By The Scoopettes
The other day I spoke to the friend on the phone. She asked what I did over the weekend and I replied that I’d gone to Dublin.
“So what, for a week or so?”
“No, just for three days, well, two nights really.”
And she was very surprised. But the thing is, Dublin is not that far away from Barcelona, Spain, where I live. It’s a matter of a couple hours. It’s like flying from Los Angeles, California, to Portland, Oregon. And with so many cheapo airlines these days, it can be fairly inexpensive to fly, so weekends away in ‘foreign’ lands are not hard to do in Europe.
Her reaction got me thinking that we need a bit more info on this on The Spain Scoop. Sure, if you’re planning a trip to Europe then you’ve heard of taking the train. But what about cars, planes, and ferries? While your Scoopettes love to travel far and wide in Spain, we have also managed to get around Western Europe quite a bit. Here are a few of our tips and findings for extended travel in Europe before or after a mandatory trip to Spain.
Ferry to Italy-
I’ve yet to do this one but I’ve often see the ferry chugging away from the Barcelona port on its way to Rome. I’ve looked at the schedule for Grimaldi Lines (grimaldi-lines.com) many times because I am keen to have the experience of a Mediterranean crossing. In the end it’s always been the travel time that has made me choose to fly as it takes an entire day to get from Barcelona to Rome on the ferry and an hour and a half by plane. Still, Grimaldi offers lots to keep riders entertained. You can pay more and get a private cabin, pay less and get a bed in a dorm, or pay a lot less and get a normal seat. Also, going by ferry lets you take a car (if you have one), and while I don’t know that I would want to drive in Rome, it might be fun to have wheels in Sardinia, also a Grimaldi destination.
Train to France-
Part of the excitement of being in Europe is hopping from one culture to another and experiencing different food, languages, and of course, beer and wine. Depending on where you travel, a train can breeze you along the Mediterranean Sea, wind through the Pyrenees Mountains, and zip by ancient villages. You can snooze, read, and meet new friends. A Eurail Pass (www.eurail.com) is good for 4-10 days over a two month period. Students receive a 35% discount. Another option is the AVE, which will take you swiftly from Barcelona to Paris.
Southwest France is a lesser known and a beautiful region to visit which of course borders Spain. On the Atlantic Ocean is Biarritz and my favorite town is Saint-Jean-de-Luz. A walking city with a large crescent shaped beach. Architecture shifts to the Basque feel, tapas are plentiful, and the seafood delectable. Close by are San Sebastian and Bilbao.
Fly to Greece-
I flew to Greece in 2007 to meet up with some friends who were touring around the Mediterranean. We met in Athens, and though I had high hopes for the Greek city, it was a bit of a let down. That had to do with our hotel, food poisoning and a couple other factors, including Athens’ totally dodgy vibe. But Athens is not Greece, and I long to return. Next time I’ll grab a flight on Vueling.com and find Greek paradise island hopping. I will not head to Athens, that’s for sure, and thanks to many direct flights from Spain and all over the Eurozone, I can skip right over it on my way to Greek utopia.
Drive to Portugal-
Road-trip! I drove to Portugal in a rented car from San Sebastian, Basque Country, a few years ago. Perhaps because I am from the Western United States, driving long distances doesn’t faze me much. What is for certain is that I saw villages and back-roads that I never would have seen had I come any other way. I entered Portugal by way of Bragança in the north, and then headed south over bumpy roads to Porto, Coimbra, and Lisbon. It was a fantastic journey and I am glad I drove it. Note that if you’re American you can drive in Spain on a tourist visa for up to six months. I picked up my car in San Sebastian, but I later dropped it off in Barcelona, which was convenient. When I rent a car in Spain, I use Sixt.com, which may not be the cheapest, but doesn’t nickel-and-dime you and has an excellent fleet of cars (no, Sixt is not paying me to say this). If you do a road-trip with friends you can cut a lot of the costs of driving, such as tolls and gas.
Catamaran to Morocco-
It is only nine miles from Tarifa to Morocco. Traveling to exotic Morocco is easy by catamaran which only takes one half hour. Stepping off the boat, defending yourself from the hawkers, you land in Tangier, a culture that you will love or hate. Contrasts are at every turn. Mercedes next to camels line the parking lots of soccer games.
Spices used in ancient times are sold today and used in food prep in the old way. Donkeys bray in the dusty souks in competition with Kenny G music. My best advice: avoid the pestering crowds at the dock, head to the hill top Kasbah, take in the views and sip mint tea. Tangier, the past home of Paul Bowles and other artists, probably hasn’t changed much since the ’40s. Get a hotel room in advance and avoid the hustlers.
Countries are close in Europe. Book a flight or a train ride and see more.