A Europe Itinerary for 2 months in Europe: Your perfect itinerary for Europe

A Europe Itinerary for 2 months in Europe: Your perfect itinerary for Europe

On my first trip to Europe, I made a lot of mistakes as I was trying to see many capital cities as possible in the shortest possible time. Halfway through my Europe trip, I was exhausted and I felt like I had barely seen any nature or small cities. I’ve been very fortunate to have taken multiple European backpacking trips and I’ve been living in Europe for nearly three years now.  I hope that I can help a bit with helping you create your perfect European itinerary that mixes capital cities with cultural centers and stunning nature to show you the best of Europe in two months! You’ll find a downloadable excel to help you plan your own European trip at the end!

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Madrid on a Budget: Insider tips for cheap things to do in Madrid

Madrid on a Budget: Insider tips for cheap things to do in Madrid

Considering visiting Madrid? Read insider tips from a resident on the best cheap things to do in Madrid and tips for visiting Madrid on a budget!  This guest post by Perri, an expat in Madrid, covers some insider tips for Spain’s capital on a budget.

 Perri recently relocated from London to Madrid. Seeking the Spanish Sun is a travel blog all about her exploration of Spain in search of the perfect place, to rest her itchy feet and finally call home. She shares what she sees along the way and travel tips and advice for anyone visiting Spain. 

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20 Tips for Eurorailing Around Europe for first time European backpackers

20 Tips for Eurorailing Around Europe for first time European backpackers

As an American who did my first Eurotrip after graduating college AND now a European resident, I’ve learned a lot lessons about train travel in Europe.

These are tips for traveling around Europe by train for first-timers considering buying the Eurail pass, which is available to non-European citizens.

Non-European citizens living in Europe can also buy the Eurail pass, but you cannot use it in your country of residence.  (Interrail is only for EU Citizens, so interrailing does differ in some ways.  However many of these tips for European train travel might still be useful!)

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Via Ferrata: The Non-Climbers Guide to Conquering the Mountains

Via Ferrata: The Non-Climbers Guide to Conquering the Mountains

Via Ferrata is like rock climbing although instead of using a rope, you are securing yourself to steel cables that are drilled into the rock.  This allows you access difficult/isolated mountainous areas that would otherwise require expert climbing skills/ropes or the willingness to climb very steep scrambles without any assurances of safety.  It allows you to also get a glimpse of the isolated, raw beauty of the mountains.  For someone who is reasonably in shape, it’s a great way to get off-the-beaten path, work out while on vacation, and have an adrenaline-filled adventure!

In this post, this is a via ferrata guide for beginners with what you need for via ferrata, why to do via ferrata and where to do via ferrata.   

What is via ferrata!? / What is ​klettersteig?

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Imagine the hardest hike or scramble that you’ve ever done up a very steep hill/mountain.  Now imagine that there are steel cables along the rock and handholds/footholds to help you through the hardest parts.  You walk up/down ladders (while attached) when it’s very steep and move across short cable sections as you go up the route. When it gets difficult or steep, you’re attached to a short cable section to stop you from slipping even if you misstep.

The photo below shows me doing a via ferrata in Kentucky.  Note my harness, the footholds/handholds, the steel cable, my helmet, and the rock.  The idea is that a course is set and the minimum number of rungs/cables are set to allow you complete the course while remaining safe.  Obviously,the courses vary in difficulty.  The easiest via ferratas allow you to take a short walk with the safety of a cable/ladder to experience a fantastic look-out from above (similar to the photo above) while the hardest ones can be both very difficult and very long climbs through mountainous areas with no climbing aids and exposed rock.

An introduction to via ferrata/klettersteig, a form of rock climbing: equipment, safety, and paths. For beginners, hill walkers, and adventure sports lovers.

It was first invented as a way of traveling and fighting in the Dolomites during World War I by the Italians and the Austrians.  You can still see/climb some of the old military routes today in the heart of the Dolomites, which is quite cool.  Today, it’s popular among Italians who treat it like most of us treat hiking: a fun way to get some exercise. It’s most popular in summer when you don’t need to worry about snow in the mountains, which can be an issue in winter/fall/spring depending on the location.

Why try out Via Ferrata?

