot to the beach and later on the way back tried some "Buñuelos, the typical sweet for Fallas, from two very authentic looking women, boiling them on the street.
Later there was the highlight, the burning of the Fallas. No worries, I'm not talking about the clubs but about the statues. On the last days, all of them (except for one, that is chosen to be saved by the people) get burned. This is a ceremony that you should truly have seen once in your life. Of course, nothing started on time, so the excitement of the crowd when the firemen came to secure everything from burning down was even greater. Next, there came the "Lighter", yes there is a special person for that job.
After it was lit up, a light show started and fireworks went off. Little by little the piece of art caught fire and burnt down completely into ash and black clouds of smoke. The firemen had quite some work to do with constantly cooling down the surrounding buildings. After around half an hour the statue was not existing anymore. We watched this show together with some Canadian friends of Katrin and basically after that took our bags from their apartment and went home. The (again awful) bus left Valencia at 3AM and unfortunately it was imposible to sleep, at least for me, thank you Avanza for that! So, completely dead, we arrived in Arenas in the morning, totally ready for work on our next adventure, the Training Path to Success, but I'll leave this for another time!
After weekend with Tony, we started our new trip, the trip to Andalucia!
For this week we had our Mid-Term-Evaluation with in total 99 Volunteers in Mollina, a little town one hour from Malaga. We were divided into different groups of around fifty people and basically evaluated our projects.
Whereas the others had a lot of work complaining about ceilings falling down on them while sleeping sjaring their flats with a dozen 50 year olds or missing tutors we had a lot of time for ourselves. And also, to make connections with other volunteers to organize shelter for our further trips through Spain. For the noche we decided to explore the endless possibilities of fiesta in Mollina.
What we learnt on these excursions is that there actually exist other towns with the same amount of aliveness as El Hornillo. Well, at least there was one open bar, for that Pepe John's Irish Pub grew our best friend these days.
You could call the food supply during these days sufficient but also simply too much. Sometimes we couldn't eat everything and something that stayed on our tray disappeared magically in our pockets, due to socio-economic reasons (don't throw food away!). This secured our nutrition for the next days without five-star all-you-can-eat restaurants with meals 9 times a day!
Part of the program was also a visit of the nearby city of Antequera, a really nice city with a lot of unexpected heritage as well as a lying-down-man-shaped mountain!
In fact, the seminar was not a week like everybody told us, it was actually just three days of training. But that meant more time for our trip to visit Andalucia!
We started with two days in Malaga. The first day we relaxed a bit on the beach and in the evening watched the performances of the carnaval groups. During our expeditions through the centre we always met some other volunteers that also decided to stay for a couple of days. The next day we did the obligatory sightseeing, climbed the Alcazaba and the Castillo with wonderful views and explored the historical center.
We had booked a hostel for 9€ for the first night and if this taught us a lesson it was never take the cheapest hostel! We took the chance and switched over to another one for the price of one Kebab more the next night.
On Sunday we visited Cordoba during the day and ended up in Sevilla for the night. Cordoba's beauty also impressed us, especially the famous Mezquita! If you're visiting Cordoba and are not willing to spend the ten euros to enter this architectural wonder than you'll definetely have missed a lot! To see a giant, christian cathedral in the middle of a giant, muslim mosque is something really unique, combined with the collision of thousands of different building styles. And although the city itself is really beautiful too, this is 110% the highlight of Cordoba.
Watching the beautiful Andalusian landscape flying by from inside the Alsa Bus was always a really relaxing way of travelling and so we arrived totally relaxed in Sevilla, where we had a nice AirBnB room booked for us.
We took a little walk through the already empty streets of nocturnal Sevilla but explored the city fully the next day. And again we met up with other volunteers we got to know in Mollina and wandered together through the narrow alleys and wide, tropical gardens.
What we found the most impressive was the Plaza de Espa~na, that you could consider one of the most beautiful plazas in the world. For every province of Spain there is a map and a picture made out of ceramics, regionally very typical. We even found Arenas de San Pedro on one of them! We spent more than an hour on that single plaza, half of this time was the probably the endless struggle of shooting the following selfie...
Anyway, that afternoon, there was a bus waiting for us to catch to the last station of this almost two-weeks trip: Granada.
A Serbian friend of Dunja, Jelena who is now studying there hooked us up with a place to sleep.
She didn't mind showing us some bars to go and even though we were in a critical state of tiredness we went out with some other Erasmus students this night and enjoyed some great, sort of vegetarian, but of course free tapas!
Because the next, and last day of our trip, was the "Dia de Andalucia" we felt a great urge to visit the maybe most famous monument of Andalucia, if not Spain, the Alhambra. Of course, we booked tickets in advance but there were only some left for what seemed to us like a "light" version. After a whole lot of confusion about what we can visit and what not it turned out we could visit basically everything. We were a bit hyped over this maybe a bit overhyped. For Dunja it was a must-see because she studied so much about it but in the end we felt a bit like it was nothing too special. Sure, it is a must-see, and sure it is also big and beautiful, but after touring Andalucia it didn't feel very unique. Arne personally liked the Alcazaba in Malaga almost as much as this!
On the other hand, after visiting the rest of Granada, watching the sun set over Granada with a view to the Alhambra, the snowcapped Sierra Nevada in the background and a Tinto in our hands on the Plaza de San Nicolas might have been the best way to end such an epic trip!
On the five hour bus ride back to Madrid we had opportunity to recap what we had seen these last days and one could conclude that we had quite some fun and made quite some new friends! And yes, if you want to look really spanish and your skin colour is not matching yet, a week in Andalucia is a great way to fix that!
Before our mid-term evaluation, we left Arenas towards Avila on a Friday, of course with the (early, but only) bus at 7:20. And yes, even for a German this is early!
After two hours of our traditional bus-nap we arrived at our home for the next couple of days, the capital of our province, Avila.
We stayed at Tony's house, who is studying in Avila cooking but originally comes from Arenas and thus is still very active in AJS. He will become a european Volunteer later this year!
After hanging out with friends and more-or-less-active playing basketball we used the opportunity and of course went out for the night with some more people than we can get in our lovely party-metropolis Arenas.
The next day we went to visit Salamanca with Tony and Noemi, a friend of him, and now of us. We took a look at the throughout very nice "univercity" and in the end went out for some drinks as well, of course after finding an astronaut in the engravements of the cathedral and endless searching for a frog in there... If anybody finds it please inform us! Send a Text Message, saying "Cuidado con la Rana!" to +34 643 696969 and you'll be able to win a real frog!
On our way back to Avila a friend informed us that it was snowing over there and indeed it was! On the 5 meters from the car to the apartment we had a very nice little snowball fight and it was quite funky to see places where we had siesta a day before, laying in the sun with only T-shirt were now wrapped in a wonderful, winterly, white wig by some sort of wraith-wizard-whatsoever.
After watching (or sleeping while "watching") a movie, the next morning we bought a two-way ticket to Segovia. Tony and company told us there was not much to see so we had no expectations at all but holy Maccaroni, we were blown away by the beauty of this city. The combination of whole city being so silent and yet so alive and this marvellous look of the city core made us fall in love with Segovia!
This marked the end of our weekend and at the same time the start of a new trip, the trip to Andalucia.