Yes, Europe in the winter is cold, but coming from the Midwest it’s not that cold. I loved traveling through Spain and Portugal during the winter months. It only snowed 2 days out of 3 months and one of those days I was high in the Pyrenees mountains in Andorra. The average daytime temperatures were in the 50s with nights dropping down closer to freezing temperatures. Many days were warm and sunny reaching the mid-70’s in the early afternoon. I actually prefer to walk around dusty city streets in trainers and long pants over sandels and shorts. Concrete jungles keep heat in and can be quite unbearable during summer months. The south of Europe does receive more rain in winter months. So pack a versatile jacket and sturdy walking shoes and you’re good to go. I recommend spraying both with waterproofing before leaving home.
Another perk of winter travel is that tourism during the winter months is at a low. Making it possible to explore less crowded cities and exhibitions. It can be a challenge to take good quality photos during summer months when thousands of tourists fill every last vantage point. Prices are lower during winter months as well. Making it easier to stretch the budget a bit farther. Once spring hits hotel rates explode. I went from spending 20€ a night for a good budget hotel to 50€ a night in spring. During peak season prices can soar to 80€ or more a night for budget accommodation.
My last reason in favor of winter exploration is probably strange, but things smell less during winter months. Let’s be honest Spain literally smells like crap. I am not trying to be mean, but coming from a place with strictly enforced sanitation laws it was strange to see dog poop everywhere. Dogs use the streets as their litter box and probably some men too. No one cleans it up. People step in it on accident and crap gets spread everywhere. During the summer it stinks. The heat intensifies the rank. You can smell decomposing food in rubbish bins on the side of the road as well. During the winter the urine smell is much fainter. It took a couple of weeks for my nose to go blind to the constant traces of feces, cigarette smoke, and car exhaust in the air. I don’t think city people notice this as much as country folk do. Being from Michigan there is a constant breeze off the lake that keeps things smelling fresh and clean.
Have you traveled Europe during the different seasons? I would love to hear your thoughts on winter travel in the comments section below.
Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean tolerance. I spent a week with friends on this big Island in the Balearic sea. Mallorca is a mix of ethnicities and they aren’t all treated the same. Natives speak Mallorquí. So even if you are Spanish, but from another part of the Peninsula you will always be treated as a foreigner, unless you learn the native language. During summer months when Mallorca swells with tourists prices double. This makes it very hard for locals who earn lower wages than northern Europeans to afford rising prices. Northern Europeans can also more easily afford exclusive properties driving up real estate prices. Spaniards complain about finding places to rent because property owners would rather have holiday homes that bring in more money
What really bothers me, however is the treatment and exploitation of refugees, and by extension all persons of color. I have a friend from Nevada who lives here teaching English. Her ancestry is Caribean. Because she is darker skinned many people treat her like a refugee, which is quite poorly. Many of the Nigerian women are coerced into prostitution. So if my friend goes out at night alone even dressed extremely conservatively she will have Spanish men pulling over in their cars offering to pay her for sex. This makes me really angry for my friend, but even angrier at the treatment of African refugees. It makes me sick to see others exploit vulnerable people who need the most help. It’s not like refugees want to leave behind their homes and families. Their dark skin makes it difficult for them to blend into Spain’s paler population thus making them even more visible targets.
My friend has trouble finding extra work as an English Tudor because people don’t want to learn English from someone who is of her color. Meanwhile many whites teachers have an abundance of students.
I am not sure if this is the situation all over Spain. It makes me feel queasy inside to know I am receiving better treatment than others. For that reason I can’t see myself coming back to Mallorca anytime in the foreseeable future.
The beaches of the Algarve have ranked among the top one hundred beaches in the world. They are breathtaking. It’s hard to put into words the soaring cliffs, clean sandy beaches, and turquoise waters. I will try to include as many pictures as possible to fully illustrate this point.
The prices in Portugal are very reasonable. My hotel was only 25€ a night and included a communal kitchen so I could prepare food saving me even more money. Car rental start as low as 15€ a day. If you’re a ‘sun worshipper’ you can easily spend a week exploring the endless beaches and parks in your own car. I was only in Lagos for 3 days and didn’t find a car necessary, but I probably walk 5 to 10 miles a day when on vacation. A taxi from the bus station to my hotel was only 4.5€. To give you an idea of prices.
