Europe Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

  • Announcement:
  • Recent Spam Attacks
    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 Trip Report 다모아바카라━▶⋊【→ SO224。COM ←】⋉◀━슈퍼카지노
  2. 2 Luggage Storage
  3. 3 Trip Report 아시안바카라━▶⋊【→ SO224。COM ←】⋉◀━슈퍼카지노
  4. 4 Trip Report 빅브라더카지노━▶⋊【→ SO224。COM ←】⋉◀━슈퍼카지노
  5. 5 Trip Report 나인카지노━▶⋊【→ SO224。COM ←】⋉◀━슈퍼카지노
  6. 6 LIsbon
  7. 7 Trip Report 강원랜드카지노━▶⋊【→ SO224。COM ←】⋉◀━슈퍼카지노
  8. 8 Driving from Viena to Frankfurt
  9. 9 Best method to travel from Antalya to Cappadocia?
  10. 10 Trip Report Back from Paris
  11. 11 Paris and London Christmas / NY EVE
  12. 12 Boston to Le Marche - which airport?
  13. 13 UK: "Ghost Trains!"
  14. 14 Trip Report In Search of Montalbano - the ups and downs of 10 days in Eastern Sicily
  15. 15 Another tipping question: concierges
  16. 16 great hotel and food in Lyon
  17. 17 Paris- 1 B.R. APT.
  18. 18 Euro Travel & Trivia Quiz #139
  19. 19 Scotland-Looking for itinerary advice for 9 day trip
  20. 20 Urgent- Pleaseee HELP - Spain, Italy or France for Xmass and New years
  21. 21 Bernese Oberland + Luzern 4 days
  22. 22 Ireland in April-Day trips from Galway base
  23. 23 NOT our first trip to Ireland
  24. 24 Trip suggestion
  25. 25 Spain in July
View next 25 » Back to the top

Trip Report Spring in Spain: Crawling up Mallorca; Pushing Through Toledo

Jump to last reply

My husband and I decided to “break in” our new son-in-law by inviting him and our oldest daughter to spend a week cycling with us on Mallorca. My other trip goals were to take a peek at Valencia on the way and spend the very end of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Toledo.

Because I am always willing to sell my soul to snag Business Class seat upgrades when crossing oceans, our exact dates of travel were dictated by both feasible upgrades and by time constraints placed by my husband’s job. So on a Wednesday, we flew from the US to Madrid on USAirways and immediately left Madrid to fly Valencia via Iberia Express. The Business Class upgrade on USAirways was worth it, even if we did have to fly through the airport I hate most in the world, Philadelphia. Note: I like Philadelphia; I just hate the airport.

The Business Class on the Iberia Express is NOT worth it. For future reference, the seats are cramped and saggy, and only the very front rows of the plane have leg room. I really don’t need bad snacks for less than an hour flight. The designation did allow us to check two pieces of luggage each, though. Because I have to bring my on biking seat and heavy gel cover, and because the weather in the upcoming days was to be so iffy, my light packing style got totally out of whack. Thus we had a roll-on and a convertible suitcase/backpack each, and I admit it was nice not to have to lug anything but our storable light daypacks for the layover.

In between flights, we bought SIM cards for 5 Euros each for our cheapie Nokia GSM phones. As always, we would only use our “real” phones with any free WiFi, and we’d use the cheapies mainly for SMS while cycling. We also quickly emailed our new numbers to all the relatives back home for an additional emergency contact.

In Valencia, we had booked into the Vincci Lys (Valencia Carrer de Martínez Cubells, 5, 46002 València, Valencia, Spain +34 96 350 95 50 vinccihoteles.com ) which is just a spit from the Xativa Metro stop, so I had planned to use the Metro (had downloaded the app on my phone to be at the ready), but our energy was flagging, and we just snagged a taxi (20 Euros) into town.

The hotel was really dated but also very central and very clean. The people at the front desk were very nice. We had booked a high floor room with terrace just for a bit more room. We knew we had to reorganize our packing a bit more and the extra room to spread out was welcome. After a bit of reorganization, we headed out to explore the streets around us and to have a few beers. Sleep beckoned, and we obeyed its command. Nappy time.

At around 8 pm, which is the Spanish "tourist time" to start eating, we headed towards the Cathedral area in search of a restaurant. I had tried to book us at Mood Food before we left home, but I had never heard back. We tried to find it anyway, got lost several times, and finally found it with a "Closed" sign. We still don't know what happened because other diners were there a few days later.

The weather was crisp but dry, so we spent quite a bit of time meandering. We settled on a place whose name I never found out just because it looked atmospheric from the outside. We were led upstairs and given a table near the kitchen. To our surprise, it was quiet! Somehow the kitchen managed to push food out without chaotic sounds. Since the place was known for its Catalonian beef, we bowed to the waiter’s suggestions and ordered steak and salad. Well, meat just isn’t us. But the recommended bottle of red wine was great, and we finished the meal with a good port and an excellent Spanish cheese selection. If I ever find out the name of this place, I'll report back.

Walking back to the hotel, we both noticed how clean the center city was, in spite of an obviously large and diverse population. We were impressed.

The next morning, we were also impressed with our hotel breakfast, included with our booking. It had two automatic coffee machines—the kind we like that offer everything from fresh ground expresso to cappuccino—and we laughed when we saw that one of the choices on the machines was your language. I love it when vegetables are offered with breakfast, and my husband shoveled in massive amounts of melon and salmon.

We had booked a later afternoon flight to Mallorca to give us the maximum daylight hours in which to experience Valencia, so we showered and changed, packed our stuff up, deposited the luggage at the desk, and headed off to explore the historic center in the bright, not-too-hot weather.

Our first stop was the Mercado Centrale. My sister loves markets, I am “meh” on them, but I had told my husband over breakfast that several British travel writers tended to remark that one strangely “finds” Americans at the Mercado. “I guess we have to report to duty”, he said.

We did—and they were right: we encountered the ONLY Americans we saw for the rest of the day. The Mercado is truly impressive because the building itself is so gorgeous and the crowds were not overwhelming at all.

We headed to the Plaza de la Reina to the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia, the home of the Holy Grail, or rather one of the candidates for the position. The cathedral was built between 1252 and 1482 on the site of an earlier mosque, a former Visigothic Cathedral and perhaps even a Roman temple of Diana. It has ended up being a stylistic hybrid Gothic, Baroque and Neo-Classical architecture.

Its octagonal bell-tower El Micalet is the landmark of Valencia. You can climb the stairs to the top to enjoy the views of Valencia's old town, but we passed on the opportunity. We did take advantage of the audiotour, mainly because I did not want to miss finding the two Goya paintings.

Of course, no good cathedral should be without a relic or two, and this one has the mummified hand of Saint Vincent the Martyr. The chapel of the Holy Grail was very impressive too.

Leaving the cathedral, we debated touring nearby art museums or taking a taxi out to the City of Arts and Sciences (in Valencian: Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències). The property is regarded as one of the top contemporary architectural wonders of Europe. Unfortunately, we just had little “uppy” left in us, so we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and explored the diverted river bed that rings the historic center. When the city flooded in 1950, the city fathers solved future problems by diverting the entire river. They lost the scenic parts of water reflection, but they gained an enormous ring of space for parkland. It works.

We returned to the Mercado hoping to score a plate of take-out paella, but our timing was off: the last bits of the gorgeous offerings in our favorite kiosk were being taken by proactive students. We stepped outside to get a table at a nearby café (not worth mentioning!), drowned a few beers and bites, and returned to our hotel for our luggage.

We again considered taking the Metro to the Valencia airport, but my husband said he was really willing to fork over the extra for the 20 Euro cab ride (it ended up being a bit more). We had a lovely cab driver who was so pleased that we found Valencia to be so very clean, active, and pretty. We told him that two of our guidebooks had no sections on Valencia, and that we think it had to be one of the most underrated cities we have ever visited.

We shall return.

Next: Palma de Mallorca

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for posting. Valencia indeed receives much less mention than it deserves.
    In addition to what you described, miles and miles of beautiful beaches are another attraction.

  • Report Abuse

    Warning: This part of the post includes mainly equipment details useful only to travel equipment junkies. If not interested, just skip to the next installment, which will include our two nights/one day in Palma.

    We flew from Valencia to Palma de Mallorca via Veuling, mainly because the flight time offered us the best amount of daylight time in Valencia.

    Veuling offers three fare classes to Mallorca: Basic, Optima and Excellence. The difference between Basic and Optima is about 15 Euros; the difference between Excellence and Optima is close to 400 Euros. Optima, which allowed one to a) check one bag up to 50 pounds (I have never in my life approached even 30 lbs in a suitcase) and b) choose one’s seats, seemed like a steal. I emphasize "seemed" until I later verified the hand baggage restrictions: 55cm x 44cm x 20cm (21.65 inches x 15.75 inches x 7.87 inches) AND must not exceed 10 kg (22 lbs).

    I could handle the hand-luggage weight restriction rather easily. A lot of my stuff could go into our roll-ons once we put the expansion zippers out, and our backpack/suitcase was about 21 inches by 15 inches, so that part was good. The problem was that since our GO Lite backpack/suitcase (http://www.ebags.com/product/golite/travelite-convertible-carry-on/146096#ratings-and-reviews NOW DISCONTINUED) is SO soft-sided, it could puddle and expand.

    My solution?

    Two-fold:
    --My Big Pockets Vest http://www.bigpockets.com/ (I am a bird watcher; these vests are my life)
    --a FINEX Heavy Duty Cross Luggage Strap Travel Belt http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MVR50BO/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    The first solution meant that I could walk onto the plane with all my necessary items without using my foldable daypack (although even my Baggelini PATH Bagg Crossbody Shoulder Bag Purse—discontinued---could fit in one of the pockets).

    The second solution minimized the bag expansion.

    It turned out that I needed neither.

    The check-in agent took one look at our backpack/suitcase combos and said, “Why don’t you just check these things? We are going to have you gate-check these carry-ons anyway, so it’s less hassle to do it now. No charge.” Yeah!!!

    I packed up my Big Pockets Vest, pulled out my daypack, repacked, and we were good to chill until boarding.

    The flight was another cramped seating. My husband was fine because he had an aisle seat with no middle person. I was pushed against two really LARGE persons. After take-off, I jumped from my aisle seat in row 3 to one of the 2nd row Excellence seats (no bigger) and fell asleep on purpose so that as long as I didn’t look as though I was expecting service, they’d leave me be. They did.

    We landed in PMI rather quickly. We had no problem locating our luggage; however, our daughter and son-in-law would have one later because if your luggage is checked through internationally, there is a different pick-up area. Make a note of it!!!.

    We jumped into a taxi and headed to our hotel.

    Next: Our two nights and one full day in Palma

  • Report Abuse

    Nice start. We really liked Valencia when we did a 4 night short break there last year. at lunchtimes we took advantage of the great menu del dia offers [typically €10 for 3 courses] and in the evenings we tapased our way round the town - that's a great way to get to know a place

    our one and only visit to Mallorca was with our kids on a package holiday about 20 years ago so I'm looking forward to your take on it.

    keep it coming!

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, annhig. I think in our minds, we were automatically viewing Mallorca as another version of the Canary Islands (expats galore), and we were pleasantly surprised by it. I shall try to get at least another post up today.

  • Report Abuse

    Two nights/one day in Palma

    My husband, Mr. Objective Finance, I-Grade-Only-On-Performance, showed his true colors once again. He always overtips when he is worried about his taxi driver’s health (I am more of the mind that it’s time to put the dog down). Five more minutes with our cab driver and I think he would have funded the guy's kids college tuition.

    The traffic was a bit bad leaving the airport on this early Friday evening, and the driver took it personally. I mean REALLY PERSONALLY. Road rage be him. So we were riding on berms, back streets, you name it. As the driver was swearing in Spanish, my husband was pulling at his chest, which he does when he is stressed out. I was prepared to perform CPR on the both of them.

