Adventures of an Auxiliary de Conversación in Fuengirola, Spain
Author Archives: Maggie Willis
Hi. I'm Maggie (some may know me as Mary), and I am a second year Auxiliar de Conversación in Spain! This year, I am living in Fuengirola, along the beautiful Costa del Sol. Follow along as I share my favorite experiences, places, and food!
Working in a Spanish secondary school definitely has its perks. Last week, I went with my 3 ESO students on their field trip to the Caminito del Rey.
What is it?
“Caminito del Rey” translates to “The King’s little path.” This route was about a 2 hour walk on elevated platforms through the Gaitanes Canon which was excavated by the Guadalhorce River. The Caminito was declared a natural area in 1989 and is very well protected.
Who should go?
The Caminito del Rey is a perfect activity for anyone who enjoys taking in nature’s beauty but doesn’t care for strenuous hiking. I do NOT recommend this walk for anyone with a fear of heights. I would also advise caution to elderly or uncoordinated individuals as the stairs on the trail are oddly spaced and a bit difficult to manage.
Where do I buy tickets?
You must purchase your tickets on the official website.I recommend buying your tickets well in advance as there is often a wait-list.
I was fortunate enough to go for free with my school 😉
What should I bring?
My school went on the Caminito during a hot day in May. I would recommend bringing sunscreen, water, and maybe a snack to eat halfway through the trek. (There are no trash cans on the trails, so bring something that doesn’t create waste or something you don’t mind carrying.) There are stands with food, ice cream, and souvenirs at the end of the caminito. If you wear a hat, just know that you will end up carrying it because you must wear a helmet (provided) for the duration of the caminito.
Now enough with the logistics, here are some pictures to show you what you have to look forward to if you do the Caminito del Rey.
In the beginning of March, I had some time off for Semana Blanca, so I headed to Austria with my friend Abby. This trip was the result of a sky scanner search for cheap flights back in January. You bet I listened to Billy Joel’s Vienna on repeat during the trip. For four days, Abby and I discovered Vienna nonstop. We came to the city with very little planning, but with some luck along the way, we managed to make every minute count. Below are my recommendations for how to spend 4 days in Vienna (exactly how we did). Get your walking shoes ready!
*Note: Due to COVID restrictions everything was closed by 10pm, so night life is not included in this post.
Check-in at hostel
If you’re balling on a budget, you most likely want to stay at a hostel. Vienna’s Hostel Ruthensteiner was an awesome choice. It is about a 15 minute walk to the city center, 5 minute walk to the train station, and 5 minute walk to the airport bus. This place was clean, had a fun young environment, friendly staff, and warm apple cider! Definitely recommend. I paid around 25 euros/night for a shared female dorm.
Try the Weiner Schnitzel
Our first stop after checking in was to get some food. I HAD to order the Weiner schnitzel as part of my quest to try all the local food. Weiner Schnitzel is a very large thin piece of breaded and fried veal. Honestly, it wasn’t my favorite. I thought it was a bit bland, but maybe other restaurants serve it better. Regardless, I’m glad I tried probably the most popular local food.
See an Opera or Ballet at the Vienna State Opera House
Abby and I reserved tickets at the ballet for 12.50 euros. We had a box seat on the upper level, and with luck playing to our favor, we were able to move up to the front of the box, as those seats were empty. The ballet was impressive, but the State Opera House was even more enchanting. I suggest arriving early so you have the chance to wander around the ornate building.
Breakfast at a trendy cafe
*Note: Most places open at 10 am.
Zina’s Eatery was an awesome find! It is super cute and health focused. I was surprised to find that Vienna is very vegan/gluten free conscious. This was just one of the many restaurants with a variety of options for those with dietary restrictions.
We shared the corn fritters (chef’s kiss) and strawberry peanut butter French toast. My latte was the size of my face.
Vienna House of Music
Abby and I stumbled upon this museum, and it was a pleasant surprise. This museum is great for music and history lovers, and it’s a fun interactive place to spend a few hours. Create your own waltz, conduct an orchestra, learn about the science behind sound and music and the history of famous musicians. We paid 12 euros for a student (under 27) ticket.
