Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Ultimate Recycling – Dumpster Diving

A common pastime in Spanish cities is what I fondly refer to as Dumpster Diving. For some it is actually an occupation. These people sell their finds at the Sunday flea markets (flea emphasized) and on some side streets. Shoes are especially popular. These are of course well-worn shoes and we can only hope for the sake of their new owners that they have not been in the dumpsters too long.

Men and women get into the dive and sort seriously – unabashedly laying out their finds to inspect and decide what is worth hauling around with them as they make their dumpster rounds. They know what sells, and what they want.

My husband has happily assimilated this aspect of Spanish culture, although at my insistence has opted for the beside-the-dumpster search as I have forbidden full on diving.

We have three dumpsters across a side street from our apartment so my husband can view the new arrivals from our balcony when he sits out for his other adopted Spanish practice of smoking cigars (or in his case cigarillos, which are cigarette sized cigars). He has developed a taste for the Cuban variety, which are legal and readily available in Spain. And speaking of cigars – how did I ever miss that one of the unique aspects of cigars is that they are rolled not in paper, but a tobacco leaf? That seems so self-contained and efficient! But I digress from the garbage.

Here is the ultimate recycling – one big trash swap open at all times throughout all the cities. In Madrid, Thursday evenings is the night to be scrounging as this is when people put out their large unwanted items like furniture and wood.

It seems that any and every night in Valencia has the potential for large finds. My husband found an old wooden box that he re-fashioned into a bookshelf (it helps that he is a carpenter by trade), as well as a sturdy, large plastic fruit crate which he has strapped onto the back of his second hand bicycle (purchased not found) for carting groceries, and, well of course, dumpster finds.

The old adage, “One person’s trash, is another’s treasure” is ever true in Spain, and makes for very practical applications as well as great entertainment. Just keep in mind that unfortunately sometimes it is simply trash and should remain so as the experienced dumpster divers well know.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bookstores in Valencia, Especially English Titles and some Cheap

I am a book hound for sure - a weakness of mine I inherited from my mother and one I have passed onto both of my children. I have found in my travels that it doesn’t even matter what language the books are in – I enjoy looking at them, touching them, leafing through them, reading the dust jackets. But of course at the end of the day, I need them to be in English if I am going to make my way through them, so I stay on the hunt for stores selling English titles. As travelers know, books in foreign languages are expensive, and when in Europe, English is a foreign language, so I also keep my eyes open for cheap options.

Just outside the very old part of Valencia, a few blocks from the train station, there is a store called Just Price, a second hand store selling electronics, bikes, and more, which has a decent selection of English books for 2 euros each - especially inexpensive for English titles, so it is a great place to find a cheap read. Just Price ~ compra venta, C/ Russafa 20, 46004 Valencia; 963 940 652; open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00pm/4:30-8:30 pm. The store is a few blocks from the train station and the Plaza Ayuntament.

The Casa del Llibre sells new books and has great hours and a very generous English book section in the downstairs room, as well as generally an excellent selection of books and guidebooks. They are on a wide walking shopping promenade off of the Plaza Ayuntament. Casa del Llibre, Passeig Russafa 11, 46002 Valencia; 902 026 411;;; open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 9:30 pm and Sunday from 12:00-2:30pm/4:30 to 9:30pm. Web tip: at the top right of their web site you can click on “Tu idioma” to choose English.

The Soriano bookstore in Valencia right across the avenue from the train station has a small selection of English titles. Soriano is part of the independent bookstore association in Spain which can be found on the web at Here you can find independent bookstores throughout Spain. Librerias L-Soriano, Jativa (or Xativa) 15, 46002, Valencia;

FNAC is a French chain of book and electronics stores with a number of outlets in Spain. You can search the web site to find stores all over Spain - FNAC is more than a store- it is an experience. With a huge selection of electronics, it also has movies and books including a large section of books in English. In Valencia the store is FNAC San Agustin, c/ Guillem de Castro 9-11, 46007 Valencia (2+ blocks west of the train station); 963 539 000; open Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 10:00 pm.

The alternative and political bookstore in Valencia, SAHIRI, sells books in Spanish only, but is worth going to as their offerings are all political and alternative, supporting fair trade and radical authors. The information pamphlet says Sahiri is a “project that vibrates with the cries of resistance.” SAHIRI Librería Asociativa, C/ Danzas, 5, Valencia; Tel: 963 924 872; In the back room there is a vegetarian café serving light food from 2:00 to 6:00pm and dinner from 9:00 pm to midnight on Monday to Saturday.