  • Exercise! You will be surprised how sore you are the next day in the arms.
  • Incredible views of hard to access areas. Imagine discovering a secret waterfall that nobody else can see except within the gorge you’re climbing up (photo below).
  • Can be done solo unlike many other forms of climbing.
  • Adrenaline rush.
  • Most of all, it’s fun.

An introduction to via ferrata/klettersteig, a form of rock climbing: equipment, safety, and paths. For beginners, hill walkers, and adventure sports lovers.

Nelson Rocks, West Virginia

An introduction to via ferrata/klettersteig, a form of rock climbing: equipment, safety, and paths. For beginners, hill walkers, and adventure sports lovers.

Do I need a professional guide for klettersteig? How much to hire a via ferrata guide?

​​This is up to you, but if you’re inexperienced with rock climbing or scrambling in steep areas, I would highly recommend doing it once with someone experienced. The equipment can be a sizable investment, so it’s good to know if this is something you want to pursue before spending $200 on equipment.  Similarly, renting via ferrata equipment is not always easy without going with a company.
​If you live in the US, there are via ferratas located in Kentucky, California, Colorado, West Virginia, and Utah that will carefully explain everything and take you on your first via ferrata. This isn’t true for every country as many via ferratas are not as regulated, but it’s possible to find a guide.  This is especially true in the mountains areas in Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. There are via ferratas in other countries all over the world, so it’s worth looking into options close to you.
​If you’re looking for guides, more than $200 USD for one day is on the high end as you can typically try it out for roughly $100 per person with a guide and equipment for one day if you’re in an area with many via ferratas.   You can do better in terms of pricing, but it depends on the location.  I paid about $50 for my first via ferrata at Torrent Falls (Kentucky,USA) and $100 for climbing Nelson Rocks (West Virginia, USA).
If you’re considering it on your own, the internet has a lot of resources in terms of via ferrata routes/advice, but I would still recommend buying a Cicerone Guide if available.   It’s a succinct guide to the local routes that will help you find the beginning of the routes and assess difficulty.  I should warn that even if you read about a route online, it might be very difficult or impossible to find without a guide.  Most via ferratas are fairly remote, so you might need to take a ski lift, a long hike, or even drive to a small local cemetery (like we did) in order to find the route before hiking for 2 hours.  Finding the beginning is non-trivial and it can be helpful to have a GPS locator to locate some of the routes you’ll find on SummitPost or Wikiloc.

What you need: Via Ferrata Equipment  / Via Ferrata Kit List

A climbing harness.  Any climbing harness that fits you well (they are sized) and is in good condition will do, however this can be rented if you don’t own one.  This can be used for any climbing activity, so it’s a good investment.  I recommend measuring yourself prior to ordering one as your harness should not be able to go over your hips.

If you’re looking for a good harness, I am a fan of Black Diamond and Petzl. I use a Petzl harness myself as they have slightly more options for women. A harness is a great investment for climbing more generally!

Click for the women’s climbing harness & the men’s climbing harness that we use!