I visited Lagos in March. The weather was perfect 75°F (22°C) outside and sunny. There were just enough people out and about to not feel isolated. It was fantastic hiking along the Algarve’s dramatic coastline cliffs without crushes of tourists. You could walk along the endless sandy beaches at sunset with only a handful of other people. If you’re looking for nightlife then make sure you visit during the summer. Personally after a month walking Spain’s crowded and often rubbish filled beaches Lagos felt like my own private paradise.
I like a variety of food. Everything I tried in Lagos was good and the prices were reasonable which is important for the budget conscious travelers. Here are a couple of items I tried to give you an idea of prices. A ‘cafe com lete’ (coffee with milk) and ‘sandwiche mista’ (ham and cheese sandwich) will cost between 3-5€. You can get Kebab from a take away place for 4€. I had a world-class chicken curry from an Indian restaurant for only 6.50€. And beef stroginough one night for only 9€. Of course prices can cost a lot more than that*.
Driving from Lagos to Lisbon you see endless rolling hills of cork trees. Cork is a fascinating natural resource. There is a lot of information about the harvest and processing of cork online. I urge you to read about it before going to Portugal. I might try to include another blog post on sustainable resources like cork. Tours of cork farms are available from different locations in Portugal. Shops sell both affordable and luxury cork products. These include wallets, iPad cases, and handbags to name a few items. In recent years the wine industry has seen a shift from cork to synthetic stoppers. The cork industry is doing a marvelous job of re-branding this durable natural resource to a new market. I love to see old traditions adapt to current trends and changing demand instead of becoming extinct.
A multilingual population
In the words of my best friend, “you had me at speaks English.” Almost everyone in Portugal speaks at least some English especially in the South. So if your like me and you speak nil Portuguese don’t let that deter you from visiting. Portugal is a very diverse country welcoming tourists from all over the globe.
* I feel like I need to include a couple of paragraphs about the downside of Portugal. Overall my experience was wonderful or I wouldn’t be writing a blog encouraging you to go, but I found a couple of experiences stressful. I hope that by including my mistakes here you wont have to repeat them and will essentially have a smoother travel experience. After a month traveling through Spain, Portugal caught me by surprise. Everyone I talked to said Portugal and Spain are very similar culturally and that the Portuguese are very honest. To clarify this statement you can ‘probably’ leave your bag unattended go to the bathroom and come back to find it where you left it (not that I recommend trying it). The unemployment rate in Portugal is considerably less than Spain, so the crime rate is much lower as well. Spain with a soaring unemployment rate of 20 percent has understandably higher pickpocket rates. To say the Portuguese are more ‘honest’ is a different story, however. In Spain the price is the price. There are no hidden fees, and I have never had anyone overcharge me. I found Portugal a lot more stressful in that sense. Just because the menu says the price is 8.5€ doesn’t mean your waiter won’t try to charge you 24€. If restaurants try to overcharge you it’s important to be firm with them about the price. Some waiters try to take advantage of unaccustomed tourists. I got swindled twice in one day when I first arrived. Also in Lisbon hosts standing outside of restaurants can be very pushy. One actually grabbed my arm and tried to pull me into the restaurant, which made me understandably upset. On another occasion I had a taxi driver charge me a 2€ baggage ‘handling’ fee for helping me with my luggage. He was just trying to rip me off and I find it difficult to argue with people over 2€. Overall during the course of a week I was only swindled out of 20€ that I know of, which could have been much worse.
Have you been to Lagos? I would love to hear your questions or thoughts in the comments section below.
After only 3 weeks on the islands I don’t claim to be an expert, but here are a few things that I learned while in the Canary Islands.
There are a lot of microclimates.
The North and West sides of the islands are ‘wetter’ and greener. I my opinion this makes them more scenic and photogenic. The East and South sides of the islands are dry and sunny most days. This is why main highways are on the east side (less erosion) and most resorts are on the south side. The middle of the island has a higher elevation and is normally much cooler than the coast. So you will need to bring a jacket or jumper (sweater)2 if going there. The Northern cities of Santa Cruz (Tenerife) and Las Palmas (Gran Canary) are more for locals and less for tourists, but both cities are worth a visit. The geogeography of the island has a big impact on the weather. The windward side (North side) and mountain peaks collect the majority of the clouds and perception leaving the south (leward side) of the islands dry and sunny.