    The fact is that our hotel was just NOT that far away, and we for sure were in no rush. We were staying at the Portixol Hotel, Palma de Mallorca www.portixol.com +34 971 27 18 00, a very nice hotel situated on a mini-harbor not far from the historical center.

    Our check-in went smoothly. Still a bit jet-lagged, we unpacked into our sea-view room with terrace. Going downstairs, we bellied up to the bar, which seemed to be full of expat locals. We checked out the restaurant and what the heck, we thought we’d give it a go.

    The food was good. Our sashimi was superb, and I was so happy to be eating Padron peppers again. The problem was that the place did not have enough servers in place yet for the spring/summer season. Furthermore, although our food seemed OK, over my shoulder, my husband spotted cockroaches running across the table next to us. Apparently, the aghast diners sent all their food back and just kept drinking wine for the rest of the evening. My husband kept his mouth shut until after I had finished my last bite. He pointed to the molding/ledge beneath the windows. There were crumbs on them. Hmm.

    I never saw a cockroach myself in the restaurant that night, the next night or at any other time; my chance came later once we went to bed. The beds were comfy; our room was again very well appointed. I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom to find that the shower floor was a cockroach racetrack.

    Both my husband and I used to visit Florida a lot when we were kids, so we’re not scared of these bugs and do understand we are in THEIR environment. We know from past experience that we’d rather suffer non-biting insects any day than suffer the body shock of chemical applications. We only had one more night and I’d rather do it without inhaling bug spray. We’d let the next guest die of environmental poisoning.

    I went back to bed and slept just fine. However, I did make my husband take the first shower in the morning.

    Breakfast at the hotel, included in our booking, just was not that great considering the type of hotel. We had been spoiled by the Vincci Lys in Valencia. There was a good variety on hand, but the yogurt was room temperature, etc. No “choose your language” coffee machine (sniff, sniff). Eggs by order were WAYYYY overcooked. Plus we admittedly did find ourselves on cockroach alert.

    The window ledges had been cleared of crumbs we were relieved to note.

    We headed out for a walk around the harbor, trying our best to dodge endless bicycles, dog walkers, and strollers on this pleasant spring day. We first found our restaurant for the upcoming night, mere meters from the hotel. Then we walked into the Old Town in search of the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma (often referred to by the locals as “La Seu”). We could see it in the distance, but once we approached it, the spires became hidden from view and we could not navigate to it by sight. My husband talked me into an early right to get to the historical center instead of continuing down along the water line for a bit more until the cathedral came into sight again.

    I must say that my husband and I are still, nearly 36 years after our wedding vows, fighting the same arguments. For some reason I trust his judgment about directions because he is SO good at SO many things.

    He just does not have a clue about how to get from A-Z.

    Anyway, after much trial and error (and my seeking my MapsWithMe app in every spot of shade), we ended up near the cathedral.

    Ok. Full disclosure. It was my fault that we entered the nearby Royal Palace of La Almudaina, which is the Alcázar (fortified palace) of Palma, instead of the cathedral. So I guess we were even for the day on the “who is the most wrong” lifetime score tally.

    The history of this Catalonian Gothic cathedral is tied with the Christian takeover of the island by the Aragon dynasty (which is why even today, Mallorca and other Balearic islands identify themselves more with Catalonia that with the rest of Spain). The foundation stone was laid on the site of the central mosque, so the building itself is oriented towards Mecca, not Jerusalem. It took 400 more years to finish the cathedral, and in 1851, more work had to be done when an earthquake hit the West front. In the 1900s, Antoni Gaudi, Mr. Catalan himself, added a few touches.

    This is a BEAUTIFUL place with a sense of openness (supposedly the nave is the highest of all Gothic cathedrals). We used the audiotours, and I found myself photographing everything like mad.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Mallorca or Majorca (meaning "largest") and the rest of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago off the east coast of Spain. Like the other Balearic Islands of Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera, the island is both a holiday and retirement destination, particularly for people from Germany, the UK, Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. It’s so popular that the Palma airport is one of the busiest in Spain.

    The locals speak “Mallorcan",which is their version of Catalan, and Spanish.

    Just as we were finishing up, our daughter called us on our Spain mobiles to alert us that she and her husband were at the hotel. And they were so very happy about their room that we never shared our cockroach stories. We headed back, had a beer on their terrace and then strolled around the corner to a local bar.

    On our return, we had the help of an absolutely delightful hotel desk clerk in making our taxi arrangements for the next day.

    A few hours later, we headed to our restaurant reserved through www. TheFork.com, El Hoyo 10 ( C/Bartomeu Barceló i Mir,11 07003 Palma de Mallorca +34 971278650)

    The reviews online were right in the sense that the place was more for locals than it was for tourists. And the owner, who is supposed to be unfriendly, really took to my husband and son-in-law, so that was good. But the food was very weak. Our paella, while large enough, was undercooked, over oiled, and lacking in the “good stuff.” Nevertheless, we were just happy to be together, the place was homey, and it certainly was close enough to the hotel.

    After dinner, we headed straight back. I whispered goodnight to the shower floor just in case the cockroaches were listening.

    Next: We join our cycling group at the Intermodal Station in Mallorca

  • Report Abuse

    Beginning my biking crawl throughout Mallorca

    The next morning, we taxied to our cycling group meeting point at the Intermodal Station at the Plaça Espanya. We have cycled with many companies, but this time it was our general favorite: Backroads.

    For your information:
    Most guided cycling outfits have the same routine. They provide the bikes and helmets and routing information; they have two or more leaders who switch off cycling with you and driving the van; and they use one or more support vans so that some people can opt out of stretches of the day if need be.

    The company takes care of hauling your luggage around; you are in charge of hauling yourself around.

    On most days, you can choose rides varying from 20 miles to 60 miles (and on some trips, centuries are certainly possible).

    We have now done around 23 or 24 guided cycling trips; 16 of those have been with Backroads, probably because they have more types of trips in all the places we want to go at the times of year we want to go. Plus the quality of the training for their guides is very, very high.

    But we have traveled with other operators quite successfully, and I certainly encourage people to find tours that fit their personal needs and finances.

    Resources:
    --For my l-o-n-g post on this forum regarding cycling tours: http://www.fodors.com/community/travel-tips-trip-ideas/why-do-a-cycling-tour-a-review-of-various-tour-companies-and-general-tips.cfm
    --For Backroad’s description of this exact Mallorca trip: http://www.backroads.com/trips/BMAI/mallorca-biking-tour and to request a more detailed itinerary from them: http://www.backroads.com/detailed_itinerary_requests/new?trip_id=849

    And from here on in, my descriptions of my daily rides and the rides of others in our group of 21 will be limited by the fact that each person on the trip gets to take his/her own route each day. What my husband cycles and I cycle is totally up to our choosing. Within just our family, we each had a different experience each day. Given the abilities of several monster cyclists on the trip, my experience and theirs would vary as much as describing putting around in a little rowboat as opposed to sailing a yacht.

    But I can certainly share that while I am on “injured reserved” and while I cycled only around 20 miles on average a day, I was blissfully happy to be there. Others cycled over 50 miles each day and were equally blissfully happy.


    Starting the trip
    On this first day we all piled into a touring bus to be shuttled to a small hotel in Algaida where we had our bike fitting and lunch. Most people brought their own pedals; I just brought my own seat and my own gel pad (the kind with a BIG dent in the center).

    After lunch, we headed out on a PERFECT ride with wonderful biking paths. Our route took us through the town of Llucmajor, and I was so delighted to see a little festival on the square. Some people chose to do a nice climb for the 32-mile option; I choose to cycle at my leisure for the short route of 23 miles to our first hotel, Cap Rocat. ( Ctra. d'enderrocat, s/n 07609 Cala Blava, Mallorca (+34) 971 74 78 78 www.caprocat.com

    Wow! The hotel was originally at 19th century Spanish military fort, hidden on a cliff. The architect Antonio Obrador translated the fort’s defensive aspects of a drawbridge, bunkers, and trenches into a world of unique bedrooms and viewpoints. Our room had a spiral staircase leading up to a canvas lounging bed overlooking the Bay of Palma.

    Life was good.

    Just in case you are thinking, “Gee, I’m going to book now,” not so fast.

    Everyone on the group, while stunned by the sheer beauty of the place, later commented that a) their rooms were a bit musty (hey, just a few years ago, this place was just an abandoned fort with thick stone walls) and b) the bathrooms, while glorious, were so darkened with just mood lighting that no woman was sure if her makeup had been applied correctly. My husband missed a whole section of his chin while shaving.

    So I am SO very happy I got to stay here for one night, but I will feel no need to fork over the $$$s necessary to come back.

    Our first night’s dinner was quite good; our breakfast the next morning was nice (but as my husband says, not Vincci Lys in Valencia nice).

    Next: We (or rather, most others) cycle to Valldemossa

  • Report Abuse

    Cycling to Valldemossa Part One

    Who was in our tour group? Were they competitive cyclists?

    Well, many were competitive in nature, but I don’t think anyone in the group was part of a cycling team per se as was the case in our 2013 Canary Islands group.

    Most of the folks in our group were really fit runners or cyclists over 40. Some came on the trip for “Spring Training”. Several were like my husband and me: we came on the trip just for a chance to see the sun after a Northeast US winter.

    While this late March trip date may not have promised the best weather on Mallorca, and while the bad weather back home made getting in shape a hard proposition, our trip timing was, in retrospect, a brilliant idea.

    One of the two excellent guides* who was the actual trip designer told us that within two weeks, he would have to re-route much of the trip for the rest of the season because of the sheer mass of cyclists on the road.
    *We had two guides and one support driver; the two guides switched off between driving and cycling and the driver would always drive.

    We got a taste of that on the first part of our ride, and for the days after, the dominant background noise would be “whoosh” as groups of cyclists, be they teams or clubs, whisked by us.

    This same guide said that we were equally lucky in that island elections were coming up. The incumbent officials had of course fixed roads to please their constituents. We were getting prime surfaces for sure.

    We left Cap Rocat to head for the foothills of the Tramuntana. As the cripple of the group, I was not doing too badly until I rounded a curve and ran into the thing I hate most:

    Headwind.

    I bailed early. I detest fighting mile after mile against wind, especially because I use upright handlebars with a bike box bag on the front. I just become a giant sail. Moreover, to take pressure off my bad knees, I crank up my bike seat as high as possible (my feet cannot touch the ground). Headwinds can put all the pressure back on.

    As soon as I saw a support van, I asked to be “beamed up” and was quite happy with my decision. I had a great time helping the driver support the route, cozy in my shotgun seat. Plus I routinely pack my Kindle.

    After lunch at a local inn, I stayed with the van,and we stopped along the way at a local cycling shop. I bought an appropriate item for my husband, given the weather: a wind vest.

    The headwind soon turned into an "around wind". Eventually, both support vans were packed to the brim because even the fit people realized that the wind had knocked all the joy out of the day.

    From my comfortable seat in the van, I could observe that day's routing was very much climbs were for climb’s sakes, rather than for views. I was pretty happy that the headwind had talked me out of my bike seat early.

    Still I admired the people who completed every mile this day, cycling at least 55 miles and 4311 elevation game against a biting wind. And I’m also so happy that I no longer have the aching desire to join them. :)

    Next: Cycle to Valldemossa Part Two

  • Report Abuse

    You are so welcome, cybertraveler.

    Cycle to Valldemossa Part Two

    Our shuttle van arrived at the Hotel Valldemossa (Ctra Vieja de Valldemossa s/n Valldemossa 07170 +34 971 612 626 www.valldemossahotel.com )in the lovely town of Valldemossa.

