Monday, 29 December 2014

Oh Hello Spain 2014 Travel Roundup: The Take 12 Trips Challenge

My friends and family may joke that I'm away more often than at home, but the truth is, I love a trip. 2014 has been no exception, with Spanish weekend breaks and trips home to the UK aplenty, plus further-flung travels. Yesterday I stumbled across the #take12trips challenge from Need Another Holiday on Twitter, and thought this summed up my approach to seeing the world perfectly.

Blogger Clare created the #take12trips challenge last year to inspire those who work full-time to get out and about a minimum of once a month. While downing tools for a week or more and heading off on holiday every month is unrealistic for most employees, taking a day trip or weekend break isn't, with some careful planning and budgeting. Rather than waiting until August to take a whole month off like most of my Spanish colleagues, I'm more an advocate of regular weekend breaks and the odd longer holiday here and there. Basically, any excuse to pack a bag and set off to see a bit more of the world.

I'm cheating a bit and joining the 2014 challenge retrospectively, but in 2015 I'm planning to make a conscious effort to take my 12 trips. As you'll see below, I don't think I'll struggle...

So, here's how my 2014 year in travel shaped up... It's a bit of a mammoth read, so grab a cup of tea and settle in.

January


The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca


My 2014 travels started well with a trip to Salamanca straight after Reyes for my work's annual conference. Although we spend most of the time holed up in an auditorium listening with rapt attention to the speakers (ahem), there was also plenty of time to socialise, and the event concluded with a tour of the pretty university city on a chilly winter morning. I've visited Salamanca twice before, and as the Spanish equivalent of Oxford, I feel right at home there.

Business trips provide a great opportunity to stay a while longer and soak up a city's atmosphere, but as I'd already seen Salamanca in 2013, a friend and I headed instead to Zamora for our post-conference recovery. A weekend in the beautifully-restored NH Palacio del Duero did the trick; we even managed a tapas crawl around the casco antiguo which involved a lock-in with a cast of interesting characters. That said, winter probably isn't the best time to visit Zamora: this Castilian town gets pretty damn cold, and most sights and shops closed at midday, so we spent plenty of time huddling in cafés over steaming cups of cola cao.

January ended with some sunshine thanks to a hop on the AVE to visit my friend Vicki in Utrera, close to Seville. This welcoming little town has more quality tapas bars per square mile than Madrid, I swear. Understandably, the weekend was spent dipping in and out of many of those, notably Besana, Casa Diego and Doña Juana, catching up over tasty bites and plenty of white wine.



February


Oh hello, Barcelona!

After January's trip-fest, February was a calmer month, with one trip to Barcelona to attend another conference. Stepping off the AVE, I was pleasantly surprised by the much milder temperature than Madrid. The temperature wasn't the only reason I warmed to the Catalan capital, though: being whisked off for dinner at beachside Pez Vela and cocktails at the sail-shaped W Hotel with a view over the twinkling city lights might have had something to do with it. This trip inspired more than one repeat visit to Barcelona, a city I'd previously been undecided about.

March


The Guggenheim in Bilbao
In March, I welcomed two different friends from the UK to Madrid, so a couple of weekends were spent in the capital, sightseeing, snacking and shopping our way around the city. March also saw me take another work trip to a city beginning with B: this time, I headed off to Bilbao. In addition to attending an event there, I also managed to wander the beautiful casco antiguo and the riverside, as well as catching up with a friend over lunch and a visit to the Guggenheim. The wow of Bilbao inspired my second-ever blog post in 2010; 4 years later the effect was the same. This compact city nestled in the green valleys of the Basque country is a gritty industrial hub no longer. Instead, it's the ideal mix of ancient and modern, with a friendly feel to boot. The Basque country is famous for its food, and Bilbao is no exception: I was only sorry not to bag a table at the Guggenheim restaurant as I had last time. Modern Casilda made a pretty good alternative, though. 

March ended with a quick trip up to Barcelona and a drive down the coast towards Tarragona, taking in stunning coastal views from curving mountain roads.

It's always good to see the sea: the coast between Barcelona & Tarragona


Read more: Bilbao and Barcelona.

April


April was another busy month, beginning with another conference in Harrogate in Yorkshire, to which I added a trip home to my parents' in Lancashire. I found myself back there a few weeks later for a significant birthday, which I also celebrated with friends in London.

A Semana Santa procession getting underway in Baena


Easter fell late this year, and I was lucky enough to follow my birthday with a trip to the 9 Andalucian towns that make up the Caminos de Pasión route: Carmona, Osuna, Puente Genil, Cabra, Priego de Córdoba, Baena, Alcalá la Real and Lucena. The trip aimed to introduce a group of international journalists to the sights and sounds of Semana Santa in these towns in the provinces of Seville, Córdoba and Jaén, and from the hundreds of times my finger clicked my camera shutter and the ringing in my ears afterwards, the goal was achieved. Semana Santa processions in Seville and Málaga are well-known – and for that reason, well-attended. As the Caminos de Pasión route is exclusively made up of medium-sized towns not often on foreign tourists' itineraries, we were able to get close to the passing pasos and chat to local costaleros (men and women who carry the pasos). I'll be writing about this experience in the March 2015 issue of Flush Magazine, but if you're thinking of an Easter trip to Spain, try some of the Caminos towns for a less crowded experience.

My intense introduction to Semana Santa ended on a high with sábado santo in Seville. An experience shared with Kim from Becoming Sevillana, we were whisked from procession to procession by a keen crown of capillita boys, finishing by watching the solemnly beautiful entry of the Virgin into San Lorenzo church, where she'll wait for another year. Kim and I both touched the wooden door of the iglesia once it closed behind her, which according to local lore means we'll be returning next year.

Read more: Easter in Andalucía and Holy Saturday in Seville

May


My first trip to the Costa Brava: Port de la Selva

Even though April found me away from Madrid more days than not, Spain's puente de Mayo is a travel excuse that can't be missed: free days off! I took my first trip to the Costa Brava, staying in laid-back little Port de la Selva and day-tripping out to nearby Cadaqués, Llança and over the border to the French town of Banyuls-sur-Mer. With the infamous tramontana wind whipping holidaymakers into submission, there was no chance of early sunbathing, but a visit to Salvador Dalí's former home in Portlligat was a much more cultural way to pass the time. I fell for the wild, rugged coastline of the Cap de Creus, a side of Spain I hadn't seen before. That's one thing I love about living there: a weekend break can take you to a region so far removed from the one where you normally reside, both geographically and culturally.