Walking tours are a fantastic way to learn about the city from a local and get some insider recommendations. We used Good Vienna Tours and were thoroughly impressed. While these tours are “free”, it is standard to tip at least 10 euros if you had a good experience.
Lunch at Figlmüller
Upon our tour guide’s request, we went to Figlmüller at Wollzeile for lunch. We didn’t have reservations, so we were sent to Figlmüller Bäckerstrasse, their offshoot restaurant, and it was 10/10 delish! I didn’t order the Weiner Schnitzel here, but I think this would be one of the best spots to try it.
I don’t know a lot about art, so I was happy to have Abby along with me on this trip. The Albertina is huge, so I recommend giving yourself plenty of time to explore this gem. My favorite part was the Edvard Munch exhibit which compared Munch’s work to artists who were inspired by him. We payed 14 euros ( for under 26)
This was my favorite part of the trip! I learned about the Habsburg regime in AP Euro back in high school, but it was fascinating to revisit the history of a more than 600 year old empire. In the palace, you are given an audio guide to use as you explore 40 of the 1,441 ornately decorated rooms. As our tour guide told us, the Schönbrunn Palace is the most visited site in all of Austria, wonderful for history lovers or those who prefer the finer things in life.
Can you believe there are more palaces?!The Belvedere Palace doubles as a museum, and is most notably known for the Klimt exhibit, including the famous painting, “The Kiss”. Also on display, was a ……. Even if you don’t enter the palace, the grounds are worth walking around.
I love the café lifestyle of Vienna. Here, I have a creme brûlée latte from Wunderladen, the cutest little find! The server actually used a blow torch to crystalize the brown sugar. Yum!
Our final stop of the trip was a happy mistake. We stumbled upon Naschmarkt and could not resist the colorful rows of fruit stands and traditional goods. Aside from vendors, this market houses an array of restaurants and bars.
Well, that’s a wrap on Vienna. Thanks for coming along on the journey. Although we saw so much, I would love to go back one day, as the city has so much to offer! I hope you find these suggestions helpful if you find yourself in this whimsical city of music.
I often ask the secretary at my school to make photocopies for my classes. Up until recently, I have been using the expression, “¿Puedo tener …. copias porfa?” I thought this was a perfectly reasonable thing to say as puedo means “can I” and tener means “have.” I also use this expression while eating out at restaurants. After MONTHS of this exchange, a coworker pulled me aside and said, “Puedo tener….no.” It is not an expression that makes sense in Spanish. My coworker recommended I use, “Quiero” which translates to “I want.” I’ve always avoided using “quiero” when ordering because it sounds a bit rude to my American ear, but here it is perfectly acceptable to say what you want directly without any formalities.
To help you avoid falling into the “puedo tener” trap, I have compiled a list of useful phrases for ordering in Spanish:
Quiero… “I want…”
Don’t be shy, get right to the point!
Quisiera… “I would like…”
¿Me puedes traer….? “Can you bring me…?”
¿Me podrías traer…? “Could you bring me…?”
Me pone… “Put me down for…”
Ok, for this one, I am not 100 percent sure of the exact translation. “Poner” means put and the “me” indicates the verb is reflexive (done to oneself), so the direct translation is something more like, “Put it on me.” However, handy dandy wordreference.com told me poner can be used when talking about writing on paper (like a server writing down an order, perhaps?), so I came to the conclusion, that “Put me down for…” is the closest translation.
…cuando puedas “…when you can”
While it’s not an expression for ordering, this phrase is useful and polite when you want something brought to the table mid-meal. “Otra cerveza cuando puedas…” “Another beer when you can.”
Just say the food you want!
If all else fails, just name the food and point to the menu. You got this!
And don’t forget! It never hurts to add a “gracias” or “por favor” in there.