    To better describe our geographical location, we were still on the west side of Mallorca, but were now on the other side of the Sierra de Tramuntana.

    The town of Valldemossa has a population of about 2,000 people that swells with daytrippers from Palma during the day since it’s only about 17 km / 30 minutes away.

    Part of the beauty of the town is that the local blonde rock from which all the buildings are constructed blends gently into the mountain background so that nothing jars the senses. The now-flowering almond trees and the plants and flowers lining the very narrow streets made the town even more beautiful.

    While the little cafes and restaurants throughout the little town make it a pleasant stopover, the town’s major landmark is a 13th century monastery known as “Real Cartuja de Valldemossa” or the “Royal Carthusian Monastery”. Writers, artists and composers, including composer Frederic Chopin and Georges Sand (aka Aurore Dupin), have all been struck by Valldemossa’s serenity.

    The town is also the birthplace of Catalina Thomas, Mallorca's patron saint. Peasant girl Caterina was born in 1531, went on to became a nun in Palma and was renowned for her humility. She died in 1574, was beatified in 1792 and achieved sainthood in 1935. A lot of the houses bear little shrines or markings devoted to her.

    By the way, Valdemossa itself is not on the coast, but years ago, the town created a coastal “sister” town: Port Valdemossa, just 6km away, which also has a restaurant or two.

    Although we were dying to explore the town, we were scheduled for a Mallorcan wine tasting before dinner, and we had to get cleaned up fast.

    Most of the rooms at this Relais & Chateaux property situated on the grounds of the old monestery include a walled private terrace with a wooden door entry, and then French doors leading from the terrace into the bedroom/sitting room.

    This early in the season after the spring rains, I have to admit that our room was musty, something other guests noted with theirs. Luckily, with the private terrace arrangement, we were able to leave the French doors and windows open to air out the place while we dined (and later on, while we slept). I am sure that within a few weeks, the dryness of the late spring weather would erase the smell. No matter what, the surroundings of the hotel were stunning.

    On to the wine tasting. I am so sorry I did not write down the name of the professional oenophile who gave us our presentation that evening. A charming man who worked for a local distributor, he did a lovely job giving us the history of wine production on the island, and he introduced us to three local wines, the most outstanding of which was a lovely cherry/blackberry red Ribas de Cabrera from the oldest winery on the island, Hereus de Ribas.

    60% of Mallorcan wines are consumed by the hordes of tourists who pack the island every summer, so it’s unlikely you are going to see a wide selection of Mallorcan wines at your local store in the US. And it's a shame--we liked the unique flavor profiles.

    Our dinner at the hotel was also lovely. As we left the dining room, I looked up at the sky and was stunned by the star display. We do forget how terrible light pollution is, preventing our enjoyment of one of life's simplest pleasures, skygazing. I also heard some murmuring below us, and sure enough, on a path that meandering by the hotel, was a Santa Semana procession by candlelight. The group started singing a beautiful soft hymn as they made their way through the landscape.

    Next: Riding along the North Coast

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Riding along the North Coast

    Have I said how wonderful the guides were on this trip? We have been spoiled over the years by some great people, but our two guides and support driver on this trip were fantastic.

    Here was the classic example: the lead guide greeted me at breakfast on this third day of the cycling trip and said, “You know…I’ve been thinking about what you should do today. Here’s my idea…”

    He did the same with four others that I saw that morning. Two of them were the super-fast cyclists; one was average but was afraid of cycling by herself at all; one was on the slower end, but not as bad as I. We all were presented with DIFFERENT options, ones that were slightly different than the FOUR options offered on the routing.

    I think this guy should be cloned.

    Anyway, we enjoyed our extensive buffet breakfast at the Hotel Valldesmossa. I got to chow down on salmon again and make myself endless cups of fresh-brewed expresso, plus chomp on simply melt-in-the-mouth croissants. No, I did not touch the morning cava on hand.

    Once on bikes, the group headed out of the hotel through town to wend their way towards the coast.

    Me? I went in the van.

    I had wisely listened to the guides and taken the option of starting my cycling a few km down the road. I still got to do uphills but almost ALL of them had pay-off views, including one at the Torre del Verger viewpoint.

    My son-in-law was enjoying the views, too, pondering which mansion along this coast he’d buy as his retirement home. He had finally convinced my daughter that she need not wait for him. He had developed his own pacing—slow on the ups but really fast on the downs—and he was totally into the trip’s “do your own thing” mentality.

    My daughter, injured right before the trip, now was starting to get her mojo back, and that was great to see.

    My husband, I found out later, was particularly in his element that day. As I’ve often mentioned, his idea of a perfect cycling day is two stops in the morning in cute towns for a quickie expresso and two stops in the afternoon for the only Spanish word he knows: “cerveza.” This day’s routing made it possible for him to zoom ahead, drink his cup of joe, zoom ahead, drink another cup of joe, etc.

    Our lunch stop was an outdoor picnic at a local winery. After lunch, one could quit here or shuttle back to the hotel. I’d say one half of the group continued to do the entire 57 miles for the day (6598 ft elevation gain).

    You can guess what I did. :)

    Back at Valldemossa in time for shops to reopen a bit after siesta, our family group plopped at a local café after we explored the pretty town streets. The café server told us that within three weeks, we would have had a hard time getting a table—the daytrippers from Palma would start coming in droves and the cycling population would multiply by four or five.

    As it was, the only people drinking beers with us were indeed cycling groups. The two-wheeled part of the tourist invasion had certainly started.

    ...continued on next post...

  • Report Abuse

    ...continued...
    Dinner that night was on our own. The company's pre-trip information had told us to make reservations, and I had heeded. After researching all the local options, I contacted Restaurante Sebastian http://www.restaurantesebastian.com/
    in the close-by town of Deia (Carrer de Felip Bauzà, 2, 07012 +34 971 63 94 17). Sebastian himself had responded to my email with a quick, “OK I put your name down.”

    Our taxi driver from the hotel was an older gentleman who was very proud of a) his BMW taxi and b) his driving skills. I felt as though I were on a Le Mans course and I was relieved when we got to Deia's main street alive.

    The taxi driver (Juan) directed us towards a downhill sidestreet and told us the restaurant would call him when we were finished.

    A former stables, the restaurant has two seating areas: a brighter front area and a homey back area. We were seated in the front.

    A point of contention in packing was whether the guys needed to bring jackets. As the trip planners, my daughter and I put our feet down. Bring the jackets or stay home. Both guys said later they were happy they did. First, most of the guys in this place had jackets on. Second, it was freezing cold whenever the sun went down.

    The food was delicious. I had as a starter the foie gras, and I was leery when it arrived in two small thin slices. “Overcooked for sure” was my assumption. No. It was perfect. And perfect was how the meal stayed. The wine recommendation was spot-on, too.

    I was so happy afterwards with our meal that I actually enjoyed our racetrack style drive back to the hotel.

    We said goodnight to the stars again, and we looked forward to the ride--be it by cycle or van--the next day.

    Next: Mountain Passes Not Be Me

  • Report Abuse

    Our lunch stop was an outdoor picnic at a local winery. After lunch, one could quit here or shuttle back to the hotel. I’d say one half of the group continued to do the entire 57 miles for the day (6598 ft elevation gain).

    You can guess what I did. >>

    I'm there in the van with you, AZ.

  • Report Abuse

    I am loving your report!!! We have cycled with Backroads and Trek Travel and I have looked at both of their Mallorca trips with a mixture of longing (the scenery, the food, the hotels!) and fear (the climbs, the hairpin turns!). Ultimately I decided on a yoga retreat in Mallorca and leave in 3 weeks - but I am hoping to incorporate some cycling into my week there (though admittedly I will miss The Van). I will be staying near Pollenca and look forward to reading about your time on that part of the island.
    ps - have you read this http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/travel/sweet-and-salty-majorcas-traditional-cuisine.html?_r=0

  • Report Abuse

    lynnalan - We stayed near Pollenca for 2 weeks when our kids were quite small. lovely bathing beaches, and a good spot for doing day trips. I seem to remember that there is a nature or bird sanctuary nearby that might interest you.

    I don't remember its being particularly flat though!

  • Report Abuse

    lynnalan--I did a lot of birdwatching while I was there. The mountain ranges had great hawk/eagle watching; the Gorg Blau reservoir would have been better had the waterline not been so high; the shoreline was excellent.

    My best resource was Steve West's excellent website: http://www.birdinginspain.com/

    He has a good subcategory that includes maps: http://www.birdinginspain.com/birding-in-mallorca.html

    I did not read any of the traditional cuisine stuff before we left. We did eat their sausage and a traditional tomato/honey spread at breakfast, plus the everpresent Spanish (potato) tortilla. In my next post, I add another dish onto the list, too.

    I think I'll tag along for some quality yoga. :)

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Mountain Passes Not Be Me

    This was a “move day”—in more ways than one. We would be departing for another part of the island and another hotel.

    More importantly for most of the people on the trip, it would be “mountain pass” day. Today’s rides along the Serra de Tranuntana would be the most demanding yet.

    Me, I decided early to stay with the van. I saw that with the four options available to the group, the guides would be stretched beyond capacity without trying to find me on the road.

    My husband, though, was quite happy cycling in the morning. The first part of the day took one through a string of small towns—Deia, Soller, and then Fornalutx--and he was dashing down expressos right and left. While waiting for most of the group to assemble in its main square, I got to walk around Fornalutx and just loved it.

    Our guides had attached blinking lights to the back of all bikes and added lights to helmets at Fornalutx. It was tunnel time.

    For those who did the long route of the day (52.7 miles with 5630 elevation gain), they would be spending 30 miles on route Ma-10—the “big ride” of Mallorca’s cycling offerings—with a nice six-mile uphill before one reached a tunnel. So supposedly, the “reward” for the climb was to get through the tunnel and to the “dry” side of the mountain range, where the weather would be miraculously clear.

    So my husband likes hills. Did he do this? No way. The nice thing about getting older is that one can say, “If this were my last hour, would this be the stretch where I’d want my heart attack?”

    He opted out, and quite a few of the really good cyclists did also. The real reason was that the temperature was dropping quickly, and the wind had picked up. Visibility was not poor, but it just wasn’t enough for persuade some of the others cyclists to go for it.

    I’d say they made a wise choice. At the layout before the famous Tunel des Gorg Blau, we parked the van and looked to the other end. NO LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. Just fog.

    I turned to my daughter and said, “Are you thinking the same thing as I—that this is a sci-fi time travel portal?”

    I did serve a role: I distributed articles of my warm clothing to the now freezing cyclists pulling in for water and snack refills.

    I was going to get out of the van at the loop stop on the bottom of the other side to do some birdwatching, but again, I could see that the guides were stretched WAYYY too thinly on the ground. I just did some watching from the laybys and called it a day.

    Our lunch spot was PERFECT for this now chilly day. The Escorca Restaurant was lined with wood, had checkered tablecloths, and had SPACE HEATERS everywhere. Plus it had a resident goat who insisted on peering in the main window.

    Again, our guide had arranged for really good “pick-me-up” food: good breads, salads, chicken—and a local speciality, Sopes Mallorquines, the Mallorcan soup/stew that is basically vegetables cooked over country bread. All felt good on the tummy.

    Some of the guests continued onwards on their bike seats to our next hotel near Polenca, the San Brull. You know what I did.

    Next: There’s nothing like a Fire.

  • Report Abuse

    annhig--You are always welcome on my next trip. I just hope you can drink your body weight in beer like I can. I will allow wine as your substitute :)

    There’s Nothing like a Fire
    If there was a theme for the week, it was the danger of fire. At Cap Rocat, the candle on a table in one trip guest couple's room fell over and set everything on the table on fire. The wife screamed, the husband came flying out of the shower, whipped off his towel, and beat the fire out.