Carabiner.  You use this to allow you to rest attached to the cable or the rungs.  It’s better to get a large carabiner with a screwlock (instead of a ball lock) in case emergency resting to make it easy for you to get connected to the rungs.  Due to the thickness of the rungs, it’s good to ask at the climbing store/outdoor store for a large one (at least 21mm opening).Cheap and reusable for so many things. I own the AmD from Petzl for my via ferrata resting carabiner.
Via Ferrata Set / Via Ferrata Kit  This is your lifeline.  This is how you are attached to the cable, but this is for emergency use only.   If you fall, there is an Energy Absorption system inside the little pack that prevents you from falling off the rock as long as you’re hooked into the cable properly with both clips attached.  I’ve heard that it takes a decent fall or a mistake that prior to the fall to damage it, but if you have a fall, it is standard practice to check that it is not damaged. If it is damaged, you have a serious problem.
This is the exact via ferrata kit that I have. I liked how large the clips were compared to some others that I’ve rented while climbing prior to buying my own!
​This is also referred to as the via ferrata lanyard, however this is not a normal lanyard. You cannot use any kind of lanyard. This is specialized climbing equipment that can save your life.
If you see yourself doing this again after trying it out for the first time (or you live close to the mountains), I think it’s worth owning your own as you can just go on your own once you know proper technique (and for free!). It can be difficult to find shops that rent via ferrata harnesses depending on where you are and a friend had to buy one when we were in Italy as it was impossible to find one for rent.
​​For anyone trying it out without a guide, find out a tear/rip looks like in the seam from an expert.  This might save your life if you have a fall, but you’re not sure if your gear is damaged.   I researched my gear a lot and I ended up buying the Easy-Rider from Black Diamond, which has large clips that allow you to clip into the cable more easily.
If you’re renting via ferrata gear, have an expert carefully check your gear for any rips/tears before you go.  Also, ask them what a tear/rip looks like if you’ll be doing it without a guide.
Climbing Helmet. This is required as you’re often climbing directly on the rock and rock MIGHT fall on you.  Jacob actually witnessed a rock fall on someone during a via-ferrata, but luckily their helmet stopped anything serious from happening.  More generally, if you know there’s falling rocks, don’t look up and keep your head down to protect yourself better.  Rentable from anywhere that rents via ferrata gear.  I own the Half-Dome climbing helmet from Black Diamond .
Climbing Gloves.  Your hands will get cut up from gripping the rocks.  Similarly, your hand will sweat a bit, so it makes it a lot easier to grip the rocks.  It’s better to have half-finger gloves due to being able to use your fingertips.  This is optional, but I’ve seen it make a huge difference in my own climbing.  Not rentable, but cheap and worth it.  I bought my climbing gloves from Black Diamond.

Minimal fear of heights.  Admittedly, I get vertigo sometimes, but if you’re not comfortable with climbing tall ladders and hiking with a drop below you, this may not be for you.

Water & Snacks. You’ll be in a remote mountainous place–so bring a good water bottle and snacks to keep you going!  I swear by my Nalgene bottle as I hook it on the side of my backpack to leave space for my gear.

Travel Insurance.  Just in case.

If you’re going without a guide, a good backpack to hold your gear and your food/water.  I use a military backpack as it’s sturdy and allows me to wait to put on my gear until I reach the start of the via ferrata trail (which can be a bit of a hike). I think the most important thing is that your backpack as a strap across your chest/stomach to minimize movement while you’re climbing..

Surefootedness.  It’s the ability to be sure in your steps and trust yourself when you’re hiking on a path.  I admittedly struggle with this, but this improves the more that you hike and do via-ferrata.

Comfortable sports clothes that fit tightly. Bring an extra layer (sweatshirt) since it can get cold at higher elevations. I recommend wearing full coverage pants that are a bit thicker as you might need to crawl–which means that your knees might get cut up.

Sturdy Hiking shoes and/or via ferrata shoes.  ​Typically, you’ll need to hike and climb ladders, so you don’t want to use rock climbing shoes if you own them. The grip is important as I often find the rock is the best way to get a good foothold and sometimes, you’ll need to climb using wet rock. A good pair of via ferrata/hiking shoes that go above your ankle are a good idea to prevent you from ankle-injuries, but not necessary.  They must be closed (no open sides).

An introduction to via ferrata/klettersteig, a form of rock climbing: equipment, safety, and paths. For beginners, hill walkers, and adventure sports lovers.

Stairs of Death/Tajo de Ronda, Ronda, Spain.

Where can you do via ferrata?

Look up via ferratas close to you.  My favorite place to look is on Wikiloc for routes, but I often go to Youtube to get a feeling about the route although it’s hard to access difficulty from watching a youtube video.

Some areas to consider within Europe:

