There's something so inviting about hostels when I travel alone.

It must be that youthful vibe, the noisy chatter of several languages at once, the colorful artsy nooks, or, should you want it, that cocoon of anonymity. 

That's exactly what greeted me when I stepped into the doors of the design hostel, We_Bologna in Italy. I was looking for a place that was original, vibrant and comfortable. I had found them through Eco Bnb, a website that allows you to find eco-friendly accommodations. Their mission is to change the way we travel. To nurture a network that will thrive on the kind of tourism that respects nature, the economy and the local communities.

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The Welcome

I arrived on a red eye flight from Porto and asked for Andrea, the manager of We_Bologna, whom I've coordinated with via email. I was surprised to receive a bacio from the curly haired man who manages the hostel. "I though you were a woman!", I jokingly said to him. "Oh but in Italy, Andrea is a man's name!", he laughed back. It feels like he's my long lost friend. Andrea has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you just met your couchsurfing host and he's going to show you the best side of his city. His energy, even at midnight, was boundless.

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The Room 

I wished I could match it, but I was already starting to fall asleep in the lobby. He gave me my room key and told me to it was on the 3rd floor. I was expecting a college dorm bed bunk, and I was partly right about the college vibe. But I still got a private room which seemed a bit too large for just me. There were 2 beds, big glass windows overlooking 2 modern buildings, a large desk and study area, and a bathroom that seemed a bit too luxurious for my modest needs.

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I started to contemplate the whole "design hostel" concept before promptly falling asleep- the bed was just too comfy! The answers came in the morning.

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The Breakfast

Over breakfast, I had a chance to chat with Andrea and Fabrizia, the head of communications. They told me the hostel was new, barely a year old and still a work in progress. They primarily catered to university students who come to the city. But they are expanding the concept to include families, solo travelers, basically anyone who wants a comfortable place at a place that's inclusive with a fun artsy vibe. I looked around and saw exactly the people they described lining up at the buffet table.

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Breakfast itself is an interesting experience. At first glance, it seems like your usual, cereal, milk, bread and fruits- something you could get at any hostel anywhere in the world. But what sets them apart is that they primarily choose food products that are locally sourced and organic. They actually tell you where they're from.

The Milk is from Guglielmo’s cows, born on the hills near Monzuno, a few kilometers from Bologna. The Bread from Forno Calzolari, made with organic flour from the wheat fields in Monghidoro. The Coffee is from Albero del Caffè, a small roasting in Anzola that employs disadvantaged people.

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The Eco-Friendly Hostel

I learned that being eco-friendly was not just a buzzword they use. They actually went the extra mile to make the hostel eco-friendly right from the beginning. The hostel was built following energy efficiency and energy saving criteria, for example, through a system of isolation for the building. Most of their furniture comes from Slow Wood, a network of artisans and designers that promotes products made in Italy. I was delighted to also find that the bath products they gave out came from a program that helped rehabilitate and provide work for prisoners in the local jail.

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The Local Scene

Their main goal is to create places that are open not only to the guests, travelers and students, but to local people as well, in order to create a mixed environment and an exchange between locals and travelers. They try to improve the travel experience of their guests by organizing free walking tours, cooking classes and events.

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The Hospitality

I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with Andrea and Fabrizia about the hostel. Both of them really love this place and enjoy working here. I almost forgot the fact that I only had a day to spend in the city. They were gracious enough to send me off, but not without many of their personal recommendations. They told me where to get the best pasta of course, but also where the best market was, where to go for a walking tour, so many places that I probably would never find on my own.

The Location

I eagerly walked around past the train station which was conveniently a block away from the hostel. It was easy enough to navigate the place on foot. I was tempted to take their offer of a bike but walking seemed like the best way to really experience Bologna. To have the freedom to stop at anytime and take any route I wanted.

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The Memory

My short stay in Bologna is something I could smile about. Everything was smooth sailing and I didn't have to worry about a single thing. I also love that the guys behind We_Bologna are doing their best to help the community. It's certainly a place I would recommend to my friends who are coming to the city. Special thanks for the complimentary stay!