One of (if not my favorite) parts of traveling to new places is trying the food. I spent the *puente in Portugal, discovering Lisbon and Porto. This trip was super exciting for me because it was my first time abroad in a country other than Spain. As Portugal is Spain’s next door neighbor, I am taking baby steps. There is so much I could say about Portugal and its beauty, but due to time, I’m going to narrow this post down to the food.
Portugal is known for its delicious pastries. You can find a pastry shop on almost every corner. There are also a few famous coffee spots as well, which I didn’t visit. However, I passed by The Majestic Cafe quite a few times while I was in Porto, and the line was out the door. While some people are adverse to standing in lines, I believe a long line means something is definitely worth seeing. With that logic, If I ever find myself back in Porto, I would like to check it out.
The Portuguese serve codfish in over one thousand ways!!! In four days, I tried three. El pastel de bacalhau, langueni de bacalhau de lagareiro, and bacalhau cakes with tomato rice. While codfish is one of the most revered fish in Portugal, it is an imported product! I was super surprised to learn this on my walking tour of Lisbon.
Pastel de Nata
You can not escape Portugal without seeing pastel de nata everywhere. This tasty delicacy is made with egg and custard, and is best served warm. You can really find this treat anywhere, but I recommend going to a place that specializes in these pastels because they are sure to be warm and served with either cinnamon or powdered sugar. The pastels appear small, but don’t be fooled my friend. They are dense. I had the best pastels de nata at Pastéis de Belem.
The Francesinha is not for the faint of heart. I think this dish was something I can only eat once in my life. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but also the precursor to a heart attack. I’ve included a picture of the ingredients below so you will understand why. I don’t recommend this one if you have high cholesterol. Like the pastel de Nata, I recommend going somewhere that specializes in this dish for the best experience. For one thing, this sandwich has its origins in Porto (so get it in Porto!) Being from Philly, I would never recommend anyone get a Philly cheesesteak outside of Philly, ya know? I devoured this plate at Cafe Santiago. 100/10
Ok, so I didn’t eat these, but I saw them EVERYWHERE. There are stores dedicated solely to sardines. Sardines are organized in beautiful tin cans with years labeled on the front. At first I thought I found a can of sardines as old as me, but later realized that the cans listed fun facts about the corresponding year but didn’t necessarily indicate the age of the sardines (at least I hope not.) If you visit Portugal, sardines is an authentic gift you can bring back for your loved ones…maybe to eat… or maybe just to look at…
I hope you enjoyed this food tour of Portugal. I certainly enjoyed eating my way through the country.
*puente= There are many holidays and holy days in Spain. When two holy days occur in the same week, they are often bridged together. (A bridge is a puente in Spanish). This week, there was a holiday on December 6th and December 8th. Therefore, I had off from school the 6th, 7th, and 8th. Since I never work Fridays, I had the whole weekend and the beginning of the week to explore Portugal.
Two weekends ago, I visited Córdoba, a town I had last seen in 2016 during my high school’s exchange trip. It was an incredible day. Córdoba is known for its stunning patios adorned with flowers galore. Every May, the citizens of Córdoba open up their patios to the public and compete for the most stunning patio in Córdoba.
From October 11th to October 21st, the 13 top ranked patios from last May opened up to the public once again. The day was accompanied by a floral art exhibit in the archaeological museum featuring two female artists, Inés Urquijo and Nuria Mora. You can read more about these incredible women and their unique styles here.
After stopping by Bar Santos for some tortilla de patata, we hit the patios. While talking to one patio owner, I learned that in order to be considered one of Córdoba’s “greats,” you must water all of your plants BY HAND. The upkeep of a beautiful patio is truly a full time job.
I’m back! After a brief stint in the U.S., I am back on Spanish soil & ready to begin my second year as an English Teaching Assistant, this time in the beautiful city of Fuengirola. So long my Canarian friends (Te echo de menos). I have headed to the peninsula this time around for another year of sunshine, paella, and fiestas in the South of Spain.
