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Trip Report Costa del Sol and Madrid Trip report

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Just got back this past weekend from our 10 day trip to Costa Del Sol and returning from Madrid, so I thought I'd share our experiences for future travelers. In general, we had a great time and the south of Spain is beautiful. I must say that what made it such a success is all the time spent ahead of time in researching and planning for the trip. These travel forums were a big part of that.

As I go, I will try to highlight what I feel are must sees and "if time allows" and "can skip" items. Of course, these are all personal opinions so other travelers may have different opinions. As you will probably be able to tell from the places we visited, that our interest is mostly in historical and natural scenery and not so much in arts and museums. So for those that enjoy museums, I won't be of much help and of course you will need to add those to your itinerary.

Day 1 & 2 - May 26-27, Travel to Malaga
I flew from DFW to Malaga via Detroit and Paris to meet up with my hubby who was already in Europe on business. Flight was basically uneventful, all flights were on time. Watched one movie "Unattached", it was okay and then slept the rest of the time. Flight from Detroit to Paris only took 7 hours. The problem was that my flight arrived in Malaga around 4PM, but my hubby's wasn't arriving until 9:10P, so I had almost 5 hours to kill at the Malaga airport. I was planning on finding some nice place to eat and read my book or walk around the airport and look through the stores. When I was researching the Malaga airport, it seemed that it was a fair size and that it had all the necessary amenities. The problem was that all of the stores and restaurants were on the upper floor, and once you go to the ground floor to retrieve your luggage, you could no longer go back up. I walked around the baggage claim area and all they had was a duty free store. I asked at the information desk and she confirmed that all the restaurants were either on the upper floor or outside. And that not only I couldn't go back up, but, once I left the baggage claim area, I wouldn't be able to get back in either. Which wouldn't be a problem except that the rental car counters were only accessible through the baggage claim area. So, I was basically stuck in the baggage claim area for 5 hours. Fortunately, there was toilet facilities and water fountain and I still had some snacks in my backpack. So, I killed the time by walking around the baggage claim area (which is rather large), did a lot of people watching, read my book and played on my newly acquired IPad that I brought with me. So a word of caution for future travelers that may have a long wait at the Malaga airport, before you descend to the baggage claim area, purchase some food you can take down with you. Or, better yet, if you only have carry on luggage, you can just stay in the upper section and wait there a lot more comfortably.

Fortunately, my hubby's flight was on time and we then proceeded to the rental car area which is below the baggage claim area. We had booked a car thru carjet.com which I believe is a broker. So the car rental was actually thru Goldcar. The rental was for 6 days for 129 euros including car insurance which was pretty good. The only thing though was that they required for us to pay for a full tank of gas. We also paid 30 euros to top off the insurance in addition to the basic coverage. So we basically paid double the amount we had booked for. Hubby wanted a Renault Kangoo which is like a mini SUV. The car was a little bigger than we had expected, but it was very comfortable. Since we didn't really drive into the small towns or Seville, size wasn't an issue.

We then proceeded to drive to the Crown Resorts at Club Marbella that we got thru timeshare exchange. By the time we got the car and hubby figured out how to turn it on :), it was after 10 and dark outside. I had gotten directions before we went and we also had my hubby's european GPS system but somehow we still managed to get pretty lost. The reason was because the address for the resort was very confusing since we weren't familiar with their address system. We couldn't find the street address name in the GPS system in the cities that we thought the resort was in. I finally did find it under Marbella. So we followed the GPS directions and ended up nowhere near the resort. We had to stop twice to ask for directions, and two hours later (which should have taken the most 40 minutes) we finally got there. By that time it was midnight, neither of us had eaten dinner but were too tired and stressed out to find something to eat. Fortunately I had taken some packets of instant oatmeal that I was planning to use as easy breakfast, but it became our dinner with some nuts. At least we both got there with no major incidences. It was time to go to relax and go to bed.