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We_Bologna Hostel is a new Italian-handmade hostel in the heart of Bologna. Check our their website and facebook page
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Their ladies-only floor is named SHE by Metropark. Sabs Bengzon reports on the female-friendly concept in Hong Kong’s infamous Wan Chai neighbourhood

*Details of the Sole Sister discount at the end

We already knew the age of the female traveler has come, but didn’t realise how strong a force it was. This hotel in Hong Kong’s buzzing Wan Chai district spotted the trend and immediately came up with an offer to fit the needs of women-on-the-go.

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Welcome treats

A couple of months ago, my best friend and I spent an extended weekend in Hong Kong and based ourselves at Metropark Hotel Wan Chai. Coming from the airport, J and I took the free Airport Express Shuttle Bus to Wan Chai district, notorious for being the “red light zone” in Hong Kong.
Apparently, that’s one of the reasons why the hotel conceived the female-only floor concept as well - for women to feel safe in an area bordering Lockhart Road, which is that glaring (but fun!) neon strip of bars and clubs on Hong Kong Island.

That’s not to say that Wan Chai is a bad area to be in. The neighborhood is packed with historical monuments, quirky and affordable restaurants, hip rooftop bars, a waterfront promenade, new pedestrianised F&B zones, even hiking paths uphill (we actually explored a nature trail one evening).

But more on that later.

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The author checks out the streetscene below

“2016 has well and truly seen the rise of the wander woman. Over the past few years women have tipped the scales and have become the majority of travelers over men.” – Mapping Megan

A Floor Just for Women

Designed specifically for the peace of mind and security of women travellers, SHE by Metropark immediately set itself apart from the usual hotel accommodation. Men are not allowed in this floor of the hotel, and even the housekeepers are all women.

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They even have a jewellery stand to hang your trinkets in the bathroom

We walked into our room, which struck me as cozy and comfortable. The differences from other hotel rooms were in the tiny details. The chamber was thoughtfully designed for the “fairer sex”, with black and pink rose-patterned curtains and an accessory stand for jewellery in the bathroom.

Laid out on the table were special gift bags from the hotel, which came with several items any woman may need on her trip: a mini-brush, makeup sponge, tweezers, nail file, and nail cutter.
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Girls who check into this floor get a welcome pack of beauty amenities for free in the room. 
The nail file was a lifesaver.

The housekeeper would also come in every now and then to give us small treats (mint chocolate Andes when we were there) throughout the day.

According to Forbes, “women are fueling an explosive growth, making 80% of [travel] decisions and [in 2014 were] expected to spend more than $125 billion.”

Handy Smartphone: Hassle Free Wandering


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Aside from all the girly stuff, in the room we also found a Handy mobile phone, which the hotel provides free to all guests. It’s a smartphone you can take with you around the city, including unlimited 4G service with the capability for local and international calls.

The operating system of the phone caters especially to tourists, suggesting activities and shops to visit in the area, and offering promotions to its users. And while a lot of other hotels charge for Wi-Fi use, Metropark has speedy internet available in your room for free.

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Leafy Escapes a Short Walk Away

One evening we were feeling restless and wanted a quick break from the city. A few seconds on Google Maps got us following the Wan Chai Green Trail away from the concrete jungle and up to the famous Bowen Road Fitness Trail, halfway up the hill, which winds through the greenery revealing picturesque views of the city skyline. We came across few other joggers while getting much needed fresh air and time away from the busy streets of Hong Kong.

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Walking Wan Chai

Wan Chai is moving away from its reputation as a red light district as it becomes more and more gentrified. A quick walk around the area revealed awesome new foodie finds (ie. the colonial-era historic building turned resto-bar The Pawn and its surroundings, Star Street, Ship Street, and Landale Street).

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Lee Tung Avenue

We explored Lee Tung Avenue, a cute little pedestrian street filled with shops like Moleskine and Staedler. We grabbed lunch at Le Pain Quotidien, hipster boulangerie and organic cafe overlooking the main street, where the double decker tram whizzes by every now and then.

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Le Pain Quotidien
Another evening was spent at a sky-high Italian restaurant called Pirata, with cheese and cold cuts appetisers and good pasta dishes. Just another few minutes’ walk from there was Wooloomooloo, an open-air rooftop bar and chill lounge, where we had a few cocktails with friends who lived in the area.

A few hundred meters from the hotel, less than ten minutes’ walk, I spent two hours going around Pacific Place’s supermarket deli, Food Hall. Conveniently, the hotel is only five minutes’ walk from the Wan Chai MTR station, which allowed us to easily navigate to the other areas of Hong Kong.