    Poor guy—not only did he lose a lot of his clothing, but whenever we other trip guests saw flames anywhere, we called him to be on alert and to be ready to strip down.

    On this chilly evening at the Hotel Son Brull Crta. Palma- Pollença, km 49.9, 07460 Pollença +34 971 53 53 53 www.sonbrull.com , the management thought that lighting a fire in the bar’s fireplace would be a nice touch for our olive oil tasting. The chimney started smoking right away, and outside at the top of the chimney, two guests spotted bursting flames. We quickly looked for our personal “fire marshal” but the management decided calling the actual fire department would be a better idea.

    Everything ended up OK. And the olive oil tasting went on.

    FYI, olive oil tasting/demos and winery tasting/demos have been a part of 60% of the cycling trips we’ve been on, no matter what the company. We find it to be interesting that be it Turkey, Slovenia, Spain, Italy or France, all countries claim to have superior olive oil or wine.

    The BEST olive oil demo/tasting we ever had was on a VBT trip in Tuscany, and the second best was on a VBT trip in Andalusia. All others have paled in comparison. Our guides on this Mallorca trip tried to do a good tasting, but I’d say this was the ONLY category where the trip was a little less value that others we’ve been on. Hey, they were limited to Mallorcan olive oils, so the tasting itself had to be limited anyway.


    What was Hotel Son Brull like?

    Peaceful.

    It’s situated a couple of miles from Pollença. Surrounded by olive and cypress trees, this former Jesuit monastery was in ruins when a Mallorcan architect became convinced he could bring it back to life. It has been converted into 23 rooms, some of which are fantastic, and some of which are downright strange (see below). There’s a sort of Scandinavian tech feel to it, a feel all of us liked.

    Rooms are arranged around an inner courtyard. Its olive mill and press still remain as the centerpiece of the very rustic hotel bar which runs on one side of the courtyard, but just outside the bar, an infinity pool now overlooks the hills and valley.

    Some of the rooms apparently were sublime and well designed. My daughter’s/son-in-law’s and ours were not. So if you ever book here, do avoid Rooms 2 and 3. And from what I've found online, I guess Room 1 is also in the mix.

    Why?

    They all are a prime example of a POOR use of space and light. The architect really got it wrong.

    Let me bolster my case. Here are some photos of Room 1 courtesy of TripAdvisor:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g319793-d316247-i1462011-Son_Brull_Hotel_Spa-Pollenca_Majorca_Balearic_Islands.html

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g319793-d316247-i1462011-Son_Brull_Hotel_Spa-Pollenca_Majorca_Balearic_Islands.html#1462012

    As you can see from those photos, one enters on the ground level to a little sitting area banked by a two-story window against which a floating staircase rises to the second level.

    The bright bottom space is rather useless. The cramped and dark second level, visually open to the stairwell with a low glass railing, has just two bedside desk-type lights. That’s it. No other light.

    Here's what happens:
    The pendant light in the stairwell just lights the area BELOW the bed level. The two-story window via the glass railing actually means one cannot get dressed without showing off one’s body to persons outside. So to get dressed, one has to walk downstairs, close the curtain panels (no easy feat) and then dress in darkness.

    Luckily, we travel with flashlights. We then dragged a floor lamp from the downstairs area upstairs. Those acts improved things enough to function. And the bathroom was really spacious, bright and nice.

    So while I may be whining at full volume here, I know, we did NOT feel hard done to. We may not have loved our room, but we liked the facility and we liked the people who worked there a lot.

    In fact the place was so great that I personally want it to be better. Do you guys ever want to say to someplace: "You are SO close to perfection, if only you would..."? I feel as though I should write management and say: “Just floor over the open stairwell to add privacy and room to the sleeping area level. Raise the pendent light! And for goodness sakes, add some other lighting to the bedroom area.”

    One other note: Please be aware that if you stay here, you should have a car unless you came to hike or cycle. This is not a beach-side or inner town property. Then again, if you have a cycle, the two lovely towns of Pollença and Port de Pollença are quite near you. Taxi service is available, too.

    Our group had dinner at the hotel that night, and the food was quite good.

    Next: Pollença and Port de Pollença

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Pollença and Port de Pollença

    After a very nice breakfast, the group headed out at dawn to cycle to the Cap de Formentor lighthouse. A favorite cycling route, the road to it simply becomes clogged with traffic of all sorts—cars, cycles and walkers—by 9 am, even this early in the season. Our guide said that within two weeks as the tourist season heated up, he would have to reroute the trip.

    Again, although the weather was iffy, our first week in April made cycling routes ideal.

    I stayed back at the hotel to go birdwatching. As I mentioned in a post above, I relied upon Brit-turned-Catalonian Steve West’s website for a lot of my information: http://www.birdinginspain.com/birding-in-mallorca.html.

    I got a taxi shortly before noon for the 10- to 15-minute ride to the Port de Pollença to meet my family. The day was glorious, so much so that even with a chill, we were determined to eat outside at a less-than-wonderful facility with a fantastic view.

    All family members reported that the cycle to the lighthouse had been lovely. They all also said that someone at some time was going to have to shut that road down to/from the lighthouse to vehicular traffic.

    I mounted my cycle (the first time in 48 hours, I think) for the ride from the port town to the “real” town of Pollença. It was a lovely ride—and what a fun place to congregate at the end.

    This town is ancient. It was founded by the Catalans in the 13th century away from the coast in an effort to avoid pirate attacks. It's the picture-perfect, cobblestoned-street, tiny window boxes type of town.

    We cycled toward the Plaça Major, the central square, full almost to capacity with cyclists from everywhere in the world, and we plopped by one of the many outdoor cafés to start on beers.

    This medieval town's real call-to-fame is the 365-step stairway right out of square leading up to a large 13th-century church, Esglèsia de Nostra Senyora dels Àngels (Our Lady of the Angels), which was built by the Knights Templar.

    I wish I had done more research—I would have returned HERE for Good Friday, simply because this staircase is where a true Passion Play takes place. It must be so dramatic.

    Because I had done basically zero cycling for the day, I was the only one of my family group who did the staircase. The steps are not steep, plus one can cheat when knees start hurting by going to the right to a side road.

    After I descended (always more iffy for me than going up), we mounted our cycles and headed out of town via lovely side streets and bike paths to the hotel.

    That night, we had our last dinner, a BBQ outside the hotel. The temperature, as it had all week, dropped dramatically after sunset, but the hotel and our lead guide had arranged for fleece blankets and it was lovely. I listened to owls and watched bats, dreamily content.
    Next: Our Last Day of Cycling

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Our Last Day of Cycling

    We had another lovely breakfast, just not one at dawn. Our guides assured us we’d have time for a coffee at our cycling target, Campenet, to make it back in time to shower before we left the hotel.

    They were right: even I had time to do it all. I had to skip the coffee in Campanet, a cute little town, but I did not mind. The weather again was just a perfect spring day. Our biking route from the hotel to Campenet square was beautiful, and not yet packed with other cyclists.

    Because it was a Saturday, we had to expect other events going on in the locality. And sure enough, there was a local triathlon taking place, sharing part of our route with us. Goodness they had a great day for it.

    Everyone made it back to the hotel with time to spare, sad that such a great trip had to end.

    I complimented our guides again on their routing. Often the first and last days of trips are not rides worth remembering; on this trip, they were both lovely. What a great job they did.

    We all stripped our bikes—and again, I have to complement our guides for their sheer organizational achievements. On foldable tables, they had set up categories for everything. Odometers, bags, bungees, you name it, had a specific box in which they could be placed. Plastic bags for personal clips, etc were on the table for the taking. I was willing to adopt these two people any day.

    After we all had checked out, we had a poolside lunch of sashimi, fish tacos, fresh fruits, gazpacho and more. What a terrific way to end a lovely stay at this hotel.

    We all ascended a shuttle bus to Palma. Our choices were a stop at the train station from whence we had started or the airport.

    Our family group would have one more night together at the Boutique Hotel Calatrava in Palma.

    Next: A Perfect Ending to Mallorca: Boutique Hotel Calatrava and Simply Fosh

  • Report Abuse

    In fact the place was so great that I personally want it to be better. Do you guys ever want to say to someplace: "You are SO close to perfection, if only you would..."?>>

    I do sometimes, AZ, with varying results. A B&B in plymouth that I have stayed at quite a lot did not have a conveniently placed electrical socket for plugging in the hairdryer so that you could see yourself in the mirror while you dried your hair; the day I mentioned it, they fitted an extension to solve the problem.

    Another place [more expensive] that I stayed once had a very dark landing which I thought was quite dangerous; I mentioned this tactfully on checking out and got a very dusty response.

    I bet you can guess which one I went back to.

    Thanks for your descriptions of Mallorca - we really liked this area and found more than enough to do in our 2 week stay.

  • Report Abuse

    A Perfect Ending to Mallorca: Boutique Hotel Calatrava and Simply Fosh

    Well, this day turned out to be just one of those days where we knew we were "living large"--so much so that we needed to start feeling really guilty. And it's one thing to spend money; it's another thing to feel as though you totally got FAR more than your money's worth out of it. I promise, I promise I will pay this forward.

    I've already said that I thought this particular cycling trip was The Bomb in almost every way possible. We never in our wildest dreams expected our last day in Palma to surpass it.

    After being dropped by our shuttle bus at the Palma bus/train station, we snagged a taxi to the Boutique Hotel Calatrava Plaça Llorenc Villalonga, 8, 07001 Palma de Mallorca +34 971 72 81 10 http://www.boutiquehotelcalatrava.com.

    My husband and I would stay one night here before flying to Madrid as we made our way to Toledo; my daughter and husband would stay two nights before flying back through Madrid to the US.

    The hotel was just perfect for us. We all said later we felt totally and ruinously cossetted.

    Located at the base of Palma’s historic center, just a park across from the beach, this boutique hotel offered modern, wood-floored rooms within a historic structure. The front-desk associates were primed from the get-go to meet any need, any request. We all looked at each other as we waited for our rooms: was this real?

    One service we did not need from the front desk was a reservation for that evening. As soon as I told them where we were headed, the two associates broke out into big smiles. "You did well, madame." Once again using thefork.com, I had reserved weeks before the Michelin-starred Simply Fosh for dinner. I had been keeping my fingers crossed that it would be good.

    After checking in and with a bit of time on our hands, we explored the historic center of Palma a bit. The town was filled with visitors on this Easter weekend. Some shops were closing down on this Good Friday, but others were staying open. We meandered uphill a bit, zigzagging from square after square, finally heading indoors to a corner small local bar before heading back to the hotel.

    Later on, a taxi took us to Simply Fosh, Carrer de la Missió, 7, 07003 Palma, Mallorca +34 971 72 01 14 www.simplyfosh.com. With its spare but so pleasant stripped-down interior, we felt as though we had just stepped from our hotel right into a sister restaurant.

    Looking around the space, my daughter and I again reminded the guys that they had been against bringing jackets. Even though there were men in the place with shirtsleeves, the jackets dominated. But then again, it was not 80 degrees outside.

    What to order. We had had bad luck recently with a tasting menu in New York (don’t get me started—I’m still trying not to write The-Mother-of-All-Nastygrams to the restaurant or place The-Mother-of-All-Bad-Reviews on Trip Advisor until my blood pressure lowers), but we have often felt that in the right place, tasting menus make the most of our dollar, acting less as a bill enhancer and more as a true showcase of the kitchen’s and the sommelier’s talents.

    Here is our logic:
    --Instead of ordering one or two wines that make no sense with the courses that everyone at the table has ordered, one can gets a variety of wines that enhance the taste of each course.
    --And instead of totally "missing" with an entree one really doesn't like, one gets an opportunity to get a "hit" with the next one.