  • The Dolomites in Northern Italy (you can fly into Venice or Verona).
    • Southern Dolomites: Close to Lake Garda/Brentas.  If you’re considering this region, Arco is the major hub for climbing and you will be able to rent via ferrata equipment.
    • Northern Dolomites: Canazei, Belluno, Cortina and Bolzano  Cortina is a major hub for climbing and I believe you can rent via ferrata equipment here.
      • If you’re considering doing a vacation here, you can actually take a ski lift up to a high point and do via ferratas in between mountain huts.
  • Austria.  The largest number of via ferratas of any country.  I haven’t done a via ferrata in Austria yet, but the Rax mountains are quite close to Vienna.
  • France. Mostly in the Pyrenees mountains mountains closer to Toulouse, however there are some via ferratas closer to Lyon/the Italian border.
  • Germany has many via ferrata routes around the country. You will find many in the Alps close to Munich.
  • Romania has a few via ferrata routes, however some are illegally installed, so read up carefully about the routes before deciding to do so and find out if the cables are intact prior to going.
  • Spain. Less well-developed via ferrata system and not as well-maintained, but present in the south: Pyrenees and close to Sierra Nevadas.  We did one via ferrata known as the Stairs of Death in Ronda, which gave an incredible view of Ronda’s famous bridge as we climbed up the sides of the gorge. There’s also a few famous routes close to Barcelona, including one difficult one on Montserrat. (Click for more information about the Ronda via ferrata.)
  • Triglav National Park in Slovenia and the Julian Alps  Full of beautiful lakes and incredible via ferrata routes.  You can rent equipment in Bled although it is easiest to bring your own.

An introduction to via ferrata/klettersteig, a form of rock climbing: equipment, safety, and paths. For beginners, hill walkers, and adventure sports lovers.

Triglav National Park in Slovenia.
In the United States, I have personally done Nelson Rocks and Torrent Falls on the East Coast in West Virginia and Kentucky.  Both are quite different, but incredibly fun.  There’s quite a few in the Rockies and some now in the Southwest, but I’m not as familiar with these.
Nelson Rocks is a longer via ferrata located in West Virginia that is 4ish hours. It’s not technically difficult, but it’s quite beautiful and you will be quite high up.  You are climbing up these two strange fin formations seen below.  You go with two well trained guides who will help you through any difficulties (or just nervousness).  The scariest moments depend on the person, but I’d say it was turning onto the fin for me with the drop below me and walking across the bridge for a friend of mine! The whole area is STUNNING and even more so in fall with the leaves turning.
Photo of Nelson Rocks via ferrata, one of the via ferrata climbing sites in the United States. #adventuretravel #viaferrata #climbing
 View of fins at Nelson Rocks. Read about what via ferrata is, what gear is needed for via ferrata, and the best via ferrata spots in the world!
  • Torrent Falls.  Located in Red River Gorge, Kentucky.  It’s more of a technical training course, as it has several separated courses of different levels.  It’s kind of nice since you have the opportunity to try some courses above your level (and fail miserably) as well as rest/get a snack between courses.  I’ve been here twice now and the staff is incredibly knowledgable.

Love climbing? Learn all about via ferrata, a form of rock climbing, that you can do solo and for FREE all over the world. Read more information about via ferrata equipment, trails, and safety!

View from the first section of Torrent Falls

Picture

Expert section of the Via Ferrata

Have you done a via ferrata? If so, where? If not, would you try it?

 Looking for a bucket list item? Climb a via ferrata/klettersteig! It’s a form of rock climbing for adventure sports lovers who aren’t afraid of heights. All you need to know about gear & amazing climbs around the world!

An introduction to via ferrata/klettersteig, a form of rock climbing, perfect for adrenaline junkies! Includes gear and amazing climbs all around the world!

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Tips for a Road Trip in Andalucia, Spain

Tips for a Road Trip in Andalucia, Spain

For my birthday, I asked for one thing: a trip.  Jacob granted me my wish: a weekend anywhere I wanted (within reason). I had visited Spain during my first backpacking trip years ago and regretted not leaving Seville to see more of Andalucia. Luckily, Jacob had never been to Spain before and it was easy to sell him on tapas and Rioja.  More tips for a road trip in Andalucia and the best places to visit in Andalucia Spain! 

Reasons to visit Andalucia

  • Gorgeous beaches
  • Unspoiled white towns in the mountains
  • Incredible mountains
  • Historic cities and palaces
  • Scenic drives through small, charming Spanish towns
  • Great hiking (and via ferrata) in unspoiled landscapes with minimal tourists
If you’re also obsessed with tapas, Rioja, and the natural beauty, I recommend seeing Andalucia.  It’s just as charming as its big sister cities (Madrid and Barcelona) although it’s much calmer withstanding the busy Costa del Sol.  You can fly into either Seville or Malaga for a low price using a number of budget airlines from within the EU: Transavia (from the Netherlands), Easyjet (EU), Ryanair (EU), Vueling (major cities EU), and Wizzair (Eastern Europe).  Outside of the EU, it might be cheaper to fly into Southern Spain via Barcelona, Lisbon, or another European hub. 