Yesterday, I visited the Stupa of Enlightenment in Benalmádena. In case you don’t know what a Stupa is (like me….I didn’t know), it is basically this structure that houses relics and sacred teachings of Buddhism within its walls. The Stupa in Benalmádena happens to be the tallest in all of Europe.
Along the inside walls of the Stupa is the story of Buddha told through pictures. Currently, there is a troupe of volunteers hanging out inside the Stupa telling the story of Buddha to onlookers. They are here for another month and a half until they move on to their next endeavor.
I learned a bit about Buddhism in college. One of my favorite classes hosted guest speakers: leaders from an array of religions, one of which was Buddhism. The volunteer in the Stupa reinforced some of what I already knew and provided new insights.
The most memorable lesson and my favorite part of Buddhism is the idea that well…put simply: nothing matters. That sounds pessimistic, but in fact if you look at it a certain way, it is very optimistic.
Buddhism teaches that attachment leads to suffering. Therefore, if we do not attach ourselves to any objects or people, we will not suffer. Obviously, this is easier said than done; hence why not many of us can claim to have reached “enlightenment.” However, the foundational idea that everything comes and goes is quite comforting. There is a kind of peace in accepting that nothing is permanent.
Similarly, Buddhism rejects the “Everything happens for a reason” mentality. In Buddhism, there is no reason. Good and bad things just happen all the time. However, because nothing is permanent, it doesn’t really matter. Do you see how accepting life’s highs and lows as ephemeral can result in less worries?
The volunteer said something that struck me; “Everyone knows they will die, but no one believes it.” When you accept the fact that you, me, and everyone you know will die, you don’t have to be afraid of death. It just is what it is. Even Buddha died. When you recognize and appreciate death as a part of reality, you begin to shift your focus to the present moment. This is what Buddhism is all about; living in the present and living with compassion. Doesn’t sound too bad to me.
Anyway, I found this experience interesting and wanted to share my thoughts. It is fun gaining new perspectives and thinking about life differently.
As my time in the Canary Islands came to an end, I was lucky enough to travel to the mainland and visit some friends (old & new). Here are some of my faves of Madrid:
THE PUEBLOS OF MADRID
Ok, so I know this isn’t technically part of the city, but… the villages surrounding Madrid are absolutely charming. In Spain, it is common for city dwellers to have separate houses in the countryside. My friend, Julia has a house in beautiful Rascafría, situated in the mountains outside of the city, a cozy escape from bustling city life.
While in Rascafría, we trekked Peñalara, the highest mountain peak in the Guadarrama mountain range and part of Sierra de Guadarrama National Park. I would rate this hike a 3/10 in terms of difficulty and a 10/10 in terms of beauty. The peak of Peñalara overlooks a lagoon that was left over from glaciers!
Another charming aspect of the pueblos is the abundance of cats. These street kitties are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen with piercing blue and green eyes; definitely not what comes to mind when I think of a feral cat in the U.S.
While we were wandering around Rascafría, Julia pointed out a bridge known as the “Puente de Perdón” or “Forgiveness Bridge.” According to Julia, people used to be brought to this bridge for their wrongdoings and given the chance to say sorry. If they did not apologize, they would be tossed into the river below (not a very treacherous fall, but humiliating nonetheless). I later found out, Julia had the story a little jumbled, and the bridge was actually where death sentences were handed out, but I like Julia’s version better, and you never ruin a good story with the truth, right?
FOOD OF MADRID
The best part of exploring new places is trying all the local food! Apparently, a Bocadillo de Calamare in Plaza Mayor is a MUST when visiting Madrid. I really wanted to add aioli and maybe a little lettuce to my sandwich, but my friends told me to eat like the locals, I had to order just the dry bocadillo with calamari, so that that’s what I did. 10/10 for experience, 7/10 taste (could have used a little aioli).
We followed our Bocadillo excursion with a trip to the Museo del Jamón for some 1 euro sandwiches and beer because can you really visit Madrid without having some jamón serrano?
