Category Archives: Spain

Vaughan Town: A fun week volunteering in Spain

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I love Spain and decided to join the Vaughan Town program for the third time in my life.  This time I went to Aranjuez, about an hour away from Madrid.

The aim of Vaughan Town is to teach English to Spaniards, and this week focuses on building fluency in English.  There is a group of Spanish students and a group of ‘Anglos’ who are the English speakers.  The only rule is to speak English the whole time.  Accommodation and meals are covered for all of the English speakers.  It also gives the Anglos the opportunity to spend time with Spanish people in a different part of Spain, as well as meet people from around the world.  The week is fun and light hearted, with plenty of conversation at meal times and evening entertainment.

I joined the new ‘Fifty Fifty program’ where students have classes for part of the day as well as one-to-one conversation time.  The English speakers don’t need any teaching experience, our part is to allow the students to speak English and increase their fluency as well as hone their listening skills.  One benefit for the English speakers is more free time compared to the regular program.

Aranjuez is a beautiful place and popular with Spanish people.  The palace was right opposite our fabulous hotel, and the gardens and nearby town were perfect for conversational practice.  The one-to-ones are low key and informal – some of mine were accompanied with beer or gelato!

Having done the program before, in Gredos and Valdelavilla, I’m still a fan and would certainly consider it again for the future.

Link to Vaughan Town for volunteers: http://volunteers.grupovaughan.com/what-we-do

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SPAIN: Al Hambra, Granada and Malaga

January 2015

It was on my mind to take my mum to see the Alhambra one day – having seen an offer on flights to Malaga on Ryanair I decided to book it in.  Fortunately I had been to Granada before, which gave me the confidence to co-ordinate the trip.

THURSDAY

We arrived on a Thursday afternoon at Malaga airport.  I had booked coach tickets to Granada with Alsa coaches:

http://www.alsa.es/en/

There was a bit of a wait between the flight landing and the coach arriving, we sat down and had something to eat and drink in the airport.  The coach took about 2.5 hours to arrive at Granada bus station, and from there it was about 10 euros by taxi to the hotel.  We stayed for two nights at the NH Collection Victoria hotel:

http://www.nh-collection.com/es/hotel/nh-collection-granada-victoria

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g187441-d584434-Reviews-NH_Collection_Granada_Victoria-Granada_Province_of_Granada_Andalucia.html

This is a really nice hotel and very reasonably priced for its good location.  We had a look around at some shops that evening (open til late!) and found a street that had a number of restaurants.  We decided to try the set menu at Nuevo Restaurant:

http://www.nuevorestaurante.com/

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187441-d1221572-Reviews-Nuevo_Restaurante-Granada_Province_of_Granada_Andalucia.html

I wasn’t too impressed with this place.  It looks nice, but it didn’t feel very authentic, the service wasn’t great, and the food wasn’t really great.  My mum was happy though!  She enjoyed her fish and the restaurant, I think I expected something that in my mind is more ‘Spanish’.  At least it wasn’t an expensive disappointing meal!

FRIDAY

We pottered around locally in the morning, past the shops and around the cathedral.  There were a lot of market style shops and we had lunch at a Spanish restaurant with Moroccan staff.

The Alhambra

I had booked tickets in advance for the Alhambra on Friday, as I heard it is often fully booked:

http://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/info/buyalhambratickets.asp 

http://www.ticketmaster.es/nav/landings/en/mucho_mas/entradas_alhambra/index.html 

There is a morning (8h30 – 14h) and afternoon option (14h – 18h), I booked the afternoon option and selected a time to visit the Nasrid Palace.  It came to 15.40 euros per person.  The hotel had directed us to take a bus to the Alhambra which cost less than two euros.  This is definitely advisable – it’s quite a long and steep journey upwards, I would have no idea which way to go on foot.  Also, the local bus is much cheaper than the ‘tourist’ bus.

We were able to pick up the tickets from the main ticket office, and they wouldn’t let us enter until 2pm as we arrived a bit early.  Once we did get in, it was beautiful.  Very grand, spacious and well kept.  There was so much to see!  And there is a lot of walking – through gardens, buildings and on stairs!