You will need a car
There is a ‘good’ public transit system on the island of Tenerife. That being said the buses take hours to reach any destination. You can hire a car for 12€ a day. I spent over 30€ just one day taking buses around Tenerife! Taxes in the islands are low and gasoline is cheap so why wait in line for slow buses when you can have the freedom to explore at your own pace?
*If you are an American you need a international driver’s license to aquire a car in the EU. They cost about $20 from AAA.
Americans are a rare breed
The number one question I was asked in the islands was, ‘How did you hear about the Canary Islands?’ The second most commonly asked question was, ‘Do other Americans know about us?’ Very few Americans make it to Islas Canarias. So when planning your next European holiday keep in mind that round trip flights from the Peninsula start from only 20€ on budget airlines.
The south side is one giant resort area
My brain couldnt fully grasp this point until I saw it myself. It’s similar to Cancun. There are so many gigantic resorts. Most of the holiday makers during the winter months are from Europe’s darker, colder places. So most tourists spend their days laying out on the beach or poolside soaking up every last ray of sunshine they can. Few visitors make it a priority to get out and explore the more scenic parts of the island.
It is beautiful!
If you love winding mountain roads you will love driving in the Carary islands. There are indescribably beautiful mountains and valleys. I was there during Febuary which has more rain. Everything was green and beautiful. A rare treat.
The roads are crazy
I don’t scare easily and Los Espinos is probably one of the most intimidating roads I’ve driven yet. I only drove about 6K and turned back. It’s a single lane road for both ways of traffic. There is no guardrail and it’s a sheer drop-off to the valley below. I had to stop at one point for a herd of goats to pass. Most roads are 2 lanes, but be careful what route you pick if you plan on exploring the more remote mountain areas.
The shopping is excellent.The Canary Islands have incredibly low tax tax rates compared to the peninsula of Spain. The markets and duty free shops have great bargains. You can purchase Rayban sunglasses for as low as 60€ and high quality leather handbags for only 30€. High quality leather goods and shoe stores can be found all over the islands.
Have you been to Islas Canarias? Let me know what else I’m missing in the comments section below.
Americans are often regarded as Europe’s red neck cousin. Have you ever wondered culturally what we do that’s so offensive. Below is a short list of explanations of how we earned that endearing reputation.
American culture is rooted in a me first attitude. We are raised with a desire to be unique or set apart from everyone else. It’s the basis of generations of hard working, reach for the stars individuals. The down side is we tend to think the world revolves our self. As a result many Americans are seen as dressing overly casual. We lounge around with horrific posture. And we treat complete strangers in an overly familiar, informal manner.
Our Society Is Insular
The U.S.A has a land mass of over 3.5 million square miles and population of over 300 million. Put simply we are huge and their are tons of us. We produce our own music, literature, and movies. The media has helped homogenize us into a united way of thought. Many Americans have never left the U.S, learned a second language, or been immersed in new cultures. The media features little in way of international news. Our school systems put impetus on American, not world history. So when traveling abroad many Americans lacks knowledge of world events or cultural phenomenon outside our own. This has more to do with our society as a whole than an individual.
It’s amazing how different languages and accents produce a variety speech patterns and decimals. In general American speak much louder than necessary. We listen to everything too loud as well. It’s not uncommon to spot solitary European travelers wandering about, quiet and unobtrusive. Americans on the other hand, usually travel in jovial groups. We occupy restaurants and public places laughing and conversing in uncommonly high decibels. Being American I find nothing wrong with this behavior. It’s fun. Many Europeans, however, consider this behavior extremely rude. We impeded others speech and project our private conversations on them. They don’t want to want to know the trivial things we discuss or see our idiot selfies.
The Service Industry
In Europe everyone stands on equal footing. Both patron and sales clerks. In America we expect exceptional care from anyone in the service industry. This requires a slight adjustment in ones expectations of service when visiting cafes or shops in Europe.
“Do you speak English?” Many Americans make a poor attempt at understanding the culture they are inmersed in or speaking the local language. They often assume others will accommodate them and that someone must speak English. This is an easy problem to rectify. It takes very little effort to write down a few phrases on a piece of paper. In less than 15 minutes on the Internet one can produce an invaluable list of do’s and don’ts as well as innumerable cultural insights.
For example many Americans will engage in conversations with complete strangers, often divulging a great deal of personal information about them self. Europeans on the other hand are raised to live private lives. They are often viewed by Americans as aloof and smug because they will avoid eye contact with strangers or initiating contact with persons whom they are unacquainted with.