Sole Sister Discount

Planning a trip to Hong Kong soon? Metropark Hotel Wanchai is offering Sole Sisters a discount on top of other discounts - just use the Discount Code: solesis.

1) Do not select ‘promo code’

2) Type in lower caps

3) Two locations to insert the code (see below)




    Discount: HK$40 reduction per booking on top of most of the promotions
    Room Type: All
    Black-out Dates: N/A
    Code Validity: Now til 30 September 2016
    Staying Period: Now til 31 August 2017
    Booking Page: https://goo.gl/YjuUky

Special thanks to Metropark Hotel Wanchai for the complimentary 2-night stay at their SHE by Metropark floor, soon to be renamed SHE for Ladies.

Metropark Hotel Wanchai Hong Kong is a lifestyle business hotel centrally located on Hennessy Road, in the heart of Wanchai – Hong Kong’s commercial, shopping and entertainment district.
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My love affair was kindled in France.

I was walking around the streets of Paris when something shiny and colorful caught my attention at a shop window. When I realized what it was, I couldn't believe my eyes.

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Europe, early this year. Sole Sister Julienne from the far east was freezing her a** off in Madrid, so she decided to escape to the warmest place she could think of in Europe - Costa del Sol, in the southernmost tip of Spain.

I found myself flying back into Spain last February to continue my Spanish studies in preparation for an exam I had to take this year. I was due to start a new full time job in Hong Kong, but while waiting for my employment visa to get transferred, I decided to return to Madrid - one of my favourite places in the world.

It made sense since I have a tita (aunt) based in Madrid, as well an amazing Madrileña girlfriend with a spare room in the city (lucky me!). Covering utilities like water, cleaning, wifi, electricity etc. I basically paid 350 euros a month for a room in a sunny and sizeable apartment in the north of Madrid. It took me around 35-45 minutes to get to the city centre, but that was a great time slot to cram in my homework while on the metro.
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First photo of my workspace in the dining / living room area

Temperatures refused to go over 10°C when I first arrived, and freezing my miserable butt off, I searched for a warmer and sunnier escape before school began. In 2015 I had hit the major cities of Andalucía with my family (Granada, Sevilla, Córdoba), so this time I had to venture further out to find something different.

It was a toss-up between Cádiz (Costa de la Luz), Almería, and Málaga, but in the end I chose the latter because of its easy access from Madrid (it’s also an international hub for those flying in). Plus, upon further research Málaga seemed to pack far more punch in in terms of options (culture, nightlife, cuisine, activities) beyond the beach. It was sunny (isn’t it always here?) but there was no way I was swimming in the frigid Mediterranean in the throes of winter.

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Málaga’s is the largest city in its province, and the sixth largest in Spain 
with a population of approximately 570,000

Travel Tip! Booking train tickets last minute in Spain / Europe can be very expensive (ie. more than twice the original price). I was able to get “resold” tickets through the website Truecalia where people can super efficiently search, buy and sell train tickets in Spain. I got mine at a good price (30-40 euros) as if I had bought it weeks in advance. The private seller just sent me the QR / bar code after I transferred the money, and that’s all RENFE needed - no paper copies required.

And so I boarded the high-speed train from Madrid Atocha one morning and took off for Málaga. Less than three hours later, I was at Estación de Málaga-María Zambrano, stepping into the sun! It felt so good after dreary Madrid, you could not imagine how my whole sun-loving yet sun-deprived being was rejoicing.

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At Madrid Atocha Station; it takes only 2h40 on average
from Madrid by train while driving would take 5-6 hours

Worst Restaurant: Bodega Bar El Pimpi

On my first night there, I went to a resto-bar that all the websites had recommended: Bodega Bar El Pimpi. Apparently, it’s a “malagueño” institution sitting at the foot of the Alcazar: a massive 11th century Moorish castle in the city centre. The location was fantastic - it was also right in front of the ancient Teatro Romano de Málaga (Roman Theatre) - but the food was sub-par. I was a little bit disappointed, since many articles had hailed the city as an emerging gastronomic hub.