My second May trip was less leisurely: a weekend in Córdoba with the sole aim of pasándolo bien at the feria. My favourite Spanish tradition involves andaluz towns and cities throwing a week-long party during which anyone with ganas de fiesta decamps to the recinto ferial on a daily basis, dolled up to the nines ready to sip rebujito and dance sevillanas by day, and switch over to copas and reggaeton by night. I'd never attended Córdoba's fair before, but found it to be a good size, with plenty of different casetas all open to the public. The cordobeses certainly have stamina: their feria lasts 9 days and continues well into the early hours of the morning – things were only just winding down as we limped home at 4.30am.

Feria de Cordoba: Welcome to the party


Read more: Costa Brava posts and Córdoba posts

Monday, 22 December 2014

Visiting Spain in Winter: Where to go, what to do




December 2014 in Spain may have been mild, but it's now officially winter. This may not be a season when many people plan to travel (unless you're keen on winter sports), but if you don't spend up at Christmas, you can find some real bargains in January and February, when flights and accommodation drop in price.

Where to go in Winter


Temperatures can get pretty chilly in Spain's heartland during winter, so you may want to skip Castilla-León and Aragón and opt for a coastal city instead. Valencia, Alicante and Málaga are usually sunny at this time of year, and winter can be a good time to visit Barcelona, with prices a little lower than the rest of the year. Andalucía in general is a safe choice at this time of year, with plenty of sunny days and mild temperatures. You can get great deals at some top hotels in winter, such as the Reserva del Higuerón in Fuengirola. Although the sun's likely to shine, it won't be tanning weather, so go for a hotel with plenty of facilities to keep you entertained or enough nearby to visit. The best bet for off-season sun has to be the Canary Islands though: sunbathing's possible there even in the depths of winter.

A bright January day in the Alcazar gardens, Sevilla


If you prefer a country escape to a city break, winter's a great time to get friends and family together and rent a casa rural. And if you like it cold or enjoy winter sports, head to the Pyrenees, the sierra around Madrid or the Sierra Nevada in Granada.

Winter fiestas


Caga Tio, the Catalan Christmas log. Photo from tourismwithme.com


In Spain, the main Christmas celebrations take place on 24 December, when families get together in the evening for a big meal. Cataluña has some particularly curious traditions, including the Caga Tió ('poo log', to put it politely), a cute tree trunk with a smiley face who children 'feed' during December so that he erm, produces gifts for them when they bash him with sticks and sing to him on the 24th. I kid you not. The Catalans are a fan of scataological humour, with their figure of the 'Caganer' common in nativity scenes around the province. This figure of a man doing his business has become something of a collector's item, with controversial figures (often politicians) on sale every year. You can find both the Caga Tió and Caganers during December in markets around Cataluña, including the Fira de Santa Llúcia in Barcelona. You can find more details of Christmas and New Year activities in Barcelona here.

Christmas lights in Madrid

Monday, 15 December 2014

Festive fun in Madrid: Christmas lights, markets, skating & snow

Callao at Christmas. I admit I added the snow.


Being from England, I sometimes struggle to get into the festive spirit in Spain without the sludge-skied days, cracker-pulling at Christmas dos, pre-Christmas mince pies and the schmaltzy John Lewis advert on TV. They do the holiday season a bit differently here, so I'm currently looking for excuses to get into the Christmas mood. If you're in Madrid over the next few weeks, here's a guide to festive fun around the city.

Seeing the Christmas lights


Christmas lights as seen from the Navibus. Photos from my Instagram feed

Madrid puts on a good show in the evening (until the oddly early hour of 11pm). All around the centre, streets are illuminated with glitzy lights, some of which were designed by top Spanish designers. Most of the conical Christmas trees which pepper the city's plazas are unfortunately sponsored this year, with the name of the sponsor festooned in lights, but the huge gold tree in Puerta del Sol is sponsorship-free. Sol looks particularly good at Christmas, and Gran Vía and Cibeles to the Puerta de Alcalá are also festively lit. If you want to get a good look at the city's best displays, take the Navibus from Plaza Colón (opposite Calle Serrano 30); an after-dark tour of the city's Christmas lights. Costing €2 for adults and €1.50 for children, the trip on an open-top bus runs from 6–10pm Monday–Thursday and until 11pm on weekends plus 25 December and 1 January. The route takes in Puerta de Alcala, Cibeles, Calle Alcalá, Gran Vía up to Santo Domingo where it doubles back and follows the same trail in reverse, adding in some of barrio Salamanca on the return journey. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and is fun for kids of all ages.

Christmas markets and pop-ups

If standard Christmas shopping isn't for you, you might want to check out some of the many markets and pop-up stores on offer in Madrid this month. There's a very comprehensive list (in Spanish) over on Madrid Diferente, but a few highlights include Diferente Market  (20 & 21 December) which will sell products from 30 independent designers and also offer a café bar and a DJ session, and the Mercadillo del Gato from 13–23 December with vintage goods, jewellery, cosmetics, artisanal products and more. 

The Hovse: Pretty but pricey


On the pop-up front, the much-hyped (and stupidly-named) The Hovse is best for a browse and a leisurely vermouth at La Vermuteria pop-up (a pop-up within a pop-up, how hipster) unless you're utterly loaded. As at the very similar, equally stupidly-named (Meaning) – their brackets not mine – at the Palacio Santa Barbara, all the independently-designed goods are beautifully presented, but their price tags are not within reach for your average mil eurista. If you're looking for similar gift items, clothes and jewellery at a more reasonable price, try boutiques La Intrusa and Nest instead. Nest also sells Christmas cards.

More traditional outdoor markets selling artisanal goods, food and jewellery among other gift items can be found around Plaza Mayor, near the Palace and in Plaza Santo Domingo. 

Ice skating

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Georgina's Year Abroad in Huesca: Part 1


This week's post is a guest post by Georgina Dorr, a student of French, Spanish & Portuguese at Exeter University who is currently on her year abroad in Huesca. Georgina is working as a British Council Language Assistant and blogging about her year abroad over at The Treasured Notebook

Hands up if you’ve ever heard of Aragón?

No? I hadn’t either, until I moved here nearly three months ago. It’s an autonomous community in the North East of Spain, bordering France and in my opinion, seriously underrated!

