I am looking to take my 13 year old daughter to Spain next summer for a month or so. We would like to settle in to a small community and explore the country a bit from there. We both speak the language. I was there over 20 years ago and loved Barcelona and the Andalucía region. We are really looking for the "small town, get to know your neighbors" place. I expect we will do a little exploring beyond that as well. Other than the people and culture, we don't have any further requirements. Any and all suggestions appreciated!
I really hope Ed and Brad see and respond to your post as their knowledge on this subject is extensive and common sense in application. So totally jealous of ya'll. Enjoy a great journey!
Thank you for the suggestion. That makes sense.
We are very flexible with our plans in general, but are now leaning towards traveling around the country a bit more, traveling by train and staying in hostels and/or traveling with SERVAS. I suspect we would fly in to Madrid. We are planning on leaving right after school is out in June and staying for the month of July. We have travelled quite a bit and tend to plan most details exactly. We would like to deviate a bit from that style and have this trip be a bit more "free form". Our main goal is to soak up the culture and the language (we are both language fanatics) and experience day to day Spanish life.
Could anyone possibly comment on the safety/atmosphere of hostels in Spain for a woman and daughter? I realize they vary greatly, but are just trying to gather some general info to determine if this is lodging we want to consider.
Again, any and all suggestion appreciated!
I don't use hotels or any type of accomodation myself in Barcelona (I live here!) but plenty of friends' sons/daughters that have used hostels when visiting the city always mention they're "great" and "cool" (not my words :)) because there are people from all nationalities and it's a great way to make friends. Safety-wise, there seems to be consensus it's perfectly all right for female solo travellers too.
Having said that, and if you're half the fussy I am with sharing room/bath with a bunch of 20-something, -that I did 20 years ago, not now!-, I would recommend very much to look for hostals and B&Bs (hostals are different from 'hostels', hostals are small hotels with basic amenities: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostal). I plotted a map gathering input from visitors to the city in the TA forum using these type of accomodation and these seem to be the most 'popular': http://bit.ly/hostals_and_BBs_in_BCN Location-wise I've only gathered those that are most convenient for short visits to the city: either very central or close enough or next to a metro/bus stop not more than 20' away from the centre -considered to be Plaça Catalunya, albeit you'll soon discover that each district of Barcelona has its own life: main squares, restaurants, shops, etc.
Since you mention your main goal is culture and language, and noting that the local language in the region of Catalonia -which capital is Barcelona- is Catalan, I thought you might want to learn a few choice phrases, a sharp weapon for your armoury of charm: http://wikitravel.org/en/Catalan_phrasebook We Catalans do really appreciate visitors making the effort to speak a few sentences/words here and there, even if it's only a polite "good morning" or "thank you".
Spanish is spoken as well and it's the mother tongue of quite a few living in the city. Both languages are learnt at school and every local does understand both -for expats and foreign residents that's a different matter, some hardly speak any of both! People maintaining conversations in their own mother tongue, be Catalan or be Spanish, is a perfectly normal every day situation in Catalonia and you'll often encounter funny situations in which one's speaking in Catalan and the other will be replying in Spanish... not even noticing the fact these are different languages. The "issue" -as portrayed in the international press- it's not whether one speaks Catalan or Spanish, it's whether one's being respectful or not with the local language, which is Catalan -something that sometimes certain visitors are not. Catalans tend to be very accommodating in this matter and will switch to whatever language they know that will facilitate communication with visitors, but we're very protective of our language and disrespectful attitudes don't go down too well. In many coastal towns lots of people in restaurants and shops mumble words and sentences in quite a few number of languages -the latest addition seems to be Russian. Anyone having visited the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or the Cairo Flea Market will perfectly understand what I mean! English is also spoken in this city along with several other languages.
During summer, a lot of Spain can be too hot (think Arizona). I'd pick something on the Atlantic coast up in Basque country. It's the perfect time of year for that area. Your Spanish is a second language to them, which is good because they'll speak Spanish more slowly and clearly - and you will pick up some Basque language (they say Vasco, but I'm not sure of the spelling).
Santander is really nice but you might want something smaller. San Sebastian will be beautiful in summer, but may be a little touristy for your purposes. I think if you pick anything small, probably west of Bilbao, you will find the kind of place you're looking for.
For further info: "vasco" or "vascuence"would be Spanish for referring to Basc language, in Basc you'd say "euskera" to refer to Basc language. Note in Spanish you'd refer to the territory as "País Vasco" while in Basc you'd say "Euskadi" or "Euskalherria" (herria=land of)
You say you want to "experience day to day Spanish life." From my personal experience, staying in hostels, B&Bs or any kind of similar travel accommodation is great fun, but not as likely to give you a little taste of local daily life as renting an apartment will. It might also be cheaper for the 2 of you. You have plenty of time to do that. And I just gotta say that experiencing the summer heat and humidity in the south is all part of the package.
I think you have to make up your mind about what you really want to do. Your initial post and your subsequent elaboration don't quite match.
You're going to get to know people by plopping in one place and staying put for a while. The further you get from the more highly touristed areas, the better. Nobody wants, or has the time, to become chums with a person who's going to spend a week in a hot-seated apartment and then wander off into the sunset.
If your language abilities are as you imply, Coruna, Lugo, and to a lesser extent Asturias, would work.
So would parts of Extremadura, but the temps are going to be high (but not as rough as an Andalucian summer).
You'd want to find a town of ten thousand people or so. The further you go into the interior, the fewer people you will find who speak English.
Moving around, especially by public transportation, adds other considerations - - essentially you'd want a place that's a hub of some kind and not at the end of a line.
I haven't stayed in an urban hostel since I was a kid -- I stay in a lot of rural and small town hostels when my wife lets me off the leash for a while. I'm not sure what your idea of 'safety' involves - - in the places I stay there are lots of girls/women traveling alone, electronics are left charging during the day, nobody uses lockers, and the dorm rooms are not locked.
Why don't you choose three places and rent apartments that have good transportation connections? If you Really want the "get to know your neighbors" feel, that's the way to do it. Maybe 2 weeks in the South first, either Seville or Granada, or even Nerja, then to Madrid and ending up in Barcelona or Valenzia as it gets warmer (too hot)
I loved the beach town of Nerja in the south. They serve paella on the beach, and there are busses to Seville, Granada, etc., and we rented an apartment there once. Tell your 13 year old in advance that European women don't usually wear their bikini tops on the beach, however! Make sure if you decide to do a week in Nerja that you are "in town" and not in a condo outside of town that will require a car, unless you want one. Malaga has a great Picasso museum.
how about Zaragoza? It's placed right between Bilbao & Barcelona (which are both great for shorter beach trips) on the one hand and Madrid & Andorra (which is great for shopping) on the other hand. Plus, you can get in a bit of historical sightseeing with the castles around.
The people are really open, warm and welcoming, and there are more fun activities that you could dream of, outdoor and indoor. Also, depending on when you plan on visiting, you can find some really fun weekend fairs, but you'll have to look up the dates for those.