While on my food tour, I learned seafood in Madrid is spectacular! I figured since Madrid is right in the center of Spain, seafood wouldn’t be super fresh, but because Madrid is the capital and a major hub, seafood on your plate was most likely caught same day.
One restaurant recommendation I have is Rosi La Loca. This place definitely gave me a touristy vibe, but the food was delicious, and the dining was an experience. I met with my Spanish sister, Nerea, from my high school Spanish exchange program. We had not seen each other in almost 6 years, so this was a special lunch. Basically everything the restaurant prepared came out on fire. The servers place a lot of trust in their customers leaving a flaming plate on their table. I also felt like this was one of those type of restaurants that was trying super hard to be unique with their menu items (and it worked!) My only critique is that I would prefer my cheesecake non liquid-fied.
Need a little break from the city? Head over to Parque Retiro. Just like Central Park is one of my favorite parts of NYC, Parque Retiro is one of my favorite spots in Madrid. The name translates to “Retirement Park” and used to be a green-space for only the Kings of Spain to enjoy. The place is kind of magical and the hedge designs looks like something you would see out of Bridgerton. You can find the Crystal Palace in Parque Retiro which is free to enter and houses unique art exhibits. When I visited, the art exhibit was some artistic interpretation of vegetables and feces that I was not cultured enough to appreicate.
The last time I was in Madrid was 2016, for my high school’s exchange program, and I didn’t really have the opportunity to go off and explore on my own. This time around, I am happy to have seen a little more of what the region has to offer, from bustling city neighborhoods to quiet countryside cottages. Madrid, I look forward to seeing you again soon!
A friend recently told me that you are close to enlightenment when animals start to appear in your life. I did not know this fun fact, but someone is certainly close to enlightenment after the experience my friends and I had this past weekend.
Living in Fuerte for almost 8 months now, I can’t believe I haven’t yet visited the iconic Arco de Las Peñitas. However, I’m glad I saved this experience as something to look forward to.
If you don ‘t know…Fuerteventura is the land of goats. The capital, Puerto del Rosario (Port of Rosario) used to be named Puerto de Cabras (Port of Goats) Honestly, I want to be reincarnated as a goat in Fuerteventura. They are the happiest and chillest creatures, spend all day in the sun, and give zero fs; my spirit animal, truly. Whilst en route to Las Peñitas, a cohort of the aforementioned goats descended from the mountain we were driving on, plopping themselves right in the middle of the road. They leisurely made their way to the side of the road, but remained very close to our car in a staring-competition sort of way.
Goats weren’t the only animals we encountered on our drive. We took a pit stop at the Mirador de Betancuria, which I have stopped at quite a few times, and we saw the most beautiful crows (sounds weird, I know…but hear me out). I’ve seen these crows every single time I’ve stopped at the overlook since I arrived here in the fall. I always see just two crows, and I’m convinced that only these two crows live on the island. Usually, crows give me the ick (I think of the time my childhood dog chomped down on one in our backyard). But let me tell you…these crows are different…man, they are pretty. The overlook is about a thirty minute drive from our final destination, but guess who was in the parking lot to greet us when we arrived?…yep, TWO black crows.
We were also greeted in the parking lot by a black lab, probably no older than 2 years old. She came hurtling towards us, and I embraced her with open arms (probably not the best tactic when an unfamiliar dog approaches you), but I just couldn’t resist. We named her Betty. Betty was not a stray. She had a collar, and we think she came from the stand alone house by the parking lot. We let her come along on our journey, or more accurately, she let us come along on hers. The Arco de Las Peñitas is situated in the Barranco de Las Peñitas, and it is not the easiest thing to find if you don’t know where to look. In fact, we took the wrong path on our way up to the arc. Betty, being the local she is, knew exactly where we wanted to go and guided us in the exact direction of the arc. When we took our little detour, Betty forged a different path and patiently waited for us in the correct spot as we realized our mistake. After Betty guided us to the part of the trail that was unclimbable for a canine, we said our goodbyes, and she set off in the direction of home.