Georgina outside Huesca Cathedral


Aragón is the only region that has snowy mountains, sandy deserts and metropolitan cities. It’s got a bit of everything really. I’m currently living in Huesca, a small city of 50,000 people in the North of Aragón. ‘Why Huesca?!’ I hear you cry, and the answer to that would be random selection.

I’m currently working as an Auxiliar de Conversación (English Language Assistant) for the British Council, and the application process is pretty much random. You can select your preferred regions (mine being Andalucía in the South and then Aragón and Navarra, the ski resorts in the North) and they randomly allocate you. Annoyingly, I didn’t find out until around 6 weeks before I moved here, but that’s just the nature of the British Council process.

Views on the drive between Huesca & Pamplona


At first, I was slightly disappointed not to be in the sunny Spain that I’d first imagined: palm trees, Piña Coladas and la playa. Instead, I’m around 40 minutes from the Pyrenees ski resorts and completely inland, but I genuinely wouldn’t change a thing. Huesca is a small city but I really like the familiarity of it and seeing people I know every time I go to the local supermarket. I’m really loving living here and being somewhere that tourists would never think to visit (I can count the English speakers in Huesca on one hand!). I’m also really lucky to be living with two lovely Spanish students, with whom I can practise my Spanish and really discover the Spanish culture, which you wouldn’t see if you lived with other expats.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Costa del Conference Venue: Working in Fuengirola

Last month I shared my snobbish surprise that Fuengirola was an ideal beach break destination: with excellent-value hotels, clean beaches and good shopping, what's not to love? But the reason I found myself in Fuengirola in the first place was business, not pleasure: my company had chosen to host their annual summer conference in this seaside resort.

Business or pleasure?


I couldn't understand the logic behind holding a conference in a popular tourist destination in the height of summer, but once I clicked through to the website of the THB Reserva del Higuerón, I didn't care. This four star superior (whatever that means) hotel nestles in the hills between Fuengirola and its neighbouring resort Benalmádena and has more facilities than you can shake your sun cream at. Or at least, more than you can road test during a three-day conference: there's a health club including a gym, full spa and tennis courts; three swimming pools (one of which is a swanky infinity pool), a choice of restaurants, cafés and bars, a mini-train to trundle you off to the beach and a beach club once you get there.

The view from my room at THB Reserva del Higueron


The Reserva del Higuerón isn't just crammed full of facilities, though; it's also rather trendy. Decor is sleek and chic, with piped electronic music reminding you how deeply fashionable the place is. There's the odd pretentious element, and there was a fair bit of posing going down on the couples' sunloungers surrounding the infinity pool, but the staff are friendly and helpful. There were a few style over substance gaffes, however: in the bedrooms, a sliding door served both the toilet and the adjacent shower – but it didn't cover both at the same time. The bathtub was also positioned in the room itself, presumably designed so that you could soak up the view at the same time as the bubbles, but these decisions mean it's not ideal for friends sharing (or new partners). There were no phones in the rooms either – reception supplied a mobile if you needed one. Presumably this was a cost-cutting incentive dressed up as a digital era decision, but it's not the handiest plan for a hotel that also offers conference facilities.

Sunset from the infinity pool


Apart from that though, I couldn't fault the Reserva del Higuerón as a conference venue – or a hotel for those seeking a relaxing escape. As we were in meetings and training sessions all day, proximity to the beach, restaurants and shops wasn't a priority, but for those who like to feel the sand between their toes or want to get out on day trips, the location may be a bit remote. The free mini-train service connects the hotel with the shopping centre, the train station and the beach in Fuengirola, but with 8 services a day (the last one at 7pm), it's of limited help. However, as the facilities and food in the hotel are of a high standard, this doesn't matter if you're looking for somewhere to chill out for a few days. And if you do want to venture further afield, you can hire cars in reception. Another big plus is its status as an 'adults only' hotel: when I saw this one the website, I feared swingers' nights would be advertised in reception, but it means exactly what it says – children aren't allowed to stay here, meaning a peaceful poolside experience for all.

The meeting room we were allocated was well-appointed and all the audiovisual equipment worked: a must for a conference venue. And in the snatches of free time we got, we could enjoy the gym or the swimming pools (awkward 'colleague in swimsuit' alert). We enjoyed buffet-style breakfasts and lunches, and were whisked off by bus to dine in the evenings. The nearby Restaurante El Higuerón (handily located across a motorway, so yes the bus was needed) served delicious Spanish dishes in traditional surroundings, with a panoramic view over the hills and down to the sea. Watching the sun set from here while tucking into gourmet food wasn't a shabby experience at all.

Fuengirola surprised me again. It may not be your traditional conference venue, but I'd much more stay in a chic hotel surrounded by (well-behaved) holidaymakers to dilute the business experience a little. And when you can end the day with a sunbathe, a swim and a sip of cava by the infinity pool, so much the better.

The details
THB Reserva del Higuerón is at Autopista Costa del Sol, salida 217, Avenida del Higuerón 46, 29640 Fuengirola. It's 19km from Malaga airport and 2km from the beach.
Prices start from €46 in low season for a double room excluding breakfast. This is an absolute bargain.

You can read my post about my weekend break in Fuengirola here.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Madrid Monday: A trendy take on tapas at La Pescadería

You're in Madrid and looking to dine at a stylish spot with a bit of atmosphere. The food's got to be good too, of course. Oh, and you don't have a lot to spend.

In a city saturated with restaurants, finding somewhere that fits all these criteria shouldn't be a tall order: but it is. Until recently, my go-tos for good value meals in a trendy setting were always La Musa and La Mucca –  until I discovered La Pescadería.

The lovely indoor patio at La Pescaderia


From the same stable as success story La Mucca (which has a branch just off Calle Pez and another on Calle Prado), La Pescadería is on newly-happening Calle Ballesta and offers diners a winning formula of cocktails, tapas and main meals. Like La Mucca, it's atmospherically-lit (no complexion-draining strip lighting beloved of bares Manolo here, señores) with that industrial-chic feel that's doing the rounds on the hipster circuit at the moment. So far, so Triball identikit, right?

