Top 4 Spanish Getaway Destinations

Image credited to Mitch Engelking

Mention of Spain conjures up images of bullfights, flamenco dancing, and sangria on hot, sandy beaches. These descriptions may hold true if you are headed to Andalusia in southern Spain, but the rest of the country’s regions have a vast variety of cultures, food, drink, and even language– particularly when it comes to these top four Spanish getaway destinations!

Madrid

Madrid is a large metropolitan city like any other, which is good if you do not have an extensive Spanish vocabulary. You can generally find someone here who will understand English. If you speak Spanish, you will encounter standard Castilian Spanish.

Madrid is the perfect Spanish getaway destination for city lovers. It has a good mix of standard restaurants, bars, and clubs, so you will surely be able to find something to suit your social tastes. Madrid is also home to magnificent art in the world famous Prado and Reina Sofia museums, as well as the Royal Palace.

  • Be aware that Spain is a very progressive society in terms of relationships, and the Chueca district of Madrid is acknowledged as the gay and lesbian area.

Barcelona

Barcelona is a big city on the coast of the Mediterranean. It is an eclectic area that draws in a wide variety of travelers, making it another top Spanish getaway destination. You won’t feel too far out of your element here, because there are still a good number of English speakers.

  • Travel tip: Be advised that in Barcelona, the street names and major destinations are usually written in Catalan, the language spoken by the locals.

When you go, don’t miss the boulevard of the famous La Rambla in Barcelona, which carries an eccentric mix of street performers and vendors. Also keep an eye out for Gaudi’s Segrada Familia and Parc Güell.

  • Travel tip: Be wary with your pockets here, as it can get touristy and crowded.

Granada and Seville

As far as Spanish getaway destinations go, Granada and Seville fit the stereotypical Spanish mold– with a little bit of Arabic influence thrown in to the mix. You’ll enjoy this area if warm weather, dark skin, and beautiful plazas with local bars fit your idea of the perfect Spanish getaway.

Here the “tapas” culture is in full-force. Tapas are small dishes and finger foods that (in southern Spain) come with the purchase of a beer or glass of wine. These can be small sandwiches with meat or tuna, olives, or potato dishes depending on the restaurant. When you go, make sure to try as many of these uniquely Spanish finger foods as you can get your hands on!

Basque Country

Finally, el País Vasco, or the Basque Country, is the region bordering northern Spain and southern France. It is embodied by its mountainous, green coastline and amazing Basque cuisine.

Image credited to Mitch Engelking

The city of Bilbao in this area is the top spot for business and technology, primarily computers and biotech. It also holds many modern architectural triumphs such as the Guggenheim museum, and beautiful natural wonders such as the amazing beaches on its coastal outskirts.

San Sebastian lies further north, and is home to both the world’s best “pintxos” (the Basque version of tapas, pronounced “pinchos”), as well as two more of the prettiest beaches in Europe.

Top 6 South Korea Travel Tips

Image credited to Jacob Wucka

So you’re going to South Korea for the first time, and your friends are asking you “Is that the good one or the bad one?” Tell them not to worry! South Korea is a sprawling, developed democracy and a key ally to the United States– South Korea is the good guy. But before you go to South Korea, there are still some things you should know to make your trip as efficient and fun as possible!

1. Don’t be shy

Koreans love Americans. Okay, not just Americans… Koreans love all foreigners and treat them like royalty! You are constantly singled out and admired. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking around the streets of Seoul or in a small town coffee shop, people will come up to you and want to get to know you. They are fascinated by foreigners’ stories and love befriending people from different countries. Don’t be shocked by how many people ask to be your friend in person and on Facebook.

Image credited to Jacob Wucka

2. Get T-Money Right Away

You’re going to need a way to get around when you’re finally there. That’s why one of your first purchases in Korea should be a T-Money Card. You can use this card for all forms of transportation. The T-Money Card can be purchased at convenience stores for around ₩5,000. It can then be filled with as much Won as you want, and you can get it filled almost anywhere including gas stations, convenience stores, subway stations and bus terminals

Using T-Money makes your trips more efficient as you just scan and board. No waits in line, no tickets (which do cost more than T-Money rates), and an all around hassle-free experience.

3. Don’t Worry About North Korea

It’s scary going from the United States to a country that is technically still at war with its neighbor to the north. It’s even scarier when that neighbor has loose-cannon rulers, nuclear weapons, and, in recent years, has attacked South Korean soldiers and civilians unprovoked (this is exactly why you should cherish Canada).

The upside? The U.S. Military has an astounding presence in South Korea. There are bases everywhere, American and South Korean troops are always holding joint military drills, as helicopters fly overhead, their jets roaring. At first it can be a little worrisome, but the fact is, these are the things that keep you safe. Best of all, as a perk of being a U.S. citizen, know that that there is an escape plan in place just for you, in case something does go wrong. In fact, you’ll find that people pay more attention to North Korea back in the States than they do in South Korea. Most of the time, it’s a non-issue.