We stayed for about 2.5 hours.  We easily could have stayed longer, but being January it was surprisingly cold and my mum had a bit of a cold, so we decided not to cover every inch before heading back.  The Nasrid palace was really lovely, I’m glad we took the option to view all areas – since you’re in the hood you might as well!

We took the bus back down to the bottom and visited some of the shops on the way back to the hotel.  I was absolutely thrilled to find a big Sephora store for makeup – these are plentiful in the US but sadly they don’t exist in the UK.  And I also love shopping in Zara while in Spain.

For dinner that evening, we tried to track down a restaurant that a taxi driver had recommended to us, and failed.  We ended up back on the same street as the evening before but in a different restaurant.  This one had a bit more of a pubby feel and there were lots of Spaniards dining there too – always a good sign.  We ordered a fried fish platter, mainly for my mum’s benefit, which was huge and very good.  They also gave us a tapa of fish with our drinks – I was pretty fished out by the end.  That’s already my annual fish quota fulfilled!

We ambled back to our hotel after dinner.

SATURDAY

The plan for this day was to head back to Malaga for the night, as we had an early flight on Sunday morning.  I’d booked the coach for around 1 pm, so we checked out at midday from the hotel and bought some snacks from the local bakery.  It was easy to get a taxi to the bus station, and there is a lot of indoor seating at the bus station.  The coach ride back was smooth with lovely views.  We got off at the airport stop, and took a taxi to our next hotel, which came to about 25 euros.

http://www.tryphotels.com/en/tryp-guadalmar-hotel-malaga-spain.html

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g187438-d228654-Reviews-Tryp_Guadalmar-Malaga_Costa_del_Sol_Province_of_Malaga_Andalucia.html 

I’d stayed at the Tryp at Berlin previously, so was looking forward to staying at the Tryp Guadalmar hotel in Malaga.  It is a pleasant hotel with nice staff, our room had such a beautiful view of the sea from our balcony.  We were right next to the beach.

After a little walk along the relatively short patch of beach, we headed in to town.  The good news was the bus stop was just outside the hotel (line 5).  The bad news was that it only came once every 30 minutes, and it also took about 30 minutes to get into town!  This is not so bad when you’re on holiday and the agenda is to relax and take your time about things.

My highlight, sadly, was the TACO BELL when we got to the bus stop!  This isn’t saying anything bad about Malaga town – I just happen to really like Taco Bell and it doesn’t seem to exist in England.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187438-d6229818-Reviews-Taco_Bell-Malaga_Costa_del_Sol_Province_of_Malaga_Andalucia.html

So after a taco stop, we went for a walk along the pier.  It’s very pretty and lively.

It was getting dark so we decided to head towards the return bus and had something to eat around there.  I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was across the road from the bus stop where we arrived, which happened to be the same stop for taking the return bus too.  Nice and easy…

This was not an especially memorable meal.  We sat outside on the street next to the busy road, there were a lot of smokers on the tables nearby, and the food was just not that great.  It was bland and probably heated up in the microwave.  I’m so pleased that my mum was not being a fussy eater, she was happy with her slightly soggy fried fish.  Thanks for being cool mum!!

Towards the end of our meal, we spotted a line 5 bus but weren’t in a position to leave, so decided to wait a little before heading back, since they were every 30 minutes.  Or as we found out the hard way… they were even more sporadic as it got later.  **TIP – check the return bus times when you arrive at the bus stop ** I do wish I’d checked this earlier, but it wasn’t the end of the world, we had a walk around as the next bus was about 50 minutes after the last one.  We walked along and found a street full of shops and lovely decorations.

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We did get back for the next bus, which was then another 30 minutes back to the hotel.  The return bus stop is a couple of minutes away from the hotel – easy if you know the way.  Luckily a lovely Spanish woman pointed out how to get back.

SUNDAY

We had a very early flight back on the Sunday.  We had checked with the hotel who told us that there were usually taxis outside the hotel at all times, and sure enough there was a taxi waiting at the ungodly hour we were up.  It cost about 20 euros to get to the airport – all smooth sailing from there back to London Stansted.

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