But wait: the food's great. And don't just take my word for it: I took my notoriously fussy mother here and she loved it. She's still talking about it a month later. With a more modern Spanish menu than La Mucca, La Pescadería offers a generous selection of tapas to share, including vegetarian, meat and you guessed it, fish options. You'll see a few staples such as patatas bravas and chipirones encebollados (baby squid with onion) lurking amongst the tempting-sounding modern dishes, and you may well consider ignoring them. Don't. La Pescadería's are some of the best bravas I've ever had, with fresh, plump potatoes that somehow avoid feeling fried and a rich, creamy, spicy sauce. The succulent chipirones are one of the stand-out dishes, recommended by the friendly staff.

Atmospheric lighting = bad food shots. Pumpkin & goat's cheese salad


Other top tapas include the pumpkin, goat's cheese and walnut salad, the buñuelos de bacalao (cod fritters – my personal favourite) with piquillo pepper sauce, vegetable tempura and rabas (squid strips) with saffron alioli. Portions are a decent size for tapas; after several visits I've found four tapas to be enough between two people wanting a light meal, but if you're hungry, order more. Prices hover around the €5 mark for the tapas, with main meals such as boletus risotto, gourmet hamburger, meats and fish generally €13 plus. Wines by the glass are a cut above the usual and cheap, and there's an extensive cocktail list.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Expat issues: How to look for a job in Spain

There are generally two reasons why people move to Spain: work or love. Work is a fairly straightforward one: you got offered a tempting transfer or a great new opportunity abroad. The 'love' category is a bit more complicated: you could be in love with someone who lives in Spain, a partner who's found a new professional opportunity there, or even the country itself. But whatever your situation, if you're planning a move to Spain and don't yet have a job set up, read on. Please bear in mind that as I'm English, this post is written with EU citizens in mind, but may still be helpful to those from outside Europe.

If only it was that easy. From virtualvocations.com


1) Decide what you're willing to do

If you want to pursue your current career in Spain, it's worth getting your Spanish up to scratch before you move. While there are plenty of international companies in Madrid and Barcelona who may claim that their working language is English, it'll really help your cause if you can communicate with colleagues easily in castellano. A rough guide for a minimum level to work (reasonably) comfortably in another language is B2 level. If you can get this certified, so much the better: it shows a willingness to learn and that you're taking your move seriously. You can take the official Spanish exams, the Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera, at Instituto Cervantes centres around the world. The exams cover all four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) and are offered at all CEFR levels, although A2, B2 and C2 are the most common. It's worth looking into a specific preparation course to increase your chances of passing, or you can find mock exams here if you'd rather go it alone.

Unless you've avoided all contact with the news over the past few years, you'll know that Spain's in a rather unhealthy financial situation and unemployment is high, so it's important to be realistic when job hunting, and to know that you may not be able to find exactly the same type of position as you had back home, or at the same level. The Local's list of top jobs for expats in Spain suggests that the industries with the most demand are customer services, digital marketing, engineering, IT, finance and English teaching.

If you just want to find a job quickly and relatively easily and aren't too concerned about what you do, play to your strength as a native English speaker and become an English teacher. I'm not suggesting that teaching is an easy option or a career you can coast in, but for many expats (especially those with minimal Spanish) it's a realistic way of earning a living. You need to get yourself some training and a qualification: the CELTA is the gold standard of the TEFL world, and is highly regarded by all teaching centres. It's more expensive than many TEFL courses, sure – but it's the only one that's certified by Cambridge University. Anyone can offer a TEFL course: after all, the acronym just means teaching English as a foreign language. While standards obviously vary, some courses are definitely not worth the money in terms of the preparation they give you. And when you're standing up in front of an expectant classroom, you'll want to be prepared. The Trinity TEFL certificate is certified by Trinity College London and is also well regarded. It includes a section focusing on young learners, so if you want to teach kids this course is worth considering. As to whether to take your TEFL course before you move or whether to do it on arrival, there are pros and cons. In England the courses are cheaper due to a government limit on the price for short courses, but if you do your course locally you get to meet fellow expats (I'm still friends with several people from my course) and there's a chance you'll find work through the language school where you study.

And if you fancy yourself as an entrepreneur? Be prepared for an uphill struggle. Setting up your own business or going freelance is by no means impossible, but Spain doesn't make it easy. There is plenty of bureaucracy involved, and to work freelance you'll have to pay monthly autónomo fees (in addition to tax). If you're thinking about starting a business, take a look at Lauren of Madrid Food Tour's experience. I'll be looking more at being autónomo in a future posts.

Well, it's one option. From personalbrandingblog.com


2) Prepare your CV & Linkedin profile


Once you've identified the area you're going to aim for, get yourself good CVs in both English and Spanish. If your Spanish is shaky, it's worth getting a translator to help you. CVs in Spain are short: ideally just one page, and never more than two. Nobody needs to know that you once had a summer job at the supermarket: keep it relevant and highlight all your skills and experience that relate to the field you're aiming at. Spanish CVs also typically include a photo, and you should include your passport number or NIE. Age is a valid selection criteria in Spain (yes, you can advertise for a certain age of employee), so you can also provide this on your CV (or else you may be asked at interview).

Recruitment in Spain is increasingly done through Linkedin, especially for international companies. Create yourself a profile either in English or a bilingual one: the type of employers who hire through Linkedin are probably more concerned with checking your English than your Spanish, but make sure to showcase your language skills in the relevant section, and don't forget to include that DELE qualification if you've got it. Even if you're camera-shy, it's worth including a photo: profiles with photos get a lot more views than those without (and a lot of connection requests from Indian men, in my case). Make sure the photo is work-appropriate: don't use a photo of yourself on a night out, it just doesn't give the right impression.

It may also be worth creating a profile on Infojobs, one of Spain's main job ad sites. Create this profile in Spanish if possible.

As you're preparing to start your search, you also need to prepare yourself practically by getting a NIE and a social security number, as both are needed to work legally in Spain.

From keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk


3) Know where to look

Thursday, 20 November 2014

I'm a Praktik Hotels Ambassador

As of this week, I'm an 'ambassador' for Praktik Hotels. What does that mean? Well, this cool and affordable little hotel chain is working with bloggers based in Barcelona and Madrid to share experiences and tips about the cities on their blog.

The comfiest hotel bed I've ever stayed in: Praktik Vinoteca


Praktik caught my eye on Instagram a few months ago with their gorgeous images of their hotels and their eye for great design (and of course, the incredible concept that is the Bakery Hotel). After recently staying at the newly-opened Praktik Vinoteca, a wine-themed hotel in Barcelona complete with sommelier, I was excited to get involved with their ambassador initiative. At the moment, there are 11 of us, living in either Barcelona and Madrid. Almost everyone blogs already, so if you're looking for new reading material on these cities, check out the ambassadors' profiles. With Praktik's motto being 'Collect experiences not things', we're here to share our insights into the cities we call home.