Image credited to Jacob Wucka

4. Don’t be offended by pushing

Koreans are always on the go. Being first does matter to a lot of people. If you are in line for a bus, anticipate being pushed out of the way by a group of elderly Koreans once the doors open. Expect to get bumped into with every other step you take when walking around the streets. Don’t freak out when you’re in the middle of a mosh-pit of business people and schoolchildren inside the jam-packed subways during rush hours. Don’t get offended by pushing and shoving because it does happen a lot!

On a related note, if at all possible, avoid the subway during rush hours, which usually run from 7am to 9am and 5pm to 6pm. This is prime time for pushing and shoving!

5. Pack The Essentials

Bring toiletries! South Korea has plenty of pharmacies but it’s not always easy to find what you want. If by some lucky chance you can find what you need in South Korea, it will probably be more expensive and come in a smaller package than what we have in the States.

Take your medicines with you: Tylenol, cold medicine, sinus medication, and a good quantity of any prescription medication. If you like to chew gum, pack as much American gum as customs will let you take, because you will have a lot of trouble finding that too. Ladies, pack feminine hygiene products. Simply put, they only sell pads. Tampons are near impossible to come by.

6. Foreign Registration ID Card

If you’re going to be in Korea for longer than 90 days, you will have to get a foreign registration ID card. Getting it is like spending a day at the DMV. It’s a blast! Best of all, you will never use this card for anything– that is, however, until you’re at the airport going through security to head home.

Don’t make the mistake of putting this card in your checked baggage. You will be pulled out of the security line, have to run around the airport watching the clock tick down as your flight nears departure, and then be told you have to pay a ₩40,000 fee. Please, just keep your Foreign Registration ID card on you and be sure to give it to security at the airport. It’ll save you a lot of trouble.

Corner Store Gourmet

Trying to find typical Russian food in Russia? Don’t look in restaurants or supermarkets. Corner stores, delis, and bakeries are the best place to go for delicious (and cheap) Russian food.

Wide selection at corner markets

The most typical and the most traditional home-made Russian food is cheapest and easiest to get at corner markets, which can be found anywhere in Russia. At the smallest corner stores, you can find things like rye bread, deli meats, milk, eggs, “творог (tvorog)” (farmer’s cheese), “пельмени (pel’meni)” (dumplings) and, of course, lots of vodka, beer, and cigarettes. Although selling alcohol to minors under 18 is technically illegal, no one worries about that in Russia.

The largest corner markets will have more varied selections, such as different types of deli meat, smoked or salted fish, cheeses, fruit, sweets, salads, and sometimes even baked goods. Check out this short video of a larger-sized corner market plus bakery in Novgorod.

Don’t be shy! If you’re ever in a corner store, and you don’t know what to call the deli items, you can just point to it and ask for “пол килограмма, пожалуйста (pol kilogramma, pozhalsta)” or “half a kilogram, please!”

Bigger isn’t always better

The average Russian supermarket is a little bit larger than an American one, but they can only be found in large cities. Supermarkets rarely carry items that are outside the realm of food/kitchen, and are always more expensive than corner stores, although the largest ones will also usually contain delis and bakeries.

  • Travel tip: If you’re looking for sanitary items like toilet paper, the best place to go is the “apteka (аптека)” (pharmacy), rather than the supermarket.

Some of the bigger supermarket chains are “Ашан (Ashan)”, “Перекрёсток (Perekryostok)”, and “Копейка (Kopeika).” They all carry a huge amount of mass-produced local goods, as well as some imported goods. Unfortunately, bigger isn’t always better. The produce at these stores is often on the rotting side, and the imported goods are usually way too expensive to be worth buying, even for an American tourist.

BYOB (bags, that is)

Whether you’re shopping at corner stores or supermarkets, always bring bags. Corner stores don’t have bags and supermarkets charge high prices for them. Make sure to also carry smaller bills. Cashiers will often refuse to make change for anything larger than a 500 ruble note, or will insist on exact change.

To Inhale and To Imbibe

Aside from major public transportation and restricted public spaces such as an elevator or a library, it’s a pure luxury to find a place that’s totally smoke free in China.

There’s no “No smoking section”

Trying to find a non-smoking section at a Chinese restaurant? Good luck! The tolerance to smokers and second hand smoke in China is simply astonishing by American standards. You can smoke just about anywhere in China.

Image credited to Ivan Walsh

Don’t be fooled by those “No Smoking” signs in public places, usually, they are just there for the show. Not only do guys like to smoke, nowadays, a lot of girls in China like to be hip and light up as well.

Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Tea

Historically, there are only three things that can help you win friends and influence people in China. And they are cigarettes, alcohol and tea. If you feel comfortable with any one of the three, then you are in luck. Otherwise, you may want to begin cultivating a love of fine teas!