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Traveling in Spain: How Much Spanish Will I Need to Know?

February 24th, 2014 by

spain1Native English speakers are most certainly lucky when it comes to international travel, as in nearly every corner of the globe, your odds of encountering people who can speak English is fairly good. And the odds are especially good in European countries.

That said, many experienced travelers find that 100% English fluency should never be assumed, and many travelers find Spain to be one of the countries in which you’re more apt to have encounters with locals who aren’t able to converse in your native tongue. You’re almost guaranteed to find amenable staff at hotels and restaurants in larger cities who speak near-perfect English, and even the residents of the larger cities will often be able to converse in English—you may even find that they’re eager to practice!

That said, once you get out into the countryside, you may find that it’s much harder to get around without some cursory knowledge of local language—which itself can vary from region to region. Although Spanish is the official language throughout the country, there are other co-official languages in different regions of the country, including Aranese, Galician, Basque and Catalan, which many of the locals in Barcelona speak.

spain2Regardless, you’ll likely find the Spanish people are very social and willing to help if you’re also willing to put in some effort. It fits in with the cultural norm in Spain—it’s considered rude not to take the time to talk with people. That’s why you sometimes hear complaints about visitors feeling as though they’re not being helped quickly enough in shops. It’s simply because the shopkeeper would find it rude to rush the customer before you! So if you have to approach a shopkeeper with phrasebook in hand, don’t worry! You’ll find the Spanish people to be very warm.

If you’re interested in a trip to the Spanish countryside, away from the major cities, but you’re not confident in your ability to manage with your own knowledge of the language and a phrasebook, you may be more comfortable on a guided tour. We offer six different guided walking tours, including some that explore Andalucia, Valencia, Tenerife, La Palma and La Gomera.

And remember: If you run into a situation where you’re having trouble communicating, keep smiling! Not only does a warm smile work wonders, but it’s also a good reminder to yourself that this challenge is all part of the joy of travel!

Walk With Pilgrims on the El Camino de Santiago Tour

February 18th, 2014 by

There are walking tours, and then there are pilgrimages. On our Camino O Muino de Penade Santiago walk, you can join in on a historic walk that pilgrims have been traversing since medieval times. You’ll also have the opportunity along the way to meet people from all around the world and stay in one of our very favorite hotels, a converted water mill with a long history.

Your trip will begin in Leon, where you’ll have some time to explore and sample Spanish delights at some fantastic local tapas bars, take a tour of a local cathedral and get your pilgrim’s passport, which you can have stamped all along your voyage.

Your walk will take you along the ancient road that travels through oak woods studded with wildflowers, through the charming cobblestone streets of historic villages as well as rustic farmland and vineyards, and across bridges made during the height of the Roman Empire.

InteriorOne of the best things about this trip is the chance to meet the owners of the unique and varied inns and hotels all along the way. You’ll enjoy meeting Mario who runs Casa Rural Santa Maria in Portomarin, playing games in a tiny village with Jesus Cardelle, the proprietor of Turismo Rural. And when you get to O Muino de Pena, the converted water mill, you Javier and Maria will be your hosts.

The property has documents that date back to 1892, but it’s clear that the main building is much older. Based on the building style and stonework, the owners believe that by the time the documents were drawn up in the late 19th Century, the building—which was a house before it was a mill—may already have been 300 years old. Some characteristics and details seem to place parts of the construction to pre-Roman times.

The hotel itself is hidden away from town along a river and weir, so that the sound of the water instantly calms your senses. The interior of the building is marked by ancient stone walls and dark wood beams. The workings of the mill—the wheels are machinery that were once turned by the rushing water—has been incorporated into the design of the bar and dining area in a way that perfectly blends past and present. And if you have a chance to sit outside in the garden, you’ll be utterly charmed by the surroundings.


Of course, this is just one of the charms of this 11-day tour—the trip will take you all the way to Santiago, where you can get the final stamp in your pilgrim’s passport.

Adventurous Eater? Prove it with Guinea Pig in Peru!

February 12th, 2014 by

Plenty of foodies say they have a taste for the exotic, but on our new tour, you’ll have the option to really test your adventurous foodies spirit, in true Traveler Vs. Food style by sampling a local Peruvian favorite, cuy, which we in the states call guinea pig.

Guinea Pig roasted wholeGuinea pigs, of course, are neither from guinea nor are they pigs. They’re actually of the rodent family, and originated in the Andes. They’ve been domesticated as a food source for so long, in fact, that they don’t exist in the wild. And the fact is, while we are more used to looking at them as pets, they make an excellent food source. In fact, it’s such an important part of the Peruvian diet and culture that the replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper that hangs in the southeastern city of Cusco shows Jesus and the disciples dining on cuy.

While historically, cuy was a food reserved for special occasions and for royalty, today, it is eaten year-round and by all walks of Peruvians. In the countryside, it’s now common to find the guinea pigs kept by families in a small crate in the backyard. The family might feed the guinea pigs alfalfa, and even allow the creatures to cavort around the house until they’ve grown large enough to dine upon.

Guinea Pig on a stickYou won’t have any shortage of opportunities to sample cuy on our Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley tour. Your trip starts in historic Cusco, staying in a 16th Century former colonial mansion on a charming cobblestone street. You’ll have plenty of time to explore the city, which was once the capital of the Incan empire, as you adjust to the altitude (over 11,000 feet). Even if you take the first day to rest, the second day of your trip involves a trip to the San Pedro Market, where you’ll find a vast array of exotic meats, tropical fruits, and local specialties like you’ve never seen, including cuy, which is often roasted and served on a stick, though it’s sometimes also fried or even made into a soup or stew.

Wondering what cuy will taste like? Many westerners are often surprised by how tasty they find guinea pig—while the animals are fairly small and bony, and some preparations can leave the skin fairly chewy—they’re often described as having a taste similar to small game or fowl such as rabbit and duck.

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