Why collaborate with Praktik? Blogging on Oh hello, Spain keeps me busy enough. Well, this may be true, but I'm excited to write different posts about Madrid and share them with a wider audience, in addition to keeping up my regular blogging here. And Praktik's ethos is one that really appeals to me, with an emphasis on quality, comfort and style on a budget. Prices at their hotels start at under €100 for a double room, and with impeccably designed facilities, you can't get much better. As a traveller who appreciates stylish surroundings for a reasonable price, I agree with Praktik's aim. And it's not just the price, it's the details: at the Vinoteca I was greeted with a free glass of cava on arrival, and guests can also enjoy free wine tastings. With different initiatives on offer in each of the hotels, Praktik has got the little things right.

My first post on the Praktik blog, about swapping the traditional tourist Prado + Retiro combo for the trendier, less-crowded Matadero + Madrid Rio, is here. Over on the blog, you can find my ideas and many more tips on Madrid and Barcelona.

Monday, 17 November 2014

(Drink) dates for your diary: La Vermutería pop-up, Ruta del Carajillo & Madrid Beer Week

If you're fond of a tipple or two, you're bound to love the variety of well-priced booze that Spain has to offer. Fine wine at a fraction of the price we pay in the UK, a range of draft and craft beers, Catalan cava and of course, sherry. There are also a few lesser-known drinks to taste test: newly-trendy vermouth and carajillo, a brandy-laced coffee for those who like their winter warmers with a kick. You can obviously order these drinks at most bars around the country, but if you're in Madrid over the next few weeks, you might want to check out some of these events.

La Vermutería pop-up


The bar at a La Vermuteria event

Since getting the hipsters' seal of approval, the traditional Spanish aperitif vermut (vermouth) is popping up again in bars around the country. There are particularly big vermouth scenes in Barcelona and Madrid, where you'll find more than just bearded fixie-bike owners sipping on a neat vermut on the rocks before tucking into their Sunday lunches. Fusing the vermouth trend with the fashion for pop-up events, La Vermutería pop-up takes over bars around Madrid on Sunday afternoons, serving a different brand of vermouth each time. There are tastings in the early afternoon, followed by several hours of vermouth-sipping to the soundtrack of a DJ. A couple of different tapas are also available to munch on. It's a fun and inexpensive way to spend a Sunday afternoon catching up with friends: a glass of vermut is just €2 a pop. Negronis are also on offer for the cocktail lovers out there. All brands of vermouth on offer are artesanal and haven't yet gone mainstream: perfect for those who enjoy getting a piece of the action before the general public. So that'll be why it's so popular with hipsters, then...

A glass of the good stuff


When: Most Sundays – for upcoming dates check their website. If you want to check it out this year, you're in luck: the next event runs from 21 November–24 December at Christmas pop-up The Hovse (no, that's not a typo) on Calle General Arrando 40.
Where: Bars around Madrid, and occasionally other cities. Previous venues have included Muy Placer en Conserva in Conde Duque and Stop Madrid on Calle Hortaleza.

La Ruta del Carajillo


Every winter, Brandy Magno offers a 'Ruta del Carajillo' around a selection of Spanish cities (A Coruña, Albacete, Girona, Madrid, Murcia and Valencia). During the event, certain bars around the city offer a carajillo (brandy-infused coffee) for the price of a normal coffee. The venues that form the route tend to be cosy, boho cafés ideal for curling up in away from the cold. Participating bars give out a 'Pasaporte Carajillo Magno' with details of all the spots on the route, and you can ask for your 'passport' to be stamped to be in with a chance of winning a trip to Prague. Even if you aren't a big carajillo fan, it's worth checking out the list of bars online or picking up a passport – you're bound to find a few new favourite cafés. Bars on the Madrid route include Café Manuela, Vacaciones and Populart.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Visiting Spain: Renting a casa rural





If you're looking for a plan for the December puente or just a different place to stay outside the city, consider renting a casa rural. With the growing popularity of local travel, these country cottages offer an opportunity to see somewhere different, get a bit closer to a community and to enjoy more freedom than you'd get at a hotel. And while Airbnb is great for Spanish city stays, it's yet to catch on in towns and the countryside, so you're better off using homegrown booking sites.

So, what exactly is a casa rural? They're self-catering houses, cottages or even apartments in small towns or villages, usually located in the countryside. Sounds pretty picturesque, doesn't it? Well, they usually are.

How to rent a casa rural

The choice of casas rurales is so vast that it really helps to have an idea of the area you want to visit. There seem to be slightly more north of Madrid than to the south, but wherever you want to go, you should have a choice of places to stay. 

The main listing and booking sites for casas rurales and apartments in off-the-beaten-track towns are Toprural and Escapada Rural. There's also Niumba, which is linked to TripAdvisor and offers a variety of types of property around Spain. I've used Toprural as a search engine, but booked direct with the owner: many Toprural listings contain links to each casa's own website. Some properties also offer booking through Toprural, but it's mostly a 'shop window', as is Escapada Rural, while Niumba offers secure reservations. Alternatively you can just use a search engine to look for casas rurales in your chosen area, but it's less time-consuming to let one of these sites do the work for you, as you can filter by property size and facilities. They also show user reviews to help you narrow down your search.

Casas rurales sleep from two to over twenty people, so they're ideal for couples and groups of friends or family. From simple mountain lodges to some luxe-looking properties with hot tubs, they vary wildly in style. Prices are generally low, starting from around €10 per person per night for a large property. They also depend on season, and a lot of places have a minimum stay over Spanish holidays, so it's worth checking fiesta dates when you're booking. You can check prices and a bookings calendar either on the listings sites or the property's website.

Given the rural nature of these properties, you usually need a car to reach them. However, some are in (small) town centres and can be accessed by public transport.

My casa rural experience

For the December puente a few years ago, a couple of friends and I decided to rent a casa rural. We were surprised by the choice on offer: from luxury barn conversions decorated in boutique style, to rustic lodgings, to cute cottages and places big enough to sleep over twenty people.