    So we pondered. OK—it was not cheap. 78 Euros per person for the tasting menu we preferred (there was a cheaper tasting menu option BTW); 40 Euros per person for the wine pairing. But we looked at the cost of each entree on the a la carte menu, and we looked at the cost of two bottles of good wine and did the math. Hmm.

    I called for a vote. All were in.

    Best decision of the trip.

    Our waiter, Michael, was a wonderful person who perfectly timed pouring the paired wine each dish. I thank him right now for making our last dinner together such a great experience in every possible way.

    What did we eat? Our meal was similar to the one currently shown on their website:
    --Salad of Smoked Eel, New Potatoes & Artichokes with Passion Fruit
    --Foie Gras with Mango, Orange Blossom & Salted-Chocolate Bread
    --Smoked Bomba Rice (the Spanish use this in paella) with Slow-Poached Egg, Iberian Ham & Black Truffles
    --Fillet of Wild Sea Bream with Soller Prawns (regarded as some of the best in Spain), Chervil & Licorice
    --Spiced Loin of Venison with Beetroot, Roasted Apple & Coffee Jus
    Preserved Orange Cream with Hazelnut, Dukkah (an Egyptian spice mix) & Bergamot
    Chocolate & Olive Oil Truffle with Raspberry-Red Pepper Jelly

    I hope the above listing can even begin to suggest how great it all tasted. It was simply excellent.

    We thanked Michael again, got into a taxi, returned to the hotel and said goodbye to my daughter and son-in-law. We thought we would not see them when we left in the early a.m. for a flight.

    How wrong would we be.

    Next: US Airways Screws Up Again

  • Report Abuse

    annhig:
    You have convinced me: I shall write them. I think the least they can do is add a bit of lighting to that upstairs--and that really show be an easy fix. Just raising that darn pendant light would solve 1/4 of the problem.

  • Report Abuse

    go for it, AZ.

    I'm glad you took the tasting menu - whenever we have had them we have really enjoyed them. in the UK they can be ruinously expensive, especially if you take the wine-pairings but in NZ and OZ we really enjoyed them.

  • Report Abuse

    annhig--Re tasting menus...
    We had a favorite local restaurant near us years ago where the husband and wife had trained in France. He actually was from France from a culinary family; she was from the US, but born to cook in France. Their overall food was fantastic; their tasting menu was the best deal ever.

    My husband, thank goodness, never did a lot of business socializing. His work was enough, thank you. No schmoozing. But he delighted in bringing special foodie clients from SF and NY with whom he became really close over the years with us to this place. Their jaws would drop at the relatively cheap prices.

    So I'd say our attitude toward tasting menus arose from such a positive experience. And in fact, it's only lately that we've run into such problems.

  • Report Abuse

    US Airways Screws Up--Again

    We had said goodbye to our beloved daughter and her husband in the hotel lobby. The hotel associate at the front desk ordered us a taxi for the early am and scheduled a wake-up call, too.

    We would be heading to Toledo the next day, flying from PMI to MAD and then getting a driver straight to Toledo.

    We were pretty much packed—I had reorganized everything in my suitcase again since we were now off a bike—and I felt I could get a good night’s sleep.

    At around 3 a.m. I turned over in bed and saw my smartphone blinking. I wondered: should I check it or just turn over and snore a bit more? Eh—I’m an email junkie. I checked.

    It was a TripIt alert telling me that my daughter and husband’s flight to the US on Sunday, the day after ours, originally scheduled for around 1 pm, had been rescheduled for close to three hours earlier.

    OMG--There was just no way they could make that flight, given that the earliest flights out of PMI to MAD were around 9:30 a.m.

    I’m sure everyone is running into this: with the US Airways/American merger, one is always re-enacting the Abbott-Costello routine of “Who is on First?”

    Playing around with pricing, I had booked the kids' flights on US Airways because the same routing was almost a thousand cheaper than doing it via Iberia or American, even though they were technically flying Iberia and American. I guess my “deal” came back to haunt me.

    Thank goodness I had a record on my phone of the kids’ flight info with all of their American, Iberian, and USAirways confirmation #s.

    Since I had booked all their flights through US Airways, I checked that record first on the website. The result? “We are having problems locating your record.”

    I tried to locate a US Airways desk in Madrid. No luck. One number was no longer functional; I found another number that told me to try another number, which was busy.

    I tried calling American because it was their flight that had been changed—and I did get help. The very kind and very helpful local agent said, “This is REALLY strange: I’m entering the American record and getting just our info—and yes, there is no way they can make this flight. I then enter the US Airways system and enter their confirmation number, and it shows me nothing. It SHOULD show me something.”

    Oh no--I had been making this call via my little Spanish SIM, the one I thought I’d only use for text, and now I was out. I tried getting an outside line on the hotel phone and had no luck.

    The heck with it. My husband and I went down to the front desk and the desk clerk said, “Madame, just use my phone. It will be easier.”

    I called American back, and somehow got this same Madrid, very sweet American Airlines rep. She connected me to “Maribel” at US Airways who then told me that I had been alerted to this problem days ago. I had? Then I asked her what the rearrangement was. Dead silence. “Please hold.”

    While I was holding, my husband had awakened the kids. We both knew that my son-in-law was due to report to the hospital at 6 a.m. Monday, and since he is in early residency, the words, “Oh gee, I was delayed getting back from my vacation in Mallorca” was not going to win friends with the supervising residents.

    Maribel got back on the phone. She said, “An email was sent out on March 27.” I said, “Hmm, my kids checked in that night, and no one alerted them to any change in the itinerary. “ She said, “That’s not my problem. It was sent.”

    ????

    So I said, “Well, can you tell me what the itinerary actually is? I have checked their confirmation number on the US Airways website and there is nothing there.” And hey, it was 3 a.m. and I’m not at my best and I told her that I thought she should be giving me a little more respect instead of just attitude, and a little concrete information about the actual revised itinerary instead of just talk would be a bit more productive.

    It was at this point that my son-in-law took over the phone.

    Good move. My husband was really warming up to him. I could see him saying to my daughter, "What I would have done."

    The son-in-law identified himself, explained that he would be needing a bit more information if she could provide it, and then said, “Could you tell me the email address to which this update was sent?” She told him. He said, “Hmmm. That address automatically forwards to four persons. Not one of us received any email--and all of us check it three times daily."

    "So let’s move forward. Can you give me an updated itinerary?”

    Again, she put him on hold. So I think we all know that NOTHING had been done and Maribel was scrambling.

    After five more minute on hold, it turns out that US Airways had moved them (probably in the last five minutes) from a direct MAD flight to their home airport to another 1 pm flight through…drumbeats…Philadelphia.

    Instead of getting home at 3 pm their time, it would be closer to 11 pm.

    My son-in-law asked if they could route through another city, but Maribel was having none of it. She suggested he take it up when they checked in for their flights.

    My son-in-law hung up and said, “We’ll take care of this. We ARE getting home. Get some sleep.”

    I did, but I re-checked the US Airways website with their confirmation number. Yeah—now the record showed up.

    Later we would find out that my daughter and husband were not aggressive enough at PMI and MAD, but hey, they are young.

    There is enough time to become “mean” in life.

    Like Maribel.

    And me.

    Next: Getting to Toledo

  • Report Abuse

    What a wonderfully written report. Thank you, AlessandraZoe. The dinner at Simply Fosh sounded exquisite. And, I'm anxious to hear how your DD and SIL made it.

    ps-I'd be with you and annhig in the van...

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the encouragement TDudette and MaiTaiTom.

    The DD and SIL ended up with the endless layover in PHL, and at least they did get home. Had they gone directly to the USAirways rep in Madrid and gone a little berserk (I sure would not have had problems!), I think they could have been routed far more efficiently, but they were not unhappy. Just tired!

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Getting to Toledo

    Our flight to Madrid went off without a hitch.

    Now that we were departing from Palma, we had a better appreciation of how big its “little” airport is. Since we had gone to the Canary Islands last year, we had expected PMI to be around the size of Grand Canaria Airport (LPA).

    We were dead wrong.

    Our excuse: This is not a major American tourist destination. It is, as the European participants on the forum know, an extremely popular European tourist destination.

    PMI (also known as “Son Sant Joan”) is the third largest airport in Spain and handles over 22 million passengers per year; expansion plans are in the works so that it can handle 32 million. Twelve countries send direct flights here. The Spanish carrier Air Europa and German carrier Air Berlin use Palma Airport as their main base.

    We were surprised by how sprawling PMI was; we were not surprised by how sprawling Madrid airport was. We had landed in MAD around four or five years ago when we toured Andalusia, and we swore we walked a couple miles before we ever got to its exit. In fact, one of the reasons we checked luggage on the way over was that we expected to walk that distance again. This trip, we noticed two significant changes to MAD: 1) we saw many more people-movers that halved our walking distance; 2) we noticed a huge improvement in the signage. In fact, we think MAD’s signage may be one of the best of any airport.

    One thing that wasn’t working that well at MAD was baggage delivery, though. We waited at least ½ hour at the baggage area, and we were starting to get worried that our awaiting driver would think we had not made the plane.

    At last the bags came and we exited. Our driver was there. Yeah!

    A month or more prior to leaving on the trip, I was planning our transportation to Toledo. I had assumed that we’d get a taxi to Atocha in Madrid and then take a train to Toledo, and then take a taxi to our hotel. But when I talked it over with my husband he said, “Why do all that hassle? Can’t we just take a taxi straight to Toledo?”

    Ok. I asked this board, and someone raised the possibility that a taxi driver might not want to take us. Perhaps a shuttle service was available. I used suggestions from this board and found others.

    My finalists for personal, not group, transport were: Shuttle Direct (57 Euros per person); Personal Transport (150 Euros per vehicle); Sun Transfers (160 Euros per car); and Airport City Transfer (150 Euros per car). I went with Shuttle Direct, http://www.shuttledirect.com/en/airport/MAD/

    It worked out great. The driver was indeed waiting for us with an IPAD with our name displayed. The trip, only around 80 km south, took little more than an hour in total comfort with no hassle — until the end. Streets had been closed off in Toledo for the Easter weekend, which I had anticipated, but the driver, although he wanted to get us right to the door, had little idea of how to circumvent the situation. He was asking right and left and was sweating bullets. We assured him everything would be OK and convinced him to drop us off near the cathedral.

    Luggage is not meant to be rolled on Toledo’s cobblestones, but we got to the hotel just fine.

    Would I have done it differently? No.

    I was not sorry we did not do the airport-to-train-station-to-hotel thing. While a local taxi driver from the Toledo station may have been able to get us less than 10 yards from the hotel, closures or not, we just were not up for complications at this stage of the trip.

    I do suspect we would have had little trouble getting a taxi from the airport to Toledo, and that option may have cost us a bit less; however, it was nice to have something guaranteed, simply because we were rather exhausted.

    Now as to the hotel. Hmm.

    I had booked us into the Hotel Santa Isabel, Calle Santa Isabel, 24, 45002 Toledo +34 925 25 31 36 www.hotelsantaisabel.net in the fall. Pickings were slim in Toledo around the Easter holiday, and I knew this hotel was on the Easter procession route, so I was willing to deal with a 2-star hotel for a few nights.

    We were booked into Room 303. I knew our room would have no view and I knew it would be small. I was not prepared to be UNDER the hotel’s rooftop terrace and its iron spiral staircase, so even though the terrace is supposed to be closed at 10 pm, little kids were running around up there well past midnight (welcome to family life in Spain, where sleep at night is not a requirement).

    We headed out to explore the town. The Cathedral is just a spit from the hotel, and we managed to squeeze past various Asian tour groups (South Korea, Japan and Taiwan were very well represented) to get a gander at the town. But it was tough going.

    My husband, with the instincts of a migrating bird, honed in on a super quiet local bar, where we had a few beers and a cheese plate for lunch.