For travelers who want nothing but guidebooks and maps, head to the Libreria Patagonia, a store chock-a-block full of guidebooks, maps and travel gear, just down the street from the 16th century hospital that now serves as a public library. You will find many books in English as well as most in Spanish. This is an EXCELLENT travel bookstore. Libreria Patagonia, c/ L’Hospital 1, 46001 Valencia; 963 936 052;; open Monday to Friday from 10:00 am to 2:00pm/4:30 to 8:30 pm, Saturday form 10:30 am to 2:00pm/5:30 to 8:30 pm.

For people who can read Spanish (and even those who don’t but who like alternative bookstores), the sweet small, but well-stocked, Auralia, refers to itself as a “libreria especializada” (specialty bookstore) selling gemstones, flower essences, and all manner of alternative health, renewable energy, spiritual and esoteric books. The owner speaks a tiny bit of English. Auralia, c/ DeLa Nau, 6, 46003 Valencia; Tel: 963 944 348;

Friday, September 25, 2009

How to behave in a Paris restaurant

There are some great tips in this article from Budget Travel, as well as all the comments, on dining in the city of lights and love... Bon appétit!

How to behave in a Paris restaurant

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Spanish Food - Organic too!

I maintain that Spain has some of the best food ever. The most delicious olive oils I have had, surveying French, Italian and Spanish (I was in Greece too long ago to remember the Greek ones) are from Spain. I will add one asterisk to this, as there is a basil-infused olive oil from France which is like nothing I have ever experienced - a to-die-for oil, made by a secret process that insures the freshest basil flavor from Les Oleiades. For more information, go to This is for sure a Green Earth Guide Favorite! Now I have digressed.

Spanish olive oil is divine and every one tastes different. I list a number of organic olive oils in the Green Earth Guide: Traveling Naturally in Spain and most of these are readily available at Spanish health food stores, and some even at supermarkets.

Food in general is very inexpensive and what I find all over Spain is that purchasing organic, or ecologica, foods is certainly cheaper than in the United States, but if you buy non-organic food the prices are almost laughably lower. Today I went to my favorite organic stand at the Mercado Central in Valencia, a majestic indoor market open Mondays to Saturdays. There my organic garlic (ajo in Spanish) bulb cost a total of .14¢, and my two large, organic, zucchinis (calabacin in Spanish) cost 1.75 euros. If these had been non-organic, conventionally raised they would have cost me under 1 euro total for everything. See what I mean?

Red peppers I won’t even buy in the United States as they almost always are coming from thousands of miles away in Central or South America and are extremely expensive. Here they are the most common and cheap food, so I eat them daily.

The fruit is luscious. Organic pears, apples, kiwis, plums – ripe and fresh are also remarkably inexpensive. I think my whole overflowing fruit bowl cost in the 5 euro range.

Another interesting dietary aspect that people find surprising about Spain is that you can find fabulous gluten-free options here. In fact I would say that with the exception of some extraordinary, gluten-free bread I had in Portland, Oregon (see post, Spain’s gluten-free selections are far superior to what we can get in the States, at least in New England (Portland and California are exceptions). Spain offers delicious bread made without eggs and milk (which I also can’t eat), pastries, pasta, cereals, and beer. These products are not only readily available in every heath food store and herbolario, but also in chain supermarkets, making them very accessible.

Organic meats are a little harder to find, but these too can be found in the larger health food stores and sometimes at El Cort Ingles, the largest chain store in Spain, and those cost about the same as organic meat in the states. We found a butcher who specializes in organic and free-range meats. We bought two chicken legs that were so fresh they had absolutely zero odor. It was incredible.

Spain also produces plenty of its own rice. So you can picture how between the local vegetables and fruits, rice, olives and olive oil, not to mention the sheep (oveja) and goat (cabra) cheeses, and did I mention the cheap! wine, you have fabulous, local and organic feasting for very economical prices.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

European Mobility Week- Promoting Sustainable, Green Transit

Even though Europe is light years ahead of the United States in sustainable transportation, sadly the car still ranks by far as the most used method of transport. For the past eight years European Mobility week, ( promoting sustainable transport - walking, biking, train and bus – has worked to spread the word about the benefits of non-car transit. The week runs every year from September 16-22 and there are over 1600 cities and towns participating, with Austria and Spain at the top of the list of countries with the most participating towns. This year’s campaign will conclude Tuesday September 22 with Car-Free day.

Some cities already use a high percentage of sustainable transit including Copenhagen, Denmark and Gronningen, Holland with the highest level of bicycle usage comprising 55% of the principal transportation mode. Amsterdam, Holland and Munich, Germany clock in at 40%, with other cities using less, but climbing in numbers. On the low end, in Seville, Spain, bike transport makes up only 8% of the main method of transport, but the city is working on promoting bike use including their cheap Sevici bike rental program.