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The Alcazar: a massive 11th century Moorish castle in the city centre

Best Restaurant: El Tapeo de Cervantes
Being the belligerent foodie that I am, I doggedly searched for the best places to eat in town (that wouldn’t break the bank). Luckily, I struck gold a few times after that. Tapas restaurant El Tapeo de Cervantes had absolutely mouthwatering dishes, and for someone who can’t eat big portions (like me!), they offer their plates in THREE different sizes (and prices!) so you can have more variety and share as much as you like.

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Best Day Out: Cycling to the Chiringuitos of Pedregalejo

But to get to the best food experience in Malaga, you'd have to bicycle out (or commute, if you can’t cycle) and head east along the waterfront towards the fishing village of Pedregalejo. From Plaza de la Marina, it’s an easy 25 minute flat cruise along several interconnected beaches to get to the most famous chiringuito* around: El Tintero II.

Towards the end of my ride, I was enigmatically pulled by the crowded establishment, the servers walking around with several of the same dish in their arms, shouting their specialities in Spanish. You don’t order from a menu, you just catch one of the waiters walking around if you like the plate they are carrying - mostly freshly caught seafood, cooked to perfection. But of course I had paella.

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*Chiringuito: bars selling drinks and tapas along the beach

I would say almost the whole 6km stretch from La Malagueta (the main beach) to the end of Pedregalejo is jampacked with restaurants, cafes, bars, local dives, shops - and barely any tourists the time I went. If it was lively towards the end of winter I can only imagine what it’s like in the summer. If I were to come back I’d be on the beachfront everyday!

Rent a bike in one of the shops around Plaza de la Marina - ask the Tourist Information centre in the middle of the square for directions.

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Best Churros: Casa Aranda

I didn’t mean for this post to be a food-focused one, but going through my photos I found so many food shots which brought back too many delicious memories for me not to share:


When in Spain, the typical breakfast is churros con chocolate 
and the best in Malaga is the 84-year-old churrería Casa Aranda

Fresh finds: Mercado Central Atarazanas

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Piping hot fish adobo and croquetas

Historic Malaga

Coming from the tropics (where we hardly have any surviving monuments dating before the 16th century), I find myself awestruck at old-world relics such as Malaga’s Moorish Alcazaba and the even-older Roman Theater (circa 1st century AD). The city’s big three are so closely situated you can even hit the third major site on the same day: the Castillo de Gibralfaro. The latter is set on a higher hill and thus harder to get to, but the views make the trip well worth it.


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Get a glimpse of a time when Spain was ruled by enlightened Muslims 
who built grandiose and striking palaces and fortresses

For me a huge part of Andalucia’s beauty - its architecture, culture, music, people - is thanks to its exotic Moorish heritage, giving it a mysterious and passionate-romantic fusion that sets it apart from the rest of Western Europe.

Other cultural sites I wish I had hit:

  • Malaga Cathedral - It was closed for the siesta when I went… beware the siesta! Most things close down during the hottest hours of the day. 

  • Picasso Museum - Malaga is the birthplace of one of Spain’s (and the world’s) greatest and most visionary artists: Pablo Picasso, inventor of cubism. You might want to escape the heat in here, but I was trying to soak up as much sun as I could in March so I skipped it…
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Some Roman-era materials from the ancient theatre were reused in the construction 
of the Hammudid dynasty Alcazaba (from the Arabic al-qasbah, meaning "citadel")

Sleep: Room Mate Larios

I couldn’t have found a more perfect place to stay in Malaga. This boutique hotel I found online had windows overlooking the pedestrian shopping street of Calle Larios - the city’s main artery. And of course it sits on the corner of Plaza de la Constitución, the main square where most major events are held.
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View of Málaga’s main square, Plaza de la Constitución, from my hotel room.

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The most beautiful room in the city - mine!

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Everything was walking distance from the hotel, 
which was at the heart of the shopping and nightlife district as well.

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They even give you free pocket wifi to roam the city connected

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Room Mate Larios’ rooftop terrace was apparently the hippest in town 


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Shopping in Malaga: I didn’t have much cash to blow on shopping but I couldn’t resist trying on practice skirts for my flamenco classes - after all, the dance was born in this region of Spain!