    I still find it funny that the man who cannot speak one word of Spanish other than “cerveza”—he does not even say “please” or “thank you”—has instinctive international bar manners. He always nods at the locals when he arrives, and they always nod back. I guess acknowledgement, verbal or non-verbal, is the ultimate form of politeness, when one thinks about it. Anyway, when we left, all the locals nodded goodbye. My husband returned the nod. I just give a blank stare to all which I think means, "What he said."

    We headed back to our room to partake of Spanish tradition: SIESTA!!!!

    It’s strange how we had been on “Spanish time” for over a week, getting up early and eating very late with our cycling group, but had never once, except for the day we landed in Spain, had opportunity to rest midday. And we were not surprisingly exhausted.

    So while the hordes of tourists roamed our street below, we zonked.

    We awoke in early evening, and we then just walked around Toledo, now able to take in some views. Day trippers, even on Easter Saturday, had clogged all walkways and possible viewpoints just a few hours before but had now gone back to from whence they came. I swear the tourist population had dropped by 50% since noon.

    And wow, now I saw why my husband had remembered Toledo from all of his travels years ago—this hilltop town’s location was just amazing. At place after place, we could see for miles in the distance. Now I could see why this had been the heart of Spain, “The Imperial City”, for so many years.

    This town’s major claim to fame, one of its reasons for being named a UNESCO World Heritage site, is that for centuries, Christians, Jews and Muslims managed to live side-by-side no matter what ruling power came into being. There’s no doubt that when Alfonso VI of Castile conquered it for the Christian Reconquista in 1085, the Jews and Muslims quickly ended up on the short end, but still, Toledo did manage to keep for a few more centuries some intellectual awareness that killing off other religions was not good for its economy.

    Eventually, though, religious intolerance destroyed years of Toledo’s economic and academic excellence, peaking during the reign of Columbus’ buddies, Isabelle and Ferdinand and their lovely contribution to Spanish culture: The Spanish Inquisition.

    Next: Easter Procession

  • Report Abuse

    sometimes the simplest plan is indeed the best, AZ - sounds like the cab to Toledo was the best choice. shame about the hotel though. we were stuck somewhere similar in a swiss hotel once - we actually thought that it was staff accommodation that they had allotted to us because the hotel was otherwise full of the Italian ski team.

    keep it coming - I've never been to Spain at Easter and by the looks of it, your report is going to be the closest I get!

  • Report Abuse

    I'm laughing about the Italian ski team.

    You know, annhig, there just are not a lot of hotels of any type in Toledo in center city, even on a non-holiday weekend. The place is dedicated to day-trippers.

    Now that I've been on the ground so to speak, I have a much better idea where we would stay when I drag my youngest back to see the El Grecos.

    And I still have to remind myself of what my husband has always said when I fret that I did not plan something perfectly: "If you want perfect, then plop on a beach vacation like a beached whale." He is right: "travel" means it's just not going to be perfect.

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Easter Procession

    As evening fell, we walked around town a bit more, stopped for a light snack and a beer and headed back. We were still exhausted, so we figured we’d rest a tad more back in the room until the action after midnight: the Holy Saturday/Easter procession.

    We had missed the, as Ed Sullivan would have put it, “the REALLY big show”, the Good Friday processions, the peak of at least 20 processions within two weeks in Toledo. But we knew that every church would be holding an Easter vigil, and around 1 a.m.—technically Easter morning—there would be a dual procession starting from two points.

    From one church would come the Virgin of Joy Santísma, which I think this is
    http://www.semanasantatoledo.com/procesiones/procesion_20/imagen_29/4.jpg
    and from the other would come the Risen Lord which you can see on this web page
    http://www.semanasantatoledo.com/procesiones/procesion_20/imagen_28/2.jpg.

    After the statue processions met, the participants were to lift the veil of mourning off of The Virgin, and everyone would be celebrating with hot chocolate, etc.

    So you might be asking yourself if you are new to the concept of Holy Week in Spain, who are the procession participants? What ARE they doing?

    Depending on the procession, it could be monks, priests, nuns, etc. But the real claim to fame in Spain are the processions of parish Brotherhoods, which one could view as a sort of relic from the time of Guilds (lots of Guilds built their own local churches).

    The Brotherhoods march in a distinct matching outfits in some traditional color of their Brotherhoods.

    At first disconcerting glance, their general wardrobe looks like Klu Klux Klan type things—robe, pointy hood and all--and it’s hard for an American not to look around quickly for burning crosses in the vicinity. But there are distinct differences. The participants are trying to show themselves as penitents, people doing penance for their sins. For the most part, the hood is actually a tall, pointed hat with dropdown mask, called a capirote, that signifies their shame in being “dunces”. Their robes are called nazarenos.

    Sometimes these people walk in shackles; sometimes they carry crosses. They usually carry some type of statue, one from their church, that signifies the religious significance of the day. So yes, on Good Friday, there are a lot of Christ on the Cross statues roaming the streets of Spain.

    Here are two web links if you want to check out Holy Week in Toledo:
    http://www.toledo-turismo.com/en/holy-week_204
    http://www.semanasantatoledo.com/

    So what did WE see? Ah, the best laid plans.

    The hour of the procession arrived and…
    …my husband was dead to the world.

    I mean, so much so, that I checked his breathing.

    By the sound of thundering feet on the staircase all night, I knew the sight lines from the roof terrace had been taken for hours.

    I asked myself, “Do you want to go out and try to find everything on your own or do you really just want to stick your head out this window and see what you can see?"

    I stuck my head out the window.

    Police had put up barricades right around midnight near the entrance to our hotel so the parade route would be cleared. People—these looked like local families, not tourists—were gathering along the street sides. Soon around the corner came the statue of The Risen Lord, and people broke into song. Loudly! The crowd then followed the statue down the street and turned up, and soon, I could hear drumbeats and a roar from the crowd.

    The two statues had met near the Cathedral.

    Later on, a great group of what I took to be seminarians came down the street, spontaneously breaking into various hymns. The sound was gorgeous.

    So yeah, after all this travel planning, I missed the sights. I did get to hear the sounds (other than my husband now snoring at my side) and I loved it.

    I’d like to come back for Palm Sunday.

    Next: Our True Travel Test--Touring Toledo While Evading Touring Groups!

  • Report Abuse

    He is right: "travel" means it's just not going to be perfect.>>

    Amen to that, AZ.

    And on the other hand, it also means coming across the unexpected, as we did in Seville a few Septembers ago. did you know that there are many religious processions in September? we didn't. or that they are accompanied by brass bands? we didn't know that either. but if you want to see some of these processions without all the crowds of Easter, Seville in late September is a very good place to be!

    Shame that you didn't get a better view, AZ but thank you for your descriptions of what you ought to have seen. Toledo is somewhere that we have not yet managed to visit but it will certainly be going on my list - thanks.

  • Report Abuse

    You have to go, annhig. I am so happy that my husband has always stressed, even when we were touring the beauty and history of Andalusia, that Toledo was etched in his memory.

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Touring Toledo While Evading Touring Groups!

    We woke up early Easter Sunday. All was quiet outside.

    We were on a mission: Our focus would be on the artist El Greco, since he spent the last half of his life in this city from 1577 to 1614. We were going to try to see most of the things that would be closed Monday, and we would save the Cathedral for Monday morning to tour totally at our leisure.

    In the process, our job was to avoid the group tour action.

    The first order of business was getting breakfast. We had eaten very lightly the day before and were quite hungry and were in dire need of caffeine. We knew we could get coffee at the hotel, but from reading online, the cost for just coffee and/or breakfast at the hotel was not worth it.

    We headed out and upwards towards the Cathedral area.

    Some of the bakeries we had eyed the day before were getting ready to open, but it would be 20 or more minutes. Nothing else was stirring.

    Hmm. We thought about it a bit more and decided we’d go to the Hotel San Juan de los Reyes and see if they would feed us. After all, it wasn’t far from where we going to start our tourist-evasive actions, The El Greco Museum, located in the Jewish quarter, which would open at 10 a.m.

    The waiter said, sure come on in. We could choose a la carte or the buffet for around 12 Euros. Since we planned to work the coffee machine until our caffeine jones was over, we chose the buffet.

    We were the first ones at Hotel San Juan de los Reyes chowing down, soon to be joined by endless families with babies in strollers staying at the hotel. Why so many babies in this specific place? My husband figured it out: the hotel had an attached parking garage. That meant that on this holiday weekend, the entire family could easily lug in and lug out all their baby equipment. So for those of you with a car, this is probably a sensible option.

    We were first in line at the El Greco Museum--and not only did they open five minutes early, but it was free! This museum dates from 1911. The purchaser of the property thought he was buying El Greco’s house, especially since El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos “The Greek”) did live in the area in a sort of complex, but it is NOT El Greco’s original property. The museum now consists of a 16th-century house and an early 20th century extension that share a beautiful garden. In the midst of 17th century furniture, pottery and other art are displayed numerous works by El Greco.

    It was so great to have the place to ourselves! We took our time and even re-visited a few paintings and we took our time with the displays. The collection was not huge, but it was very nice. Talk about timing…as we left, three different tour groups were converging at the entrance.

    Our next stop was the Church of Santo Tomé, where in a separate chapel lies one of El Greco’s greatest works, the Burial of the Count of Orgaz. Admission was not free here (I think it was around 3 Euros per person) and we just missed getting in before a large tour group of adolescent English schoolkids. Their guide was upset with the kids, mainly most of them certainly did not want to be there. We felt like putting up our hands and saying, “We want to be here! We’ll listen!”

    Still, after they left, we got a good view at the front and made it out before two more groups came in through the door.

    As we left, we got a better view of the church’s Mudéjar tower dating from the 14th century.

    It was 11:05 AM, time for the Alcázar to have opened. We would be 15 minutes late by the time we got there. Could we get there in time before it was swamped by tour groups?

    Almost! Actually, tour groups were the least of the problem. With free admission on Sundays and with the influx into the city on this holiday weekend, the Alcázar filled up really fast with families. The “cost” of the free admission was that there were no audioguides available.

    As recommended by several travel articles and books, we headed immediately for the top floors, which quickly became clogged within an hour by those endless baby strollers.

    What to say about this place? Hmm. Well…the views were stunning from this fort on the highest part of Toledo.

    Would I recommend it as a vital part of the tour of the town?

    No.

    The Alcázar has been a lot of things since it was used as a Roman palace in the third century. The most recent claim to fame is its role as “The Alamo of the Spanish Civil War”, where Franco’s forces defended it against the Republican forces.

    History, though, is written by the winners. For decades, there were only stories about the bravery inside and the barbarous acts of the Republicans outside the fort. Now that Franco is gone, well, history is being a bit rewritten. It’s obviously going to take a while for this country to internalize how to present that era to itself and to the world again.

    So ironically, even though the Alcázar now houses the Spanish Museum of the Army, and even though the walls still show evidence of bullet holes, NOTHING about the Civil War is represented inside except for some miscellaneous uniform displays.

    So it’s odd. Really odd—and it does disturb one’s visit.

    Even so, I did enjoy looking at all the uniforms of the Conquistadors, etc. Spanish history is so very entwined with that of the United States in so many ways, so our visit was a refresher course of all those history lessons from elementary and middle school. I had learned a lot about the Spanish Royal families in those days solely through my interest in the history of France and England, and it was great to fill in my gaps a bit.

    All in all, though, we were relieved to escape the Alcázar, and my husband said, “Cerveza time!”

    We headed toward the Plaza Zacodover, the supposed “main square” of Toledo. When a town's main square is dominated by Burger King and McDonalds and tour groups wrapped around the square to get on the Tourist Train and other tour groups lined up to get on buses though, does one feel the need to plop there? No.