In Madrid, not known for being a bike friendly city, Trixi ( bike rental is offering bikes at 1 euro/hour. ConBici is a Spanish organization promoting bike use throughout Spain ( At their web site you can get biking information for over thirty cities in Spain. ConBici is also the driving force behind increasing the number of trains that allow bicycles.

I have found bike rentals to be cheap and easily accessible throughout French and Spanish cities so as a green traveler you can make every day car-free day when you visit these countries.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Best Eco Hotels and Resorts in the world...: travel green in France with this guide ...

A NEW REVIEW for the Green Earth Guide: Traveling Naturally to France!

The Best Eco Hotels and Resorts in the world...: travel green in France with this guide ...

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My Rolls Royce

My first car was a Ford Falcon station wagon I bought for $100 in 1976 from a man that worked at the Putney Paper Mill, back in the days when it stunk up the whole town. I named the car Elroy and drove to Maine with a friend, who I needed not just for companionship but also because the transmission was funky and she had to hold down the gearshift on the steering wheel to keep it from popping out of gear, especially first gear as I recall. It was a silly trip, off to see a boy who did not reciprocate my affections - ahh what we do when we are 16!

My second car was an adorable, rusty Fiat that got 40mpg in 1978, and which I very fondly named Fabian. Fabian was an awesome car and between lovingly repairing its beyond-repair rust problems (a very kind way to say that half the car was or had disintegrated), and pouring money into other mechanical issues (and did I mention that it would die mid-ride in a rain or snow storm?) it miraculously survived for me another two years.

I did not have another car until I moved to Vermont in earnest in 1982 and bought an appropriate 4WD Subaru, and basically due to road conditions, have had one ever since.

This long preamble is merely to illustrate that I have never owned fancy, high-end cars - quite to the contrary. But here I am in Spain, ecstatic to not have a car and yet I have bought a Rolls Royce!

Now I know the feeling of buying the top end, best “machine” for the job. It maneuvers wonderfully, is sleek, yet roomy, and well designed. It makes my errands and shopping a delight. Now I understand why people who can afford to buy such luxuries do, although mine does not feel like an extravagance, but rather a necessary tool in this warren of streets that I navigate to get my food and supplies.

Lest you think I succumbed to an automobile, rest assured I am referring to my shopping cart.

The market cart, is an essential tool in a Spanish city, where groceries can get heavy, and distances between stores relatively long. I examined every cart I saw, of which there are a plenty, being such a popular and critical item here. There are plenty of cheap ones to be had - but the details...does it have 2 wheels or four? Folding handles? A comfortable hand-grip? A large enough “bag?” and most importantly, does it have a built in insulated pack to keep your refrigerated items cold until you get home out of the Spanish sun? Well fellow shoppers, there is only one that meets all these, and it is my high-end car - my BMW convertible - my mid-life crisis showcase - my UpGo!

Admire it and weep, for this is the best. And if you get to Spain and need a cart, run don’t walk to buy your UpGO, you will never go back.

*This is not an ad. I really did research carts, and paid good money for my UpGo.

UpGo Market Cart

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spanish Dresses!

Where I live in New England there are few stores that sell party or evening dresses, and those that do range from boring and conservative to what the 16 to 26 crowd would wear, which is virtually nothing. In Manhattan, where I love to wander and window shop, my usual response to the dresses in window displays is “who would ever wear that?” Admittedly, I am no dress hound.

That said I am quite taken with the spectacular dresses in Spanish store windows. They range from a little absurd to fantastic, and all have great flare. Many are designed for traditional dancing, festivals or holidays, which the Spanish celebrate with great enthusiasm. Some are formal or wedding attire. And most, if not all, are crafted in Spain. I must say that my usual response walking past these windows is “wow!” and imagining younger and slimmer days when I might have been able to try on these works of art.

Alas, all I can do is admire.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Duffin Dagels.... QUE?!

I have only one word for this QUE???!!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Color in Valencia

Artists, lovers of color, and people who enjoy art supplies (not always the same folks), you will be happy to know that you have some delightful options in the old part of Valencia city to find a variety of art supplies, or fine art stores called Bellas Artes in Spanish. If you like to buy local products, Titan paints are made in Spain, as well as Greco and Escoda ( paintbrushes.

Pedro Soriano is both an art supply store as well as a hardware store and has been serving Valencians since 1914. It sits on a street in the shadows of the Torres de Serranos (see R. Vidal listing) and is fun to venture into just to see the old drawers and displays that seem virtually unchanged for almost 100 years. Pedro Soriano, c/ del Serranos 25, Valencia;; open Monday to Friday 9:00am to 1:30pm/4:00 to 8:00 pm; Saturday 9:30am to 1:00pm.

