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Trip Report A Week in Spain

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This was a whirlwind one week overview of Spain that I chose for just that reason. As a solo traveler on my first travel to Spain I wanted to include Barcelona, Seville and Madrid all in one go. When I saw this Tauck tour come up on my radar, which also included Granada, Rhonda, And Cordoba I decided it was the one for me.

The United flight from Chicago to Munich in Economy Plus was long and uncomfortable to say the least. One bright spot was the crew of "old timer" flight attendants, a jolly group,of ladies who actually made their job look like fun. Boo on United for making us pay for wine and beer. Boy, have they cheated out. Layover in Munich was a three hour one, waiting for the Lufthansa connection. The airport area offered free tea and coffee at a small bar near gates. I found a convenient ATM for euros while wandering about to pass the time.

When economy class boarding for the Lufthansa flight was called I almost got trampled in the free for all mad rush through the gates. Once the first class, premiers, etc., went through in an orderly fashion, there was a stampede down the gangway, of course only to be brought up short as the usual one person at a time stepped onto the plane. Service was pleasant on the flight to Barcelona and a Tauck driver was waiting for me as I breezed through and exited customs.

All hotels on the tour were Starwood properties, the first Le Meridian, located right on Las Ramblas and lovely it was. I had scheduled to go in a day before the tour to head off the dreaded jet lag. My room was ready, took a shower, got into my pj's and ordered room service of a lovely Spanish potato omelet. It was light but filling and hit the spot along with a cup,of tea from the hotspot stored in the stocked bar in the foyer of my room. After 20 hours in transit I settled in, read for a while and was ready for an early night.

Day 2 - included breakfast at hotel - elaborate and delicious
Tour of Barcelona Opera House
Tour of Gaudi's Pulau Guell
Walked the length of las Ramblas
Lunch at tapas restaurant on las Ramblas - pappas, artichokes, chicken rolls, yum!
Cocktails, dinner and orientation at Le Meridian

Day 2 - Group of 40 divided in two and we began with a walk on las Ramblas to the Boqueria open Market, then across the city gates to meander through the Barri Gotic of 13th and 15th century Roman architecture, on to Plaza Nova and Barcelona's cathedral there. A coach then took us up to Montjuic hill, main site of the '92 Olympics, overlooking the city and port. Next, on to the incredible site of the yet to be completed la Sagrada Familia cathedral!
Back to the hotel for a free afternoon and a yummy tapas and a refreshing glass of cold Spanish beer with some fellow tour buddies at El Attic, across the street from Le Meridian. Dinner that night was on my own of yet more tapas at Bar Lobo, kitty corner from the hotel. Could not get enough of those noshy, tasty tapas of asparagus with a spicy tomato sauce, hummus/pita and curry chicken rolls.

Day 3 - A killer 4:30 wake up call for an early morning Vueling flight to Granada and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains for a tour of the Alhambra and gardens, the
Moorish palace that is truly an amazing edifice, so beautifully preserved. Lunch was at a quaint family restaurant in the nearby town of Pedrano called Ruta de Veleta. Time to travel back and check into the magnificent Hotel Alhambra for some free time before dinner there.
I chose not to go into the town of Granada, a twenty minute walk, needed to ice my swollen ankles, a side effect of too much flying and the unexpected 80 degree days. But I had a fabulous view of it from my hotel window. Dinner in the posh hotel dining room was very good, sitting at a table for four with three very fun fellow travelers. I ordered the bass in wine sauce with rice and red wine. The wine wiped out any memory of dessert, unfortunately.

This was my second Tauck tour as a single and I have found that the people on these tours are open, friendly and very willing to include the solo travelers. My first, a river cruise through Provence, was wonderfully enhanced by the warm and welcoming staff and fellow travelers, eight of which were single ladies. On this tour I believe there were about 15 singles, at least.

Day 4 - up and on the coach to the Moorish city of Ronda, divided by a deep gorge which slices through the town. We crossed the bridge for a tour of the winding streets and the Plaza del Toros bullring. Lunch was at the historic Parador Ronda, with a view of the gorge below, then we traveled North through Andalucia passing groves of olive trees and small whitewashed villages toward Seville, where we checked into the Hotel Alfonso XIII, for another fabulous and historic hotel, for a two night stay. My room was a Moorish dream with the bed set in an alcove of finely lace carved white wood, the bathroom a delight in gold and brown ceramic tiling. Heaven! My windows overlooked the inner courtyard casual restaurant where lunch and high tea were served.

Before dinner there was a presentation of Flamenco music and dance in one of the ornate salons in the hotel, of course with a glass of sangria to accompany. She was marvelous and he was oh, so macho! Dinner was in the hotel dining areas, all along the outside square of the courtyard and the food was continental style. I ordered a lovely green salad, loin of pork with potato dauphinaise, flan and a bubbly glass of cava. Needless to say, the olive oil based dressing on the salad was divine.