    So we kept going. Around a corner was a cute place with a cubby of outside seating and a cubby of inside seating—El Trebol. We ordered two beers and by the time we ordered two more, a nice plate of tapas was set on our table. We like!

    Refreshed, our next destination, right around the corner, was more appreciated: The Santa Cruz Museum. What a serene atmosphere. This used to be a hospital, and it still retains an environment of peace and rest. It’s a Renaissance building with Moorish influence with beautiful staircases, gorgeous ceilings and a lovely garden.

    There are three sections to this museum: local archeology (remember, there were Romans, Visgoths, Arabic/Mudejar civilizations here); craft arts such as jewelry, iron work, glass, etc; and Toledo artists, mainly El Greco.

    And since this museum maintains a relationship with the Prado in Madrid, there are always excellent temporary showings.

    We did not pay attention to the archeology and craft arts areas because we were fast reaching “museum fatigue”. We reminded ourselves to "focus". We zoomed in on the El Grecos, and we were not disappointed. HisThe Assumption of the Virgin dominated one end of the exhibition area. In fact, this museum houses the biggest collection of his paintings in the world.

    We loved our visit here, and it was made far more pleasurable by the fact that we did not see even ONE tour group and were not overrun by even one baby stroller.

    Note: While the El Greco Museum did not house as many outstanding paintings as did the Santa Cruz, it was still very helpful to us to have gone there first. And when we would visit The Cathedral the next day, our order of visit felt just right.

    Next: A Magical Night in Toledo

  • Report Abuse

    This has been a wonderful report AllesandraZoe, interesting, funny and informative. Do you have photos posted somewhere?

    We will be in Toledo for several days on a holiday weekend in October so will hope our Tour Group Evasion technique is up to par with yours.

    The Hotel Santa Isabel was on my shortlist, but we are currently booked in the nearby Carlos V, a premium room on the top floor. Any thoughts on this location? I currently have a coupon for the Eurostars Palacio Buenavista, but it seems too far away from town center.

    Looking forward to the Magical Night. Thanks.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, Nelson, for the kind comments.

    I have not posted any photos even though I took a zillion, especially in the Cathedral.

    I don't know anything about the Carlos V, but I did take a peak at the fact that there is a roof terrace. Just make sure it is not over YOUR room! I like its location.

    If we had had one of the bigger rooms at our hotel, my attitude towards it would be entirely different. There just were no other options available.

    Your consideration of the Palacio Buenavista DOES have an advantage--that view. I know the hotel provides a shuttle and I'm sure that is inconvenient :) --probably starting too late and ending too early, as hotel shuttles tend to do. But taxis are reasonable in/out of town, which we would out find later.

    My husband and I also decided we'd put the Hotel San Juan de los Reyes on our list when we'd drag our youngest back to "do" El Grecos with us. Our reasoning? It's totally out of the way of tour group/day tripper madness but still has easy access to sites.

    I'm working on the next installment right now.

  • Report Abuse

    Nelson: I just found Maribel’s Guide to Toledo.
    http://www.maribelsguides.com/mg_toledo.pdf

    I did not use it but I should have because we relied on her information greatly when we toured Andalucia.

    Do her info for your hotels in Toledo. Her descriptions are usually accurate.

  • Report Abuse

    Next: A Magical Night in Toledo; RENFE is My FRIEND!!! Who would have thought?

    Leaving the Santa Cruz, we checked out a nearby cliff where there was a lovely outdoor café with awnings and couches. There is a parking lot/garage underneath here, and we noted that people were coming in from across the river here and working their way up via elevators and escalators. Neat!

    We worked our way downhill towards our hotel, passing more lines in Plaza Zacodover for the Tourist Train, regular buses, and Hop On things. No, we were not tempted.

    Descending further down, we spotted an entrance to the Cathedral where people, no tour groups, were going in. No admission process because it was just a bit inside the space in a closed off area, a sort of sneak peek into the Cathedral.

    Wow! We were excited about coming back the next day.

    Of course, we stopped into our "old" local bar before getting to the hotel. My husband nodded to the bartender and to the same locals who seemed to have stayed in the same place since the day before. A cheese plate and two cervezas later, we headed back to the room to clean up and rest a bit more for the evening.

    While my husband was taking a shower, I started planning our exit out of town using my US smartphone’s WiFi.

    Our Plan B had always been to just leave one day early from our hotel booking, forfeiting the booking’s last night’s pre-payment. I was able to reserve a Madrid hotel online smack dab against the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and planned that we could visit the Sofia in the early evening the next day.

    One item down.

    Second—how should we leave?

    I thought about just booking a taxi all the way in, but I also thought I’d like to explore the local transport a bit more so that if we did return with our youngest, we’d know our way around a bit more. I started checking RENFE schedules online and noticed…

    …there’s an APP. An app! And it would allow me to pay through PayPal now instead of fighting with my credit card company to get charges through.

    RENFE and I have been old adversaries, and I thought, "It can't be this easy." It was.

    As far as what time I booked out, I knew before we came that getting out of town on Monday morning via train would have been impossible on Easter Monday unless I had been very proactive—all those trains were booked by Spanish families weeks ago. And I knew late afternoon/ early evening trains are booked by tourist day trippers.

    I wanted out of town around 2 or 3 o’clock anyway and was able to reserve our train. Having registered on RENFE years ago, the process went smoothly. My confirmations in my account opened up a link to a QR code for each of us. Great!

    Two items down.

    I finished a murder mystery on my Kindle while my husband snored for a bit, and then got ready for our last night in Toledo.

    We headed up toward the Plaza Zacodover, looked at the various lines again, now a bit more diminished, and snagged a GREAT inside table at our afternoon’s haunt: El Trebol.

    We got there at 15 minutes to 8 pm, established our beachhead at a super little people-watching table from which we could see the outside tables, the outside street, and the inside. Tapas started rolling out our way at 5 minutes to 8 (the staff are so sweet here), we ordered one Mixed Grill for practically nothing, and watched the world go by.

    We had found ourselves fascinated by the stroller culture throughout this trip, and it was on full display at this place because entire families would come in with multiple strollers trying to get these puppies up and down the stairs.

    We watched in awe.

    You got to understand where we were coming from. In our kids' early years, we “wore” our kids somewhere on our bodies. Later on, our kids only experienced umbrella strollers, which allowed us to get in and out of elevators, what have you, in seconds. Getting on a bus? Pick up the kid and fold the thing up in two secs. Done.

    Ours did not have drink holders on them--nor room for checked luggage.

    Now we saw every kid in monstrosities that emulated 1960s Thunderbirds.

    We are undecided how we feel about it. Yes, these strollers on steroids take up entire sidewalks and elevators. There is no doubt that people are carrying way too much with them. But I don’t get “bitten” on the ankles the way I used to by people using umbrella strollers, and kids DO seem to be content in them.

    I wonder how I'll feel about them when (if!) we get grandchildren. Maybe I'll buy the Lincoln Continental version.

    No matter what, it admittedly WAS entertaining to watch everyone—be it the kid, the parent, or the staff—try to deal with them up and down stairs, between tables and through restrooms.

    Meal over, we said goodbye to the staff, and sauntered out towards the square.

    My husband tried to act nonchalant, but even he noticed: Except for one family of four, there was NO line for the Tourist Train.

    So here is where I need a 12-step program:
    I unabashedly love tourist “Petite Trains”.

    It's so bad, that both my kids and my husband used to band together to proclaim a “No Petite Train on This Trip” policy--with little success.

    Yes, I can be talked out of them if I see a long line in blazing sun or pouring rain. Otherwise, I’m on it!

    My exclamation told my husband that there would be no talking me out of it. He also knew we had nothing else to do for the night except enjoy it, so I held our place while he bought tix at a nearby booth. The family in front of me was from Spain and ALL spoke perfect English. They wanted to know where we had been, why we had been in those locations, and of course—what did we think of Spain?

    My husband walked up just as they asked that and said, “I love this country. It was my favorite country in all of Europe 30 years ago and it is my favorite country in Europe now.” They were thrilled. He wanted to know if the job situation had improved at all for young people in two years (he worries about that) and they felt that it had.

    So the train came JUST as darkness was descending and…

    ...IT WAS WONDERFUL.

    The tour takes 45 minutes, has audio in a zillion languages, and goes outside the beautifully lit city walls so one can see Toledo from the most famous viewpoint, Mirador del Valle, the one that inspired El Greco, Ignacio Zuloaga and others to paint the classic skyline of Toledo. It stopped there so that we could take photos.

    We left the train in a very content mode—this ride was worth the entire trip—and my husband topped his evening with a pistachio gelato. We then enjoyed returning downwards to the hotel through a swath of swords (the ULTIMATE souvenir of Toledo for any growing boy) and strollers.

    When we reached the hotel, we climbed up to “our” rooftop terrace and took in the Toledo skyline once more.

    Down to bed.

    Or not.

    Three families had decided to camp out on the front steps of the hotel. And they stayed there until 2 a.m.

    Nothing keeps my husband from sleep but I have a hard time sleeping through conversations, and the AC was not efficient enough in the room for us to close the window.

    Luckily, I could download books at will on my Kindle and went through two crime fiction books by the time the little kids told their parents they were tired.

    Next: Tackling Tour Groups at “The Pass”: The Cathedral

  • Report Abuse

    I'm very glad you took the Toledo tourist train... I was thinking you had missed the best view of the town!

    I took the train one day and then when leaving Toledo I drove over to the Parador for more excellent pictures.

    Enjoying your TR.

  • Report Abuse

    I googled “Burial of the Count of Orgaz” and it reminded me of “Garden of Earthly Delights” at first glance. Glad your museum timing was so good. Terrible to read McD and BK in the main square. Glad the train worked out after all. Please keep this great TR coming!

  • Report Abuse

    Another excellent post Alessandra, thanks. Cerveza, tapas, a little train, and pistachio gelato. Sounds like an excellent evening indeed!

    Really appreciate the link to Maribel’s Guide to Toledo. I have never seen these before. This is probably because, until now, the words "sophisticated" and "Nelson" have never appeared in the same sentence.

    One of her recommended hotels, the Hostal Del Cardenal, is fully booked for our nights in October or we'd be in there. I tried several days ago, will keep an eye on it. For now I'll stay in the Carlos V, but will try to get some clarification from them about possible noise in those top floor rooms.

    I downloaded several other guides from her website of interest to us, including vegetarian Spain.

    Thanks again!

  • Report Abuse

    Nelson, Maribel was a regular poster on this forum when I first joined about 8 years ago and her guides to Spanish destinations were mentioned a lot. However this is the first reference I've heard to her in a couple of years and she never posts now, sadly. I see that her Toledo guide [thanks, AZ] is dated March '15 so she is clearly still in circualtion, just not here!

  • Report Abuse

    Great that the Maribel link was useful, Nelson. Happy I've converted you to Toledo, Annhig. And TDuddette, I'm trying to write the next installment up, but I want to make sure I cover EXACTLY what we did to escape "The Wrath of the Tour Groups".

  • Report Abuse

    Next: Tackling Tour Groups at “The Pass”: The Cathedral

    The Cathedral of Toledo, also referred to as “The Primary Cathedral” strikes no imposing figure from the outside, because unlike the Alcázar it, rests not on the crest of a hill but is buried in the middle of the old city and surrounded by narrow streets. One could walk right by it and just think it was a big block of old city walls.

    The first church here was in the 6th century; then it went through an evolution familiar to most of the buildings in Toledo—it became a mosque. Alfonso VI’s raising of the Christian flag in Toledo turned it back into a cathedral.

    In 1227, the place was leveled and building began anew. It would have five huge entrances, three smaller entrances, five naves, 88 pillars, over 750 gorgeous stained glass windows, and enough gold to give it an amazing shine.

    On our day of arrival in Toledo, we had seen many tour groups crowding into the cathedral; in fact, there were so many people at the entrance that passing through the street at that point was impossible.