R. Vidal is a store overlooking the Turia Park and a couple of blocks from the Torres de Serranos, old towers that are grand remnants of when Valencia was a walled city. A full service art supply store with, among many other things, incredibly inexpensive, lightweight, folding, metal easels. R. Vidal, Blanquerias 8, Valencia; open Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 1:30pm/4:15 to 8pm; Sat 10:00 am to 1:00 PM

Casa Viguer is a narrow, packed-full store in an old building deep in the oldest part of the city and has been in operation since 1886! The windows proudly display pigments and other artist delights. Luis Viguer, Casa Viguer, c/ Corretgeria 22, Valencia;; open Monday to Friday from 9:30 to 2:00 pm/4:30 to 8:00 pm, Saturday from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

Some must-reads for color lovers are:

Color: A Natural History of the Palette, Victoria Finlay, Random House 2004

Colors of the World: A Geography of Color, by Jean-Philippe and Dominique Lenclos

Good things to keep in Mind - Budget Travel breaks weird foreign laws

This has some good tips - especially important to bear in mind the fines for riding subways and trains with no or invalid tickets - my experience is that in every country I have been in this is true. And I agree with one commenter that these laws actually are not so weird, but helpful to know.
Bud Travel breaks weird foreign laws

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Great WiFi spots in Valencia's Old City and... a record store

Internet access is a big deal for me when I travel. I just feel cramped if I don't have a comfortable place to write and email. There are "Locutorios" aplenty throughout Spain but many of these I find are not that comfortable, but fine in a pinch, where you are in a crowded place packed with computers and stations. What I look for are the places I can sit for an hour or more and feel relaxed... and the ones below you could sit in happily for hours.

One of the nicest places to go in Valencia if you do NOT have your own computer is The Laundry Stop – a cool little spot in the heart of the hip and funky Barrio del Carmen. You can do laundry here or simply do the internet. What a GREAT idea - unfortunately I am not in need of a laundromat right now, but I wish ALL laundromats had Wifi! Coin operated computers are self-service and for every 50 cents-euros you get 20 minutes of cyber time. The Laundry Stop, c/ Baja 17, (or Baix on the street sign), 46003 Valencia, off of calles Quart and Caballeros, open every day from 9:30 am to 10:00pm;

If you do have a laptop, the super nice places are the Rivendel Café where you can use their computers or your own. If you are using your own you need to ask for the password at the counter. You just need to buy drink or food (they make fresh squeezed zumo de naranja (orange juice) here!) This is an awesome place if you have a laptop because they have shaded outdoor seating which is lovely right by the old 16th century hospital, and gardens now converted into a public library. If you are using their computer you pay for time. Rivendel, c/ Hospital 18, Valencia. Open from lunch through the evening. For listings of their free music on Friday nights see:

Q-Art is a funky bar and restaurant in the shadows of the Torres de Quart (Quart Tower), one of the few remnants of the old walled city. Q-Art has marble-topped tables and a relaxed atmosphere – open Monday to Saturday from 11:00 am to 1:30 am. Here for a drink and/or food you can use their free wifi if you have your own computer. You need to ask for the password at the bar. Q-Art, C/ Guillem De Castro 78, 46001 Valencia; 963 916 115

Cava del Negret, c/ Calatrava 15, Valencia has indoor and outdoor seating and is open from 12:00pm to 1:30 am every day with wifi if you have your own computer, at Plaza Negrito (off of c/ Caballeros).

If you do NOT have your own computer you can go to CyberPhone open everyday from 9:30 am to Midnight. CyberPhone, Carrer del Manyans, 3 bajo 46001 Valencia. At CyberPhone you can use the computers for Internet, make calls, make photocopies, fax and more.

Right next door is a great store - nothing to do with wifi - I digress here - Devil Records, selling new and used rock and punk albums (cd and vinyl) as well as refurbished portable record players! – a flash from my childhood. Man, I loved my little record player. My parents fashioned my pink and white record player on some drawer runners so it would slide and hide into the cabinet in my small bedroom, but I could pull it out and listen to Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Monkees, and the Beatles whenever I wanted. Those were the days! Devil Records, c/ El Manyans 5, 46001 Valencia,; open 11am to 2pm/5-8:30 Monday to Saturday.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pensions & Hostals in Valencia's Old City

Spain is full of wonderful, reasonably priced pensions, and what they call hostals, which are small hotels. In the old part of Valencia city, there are a number of such places in renovated old buildings within steps of great dining, sites, walking and bicycling, not to mention the main train station. Here is a sampling:

Pension Paris, c/ Salva 12, 46002 Valencia Spain, (34) 963 526 766;
Modest, clean rooms with free wifi, that are very inexpensive. All rooms except one are with shared bath. Prices range from 22 to 51 euros per night depending on occupancy and the type of room. The Pension (pictured above) is on a great street, easy walking distance to shopping, dining, metro and train stations.