Getting to Andalucia

Malaga is much more urban than I expected and reminded me more of Madrid with its great museums, many cities, and fantastic tapas bars.  It didn’t feel touristy, even in the most central points of the city, which was a nice change from Amsterdam. We didn’t spend too much time there, however if you can wander into a nice plaza, it’s really relaxing to sit outside snacking on patatas bravas while drinking fresh-made sangria.  It is where Picasso is from, so you can visit the museum there if you’re a modern art lover.
Although a lot of people tend to go car-less or simply stick to the Costa Del Sol, I highly recommend renting a car…and hiding your valuables (more about this later).  The major cities of Andalucia aren’t that far apart (maybe 1-2 hours) and the drive is stunning. Some parts remind me more of Texas than Spain due to the dryness of the landscape although I loved all the incredible/strange rock formations. (Below photo pictures La Peña de los Enamorados (Lover’s Leap due to a local legend) in Antequera behind the castle).

Photo of Lover's Leap in Andalucia Spain.

Granada

We first drove to Granada.  When I was in Seville, I had visited the Alcázar and I had heard about how incredible the Alhambra in Granada was.  However, I had been sick as well as tired from constantly walking in 100F degree heat in August, so I never got there.  This time, I did, which only made me appreciate it more, partially due to Jacob’s explanation about the 13 forms of symmetry (more on Baez’s blog) that you will find in the walls of the Alhambra, which has been an inspiration for many mathematicians and M.C. Escher himself.
Parking and driving in Granada is quite difficult, especially as you near the old city.  Most streets are limited to residents and taxis, which makes it quite difficult to find parking.  If you’re driving, search for Colegio Ave Maria San Cristobal on Ctra. de Murcia. It’s not a terrible walk down to the old city although admittedly, the jagged path makes it quite easy to get lost.  We stayed in an airbnb with an incredible view of the Alhambra on Calle Horno del Oro where we had an great studio to ourselves. The owner was very warm/friendly, the location cannot be beat, and neither can the price, especially for your own apartment.  Below is the view footsteps from the apartment we rented in the Alhambra.

Photo of the Alhambra in Granada Spain from below. Read about the best things to do in Andalucia Spain!

For visiting the Alhambra, book as soon as possibleOnly a limited number of people can see the Palacios Nazaríes daily and you must commit to a time.  I was not one of these people although the Alhambra is still exquisite. I loved the Water Stairwell, the incredibly delicate handiwork of the buildings, and the beautiful gardens.  It’s a gigantic complex worth exploring.

Photo of the Alhambra in Spain, one of the top attractions in Spain to visit.

Photo of window of the Alhambra in Andalucia Spain

Enough of the Alhambra! Anyways, see it.  After we wandered around the Arab quarter, which is full of delicious snack and hookah, before ending up at my favorite place in Granada: a little tapas bar close to Plaza Larga that we had passed earlier.  This place (La Fragua @ 16 Calle Panderos) had a special: a drink and a tapa of your choice for 2 euros. Unlike some of the other places, it was full of locals and I asked for what was the best thing to eat to the bartender in my passable.  She recommended the paella, which wasn’t on the menu, which is what everyone else was having. It was fantastic and I had probably 3 more plates of it, to the point where the cook came out to ask how much we liked it.  The bartender got a kick out of my strange sounding Spanish account although I definitely asked for the check in technically correct Spanish…except for the word for the check in Dutch.  Oops.  After this point, we hit another tapas bar for more sangria and people watching before heading back to our apartment.

El Torcal National Park

Photo of El Torcal National Park in Andalucia Spain, one of the best things to do in Andalucia with crazy rocks!

