Archive for March, 2010

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Driving Over Lemons

Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia

I recently finished Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart and found it a pretty enjoyable read even if it didn’t give me quite as much insight in to Spanish culture as I might have liked. He focused more on life on the farm and dealing with the adversities presented by nature and his remote location than fitting in with, and exploring his new cultural surrounds.

I’ve read a number of books in the “move to a foreign country and renovate a house” genre over the years and a large part of their appeal is how they present new cultures through outsider eyes. And although I certainly have no desire to buy a run-down, dilapidated house to fix up, I could imagine moving to a foreign country.

There are a couple of sequels to this book, so I might check those out before our trip. I’ve got a couple other fiction books set in Spain to check out before (or possible on) our trip as well and I’ll review those later.

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CityMaps 2Go

When we were in Italy in 2008 I found my iPhone to be an invaluable traveling companion. My one disappointment was the fact that even though the GPS was working, the app needed a connection to display the maps. So in anticipation of our upcoming trip, I began poking around for an offline solution.

I looked at a number of different apps, and almost ended up buying one for Madrid. They also made some for other cities, and even though they were only $.99, that would have meant having five or six apps for one need.

Then I found City Maps 2 Go. It costs $1.99 and even though it doesn’t come with any maps built in, there are hundreds of maps to download for free. I found maps for all of our major stops and they seem to add new maps fairly frequently. I originally couldn’t find one for Seville, but when I checked again a couple of days later, it was there.

I downloaded a map of Seattle make sure it worked and it had no trouble locating me on the map. The maps aren’t as clean as those provided by Google, but these work offline. The maps also have varying levels of zoom as well. I couldn’t drill down as far on the Cordoba map as I could on say, the Madrid map. But I have found this to be true on Google maps as well.

Another feature that I really like is the ability to bookmark locations and to see them all at once on the map (something I wish the standard map app would do).

I’m looking forward to trying it out on location. I’ll report back on how it preforms.

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A Train Wreck Of A Site

Without a doubt, the gold standard of train system web sites is DB Bahn for the German train system. One of the really nice things about it is that it has schedules for not just Germany, but the rest of Europe as well. So when it comes to trains, I always check there first. It is unfortunate, however, that you can’t actually buy tickets on the site for anywhere but Germany. Understandable but unfortunate.

This leaves you at the mercy of the site for the country you are trying to buy tickets for. And if their sites are anything like Renfe, the Spanish rail site, that can be a bit of a nightmare. There is ostensibly an English language version of the site but…

I’ll let this quote, from a very helpful article on buying Renfe Tickets Online from TripAdvisor, say it for me:

The website is a bit surreal. It is like Alice in Wonderland, where nothing seems to be what it really is. Even if you are on the English page, you will find some items in Spanish. Sometimes the website will send you to a completely Spanish page! However if you persevere you may be able to save some money by getting the web discounts.

We aren’t taking as many trains as we normally would on a trip like this because of the flights and the car we are renting for the first week. But of the trains we are taking, one is a night train. So I’ll also point you to this great explanation of the different classes to be found when booking a hotel train, and which are the best choices. It’s from the forums of It’s a bit old, but all the information still seems applicable. It mentions that the sleeping cars are segregated by gender unless you pony up for on of the much more expensive private cars. This seems a bit ridiculous if true.

I’m probably going to enlist the aid of a Spanish-speaking friend when I actually book the tickets just to make doubly sure I don’t screw up anything important.

Sigh. Oh DB Bahn , why can’t they all be like you?

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Eyes On New York

I didn’t come back from our last trip to New York with a whole lot of shots that I liked. But this is one of them. It was shot with my lensbaby. I love my lensbaby.

I don’t remember where it was shot exactly. Somewhere in Manhattan.

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Travel Tips: Flying on the Cheap

One of the things I love about traveling in Europe is the trains. It’s fun to relax and watch the countryside speed by as you head to the next destination (most of which my wife misses as she tends to fall asleep the moment the train starts moving). If we had a better train system here in the states, I’d happily chose that over flying for shorter trips.

Sometimes, however, it’s more convenient and faster to fly. As I mentioned earlier, it was the only way I could get our Spain itinerary to work. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to find some cheap flights throughout Europe. Here are some tips from Budget Travel to help make it easier:

6 Tips for Scoring Deals on Europe’s Budget Airlines | Travel News from Fodor’s Travel Guides.

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