Finally, one last “wish-I-did-this” that I was unable to check off my list: the Caminito del Rey, dubbed “the world’s scariest footpath” and “Spain’s most dangerous hike”. I love all kinds of walks and treks, and this one promised to be exciting, heart-stopping, and breathtaking. Unfortunately, it was a few weeks short of opening when I went, so I had to save it for another day. But just in case you’re reading this and it’s open when you are going - I would love to know how it went!

Signing off for now (and missing Spain incredibly!),




Sole Sister Julienne of Morena Travels is a 27 year old Manila-but-not-so-Manila girl who's lived in Hong Kong for five years as an editor of a tourism magazine. She loves board games, adventures, getting lost in the great outdoors, karaoke, trying new things, dancing, good food, meeting amazing people and having intelligent conversations. Currently based between Manila and Hong Kong (but earlier this year between Madrid and Berlin, her two favourite cities in the world), Julienne is getting ready to hustle in the corporate world once again after over a year of travelling. Stay tuned for her latest at IG @morenatravels.
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Is it possible to enjoy so many different activities and terrain in one Malaysian island? Talon Windwalker shares his experience in Langkawi. From bird watching, to bird feeding. From walking on a Skybridge to visiting the mangroves and so much more! There's definitely something for everyone to enjoy!

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Blushing bride-to-be and guest contributor Annie Bautista - set to be wed end of August 2016 in a heritage ceremony in Iloilo, Philippines - was taken on an “ultimate all girls trip” by her bridesmaids as a last hurrah dedicated to singlehood and friendship

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What happens when you get tired of traveling? Once you get past the sightseeing stage, you realise that sights become repetitive - another Church, another castle, another cobblestoned plaza, another amazing beach and so on and so forth. When Sole Sister Julienne took up a few weeks of Spanish last year, she realised that many young Europeans would rather stay put and learn a language and enjoy a city over a longer period of time rather than spend all their money on a 13-country tour. She comes back with a review of the third language school she’s attended in Spain over the span of two years.
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Rooftop Gourmet Experience, El Corte Ingles, Callao 

April 2016: Madrid, Spain

It was time to make the switch. I had been studying with a language school near Gran Vía for a few weeks up to that point, and I was not a hundred percent happy with how it was going. While I liked my teachers, I was placed in the wrong level and in a time slot that didn’t fit my schedule. Reception did not do anything about my requests until over a week had passed, and even then they were not very pleasant to deal with. A little smile never hurt anyone, has it?!

So I transferred to AIL Madrid - the third Spanish language school I’ve tried in the span of two years.

Discovery: your language school of choice has the power to define your experience in the city.

Read: 7 Reasons Why You Should Really Take Spanish Classes


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Taking a siesta at the rooftop of Mercado de San Antón


Language Study vs. Traveling for the Sake of Travel
Many people - especially Asians - would rather blow their money on a grand tour packed with sightseeing, cruises, hotel accommodations, “must eat” restaurants, etc. A lot think language study is an unnecessary expense when they just want to see and do as much as possible with the time they have. Little do people know that it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it provides and even fuller experience than just traveling for the sake of “ticking things off your bucket list” (and having all those Instagram pictures of yourself superimposed on 1 million UNESCO heritage landmarks).


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Nothing wrong with a tour, just like what we did with our dad in Cordoba. 
It’s just a completely different experience!


You can get a room in Madrid for a month for as low as 300 euros (I was paying 350). That beats hostel rates per night in Europe. A good value language school can be around 150 euros a week depending on how long you stay (the longer, the cheaper).

And what you can’t put a price tag on: friends that you will make for life. For a period, you live your day to day life with them, exploring your own little secret corners of the city together.
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Hiking Madrid’s La Pedriza with my classmates

I met so many people from the very first day in AIL - not just from class but also thanks to the welcome tapas the school holds for all new students every Monday (more free food and drinks than we could actually finish). That’s when you meet people of different levels of study, eager to make new friends because like you, they’re new to town.

Other after class activities included Spanish cooking classes, bike rides along the river, and the popular Friday “noche de copas”. But my favourite were the Spanish and Dance (Flamenco, Tango, Sevillanas etc) courses, because dancing is my thing. But if it’s not yours, there’s Spanish and Art (painting, drawing, photography, pottery…), Gourmet Spanish (cooking) etc.