Photo of El Torcal by bbsferrari (Bigstock). It was too foggy. 🙁
Antequera is a cute small town and I had traditional Spanish jamon sandwiches before we set off for El Torcal.  El Torcal is a natural site about an hour north of Malaga and east of Granada.  The rocks have very strange shapes and hiking around it is pretty fantastic.  As we were driving up into the mountains, we actually drove into the cloud, which made it quite difficult to see the incredible landscape pictured on the right.  We came to do via ferrata and left our bags in the car, which is something I’ll come back to.  We hiked around the park for a few hours before coming back to the car. 
We came back to the car, however someone broke into our car via breaking the side window on my side presumably using a rock.  It’s a pretty sinking feeling to realize what happened. They stole Jacob’s entire bag (with his laptop in the back), emptied out my wallet, and stole my camera lens. We eventually went to the National Police in Antequera to file a report and replace the car in Malaga. Theft/car break-ins are apparently quite common in Andalucia and it’s good to be careful about not leaving anything you want stolen in the car (as my mom always told me as a kid).
Pro-tip: Have GOOD travel insurance (including car break-ins), HIDE all valuables if you have them in the car or carry them on you, and think carefully before leaving all your stuff in your car.  

Pueblos Blancos

I tried to not let this get to me although we needed to drive back to Malaga before replacing the car and driving to El Gastor, a tiny white town in the mountains.  Our bed and breakfast was incredibly charming and Miguel was so understanding.  We spent the next morning taking in the town and the views. This region of Spain is famous for its natural beauty and its adorable white towns in the mountains (pueblos blancos).  It feels a world away from Malaga.

Pueblo Blanco village in Andalucia Spain, one of the best things to see in Andalucia. Try to stay at a pueblo blanco if you visit!

Ronda

Photo of beautiful view close to Ronda Spain. Read tips for taking a road trip in Andalucia Spain with advice on the best things to do in Andalucia.

We next drove to Ronda, the one of the most picturesque towns in Andalucia, due to its location above a gorge. There are many other things to do in Ronda besides climbing! 
Ronda is a fantastic place to climb due to the unique geography as well as the easily accessible routes that are walkable from town.  If you have your own gear, you can do via ferrata to climb up its famous gorge.  Via ferrata is quite similar to rock climbing, except for the fact that you clip yourself onto a rope that is drilled into the wall, and there are natural footholds for you.  We had difficulty finding the route marker, which resulted in us mistakenly finding someone’s sheep yard..and needing to eventually climb out of a backyard when we realized we were trapped. 

Photo of sheep in Ronda Spain, one of the most beautiful places in Andalucia Spain!

Photo of via ferrata in Ronda Spain. Read about the best adventure activity in Ronda Spain.

Via Ferrata in Ronda

If you’ve never tried via ferrata, you need a harness as you would for normal climbing, a helmet, as well as a special via ferrata harness.  Once you master the basics of ensuring that you’re always clipped in and some basic rock climbing technique, it’s remarkably simple minus the fear of heights, which admittedly, is something I still grapple with.  (If you’re interested in trying it out, try it out with a professional first!) The most important thing is to remain calm, focus on your movements (and being clipped in!), and to stop when the adrenaline bothers you.  This via ferrata was a good basic one although it’s mostly stairs, which is not for those afraid of heights.  You can avoid downclimbing all together by exiting after you hit the viewing platform.​ It’s worth it for the view and adrenaline rush.

Photo of bridge in Ronda spain, one of the best things to do in Andalucia Spain.

After this, we just took it easy, enjoying the natural beauty of the region, the twisty mountain roads, the view of the beaches/Mediterranean Sea from the Coastal highway, and the tapas bars in Malaga.

Other places to visit in Andalucia

  • Gibraltar
  • Taking the ferry to Tangier, Morocco
  • Visiting the strange Guadalquivir Marshlands (the subject of a fantastic movie called Marshland)
  • Trying out the formerly dangerous Camino del Rey (needs to be booked months in advance for non-summer)
  • Spending time in the Sierra Nevada mountains
  • Visiting Seville or Cadiz

Car driving in Andalucia Spain. Read about a road trip through Andalucia.

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Tips for a road trip in Spain through Andalucia Spain, including Ronda, via ferrata, pueblos blancos (white villages), and El Torcal.

Tips for a road trip around Andalucia, Spain, staying in Pueblos Blancos, the Alhambra and off the beaten path travel.

Tips for a road trip around Andalucia, Spain, staying in Pueblos Blancos, the Alhambra and off the beaten path travel.