The Arco de Las Peñitas was as beautiful as I imagined, but I think my favorite part of the experience has to be all the unexpected animal interactions.
Last weekend, I visited Cofete, one of the most beautiful beaches in Fuerteventura which stretches for miles and miles and miles. Perched on a mountainous overlook, a mysterious mansion stands alone; Casa Winter.
While the beautiful castle-esque residence in such a unique location calls for intrigue, its story is even more fascinating.
The legend among locals is that Fuerteventura once served as a type of Nazi refuge during/after WWII. Spain’s then dictator, Franco allowed some of his Nazi pals to escape to the island and live at Casa Winter.
A family now resides in the house, but it is open to the public during certain hours and free to visit. The inside is filled with WWII memorabilia and documented military correspondence that fuels the rumors surrounding Casa Winter.
A Majorero (local) friend of mine told me that his Dad once flew a drone around Casa Winter and found old tank parts. If you mention Casa Winter to locals, you are likely to hear stories similar to this one.
I was recently talking to a friend (Hi Grace), and she pointed out that I have not posted in quite some time. The truth is, I have found myself pretty busy here in Fuerteventura…. and a bit uninspired. I guess it’s good that I’m spending more time living my life rather than just writing about it, but I’ve returned to my blog to push through this creative block and deliver you some quality content. Where are all my foodies? Today we are talking my favorite Canarian dishes:
Queso Frito (Fried Cheese)
Move aside mozzarella sticks. Fried cheese is my favorite appetizer to order at any Canarian restaurant. It is typically made with goat cheese and served with a drizzle of honey and a side of marmalade. You can also order this dish “a la plancha,” and the cheese will come grilled rather than fried. Super yummy. 10/10
Papas Arrugadas (Wrinkled Potatoes) with Mojo Picón
Did you even go to the Canary Islands if you haven’t tried papas arrugadas with Mojo Picón? You can not go anywhere here without encountering this popular dish. Mojo is a traditional sauce of the Canary Islands and comes in red and green. I prefer the green, but the red is more common. Each restaurant makes their mojo a bit different, but you can find it EVERYWHERE, even in the grocery stores. Mojo is also commonly served with bread. If you’re lucky, the restaurant will include garlic aioli with your papas as well.
Lapas with Green Mojo Picón
You betcha the Canary Islands has killer seafood. Lapas is my new favorite type of shellfish. I have never even heard of this dish before coming to the Canary Islands, but it is pretty easy to find here. I have even seen lapas shells while visiting some natural pools on the island. Think steamed clams but bigger and more flavorful. Served with green mojo, this dish is perfection.
If you come to the Canary Islands, it is a good idea to make friends with the locals. They will take you to cool hidden beaches where you can set up your own little BBQ. Grab some chicken, corn, and potatoes from the grocery store, and you are good to go!
Pescado del Día (Fish of the day) & Pulpo (Octopus)
You can not go to the Canary Islands without indulging in their delicious seafood. Fish & octopus are popular menu items. If you are like me, and you don’t know much about the differences between fish, you can request the “fish of the day” to share among your table. Usually, this is served with papas arrugadas and salad. Fish can be served various ways; “a la plancha” (grilled) “frito” (fried). Pictured on the right, is Barracuda, one of the more unique dishes I’ve tried… and very delicious!
Not a Canarian food, but easy to find in the Canary Islands… With many immigrants living in the Canaries, you are likely to find authentic food from all over the world. These are arepas from my favorite Venezuelan restaurant in my neighborhood. Arepas Llaneras Venezolanas. Pictured is the super llanera especial (meat, beans, cheese, fried egg, fried banana, avocado)
Another staple in my diet has been this falafel pita from Doner Kebab. Because Fuerteventura is so close to Africa, we have some great Moroccan food here. Although kebab is not Canarian, it can be widely found on the islands.
As a self-proclaimed foodie, discovering new food has been one of my favorite parts of living in the Canary Islands. If you find yourself here, I definitely recommend you try some of the items I have highlighted above. I’d love to hear any of your own recommendations as well in the comments section.