Rural enough for you? View of Cerveruela


We finally decided on Casa Larrueda in the tiny village of Cerveruela in southern Aragón. It was exactly what we were looking for on a winter weekend: a very photogenic, well-decorated cottage with a wood-burning fire and a supply of board games. When we arrived in Cerveruela, we realised that travel didn't get much more local than this – the village was so small that it didn't even have a shop. In true Spanish style, there was a bar though, frequented in the evenings by elderly gents playing dominos.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Madrid Monday: Dealz brings Poundland to Madrid





In my office, the working day begins with a hot beverage: coffee for the Spaniards, tea for the expats (and the occasional cultural crossover). It was over my morning cuppa last week that I was sounded out on my feelings for cheap UK chainstore Poundland. When I confessed to being partial to its bargain branded goods, my friend could barely contain her excitement: the first Madrid branch of Dealz, the Spanish name for Poundland, was opening that day. And even better, it was within walking distance of our office (and my house).

Every expat has their foibles, their must-have goods that they scramble to stock up on every time they fly back home. Mine are Twining's Earl Grey, Batiste Blonde Dry Shampoo and Dettol Antibacterial Spray. Yes, really. So imagine my reaction when, after our 'power-walk to Poundland' (OK, Dealz), I found a shelf bursting with bottles of my favourite cleaning product. I actually jumped in the air. Even better, like everything else in the store, it was only €1.50.

Dear friends, you will no longer be asked to bring this over in your cases

Dealz opened on 30 October at 192 Bravo Murillo, near Metro Estrecho. On opening day, it was packed with shoppers stuffing their cestas with cut-price goods, many of them from brands more commonly available in the UK than Spain. It wasn't just the price that excited us expats, it was the fact we could easily stock up on Cadbury's chocolate, Kellogg's cereal, Nairn's oatcakes, Discos, Quavers, Heinz Baked Beans, Johnson & Johnson branded shampoos and shower gels, Jane Asher bakeware and more. Dealz sells a whole host of everyday essentials, from food to toiletries to cleaning products to kitchenware. It's also a great place to stock up on Christmas cards and decorations (we didn't spot any crackers, but we're hopeful some will pop up by December). Everything is €1.50, which is a little more pricey than £1 in the UK, but we can't really complain given the import costs.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Fuengirola: Sun, sand and stereotypes on the Costa del Sol



I'm now ashamed to admit I laughed when I discovered we were heading to Fuengirola for my company's annual summer conference. In my vague defence, they've got form with package holiday resorts beloved by Brits: in 2012, we all descended on Benidorm.

My response wasn't merely mirth, though: I was also intrigued. After spending several happy family holidays near San Pedro de Alcántara further along the Costa del Sol, and a more recent trip to Estepona, I was curious to see what this particular resort resort was like. Tacking a weekend break onto the beginning of the conference trip was a quick decision; fellow expat friend Vicki was easily roped in. The choice of accommodation was less straightforward: classy-looking Spanish-run Casa Consistorial, or a high-rise beachside number bound to be brimming with Brits abroad? Although the latter had definite eyes-on-stalks potential,  our curiosity ultimately wasn't quite as morbid as we thought, and we opted for the small four-star hotel.

Just 40 minutes from central Málaga and 30 from the airport on the cercanías commuter train, Fuengirola is a well-connected resort. Swinging into town on a Friday night, we attempted not to let a fellow train passenger's ignorance of the existence of Madrid (yes, really) cloud our judgment about the typical Costa del Sol holidaymaker. A short walk later, we were greeted by a concert in full flow outside our hotel: our visit had coincided with Fuengirola's Noche Viva, an annual summer event which involves live performances and late opening at shops around town. Plaza de los Reyes Católicos was abuzz with locals and a scattering of holidaymakers soaking up the lively atmosphere. We had been expecting sunburnt Brits abroad preparing for a big night out, instead there was a family crowd that looked distinctly Spanish. It was beginning to look like I'd watched far too many episodes of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, and instead of being faced with fishbowl cocktails and Irish bars, we had a far more Spanish experience in store.

Our abode in Fuengirola: Casa Consistorial



Casa Consistorial is certainly Spanish. This comfortable hotel is in a prime location just five minutes' walk from the beach: close, but far enough away that it feels like a retreat from the seafront strip. Opened in 2013, it's modern yet traditional, with a clear focus on guests' comfort and convenience. Bathrobes, slippers, beach towels and flip-flops for each guest are all welcome touches, but the well-priced mini-bar was what grabbed us. €6 for a decent half bottle of wine? Yes please! The small hotel also boasts a rooftop pool area with a bar serving snacks and drinks to order. Guests were a mixture of Spanish, British and other nationalities: which turned out to be pretty representative of Fuengirola as a whole.



Hitting the seafront on Friday night, we finally knew we were at a seaside resort. Stepping back from the beach, most bars, restaurants and shops were Spanish, but closer to the sea there's a more international feel. The seafront is lined with low-key bars and restaurants, all filled with families: we later learned that most of the nightlife is east of the main beach. On the main part of the Paseo Marítimo you'll find cafes and restaurants serving mostly British, Italian and Spanish food, souvenir shops, ice cream parlours and a few cocktail bars. Competition keeps the prices low: pizzas start at well under €10 and drinks are also reasonably priced. The atmosphere on this part of the strip was very family-friendly, as it is around the 'Calle del Hambre': a tangle of streets one block back from the seafront crammed with every cuisine imaginable. Touts swarm at passers by, diners chomp down their meals in full view. The sounds, smells and sights were too much for me: this touristic intensity was what I had expected of a package holiday resort.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Madrid Monday: Monuments & museums with free entry at certain times

Free entry to monuments and museums in Madrid part 2


The most enticing blog post title ever? If you're still reading, hopefully you'll find this post useful. As I explained in part 1, many museums and monuments in Madrid open for free at certain times. These are either exceptional days during the year, as in part 1; certain days or times every week (notably Sunday), as in part 2; or every day, as in part 3. If you're planning a trip to Madrid, it's helpful to know when these free opening times are so you can save your cents for what really matters: food.

Free entry times vary greatly, so I've categorized into Sundays and Other days, with full details below. If a sight is free on Sunday plus another time of the week, I've listed it under Sunday with the additional free time next to it. Click on the links of the different attractions for opening hours, normal prices and other information.




Sundays

Many Madrid museums offer free entry on Sunday morning (usually until 2 or 3pm, not noon – fear not, you'll still get your lie in).