Acta del Carmen, Blanquerias 11, 46003, Valencia Spain; (34) 962 057 700;
This is a newly renovated hotel in an old building overlooking a large street and park. It has 25 rooms, free wifi, a restaurant, bar, fitness room, and a terrace with an open-air Jacuzzi. Prices range from 64 to 90 euros a night per room depending upon room, number of days and season.

Edifico Palomar, c/ Palomar 13, 46001 Valencia, Spain; (34) 963 910 619;
In a beautiful old building, on a small street, the Edificio Palomar (the blue building pictured above) has eight brand new apartments to rent by the night or week with free wifi. Prices per night range from 80 to 280 euros depending on how many people are staying in the apartment. There are some decent deals where in two of the apartments if you had six people in the apartment it would cost 30 euros each person per night (180 total). The extra costs are a 200-euro refundable deposit and a 40-euro end of stay cleaning fee.

Hostal Antigua Morellana, c/ En Bou, 2, 46001 Valencia; 963 915 773;;
This hotel has 18 rooms each with bathroom, TV and telephone in a renovated 18th century building in the heart of old Valencia. Depending on season prices are 45-55 euros/night for a single room and 55-65 euros/night for a double room.

HiLux Hostel is one of the three Feetup Hostels in Spain (also in Seville and Barcelona), c/ Cadirers 11, 46001 Valencia; 963 914 691;
HiLux is a cross between a small hotel and a backpacking hostel with 10 balconied double and twin rooms for 20-30 euros/night per person with shared baths. It is on a cute back street in the old town with clean rooms each with a distinct decor. This books up well in advance.

Blue Moon Apartments is connected to the HiLux Hostel. Blue Moon Apartments, c/ Portal de Validigna 8, 46003; 689 314 813; Valencia;
The Portal de Validigna is an old gateway in the city and makes for a great old street area. These apartments are newly renovated and can sleep 2-6 people depending on apartment. Prices of 20-40 euros are per person, per night depending on season and day. All apartments have washers, kitchen, and private baths. Keys are picked up from the Indigo Youth Hostel at c/ Guillem de Castro 64; Indigo is a backpacking hostel with private rooms and dorms ranging from 13 to 23 euros/ night per person with shared baths.

Hostal Bisbal, C/ Pie De La Cruz 9, 46001 Valencia Spain; 963 917 084; Fax: 963 923 737. No Website or email.
This family-run hotel is in an old building on a back street near the Central Market (Mercado). The ten rooms are small but clean, and have showers in the bathrooms - prices range from 60-78 Euros/night.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Biking in Spain

After the Tour de France finished this summer with a Spaniard winning for the fourth year in a row, NPR ran a story on July 29th about biking in Spain and the correspondent, based in Madrid, reported that people in Spain hardly ever biked to work or to run errands, even though Spain produced the last four Tour winners.

Having grown up in New York City – Manhattan to be exact – I know how easy it is to judge (and mistakenly so) a country by its largest city. In any event, while Madrid is not considered to be at all a biker-friendly city, Spain’s next three largest cities – Barcelona, Valencia and Seville – all are, and people in these cities make good use of their bikes for errands, commuting, leisure and sport. Barcelona and Seville both have incredibly cheap city sponsored bike rental programs (Bicing and Sevici), and Valencia has bike shops on what seems like every 10-20 blocks.

There are of course two big issues in Spain for bikers – sharing the road with pretty crazy drivers, and security. Bike rental shops tend to rent bikes with two! locks included and instruct you on how to lock your bike to make it fairly theft proof. I overheard one potential renter exclaim, “They would steal the seat?” and the bike expert replying, “they will steal anything… and everything if they can.”

There is nothing one can do about the crazy drivers, except be careful and stick to bike lanes and sidewalks, and observe the lights.

If you are planning on using a bike for getting around – take note. In Valencia, bikes are only allowed on the Metro during certain days and hours – all day Sundays and holidays they are allowed as well as AFTER 2pm on Saturdays. Otherwise they are not allowed and if you do bring the bike on during a weekday you will find your self being escorted out of the Metro by the Metro policia – I have seen it happen.

There is great biking to be had in Spain for all levels and for all purposes, and you will definitely not be the only one out if you choose to make it your transport choice.