Day 3 - May 28th, day of relaxation and recuperation
Slept pretty good since we were both really tired, didn't get up until almost 9. We went to the local mini market at the resort to get some breakfast foods and went back to fix some breakfast of eggs, ham and bread. After breakfast, we drove to a nearby supermarket and got some more groceries. Hubby was impressed by their seafood and got a small sole and 2 trouts and some octopus for dinner. After dropping off the groceries, went and walked around the resort and nearby areas. We stopped by a global cafe and had an English lunch. We couldn't find a Spanish restaurant so settled for this one. It was run by a single British lady. We ordered fish and chips and smashed peas and her homemade chicken and mushroom pie. Not too bad. After lunch, we walked back to the resort and took a siesta. After hubby was refreshed, we drove to a nearby beach called Capopino. The beach was small and kind of rocky but there were quite a few people. This was the beach that was recommended by the resort.

We then went back and fixed our dinner of sole, trout, octopus with vegetables and cauliflower. We didn't get to eat until almost 8:30 but it was a great dinner.

Day 4 - 5/29, Malaga
Woke up around 8, had a nice and leisurely breakfast and then headed out for a day in Malaga. Found a place to park and walked to the historic central district. When we got there, we found that some of the streets were blocked off and there were a lot people standing around waiting for something. We found out that today happened to be Spain's military day which is in a different city each year, and this year happened to be in Spain. People were waiting to see the king of Spain. We waited to see but all we saw was some official cars that drove by which probably included the King but we really couldn't see anything since they were in a covered limo with tinted glass. We didn’t really see a parade, we were probably too far at the end. After the event, we walked to the Gibralfaro castle (must see), since it was almost 2PM on a Sunday, we were able to get in for free. The castle was up on a hill that we had to walk up to, but it was quite impressive and the view was beautiful all the way up. We had lunch at a small cafe there and had some sandwiches. We then decided to take the hop on Hop on hop off bus down and to see the rest of the sights in Malaga. The bus was really slow and it didn't really go to many places, it wasn't really worth the price of 17 Euro/p (can skip).
There were some sights that we passed by but didn’t stop in that some people may want to visit. There’s the Alcazaba which is at the foot of the Gibralfaro castle. There’s the Malaga cathedral that was built between 1528 and 1782. There’s also the childhood home of Pablo Picasso who was born there in 1881, for people interested in art.
Around 6:30 we headed back to the resort. for an early night and a home cooked dinner.

More to come later.

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    Oh, panda2ac, your travel day sounds awful, but you seem to have survived :) I read it aloud to my hubby and we both groaned when thinking of driving around in the dark for two hours looking for your hotel. Sometimes I hate GPS. Looking forward to the rest of the trip.

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    Thanks josele for the info, I guess we didn't really miss anything then. I'm sure the people were really upset and disappointed, especially the ones that came from out of town to see the event.

    Well, continuing on with my posting.

    Day 5 - 5/30, Granada
    After breakfast, around 9 AM, we headed towards Granada for our visit to Alhambra (definitely a must see!). The drive was fairly easy with the directions I had printed out and the GPS. We got there around 11 and parked in the Alhambra parking lot. For future travelers, if you’re not aware, you need to book your tickets online ahead of time to make sure that you will be able to get in before you make the trip there. Because of the large number of visitors, they have to control the number of people visiting per day. When you book, it will display what is still available for the day you wish to visit. They usually have morning and afternoon sessions, plus, you need to select a specific time that you wish to visit the Nasrid Palace. You will be able to enter the complex as soon as the session that you’ve selected starts, but, you will only be able to enter the Nasrid Palace within 30 minutes of your selected time slot. They were pretty strict with those times. If you try to enter before your time slot, they will ask you to wait, and if you try to enter after the 30 minute timeframe, they will ask you to go to customer service to schedule another time slot. Because we were not staying in Granada and were not really sure how long it would really take to get there, we opted for the afternoon session which starts at 2PM and decided to visit the Nasrid Palace first, so we opted for the 2PM entrance into Nasrid. Another tip is that, once you are in Spain, you can pick up your tickets at any ServiCaixa automated collection terminal which can be found in most cities across Spain. We picked up our tickets close to our resort. It will save you time and effort if you pick them up ahead of time. You just insert the credit card that you used to book your tickets and it will dispense them to you.
    Since we got there around 11 and our ticket into Nasrid wasn't until 2, we decided to visit the town first and grab some lunch. One of the other attractions in Granada is the Albaizin, which is basically a neighborhood with very narrow streets. What I had found from my research, the best way to get a feel for this area, is to take either minibus 32 from Alhambra or bus 31 from Plaza Nueva for a quick tour. The fare is 1.2 Euros pp. So we took the minibus 32 which you can catch right off the main entrance to Alhambra. We rode it down and got off at Plaza Nueva which is right in the center of the historic district. We walked around the historic area and took in the view and took lots of pictures. We stopped and had lunch at one of the outside cafe's (Terrazo Rabo de Nube). We had their grilled fish plate for two. Hubby seemed to like it but I wasn't that impressed. By the time we finished lunch, it was already around 1:30P, so we took minibus 32 again back up to Alhambra and got off at the Gate of Justice stop which was closer to the Nasrid Palace and we got there just in time for our 2P entrance. The buses have several stops at the Alhambra, and since the entire complex is rather large, you need to pick the closest one to where you’ll want to start or you’ll be doing a lot of needless walking. The Nasrid Palace is about 20 minutes walk from the main entrance. The palace was quite impressive with intricate marble carvings all around the walls and ceiling, along with the lion fountain which was in restoration.