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Welcome tapas - more free food than we could finish


Who do you meet at language school? Talking demographics, last year AIL had students from over 63 different countries from all ages and stages of life. At 27, I was sitting on the fence between university students and retirees. I really got along with a super intelligent Brazilian lady lawyer doing her sabbatical in Madrid. And then there was the party-hard Dutch guy on Erasmus who kept inviting me to electronic parties with his flatmates.

The Smallest Politeness Can Go a Long Way
Compared to the previous language school I was in, admin at AIL Madrid was so much more accommodating and way more efficient - from switching campuses and timeslots to arranging the level to advance rather than waste time re-learning things you already know. Plus, they would smile and greet you and say bye whenever you come and go - funny how the smallest cordialities can go a long way. (Obviously, I’m scarred from the last school)

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I couldn’t resist eating this on my way to school - the best chocolate cake in the world!

I already had my own accommodations but the school offered a variety of options. If hadn’t already been living with my Spanish girlfriend, I would probably have chosen to stay with a host family. I had classmates who had the funniest reenactments of their host mothers in class; I would go green with envy when they actually had home cooked meals when I would have to resort to burritos at Takoaway, where the latino staff would always hit on me in the most hilarious of ways.

"¿Que tal cariño?... Aprende español conmigo, te enseñaré todo lo que necesites saber…" (How are you love? Learn Spanish with me, I’ll teach you everything you need to know)

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“Playing” in the famous El Retiro Park with classmates after morning classes

One thing I really appreciated as well was the fact that you could get an International student ID valid for one year. This gives you either free (!!!) or super discounted access at museums and other similar establishments all over Europe. Wish I had gotten one sooner!

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When the weather was bad, I would spend afternoons at museums. This was taken at the compelling Museo Arqueológico Nacional, also right by the school. And of course, entrance is free for students.

Location: Barrio Salamanca, Madrid’s Prettiest

Walking to school everyday, I would pass by Retiro Park - Madrid’s most famous. Barrio Salamanca is Madrid’s poshest district full of chic cafes and restaurants. The neighbourhood is lined by beautiful old buildings, birds chirping in the trees, chic shops all around, and the greenery that the barrios around Gran Vía (where I was formerly studying) lack. I would grab breakfast at the Carrefour Express across the school, or at the hipster bakery around the corner. They even had the Valencian specialty horchatas con fartons (like a cold, light, summer version of churros) by the metro station, which I couldn’t resist on warmer days.

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Walking to school everyday, I would pass by Retiro Park

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Horchata con farton

Literally at the school’s doorstep are the shopping streets of Goya and Serrano, and if you like to party (like me, because I love dancing, especially to latino music!), Madrid’s preferred nightlife hotspots are right there: Gabana, Le Boutique, La Posada de las Animas, etc.

  • Metro stops three minutes from the school: Velázquez, Principe de Vergara, and Retiro stations

About AIL Madrid

Academics: I didn’t mean to leave this one for last, since after all it should be the most important aspect of a school. Here are the basics - AIL Madrid is Cervantes-accredited (always the best place to begin when booking a Spanish course), and lessons are conducted via debates, games, grammatical exercises, music, and conversation. You can eat in class, speaking your mind (in Spanish, of course) is encouraged, even joking around was the norm. AIL is apparently the only school that makes up class hours missed for national holidays, and my Dutch classmate chose to study there because they agreed on a flexible programme for him wherein he could come in around thrice a week rather than do the intensive everyday schedule.

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Scrabble in Spanish


Before I was able to move up a level, the academic director personally made sure I was qualified and tested my subjunctive skills, which I managed not to botch up too badly.

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Class selfie on my last day of class


Have you taken up a language during your travels? Share your experience in the comments section!

Disclosure: AIL Madrid provided a one week intensive course in exchange for an honest review.


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Missing Madrid from 7,000 miles away,
Sole Sister Julienne

Sole Sister Julienne of Morena Travels is a 27 year old Manila-but-not-so-Manila girl who's lived in Hong Kong for five years as an editor of a tourism magazine. She loves board games, adventures, getting lost in the great outdoors, karaoke, trying new things, dancing, good food, meeting amazing people and having intelligent conversations. Currently based between Manila and Hong Kong (but earlier this year between Madrid and Berlin, her two favourite cities in the world), Julienne is getting ready to hustle in the corporate world once again after over a year of travelling. Stay tuned for her latest at IG @morenatravels.
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