Weekend Escape: What to Do in Cuenca

Incredible views, delicious food and, of course, hanging houses: Cuenca proved an ideal weekend getaway from Madrid. It’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit for quite some time now, and I’m so glad I finally got around to it! If you need a break from the city, here are my recommendations for what to do in Cuenca.

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!

Image Credit: Jocey Kinghorn (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

How to get to Cuenca

My first trip of 2017 almost got off to a bad start. I nearly missed the bus! My morning was a little too tranquila, and I left the house 15 minutes later than I had planned. Fortunately, I made it just in time. In fact, I wasn’t even the last passenger to board the bus. That’s Spain for you!

Details: The bus leaves from Madrid’s Estación Sur and takes approximately two and a half hours. The price of a roundtrip ticket is 27,60 euros. For a faster but more costly option, you can take the high-speed AVE train from Madrid’s Atocha station. The journey takes 55 minutes and costs between 25 and 28 euros each way. 

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
The view from the Puente de San Pablo is incredible!

Where to stay in Cuenca

I left Madrid at noon and arrived in Cuenca around 2:30 p.m. From the bus station, it took me a little less than 15 minutes to walk to Hostal Canovas (Calle Fray Luis de León, 38). The woman working reception was very helpful and provided me with a map of the city.

Hostal Canovas is located very close to the old city center, and since Cuenca is small, you can walk everywhere. The double room with a private bathroom cost 50 euros for one night. The room was very clean and quiet. Overall, I thought Hostal Canovas was a great value. My only complaint is how hot the room was at night. If you’re visiting in winter, bring lightweight pajamas!

Cuenca as a day trip: You can definitely do Cuenca as a day trip from Madrid, especially if you take the high-speed AVE train. However, if you have some extra time, you should consider spending the night. This medieval city only gets more beautiful after the sun goes down. 

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
I loved Cuenca’s colorful Plaza Mayor!

Where to eat in Cuenca

Saturday afternoon, I took advantage of the menú del día at Posada San Julián (Calle Torres, 11) and ate garbanzos with callos (tripe) and pork ribs for 11 euros. The ribs were super fatty, but I was starving and didn’t really care.

Saturday night, I made reservations for dinner at El Secreto (Calle Alfonso VIII, 81). I chose El Secreto from Trip Advisor’s list of top ten restaurants in Cuenca. The food was delicious (yum yum chuletillas de cordero), but as much as it pains me to say this, the service was terrible. Probably the worst I’ve had in Spain to date, which is saying a lot.

Sunday morning, I had breakfast at a cute cafe called La Blondie. I couldn’t find an address for it online, but it’s just around the corner for Hostal Canovas. My glass of fresh squeezed orange juice was garnished with a slice of orange. Way to go the extra mile, random cafe!

If you don’t want to wait: On Saturday and Sunday, restaurants are packed with families enjoying long leisurely meals. If at all possible, I suggest calling ahead and making a reservation. Some restaurants even allow you to do so online.     

Where to drink in Cuenca

After watching the sunset, I checked out a few bars around Plaza Mayor, including Las Huellas de los Elefantes (Calle Severo Cataline, 11). If you’re looking for a reasonably priced cocktail in Cuenca, check this place out!

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
I preferred Cuenca’s street art over its Museum of Abstract Art.

What to do in Cuenca

When you visit Cuenca, you should pack some good walking shoes because exploring this city means climbing lots of hills. My favorite climb was up to the Puente de San Pablo. The view was incredible!

If you’re researching what to do in Cuenca, I’m sure you already know about Las Casas Colgantes (the Hanging Houses). The best place to see the houses, which are built right into the cliff, is the Puente de San Pablo. If you want to see inside one of the houses, visit the Museum of Abstract Art. Admission is free!

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
It was chilly, but I still enjoyed walking around Cuenca all weekend!

 

Have you ever visited Cuenca, Spain? What do you look for in a weekend getaway? Let me know in the comments below! 

Feliz Navidad: Celebrating Christmas in Spain

Thursday morning, I’ll be on a plane bound for the United States. Like the eve of every big trip, I have a million things to do. I meant to start packing on Monday, but this week, I’ve been busy celebrating Christmas in Spain.

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.

Image Credit: Felipe Ortega (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette) 

Like Halloween, schools have their own way of celebrating Christmas in Spain. It’s always fun to learn how other cultures celebrate holidays, and this week, I’ve been comparing celebrating Christmas in Spain to what I remember about my holiday parties in elementary school in the States.

El Festival de Navidad

El Festival de Navidad (Christmas festival) is a big deal in just about every primary school in Spain. The students and teachers begin preparing for the festival right after Halloween. So, yes, that means we’ve been singing Christmas carols since the first week of November.

This year, the bilingual classes decided to sing songs in English. At one school, I helped teach the class “I’m the Happiest Christmas Tree”. At the other, I helped teach “Must Be Santa”. The music teachers choreographed a dance for each song.

I rearranged my work schedule, so I could attend both festivals. It was so much fun! One group was dressed up as Christmas trees and the other as Papá Noel (Santa Claus). It was cool to see how much pride each class put into their performance. The acts varied from traditional Spanish carols and dances to Stomp-esque percussion.

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.
Look at all the little Papa Noels on their way to the Christmas festival!

Chocolate con churros

Of course, what’s the Christmas season without some sweet treats?! On the last day of school before the break, parents bring churros con chocolate for the whole school to enjoy. They even bring some gluten-free churros to accommodate the children with dietary restrictions!