    After the palace, we went to the Alcazaba, which was the fortress close to the palace. The fortress had a beautiful view of the city. After the fortress, we walked towards Generalife which also had a small palace plus beautiful flower gardens.
    The Nasrid Palace, Generalife, and the Alcazaba are the three components where they will check your ticket. The rest is open to all and free, including the Charles V Palace, which is a museum now. It was closed on Mondays, so we didn’t get to see it. There are also some shops along the way.

    By the time we finished seeing everything it was close to 6P. We had had a great day and really enjoyed our visit to Granada, but, when we walked back to the car, we realized that hubby, in his haste in finding a restroom after a 2 hour drive, had left his window down after picking up the parking ticket. It seemed that everything was there, but then we realized that someone had taken the GPS system that I had placed in the glove compartment. We were very disappointed and upset and weren’t sure if we would even be able to find our way back to our resort without the GPS. Fortunately, I had printed out driving directions to get back to the resort so we were able to get back with not too much problems.

    We got back around 8 and decided to have supper in the resorts restaurant.

    More to come tomorrow.

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    Day 6 - 5/31 – Ronda (must see for people that enjoy natural scenery)
    Since we had lost our GPS and we had heard that the road was winding and streets in Ronda small, we were a little reluctant in driving ourselves to visit Ronda. We had tried to sign up for the Ronda excursion from the resort but it was too late. So we got instructions on how to take the local bus near the resort (220) to Marbella bus station and then take the bus there to Ronda.

    We first went to get groceries, so by the time we headed back out it was around 10. Fortunately the bus came pretty soon after we got to the stop, but the local bus took almost 40 minutes to get to Marbella. We were able to get tickets for the 11 o'clock bus to Ronda. The bus took about an hour and a half to get there. The ride was very comfortable and the scenery was nice through the winding hills.

    It was about a 10 minute walk to the center from the bus station. We walked to the new bridge (Puenta Nueva), it overlooked a beautiful and deep gorge. We stopped and had lunch at Restaurante Alminar. We had “menu del dia” which is basically a set lunch that included an appetizer, a main dish and a desert for 10 Euros per person. EC had fish which we think was a tilapia with white sauce and I had pork stew which was very tender. We really enjoyed the lunch, the atmosphere was very relaxing and the food was great.

    Ronda’s attraction is basically its beautiful natural scenery, since it is set above a gorge. We walked around the town’s historic district and also walked down the gorge to take lots of beautiful pictures. Half day is basically enough and definitely doable as a day trip. We then caught the 5:30 bus back to Marbella and then the 220 bus back to Calahonda. We got back home around 8 PM, just in time for dinner. It was a good day and Ronda was worth the trip. Even though we determined that driving there wouldn’t have been a problem, even finding parking in Ronda, we were glad we decided to take the bus instead. It allowed hubby to relax, enjoy the scenery and even take a nap on the way back . Taking the local buses was very cheap, about 16 Euros pp roundtrip and well worth it.
    Day 7 - 6/1 - Wednesday
    We decided to take it easy today and stay around the resort. We got up around 8:30, had breakfast and then walked around the neighborhood. We then decided to drive to Estepona which is south of Marbella. Estepona used to be a fishing village and is now more of a Spanish resort. It has a really nice long board walk and beach. We walked around and had lunch at El Pescador by their boardwalk. We had their seafood soup which was not as good as hubby’s and had their red mullet and monkfish for lunch. It was pretty good. Not a whole lot to see in Estepona, but it’s a nice place to take a leisurely walk on the board walk or enjoy the beach. We then drove back, got some groceries for dinner and started packing up for our trip to Seville the next day.