Museo de América (Museum of the Americas)
Museo Arqueológico Nacional (National Archaeology Museum) Also free on Saturdays from 2pm.
Museo de Artes Decorativas (Decorative Arts Museum) Also free on Thursday afternoon.
Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum) Also free on Saturdays from 2pm.
Museo Cerralbo Also free on Thursdays from 5–8pm & Saturdays from 2pm.
Museo Joaquín Sorolla (Museum in the former home of the impressionist painter) Also free on Thursdays from 5–8pm & Saturdays from 2pm.
Museo del Prado From 5–7pm. Also free Mon–Sat 6–8pm & all day on 19 November.
Museo Reina Sofía From 1.30–7pm. Also free on Mon, Weds & Sat from 7–9pm.
Museo del Romanticismo (Romanticism Museum) Also free on Saturdays from 2pm. 
Museo del Traje (Costume Museum)Also free on Saturdays from 2.30pm.

Other times of the week

Note that the Patrimonio Nacional sites (the 2 monasteries and all palaces) are free to EU and Iberoamerican citizens only at these times. See their websites for full details.

Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Barefoot Nuns) Wed & Thu from 3–6pm Oct–Mar, 5–8pm Apr–Sep
Monasterio de la Encarnación Wed & Thu from 3–6pm Oct–Mar, 5–8pm Apr–Sep
Museo Lázaro Galdiano Daily 3.30–4.30pm. Sunday 2–3pm. Closed Tuesday.
Museo Thyssen – Monday from 12–4pm
Palacio Real de Aranjuez(Aranjuez Palace)
Palacio Real de El Pardo(El Pardo Palace)
Palacio Real de La Granja de San Ildefonso (La Granja de San Ildefonso Palace, near Segovia) Wed & Thu from 3–6pm Oct–Mar, 5–8pm Apr–Sep
Palacio Real de Madrid (Madrid Royal Palace) Mon–Thu from 4–6pm Oct–Mar, 6–8pm Apr–Sep
Palacio Real de Riofrío (Riofrio Palace, near Segovia) Wed & Thu from 3–6pm Oct–Mar, 5–8pm Apr–Sep
Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial(El Escorial Monastery) Wed & Thu from 3–6pm Oct–Mar, 5–8pm Apr–Sep
El Valle de los Caídos(Valley of the Fallen) Wed & Thu from 3–6pm Oct–Mar, 5–8pm Apr–Sep

Monuments marked with a * are in the Comunidad de Madrid rather than the city. 

Read more

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Expat issues: How to get a mobile phone, landline and internet in Spain

How to get a mobile phone, landline and internet in Spain


This month's expat issues is a guest post. Timmer is one half of the duo behind CatalunyaWine.com, offering English language coverage of the wine industry of Catalunya with videos, interviews, articles, photo galleries and more!

So you’re moving to Spain, and coming from let’s say the United States or the United Kingdom, and you’re used to telecommunications companies causing grief for you. Those of us from the United States are well aware of having to book off an entire day (or at least half a day) in the hope of having services hooked up, only to be faced with a no show and a cascade of excuses at worst or a late appearance at best.

Getting a mobile phone deal

Before I delve into the morass that is home service, let’s talk about the easy part, which is getting a mobile phone or SIM card for your current phone. You’ve got extensive choices from international monoliths Vodafone, Movistar, and Orange, plus country-specific providers like Yoigo and Ono.

If you only need a Spanish SIM, things are quite simple


You’ve got two options with all providers, 'pay as you go' or contract. In order to qualify for a contract, you’ll have to provide your NIE, passport, a utility bill with your address, and sometimes your rental contract. If you’re looking to get a new contract and a new phone number, and you want a new phone handset, you’ll be stuck with the lower end of the spectrum for deals. In Spain, if you’re transferring an existing contract to a new company, you get all the keys to the kingdom including deals on the brand new iPhone 6. It’s created real cutthroat competition, and a culture of being promised the world to transfer your phone to a new provider if you go into one of the stores to sign up.

If you’re new to Spain, the best idea is to get a pay as you go SIM card, especially if you’re only here temporarily. You can get 2 GB data plans and plus 60 minutes of calling for around 20 euros a month. With Yoigo, who I went with almost three years ago, I had 1 GB for 10 euros a month, and calls were a flat 15 cents per call, no matter the length of the call. It worked great with my iPhone 4, and gave me mobile service all over Spain. All the major companies offer similar deals and it’s best to shop around, as all of them change their offers from time to time. (Side note from Kate: I’m on Vodafone’s pay as you go ‘Yuser’ tariff, which costs me €10 a month for 20 messages, 20 minutes of calls and 600MB of data). You definitely need a data allowance: Spanish social lives are conducted almost exclusively through WhatsApp due to the small number of free SMS given with different deals.

All you need to get a SIM card is photo ID such as a passport or driver’s licence. You can get them at stores belonging to your chosen network, The Phone House shops and the electronics department of El Corte Inglés. Once you’re set up, you can top up your 'saldo' (credit) via internet, SMS, at the supermarket or at a cashpoint (if you have a Spanish bank card). In Catalunya, you can also top up at the huge network of Tabacs stores.

Landlines and internet


Hello? Customer service?


Now then, what about landlines and home internet? To get these installed, you need a NIE, rental contract, and a note from your mother in order to sign up. The process is painful. You can register online, by phone or in store if you choose a company like Movistar, Orange or Vodafone. There are often introductory offers and deals which include a mobile phone, so have a look around. You’ll be forced to sign up for a contract, anywhere from one year to two years depending on the deals on offer. As Movistar, through their Telefónica arm, still control phone lines in Spain, a technician comes out to check your lines and do 'the install', which amounts to popping a box in with your new phone number at the street box.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Madrid Monday: Tapapiés Tapas & Music Festival in Lavapiés

Every October, there's a buzz in the barrio of Lavapiés: the annual Tapapiés festival comes to town. Tapapiés Ruta Multicultural de la Tapa y la Música, to give it its full title, is one of several tapas rutas organized throughout the year in different neighbourhoods around Madrid. Now in its fourth year, Tapapiés has proven one of the most popular.