Churros, for those of you who have never tasted this beloved Spanish snack, are lightly-sugared fried dough sticks, which you dip in a cup of piping hot chocolate. Sugar? Fried? Chocolate? YUM. It’s no wonder the kids go crazy for them!

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.
This picture alone is making me crave churros! Image Credit:CTJ

Los Reyes Magos

I remember writing letters to Santa Claus when I was little and addressing them to him at the North Pole. In class Wednesday, the second graders wrote Christmas letters but not to Santa. They wrote their letters to Los Reyes Magos.

In Spain, Los Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men) bring good girls and boys presents on Jan. 6. In recent years, Papá Noel has started to visit homes on Dec. 25, but traditionally, it’s good ol’ Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar bringing gifts by camelback just like they brought to Jesus in Bethlehem.

In addition to asking for toys, the students were instructed to request general gifts for the world. Some of my favorites were “an end to all wars” and “food for every hungry child”. Awwww. On the last day of school (Dec. 22), Los Reyes Magos will visit the school, and the students will have the opportunity to meet them, take pictures and hand deliver their letters.

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.
Last year, my coworker Alba and I snapped a picture with Los Reyes Magos after the kids delivered their letters.

Celebrating Christmas in Spain

Celebrating Christmas in Spanish schools is one of my favorite Spain memories to date. The students’ joy is contagious. This might sound kind of cheesy, but I feel like my holiday spirit has been renewed.

Have you ever celebrated Christmas abroad? If you did so while teaching English like me, how did your school’s holiday traditions differ from the ones your grew up with?

 

 

 

How to Celebrate Christmas in Madrid

Can you believe we’re almost halfway through December already? Last year at this time, I was counting down the days until my family’s arrival. My mom, dad and sister made the trip to Spain to celebrate Christmas in Madrid with me!

Are you planning on spending part or all of the holidays in Spain? Here are my suggestions and tips for how to celebrate Christmas in Madrid!

Image Credit: Felipe Ortega (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

Celebrating Christmas in Madrid was one of my fondest memories from my first year as a language assistant, so I highly recommend staying in Spain for the holidays.

Many language assistants choose to go home during winter break, but during your first or second year (or third or fourth…) in Spain, you should consider sticking around. After I spent the holidays in Spain, I had a better understanding of and deeper appreciation for Spanish culture. Oh, and it’s super fun to celebrate Christmas in Madrid!

Are you planning on spending part or all of the holidays in Spain? Here are my suggestions and tips for how to celebrate Christmas in Madrid!
My family and me in Sevilla last Christmas.

 

This year, I’m U.S.-bound to spend the holidays in Michigan with my family, but in these next two weeks prior to my departure, I’m planning on doing some early celebrating. Even if you won’t be in Madrid on Christmas Day, there’s still plenty to see and do during this festive month.

Ready to celebrate Christmas in Madrid?! Get the party started with my suggestions and tips!

Ride the Navibus

You know a city really loves the holidays when it has its own special Christmas bus! From Dec. 1 to Jan. 6, you can ride Madrid’s famous Navibus to see the Christmas lights throughout the city. The route starts in Plaza de Neptuno, which is near the Banco de España metro stop. From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the double-decker buses run every 20 minutes. The ride takes about one hour. The Navibus is a popular way to celebrate Christmas in Madrid, so I recommend reserving your ticket online if you don’t want to wait in line all night!

Ticket prices: For adults, the price is €9. Children, ages 3 to 15 years old, are €7. If you reserve your tickets online, adult tickets are €8,10 each. Tickets for children are €6,30 each. 

Are you planning on spending part or all of the holidays in Spain? Here are my suggestions and tips for how to celebrate Christmas in Madrid!
Every year the city of Madrid creates an impressive lights display. Image Credit: Arka

Run with Santa

If you’re anything like me, the holidays mean a few lots of indulgements. I don’t even want to tell you how many churros I’ve eaten in the past few weeks. *insert monkey covering its eyes emoji* I was looking for a healthier way to celebrate Christmas in Madrid and found La Carrera de Papá Noel. It’s Spain’s version of America’s Santa Shuffle, a popular road race in which participants dress like Santa Claus. The course, which traces Paseo de Recoletos and Calle de Villanueva, is between five and six kilometers. Sounds like a fun way to earn your holiday treats!

Race details: The race begins at 9.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. Registration is open online until 8 a.m. Friday, Dec. 16. The entry fee is €15,40 and includes a Santa Claus suit. The race benefits the Madrid Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. 

Are you planning on spending part or all of the holidays in Spain? Here are my suggestions and tips for how to celebrate Christmas in Madrid!
Run, Santa, run! Image Credit: La Carerra de Papa Noel

Explore the Christmas markets

European cities are famous for their Christmas markets, and Madrid is no exception.  The Spanish capital boasts markets in plazas all around the city, but the granddaddy of them all is the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor. It’s one of the oldest Christmas traditions in Madrid! You can find vendors selling everything from artisanal handicrafts and ecological products to holiday decorations and Christmas trees.

Something for everyone: Not in the mood to shop? The Christmas market in Plaza Mayor is still worth visiting! Enjoy some tasty holiday treats, or ride the carousel. I recommend visiting after the sun goes down because the plaza is decorated with festive holiday lights. 

Are you planning on spending part or all of the holidays in Spain? Here are my suggestions and tips for how to celebrate Christmas in Madrid!
If you want to see Plaza Mayor in all its holiday glory, visit the Christmas market after dark. Image Credit: Priit Tammets

 

Have you ever celebrated Christmas abroad? Where will you be celebrating Christmas this year?