    Day 8 - 6/2 - Seville
    Today we checked out of the resort and headed for two days in Seville. We got to the airport and returned the car with no problem. We took the local train Cercania C-1 to the Maria Zambrano train station and took the 2:30 train to Seville.

    Arrived at Seville around 4:30 and took a taxi to Hotel Amadeus. The hotel is not too far away from the train station, but the streets are really narrow and winding. It was less than 8 euros for the trip. The hotel is hidden away in a very narrow street, no way we would have found it by ourselves. Talking about small and winding streets, that’s Seville, I definitely would not want to be driving in this town. There were some places, where we had to step up onto the doorsteps of someone’s house to let cars pass by in order to not get run over. We met a couple the next day when we were waiting for a taxi back to the train station, that had also called for a taxi but were going to a parking garage in the outskirts of town. They had driven to Seville but parked the car in a garage during their stay in Seville. That’s definitely a good idea since I would not recommend driving in Seville.

    After checking in, we headed out to scout the area. The hotel was in a great location, very close to the Cathedral. It was too late to get into the Cathedral, so we just walked around it and took some pictures. We then walked towards the river and to Plaza Espana. The Plaza is a must see, really big, it was constructed for the world expo in 1929 and comprises of a semi circle with murals for each Spanish city/region.

    Heading back, we looked for the recommended restaurants. We found Las Columnas or Bodega de Santa Cruz and stopped and had some tapas. I had the bartender choose 4 tapas for us. They were good, but to me not amazing. Hubby had seen a place that had Ox tail stew that he wanted to try, so we went and had our second course. I ordered a potato omelet which is basically the Spanish pie. Hubby enjoyed his Ox tail stew and was happy. We got back to the hotel around 10 and walked up to the terrace of the hotel for a view of the city. We could see the cathedral from there. We also found out that there was a hot tub in the terrace. So we went back to the room and changed into our bathing suits and went back upstairs. The tub was actually not a hot tub but a cold tub but it had a nice jet stream. We stayed for a little while as other guests came to enjoy the tub. The hotel provided robes which were great.

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    Day 9 - 6/3, 2nd day in Seville
    Our rooms did not include breakfast, although you could order breakfast for 8 euros pp. But we decided to head out for breakfast around 9, found a place across the cathedral (Historico Horno) that had good coffee and breakfast sandwiches. After breakfast, we went to the Real Alcazar since it was still too early to go to the Cathedral which didn’t open to the public until 11. We pleasantly found out that hubby now qualified for the pensioners price for tickets since he's now 65, which is only 2 euros versus the full price of 8.50. You have to ask for the “pensionista’ price and they may sometimes ask for an ID that has your birthday. The Alcazar is definitely a must see, with intricate carvings and gardens similar to Alhambra.

    After Alcazar, we went to the Cathedral (must see). Although we had seen enough cathedrals, but this one was still worth visiting. It is really big inside and worth visiting. Again we were able to get the pensionista price for hubby for 2 euros versus the full price of 8 euros for an adult. We also walked up the Giralda tower. There are 35 landings, plus another 17 stairs up to the bell platform. It’s tiring going up the ramp, but the view from above is definitely worth it.