    Therefore, our two-fold goal was to be first in line at the ticket office across the street from the cathedral and to be the first into the cathedral.

    Our hotel's location certainly was ideal for our invasion plans, and we were willing to eat breakfast there. Yep, even 5 Euros was too much for what was provided. We got one piece of toast (white bread), one piece of fruit, some orange juice, and bad expresso. Still, it was enough to tide us over for the morning.

    At 9:45, we established our position, two persons across, at the iron grill hiding the ticket office. At 9:50, we heard the pitter patter of a lot of feet. They were coming, they were coming. Bodies surrounded us. We held our ground.

    The ticket window opened at 10 AM on the dot, we ran as if we were in Disney World going to Space Mountain for the interior ticket desks ahead of the herd, bought the “complete tour” for 11E per person (included entrance to the tower and an audio guide), and moved quickly to get our audio guides with map.

    Would we get inside in time?

    Heck, yeah!!! These poor tour people had been stuck on a tour bus and their bladders were giving out. They were busy lining up for the restrooms, giving us a shot at being—ta-duh!—the first into the cathedral.

    The tower option asks that you be at the entrance to it 5 minutes before the designated time on your ticket, and the ticket people were very helpful in explaining on how one got that doorway. In the meantime, we used my Kindle’s version of Rick Steve’s Cathedral Tour and the audio guide to start touring.

    When it came time to do the tower, a security guard was waiting for us on the other side of a courtyard. He had a count (20?) in his hand and knew we were missing two. He did not speak English, but he more or less indicated we would wait for one minute and then he would lock the entry. The two missing came running and we entered.

    The climb up was done in stages, and although there was the obligatory part of spiral stairs up to the belfry, most of the climb was pretty easy. Others in the group, like us, had climbed the Duomo in Florence and THAT climb was one of the hardest I’ve ever done since one was basically on all fours in a claustrophobic stairwell for part of the climb.

    It was a bright, cool and pretty morning, and we were happy we had climbed up, although the view, again because of where the Cathedral is situated within the city, is not particularly commanding. So on a hot day, I don’t know if this would be worth your while.

    We descended and resumed touring.

    How to describe this place? We’ve seen a lot of amazing cathedrals in Spain. The Sagrada Família is probably the most unique, a building unlike any other we’ve ever seen. The Cathedral of Granada has a fascinating cohesiveness of style that is amazing considering that it is a Renaissance cathedral on Gothic foundations overlaying a mosque. The beauty of the Great Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, La Mezquita, has somehow survived “the improvements” Charles V demanded (and later regretted). I could go on.

    So I guess I'd describe the Cathedral of Toledo as more of a mish-mash of styles—and it works. Every area—the choir, the altarpiece of the Major Chapel, the grilles, the Ochavo, the Transparente, the Treasure House, the Chapter House, the Sacristy—were done in separate periods and are all like mini-jewels.

    The Sacristy has ended up being a mini-museum. One enters into one part of it towards the famous altarpiece, El Greco's "Disrobing of Christ" (to its right is Goya's "Arrest of Christ"). And on the way forward, one can see the cycle of 16 Apostles by El Greco (check out St Peter with tears in his eyes in particular). In this general area, in several rooms are paintings by Caravaggio (“St John the Baptist”), Morales, van Dyck, Raphael, Titian and Mengs.

    Just these rooms alone were worth the price of admission.

    The Transparente was a marvel to us. This area was a Baroque addition as a solution to the darkness of the cathedral's interior. Its name comes from the illumination provided by two large but largely hidden skylights cut very high up into the roof that lights up an absolutely glorious Baroque sculptured altarpiece, created in 1729-1732 by Narciso Tomé and his four sons, of angels and saints.

    Staring upward into the hole, one sees a sumptuously painted ceiling, and this space is edged by sculptures of Biblical figures who seem to fall into the cathedral.

    I was fascinated by the history of the Mozarabic Chapel, even though it was undergoing repairs while we were there. A place dedicated to Christians who kept their faith during Arab rule, this chapel still celebrates the Mozarabic Hispanic Rite from the 7th century instead of the Roman rite.

    We spent a lot of the time in the choir checking out the seat carvings as best we could around the bodies of tour groups who insisted on taking pictures of themselves there (someone has to explain to me exactly WHO is going to look at all those pictures of their faces everywhere).

    We had been inside the cathedral for over 2.5 hours now, and we were just planning to leave when we heard music. A group of 10 men, ranging in age from what appeared to be early 20s to late 60s, had spontaneously started singing a hymn along a side chapel. And they were good. They were going to move on after the first hymn, but a couple of people pleaded with them to continue, and they sang two more. It was just gorgeous.

    We left the cathedral to head back to our hotel, squeezing past two more large tour groups. We were passing “our” local bar and I looked at my husband. “We really SHOULD say goodbye,” he said. Two of the locals were in the same spot; one was missing in action. Nods all around, two cervezas, nods goodbye. We were gone.

    Next: Leaving Toledo; One Night in Madrid; We be in Philadelphia 4-Ever

  • Report Abuse

    > Just these rooms alone were worth the price of admission
    Excellent! We'll be looking forward to our visit.

    Love the description of "your" local bar. When traveling we sometimes debate going back again and again to a known good joint, or to keep trying someplace new. Both have advantages of course. But it's fun when, on the third visit, you are immediately seated at your favorite table.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you, guys, for your kind comments.

    Next: Leaving Toledo; One Night in Madrid; We be in Philadelphia 4-Ever

    I already said that our hotel’s location was super to make the mad dash into the Cathedral. Its room price was cheap so that we did not feel we were wasting all our travel cash by not staying our third night. And since technically, the room was ours until we wanted to leave it, that allowed us the luxury of getting showers before we left without worrying about a check-out time.

    The desk clerk was delighted that he had another room available for the evening and called us a taxi. It came in five minutes.

    As we took the short ride to the train station, I saw the rate list on the side of the window. 85 Euros to Madrid. Keep that in mind, folks!

    What did we pay for this leg? I think the taxi to the station cost us less than 10 Euros and our Renfe tix cost us under 25 Euros. Our hotel was walkable from Madrid Atocha, so we had no costs going forward.

    The Toledo train station, a historic building, was adorable! My smartphone’s ticket QR codes worked like a charm, and we were off to Madrid.

    Once we pulled into Atocha, we started to walk to our hotel and took a wrong turn coming from the train station (for once, my husband was right about directions. Yes, he entered the date and time!) Even so, we arrived at the check-in desk in no time.

    Our hotel? Hotel Paseo del Artes Atocha, 123 28012 Madrid +34 91 298 48 00 http://www.hotelpaseodelartemadrid.com

    On Monday nights, the Reina Sofia Museum is open until 9 PM, and if we had waited until 7, we could have walked in free. But we knew we were running out of energy, so we headed over--it was just a block away--as soon as we did some preliminary unpacking, and when we arrived at about 5 pm, there was no line to speak of.

    Again, keeping our energy in mind, we headed right away to the 2nd floor to see the point of our visit: Picasso’s “The Guernica”. It was smaller than we thought it would be. The surrounding area included a display of Picasso’s preliminary sketches for the work, and we found all the changes he kept making to be fascinating.

    We spent another hour here exploring other rooms on the floor, and we truly enjoyed the thematic nature of the museum. In various rooms there were interesting photographs of 20th century Spain: bullfighters, children, farmers, workers.

    All in all, we feel we’d like to come back a couple of times so that we could take everything in.

    But now we had officially arrived at the “It’s time to get out of Dodge City” state, and we crossed the square to a café to people watch. From our table, we could see the line forming outside the museum for the free entry at 7, and we were so happy we were not in it.

    We returned to the hotel, cleaned up and headed back out. Tapas time! Yes, we bar-hopped and ate-hopped our way through Calle Argumosa until we could not eat or drink anymore. And when we went back to the hotel, we were SO excited to sleep in a room without thundering feet overhead and conversations from below.

    Fully rested the next morning, we grabbed a quick coffee in the hotel because we knew the only hard part about Madrid airport is the actual distance to the gate area, and we wanted to leave early.

    We walked right out the hotel door where at least three cabs were waiting. Checking in and security was smooth, and as I've mentioned before, the signage at MAD is simply excellent.

    Our flight tickets gave us access to an airport lounge, so once we legged it to the general gate area, we had opportunity to enjoy the lounge's great smoked salmon, excellent salad, etc.

    Our flight to the States went smoothly, which we so appreciated because we knew that once we landed, there WOULD be problems.

    We were flying to—Da, Da, Da-DUH—Philadelphia.

    Oh PHL, how I hate you so. Let me count the ways.

    We have never ONCE gone through this airport without some kind of problem. I’ve circled it overhead for close to an hour before landing; I’ve been trapped on the runway for eons awaiting take-off. I’ve been trapped INSIDE the plane at the gate upon arrival for ½, not because a thunderstorm shut down the bridge, but because no one could get the thing to work.

    On our last return here, we were in line at Immigration for no less than two hours. People passed out. Kids threw up.

    Security is another nightmare. It’s designed as a cattle chute—and that’s not hyperbole. We had been in the PHL Security line for close to an hour before, frustrated beyond all belief that although we had TSA Pre-check boarding passes, there was no TSA Pre-check line.

    Our experiences at this airport pushed us to do everything we could do to obtain Global Entry. So as we headed off the plane, we said to each other, “This airport will find a way to screw up GE!”

    We were wrong!

    Not only did GE go smoothly, but there weren’t any other long lines at Immigration this time. OMG—we were through! And Security had a “real” TSA Pre-Check line this time that took us out of the cattle chute.

    We were living large.

    Yes, of course there was a snag.

    We had made it through Immigration so fast, that we thought we’d check to see if we could make an earlier flight before we dropped our luggage in for our onwards flight. The airline rep was really nice, checked for us, said, “That plane is booked full—and you don’t want on it. It’s going to be sitting on the runway because nothing is moving right now.”

    So yes, we had an idea that no matter what, our further travel would be bad.

    We just had no clue how much worse it would get.

    Our booked plane was set to take off at around 6. Then 6:30. Then 7:45. Then 8:10. Then 8:45. They moved us from gate to gate to gate. At 9:20, we got on a plane. At 10, we were still on the runway.

    The only positive things I can say about the experience are that a) the passengers were decent people, most of them experienced travelers, who knew that getting mad was not going to get us home any earlier and b) we did get out and get home the same night.

    So it was a tired ending to what was overall a delightful trip.

    THE END!
    I finished this report!
    Thank you for bearing with me.
    AZ

  • Report Abuse

    Super TR, AZ. I'm having a senior moment about whether you had visited Madrid before or not, but here are just a couple of photos from my visit. I call your attention to the very representative Dali that I saw at Reina Sofia.

    Where to next?

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, TDudette. Do you have a link to the Madrid photos?

    Yes, we have been there before, but only for one night previously. The youngest daughter and we cycled Andalusia and then did a massive rush attack on the Prado in Madrid.

    We understand why some people don't like Madrid; we actually do.

    We have ended up, against our will, seeing a lot of Dali, and he has admittedly grown on us. We got to see a simply massive exhibit in the Pompidou in Paris right before we cycled the Pyrenees and the Costa Brava, where we got to see his museum and his home.

    Next: We are cycling the Piedmont area of Italy, starting and ending in Turin.

    We plan to visit Milan (Last Supper) before and Padua (Giotto) after. My husband and I will travel this time with both our two adult daughters who were pros in Florence as little kids, so they are up for this trip in terms of both cycling and the art.

    Plus, I do think both are certified in CPR.

    Yes, we are so happy and feel so lucky to be alive. And neither kid is a bum!

    Will end this coming trip with another return to Venice before we fly back with only the oldest. It will be her first time and she is thrilled.

64 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.

Advertisement