Sunday, 27 July 2014

Budget break: A cheap weekend in Córdoba, Spain

Often viewed as one of the cities comprising Andalucia's 'must-see' trinity (the others being Granada and Seville), Córdoba is compact enough to explore in a weekend. Easily accessible by the AVE high-speed train from Madrid and Seville, it's an ideal city break getaway for those looking for a relaxed destination with historical sights and good food.

The tower of Córdoba's Mezquita

Where to stay

The partly-pedestrianized centre of Córdoba is compact, and easily accessed from the train and bus stations either on foot (around 15 minutes, depending on how many books/shoes you packed for your weekend break) or by local bus. Córdoba's most famous sight is the Mezquita, the mosque-turned-cathedral, which is surrounded by narrow cobbled lanes lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and pensiones. If a peaceful location close to the sights (the Alcázar and Puente Romano – Roman bridge – are also close by), go for a pension or hostal near the Mezquita, such as El Antiguo Convento. This area can be quiet once sun sets and the day trippers leave, so if you'd like to be closer to tapas bars, try one-star Hotel Boston on Plaza de las Tendillas. This pretty café-filled square is lively in the day and evening, but by bedtime the action has moved on  the hotel's sound proofing's good, too. Hotel Boston has decent en-suite rooms for a low price – ask for one of the corner rooms with views of the square. You're less then a ten-minute walk from the Mezquita in one direction, and a few steps from tapas and wine bars in the other.

Where to eat

Tortilla at Bar Santos

With food possibly more important to me than the sights (hey, a dire meal can ruin a holiday – a dull museum can't), Córdoba doesn't disappoint. It may be a column-filler in every guide book, but Bar Santos is on tourists' itineraries for a reason: it serves the best tortilla in town. You'll spot this stand-up bar next to the Mezquita from the queue of locals and visitors snaking out of the door (it moves quickly). Make like the cordobeses and buy yourself a slice of the thickest Spanish omelette you'll ever see and a cup of salmorejo  (cold tomato cream typical of Córdoba) and head outside to the steps near the Mezquita: lunch for under €5. In the evening, you'll find plenty of cheap tapas bars on and around Plaza San Miguel, most of which have tables outside in summer. El Aguacero and La Tortuga are both trendy but kind to your wallet, serving a mix of traditional and modern bites and salads. You'll find dirt-cheap drinks nearby at Mercado Provenzal: yes it's a chain, but it has a terrace. And who can argue with 40 cent cañas (small beers) or a €1.50 glass of Rueda (white wine)?

Monday, 21 July 2014

Madrid Monday: Outdoor swimming pools in Madrid

Madrid Monday is a series of posts about the Spanish capital. Here I review restaurants and bars, and write about tourist attractions, cultural events and more. If you have any requests for topics to cover, just leave me a comment.

When Felipe II made Madrid the capital of Spain in 1561, he overlooked an important detail: its distance from the coast. Smack bang in the middle or the country it might be, but it's also around 3 hours drive from the nearest beach in Alicante. The city's extreme climate (sometimes punishingly cold in winter, brutally hot in summer) means that a coastal escape is on everyone's weekend wishlist once July and August roll around. Thankfully for those who can't afford regular breaks (that'll be most of us, then), Madrid has a good number of outdoor swimming pools where you can sunbathe and cool off with a refreshing dip.

Public pools
The council runs a number of open-air pools around the city, including a few easily accessed from the centre. In 2014, the pools opened on 31 May and will close on 7 September. This year, an adult swim at any council pool costs €5 during the week and €6 at weekends, while young person's rates are €4 and €4.80 and children's €3 and €3.60. You're young if you're under 20 and a child if you're under 14, for the purposes of this exercise. If you're planning to go often, you can buy a bono of 10 visits which works out cheaper. You can find all pricing information here.

The pool at Francos Rodriguez

You can find details of summer swimming pools here, but the most central are the ones in Casa de Campo (metro Lago) and at Francos Rodriguez (same metro). The Casa de Campo complex has 2 large pools (50 and 33 metres) and a kids' pool, plus a cafe serving drinks and meals. It gets very crowded at weekends though, and the pool at the top is a gay poser's paradise. The facilities are great though, and it's easily accessible from the centre. Francos Rodriguez is generally a bit quieter, with a big grassy area and volleyball court in addition to a 50 metre pool and kids' pool. There's also a cafe here, or you can bring a picnic and use the tables provided. There's another central pool on Avenida de Filipinas, but this one doesn't have any grass to lie on.

Private pools
If you've got a bit more cash to splash and fancy reclining on a lounger while sipping a cocktail, some Madrid hotels open up their pools to non-residents. These include Hotel Emperador on Gran Via and Room Mate Oscar (although its 'Splash' pool is pretty much just that), which both have rooftop pool areas with bars and great views over the city. You pay for the privilege, though: Emperador costs from €33 for a day's access, while you'll pay from €20 for entry to Oscar's terrace (including a glass of cava and use of a towel). For a cheaper alternative, a few sports clubs and other facilities around the city open their doors during summer months too; you can find details here.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Madrid Monday: What to do in Madrid this summer

Madrid Monday is a series of posts about the Spanish capital. Here I review restaurants and bars, and write about tourist attractions, cultural events and more. If you have any requests for topics to cover, just leave me a comment.

Summer is not the best time to visit Madrid. As the mercury shoots up the thermometer to 35 plus, city dwellers pack their bags and flee Spain's capital for the breezy beaches of the coast. For those left behind in July and August (and the tourists who were brave/daft enough to book summer breaks), it can sometimes seem as though the city is almost deserted. It's true, at 4pm there's barely a soul in some streets, bar the aforementioned tourists. But for those sticking around over summer, there's plenty to do. Here's a selection of events in Madrid in summer 2014.

Veranos de la Villa: Madrid's annual arts festival

The Jardines de Sabatini, one of the Veranos de la Villa venues
Every year, venues around the city play host to the many concerts and performances that make up the programme of Veranos de la Villa. With dance, film, music and theatre all on the agenda, there's something to suit all artistic leanings. Veranos de la Villa runs throughout July and August, and in 2014 you'll find events at Teatro Circo Price, the outdoor location of Jardines de Sabatini below the Royal Palace, the Matadero cultural centre, the Plaza Mayor and more. This year's highlights include Argentinian singer Andrés Calamaro's concert at Teatro Price on 23 July, the Moscow Ballet's performances of Giselle and Swan Lake at the Jardines de Sabatini from 27–30 August and (for Spanish speakers) the Fringe Festival of theatre, dance, music and performance art running throughout July at Matadero. There's also a puppet festival for children in Retiro Park. You can find all information and book tickets here.

Faunia by Night

One of the inhabitants of Faunia

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