    After the cathedral, we decided to see the new ultramodern Metropol Parasol, which was just finished this year. It is 246 feet wide and 91 feet high, it's an imaginative new structure in Sevilla that's a series of six interconnected parasols built from fire-treated wood beams. It sits atop preserved Roman ruins, which you can observe downstairs. So we found our way there, the structure was pretty unique but the area was not too good. You can visit this structure if time permits.
    The previous day when we checked in, we had asked where we could go for a good flamenco show. They had suggested “Tableo Flamenco El Arenal”. The cost though was a little higher than I had expected. They basically had 3 rates, one with dinner which was around 77 euros pp, one with tapas which was around 55 euros pp and one with just a drink which was around 37 euros pp. I asked about Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andaluz which I had seen on some of the forum postings. They indicated that it was fine but that it was a little different than the Arenal. They explained that at Casa de la Memoria, it was basically one or two dancers and at the Arenal, it was a group of dancers, including singers and musical accompaniment and that was why the cost was a little higher. We decided to go ahead and try the Arenal, so we had them book a reservation for the two of us for the one with just a drink. So after going back to the hotel and taking a rest, we headed back out around 6 for a quick dinner and then for the flamenco show. It took us a while to find the place for the show and found out that most places didn’t open for dinner until 8. We walked towards the river and found a place that had sandwiches, so we shared a sandwich and French fries to hold us over until after the show. We then walked along the river until it was time for the show. The seats were at the front but it was on the side, so the view was partially blocked but still pretty good. The show consisted of 2 guitarist, 3 singers and 3 male and 3 female dancers. The singers also clapped the beat. The male dancers were better than the female ones and they basically dance by themselves except for the last dance where they danced in pairs and with castanuelas. They were pretty good, but not really amazing.

    After the show, on our way back, we found a place for dinner. Hubby had Ox tail stew again and I had grilled baby squid. The Ox stew was actually better than yesterday's.

    Day 10 - 6/4 - Madrid
    We got up early to finish packing up, go out for breakfast before heading to the train station to go to Madrid. We found out that most restaurants don't open for breakfast at the earliest at 8:30. Since we decided to take the 10:45 train instead of the 9:45, we had plenty of time. The breakfast wasn't, as good as yesterday's, but it was okay. It was still early, so we walked around some more and hubby tried one of the oranges that had dropped on the ground. Seville has a lot of orange trees, but from reading, it seems that these oranges because they are sour, they are used mostly for marmalades and not necessarily table oranges.

    We had the hotel order a taxi for us to the train station. This ride was cheaper than the one coming. It was only 6.75. We took the train to Madrid which had one stop at Cordoba and then straight to Madrid. The train was about 84 euros pp. We arrived in the afternoon around 1:30. I had booked at the NH Sur because it's supposed to be right next to the train station. Supposedly we were to be able to see the hotel once we came out of the train station but we didn't see it. So I still had to ask someone where it was. It was actually across the train station, but it was to the left side instead of the right, and the sign was covered by trees. The room was small, but actually very comfortable and pretty convenient.

    After checking in and dropping off the luggage, we walked out for lunch. The hotel is actually at the edge of the historic district with the Retiro park in the back. After lunch, we tried to follow my plans for the walking tour and Madrid in a day from travel guide. We first went to the botanical garden where we had to pay entrance fee but for hubby was free. The garden actually was not that impressive. We walked to the Prado museum, took some pictures and saw that there was a Madrid tour bus hop on hop off. So we decided to take that instead of walking. Hubby’s now being a pensionista was half price. We got off at Plaza Mayor and walked around the market which was basically selling tapas and the Plaza Mayor which is a big square with lots of outside cafe's. We didn't see the one that was recommended that specialized on stewed lamb though. We then took the bus again to Plaza de colon and took some pictures and then switched to the second route. After going around most of those stops, we got off by the Retiro park (must see) and walked thru the park to the hotel. This park was actually more impressive than the botanical garden. There were a lot of people there because it was a Saturday, lots of activities for kids. There was also a lake in the park and lots of people rowing boats.
    After resting up for a little while, we headed back out for our last dinner in Spain before heading home the next day.
    Day 11 – 6/5, trip back home
    My flight home to US was at 10:10A. Although our hotel was right next to the train station, we opted to just take a taxi to the airport instead of taking the metro. If we had taken the metro, we would have had to change subways twice, and with luggage, it would have been too much of a hassle.
    This was our second trip to Spain and we totally enjoyed it. The first time we had spent 5 days in Barcelona. From looking at other postings, it seems that there’s a lot more to see, so we may have to come back again in the future.

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