Not-so-totally-touristy guide to Spain intro

So you’re sitting there alone in your apartment, and your romantic partner is going on a little (educational) adventure abroad (without you), and summer hasn’t quite decided to come (though it’s late July), and it’s been busy and stressful and frustrating lately, and you’re surrounded by papers and clothes you haven’t gotten around to putting away, and kind of depressed, still in your pajamas at 4 p.m. What do you do?

If you’re like me, you say, “Screw it, I’m going to Spain!” And if you’re in Leipzig, it’s not that hard to go there for a weekend or so if you’ve still got some bucks to spare for the month, and a bit of flexibility at work. I went for 9 days, though. Took some work with me and managed to do it on the grass at a glorious park, half in the sun, half in the shade. The heat wave they were having had abated by then, thank goodness.

I was lucky to have friends currently living in Barcelona (a Polish guy) AND Madrid (a Brazilian guy), willing to make space for me in their apartments, and in the case of my Madrid friend, even take me by the hand and guide me through the scrumptious nightlife of the Spanish capital. (LITERALLY scrumptious, given the quality and sometimes quantity of tapas you can get with your drinks.) In Pamplona, I stayed at a hostel alone and met a kindred spirit in an Australian chick, park- and bar-hopping with me all day – also a very lovely experience, in a city about which I had no idea except for it’s where the bulls most (in)famously run, a city that surprised me in the best of possible ways. So though it is nice, you don’t need to have friends to stay with, when you’ve got Hostelworld and Airbnb to find alternatives of where to lay your head and tired legs down for cheap. And though it did help me a lot to be able to speak Spanish, besides enhancing my experience, millions of tourists manage to find their way around without it, I’d venture to say even traveling alone (an excuse for you to talk to that cute polyglot backpacker or striking Spaniard who has spent time abroad – ask for help).

On a side note:

What the hell are people doing taking selfies in the middle of the bull run?? Isn’t it enough of a – stupid – thrill to throw themselves in the middle of the melee?? What’s the world coming to?? At this rate, “death by selfie” will soon become a more common cause of death than “death by self.”

For the next three Saturdays, I will share tips, tales and tattle with you on my simultaneously relaxing and somewhat crazy ride through Spain earlier in August (with minimum selfies). But first things first: How did I get on the ride?

Getting there:

A couple weeks before my planned travel dates, I looked on the flight search engine Skyscanner for tickets anywhere in Spain to fly into, and out of. Luckily, one of the cheapest options, about €60, was a direct flight from Leipzig to Barcelona with Vueling. Departure time was 2 p.m. on a Monday. I packed light, and that very same morning. Left my laptop behind. Took a 15-minute-or-so train ride to the airport. Found barely any line at the security check. Had the most relaxed way to the plane EVER.

Moving around:

From my experience and that of my more seasoned Madrid friend, the Spanish bus company ALSA is super reliable and quite cheap, if you book some days in advance. I paid about €6 from Barcelona to Zaragoza (where I spent an afternoon), and the same from Zaragoza to Madrid. The only problem I had was that my American credit card (the only one I have, since Germany has only given me a Maestro card) was declined and I had to ask my friend to purchase the tickets for me with his Spanish credit card.

Getting back: 

The flight out of Spain was a bit trickier, though equally as affordable, with Norwegian. It was trickier because I could only find a flight within my budget then into Hamburg – not Leipzig or Berlin – from Madrid. I didn’t want to have to go all the way back to Barcelona where I’d started from. So instead, I spontaneously decided to go to Pamplona and take two ALSA buses overnight (more than €20 each on such short notice) to arrive at Madrid Barajas Airport at 6:15 a.m.; the flight would depart at 7:40 a.m. Not recommendable to those with heart problems, though I did make it, and even with plenty of time in the end. The thing with the Madrid airport is that it takes forever to move between terminals, though – it’s advisable to take a shuttle. Once in Hamburg, I had to wait about 10 hours to catch a Deutsche Bahn train back to Leipzig, because it was the only ride I found for €15 with my BahnCard 25. I was too exhausted and it was too cold and rainy for me to walk around, so I hung out at Coffee Fellows for most of the time. (I have to mention them because they were so nice to me.) I didn’t sleep for nearly 48 hours because I can rarely sleep aboard anything except for a cruiseship or the backseat of a car. Plus, I’d traded day for night in Madrid. Totally worth it.


Check back here this Saturday for Part I of this travel series – Barcelona and Zaragoza.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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