Not traditionally known for its tapas, Lavapiés plays on its multicultural connections during the ten days of Tapapiés (16–26 October in 2014). Madrid's tapas routes generally work like this: bars in a certain neighbourhood offer a speciality tapa at a knockdown price during the week or so that the event lasts. This is usually combined with a drinks offer, so for example, you could get a botellín of beer and a tapa for €2 or €3. Tapapiés is friendly on the wallet at €1 a tapa and €1 a beer.  And you won't be short of choice either, with 73 participating venues around the barrio. In addition to offering cheap tapas for ten days, there's also a programme of free musical performances around the neighbourhood, with several acts appearing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

In order to experience Tapapiés, download the map of venues and hit the hood. It's fun to get a group of friends together on a tapas crawl through the area, stopping at bars and restaurants as diverse as Senagalese spot Africa Fusion, Canarian bar Perro Malo and Spanish classic Peñalaire. Each venue's details are listed on the Tapapiés website, and details of their speciality tapa are included. In such a diverse barrio as Lavapiés, you're going to get more for your money than the usual calamares and patatas bravas, let me tell you. Vegetarians may want to plan ahead and see which venues offer meat-free tapas.

As well as sampling tapas from around the barrio, customers also have the chance to vote for their favourite experience on the Tapapiés website. With a lively atmosphere and cheap food and drink, Tapapiés is well worth a visit – and you never know, you may even find a new favourite bar to return to during the rest of the year.

If you aren't around for Tapapiés, you'll probably have to wait until next year to get your tapas festival fix: other Madrid rutas include the city-wide Gastro Festival in FebruaryDe Tapas por La Latina in September, Devora Tapas Salamanca Retiro in early October. But festival or not, there's always plenty of tapas to be found in Madrid, especially in the hotspots of La Latina and Calle Ponzano.

Have you been to Tapapiés or another tapas 'ruta'? What's your favourite area for tapas in Madrid?


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Shopping is GREAT Britain event at El Corte Inglés (& other UK home comforts)

Britain is GREAT: A celebration of British culture & shopping at El Corte Inglés

From the retail giants of the Inditex group to the barrio stores, Spain is definitely not a country short of shopping opportunities. However, as an expat, there's nothing like a bit of retail therapy from your own country. 

When you move abroad after your first flush of youth (ahem), your tastes are largely set. So if you're a Twinings rather than a Tetley girl or guy, you may struggle to get your fix. And it's not just that good old British stereotype of tea – away from the costas, all manner of British goods can be hard to track down (and often come with a premium price tag).



That's all set to change temporarily, thanks to the Shopping is GREAT Britain festival at El Corte Inglés which starts on 17 October and runs for 3 weeks. With the aim of promoting British food, fashion and culture, there will be a bigger focus on British brands than usual, with more than 600 products from the British Isles on offer in 35 selected stores. The clothing brands to be featured are largely high-end (not sure how many average expats can stretch to Vivienne Westwood or Victoria Beckham Denim), but the food focus looks more accessible, with free tastings available in the pop-up areas in store.

The flagship branches of El Corte Inglés participating in Shopping is Great Britain are the Castellana store in Madrid and the Diagonal branch in Barcelona, plus Bilbao, Marbella and Valencia stores.

In addition to showcasing and selling British goods, the festival also offers a chance to meet British authors, with in-store storytelling sessions for kids and a book signing by Chris Stewart (author of Driving over Lemons) in the Marbella store on 18 October. Shopping is GREAT Britain also links to international festivals taking place around the country, including a British BAFTA Shorts event at the Conde Duque Cultural Centre in Madrid on 20 October, education fairs in Barcelona and Madrid, and the Bizkaia International Music Experience in Bilbao, which features several British bands. 

UK stores that ship to Spain

If your British retail cravings can't be satisfied in a mere 3 weeks, why not check out the online offers at some of these UK stores?

Boots


Monday, 13 October 2014

Madrid's gourmet markets: Style over substance?


Once upon a time, you’d go to a market to pick up your daily groceries. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, maybe some herbs and spices. Standard stuff. A few years ago, this time-honoured tradition started to change in Madrid. In 2009 when I first lived in the city, the wrought-iron and glass Mercado de San Miguel reopened as a gourmet market. After closing down due to low profits, this market next to Plaza Mayor was relaunched with a new focus. Sure, you can still buy fruit and veg there: there’s one lone, overpriced stall of glossy Granny Smiths and bold yellow bananas. The rest of the market is given over to tapas stalls and drinks bars, with a seating area in the centre so that visitors can tuck in at a table. When it opened, my friends and I thought it was a great idea, and enjoyed many a Friday night glass of wine to wash down a couple of inexpensive tapas. But as time has gone by, this creative idea to regenerate a city market has proven so popular with tourists that the Mercado de San Miguel is often overcrowded. And that’s before we mention the invasion of non-Spanish brands like Heineken and the peddling of flamenco tablao tickets.

However, El Mercado de San Miguel is no longer the only gourmet market in Madrid. Other failing mercados around the city have seen the success of their central counterpart and tried to replicate its formula. A couple of years ago, the much more sizeable Mercado de San Antón in Chueca reopened as a four-storey food lover’s paradise, complete with basement supermarket, ground floor market, first floor tapas stalls and bars and a rooftop restaurant and bar. As it’s much more spacious than El Mercado de San Miguel, it manages to feel a little less like a tourist haven, no doubt aided by its location slightly out of visitors’ usual radius. The fact that there are a few food stalls characteristic of mercados de toda la vida as you enter also helps: there’s a fishmonger, a couple of butchers, a baker and fruit and veg stalls. I’m not sure how many locals pop in for their weekly shop though: produce tends to be high-end and pricier than your average food market, but still, it’s good to see that groceries are more than a token offering. There’s a slight corporate air about the place, however: tapas stalls are organized by country or region, with Greek and Japanese offerings as well as stalls serving food from the Canary Islands and more typical Spanish fare.



Upstairs, the Cocina de San Antón restaurant is run by the Cinco Jotas chain, but they’ve managed to inject personality into the place, with a quirkily-written menu of reputedly market-fresh dishes, including the option to buy meat in the market below and have it cooked for you (more expensive than just going à la carte, surely?). This gimmick aside, there’s a good range of decently-priced food, including several vegetarian and pescetarian options (such as a vegetable taco with smoked tofu and quinoa), all served in a bright, modern setting. Unconventionally, the ‘outdoor’ area has a roof, but given that one ‘wall’ is open it manages to be deemed exterior and therefore serves as the restaurant’s smoking section. There’s also an open-air bar where you can enjoy a (pricey) cocktail or a glass of wine. It gets quite lively on weekend nights.

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