Day 5 - A morning carriage ride and a tour of the very impressively ornate Seville Cathedral, third largest Roman Catholic Church in the world and resting place of Christopher Columbus, an elaborate tomb set up on a high platform protected by a pair of knights in what looked like medieval armour. A walking tour of the Barrio Santa Cruz full of restaurants and shops, on to the narrow lanes of the Jewish quarter with tiny houses, courtyards filled with colorful flowers, all so picturesquely Spanish. A free afternoon lent itself to a few of us going back to the Barrio Santa Cruz for - what else - a leisurely tapas lunch. This was the best combo yet. I chose foi gras pate on crunchy bread, a tomato spread and a pasta with tuna. Delish. Ice tea which was presented as hot tea in a pot, along with a tall glass of ice, Spanish style? No wine, swollen ankles again due to the heat. Better heat than icy rain which we were told was the weather the week before we were there.

Day 6 - depart Seville and my favorite hotel of the trip (sob) via coach for a morning visit to Cordoba, another fabulously picturesque place to wander. We walked through the fascinating Jewish quarter to see the tiny one remaining synagogue (no longer in use), a pretty little building beautifully preserved, with a charming flowered entry courtyard, then to the Plaza Judios with the statue of Mainanides, where a group of school children were apparently gathered for a history lesson from the teacher accompanying them. We finished up at the 8th Century La Mesquita, a Moorish mosque, now a cathedral. A huge edifice of mosaics, gilded tiles and now, statues of various saints here and there. What a clash if cultures this country is.

An afternoon first class AVE train journey, with lunch on board, brought us to Madrid, last city of the tour, where we were ensconced in yet another elaborate dwelling spot, the Palace Hotel, set in the "golden triangle" between the Museums of The Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thysson Bonamaste, all of which I couldn't wait to set foot in.

After checking into our hotel off on a run with a tour buddy to see Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia and what a creepy museum that is, housed in a grim former hospital. Long dark corridors, a maze we dashed through to get to the room that holds only that painting just before closing time. We huffed and we puffed and made it in the nick of time. It would have been so disappointing had we missed it since we both had it at the top our Madrid sights to see list. A hamburger and fries at an outdoor cafe, I believe on the Paseo de la Castellana, close by the hotel was just what we wanted for dinner before crashing after yet another very full day in Spain.

Last day! A city tour covering Gran Via and Paseo de la Castellana displaying the very different architecture of Madrid, a mixture of classic and modern, with some Art Deco appearing surprisingly, then on to view the Palacio de Orient, El Parque del Buen Retiro, designed for the Spanish nobility, the ornate Neptuno and Cibeles fountains, all so much eye candy to take in. We took in the plaza adjacent to the covered city market and made our way back to meet our guided tour of The Prado Museum. Our guide, a PhD in art history, gave us a most enjoyable in depth tour of her favorite artist, Velazquez, as we walked through various rooms and floors of the museum. Fabulous!

Free afternoon, so off my museum buddy and I went to the Thysson, kitty corner from the hotel. I had in mind to search out the Dali and just surf the remainder as I was pooped out at this point. Found the Dali, scoped out some of the other rooms and I was pretty much done. Strolled up the avenue to check out a quaint tea shop pointed out to us from the coach earlier in the day. Lhardy. Unfortunately, when I got there the shop was overrun by raucous but sweet soccer fans who were in town for a big match and had taken over the entire city. I had a quick snack of some pastries and beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the hotel to put my feet up before our last night's celebratory dinner in the hotel.

Cocktail hour involved a couple glasses of cava accompanied by - needless to say - multiple tapas, and schmoozing while saying goodbye to a great group of my fellow travelers. It was a lovely three course dinner comprising a goat cheese appetizer, choice of chicken or beef and a chocolate mousse dessert, red and white wines, of course. After dinner entertainment of a hilarious group of musicians together since college, who sing and play for a prominent charity. This was a wonderful ending to a perfect whirlwind tour of a country I had unexpectedly grown very fond of in those short eight days.

Flight back a reversal of Lufthansa/UA. A very sedate boarding in Madrid where I was personally escorted to my seat by a very gracious flight attendant (wheel chair at that point probably helped me avoid the stampede). Big surprise was the elaborate bar brought out with every imaginable drink offered - gratis - to all passengers, us low level economy back-of-the-bussers included. Add to that was the delicious breakfast of a Spanish potato omelet served with a crunchy roll and fruit, the perfect book end to my room service meal on my arrival in Barcelona. Way to go Lufthansa!

The return segment on UA had the worst group of male flight attendants I have encountered. They were so busy fussing with their uniforms, slicking their hair back, and prancing around to be bothered with us who pay their freight. So annoying to be yelled at for asking for more ice and the remainder in the can of seltzer. A representative of UA actually called me after I filled out an email survey on the flight to soothe my ruffled feathers. I gave her the whole nine yards of my experience and was awarded 500 miles. How about just a good flying experience. I can live very easily with that.

The Tauck guide on our tour, Silvana, was amazing. Highly educated, knowledgeable and just plain nice, she propelled us along the way beautifully with her artful lectures and photos. American born, she now lives on the isle of Minorca. How cool is that? And, her rendition of Carmen, costume and all, on the coach en route to Seville, was priceless! No, I don't work for Tauck, just a consumer of their very superior product.

Apologies for any typos or misspellings, these old eyes are too tired to proofread. I'm never sure what's too much or too little to put in a trip report but hope this is helpful for some. Thank you to those Fodorites that contributed to my research for this journey. Even though I chose to do a tour, there is still free time to fill and information to gather that will prepare and enhance. Yes, I'm a hotel groupie!

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