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Trip Report Trip report Spain and Portugal

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June 15: We flew from Seattle, spent 8 hours at LAX sleeping, flew to Miami on AA, then flew to Madrid via Iberia Airlines.
June 16: Arrived in Madrid sans luggage which got left in Miami. Very easy to get taxis to hotel. We pre-arranged a shuttle but it turns out we miss-typed the date so no one was there to get us. At the booth, we were told if we could wait for an hour, we could go then. It was so much easier just to go out the door to take a taxi. Checked into Hotel Europa which was a great place to stay. Very friendly, helpful and convienent to metro, prado and National Palace. Actually, this hotel's gaspacho turned out to be one of the best we had in our trip.
June 17: Ahead of time we purchased tickets through Rail Europe and this was an easy, great way to buy tickets. Went to Toledo on the 9:50 a.m. train. Easy 30 min. trip. Long wait for a taxi up the hill. Would have been a serious mistake to try to walk up. We did wish later we had tried to take one of the tour buses that circled the outside of the place before dropping you off in town. Walked up and up in the heat. This was the only cathedral in Spain that required knees to be covered, not good on a hot day but we were very glad we went to this town. We went everywhere using mostly Rick Steve's book as a guide. His books were extremely helpful inside different places that did not have audio guides. Discovered why Spain is noted for cold soup, sangria and fans - it was hot! Left on the 7:30 p..m. train back at 8 to find our luggage at our hotel. YEAH!
June 18: Bought tickets ahead of time for the Prado Museum, good idea. We got there at 9:00 and had to rush to get try to see as much as we could to leave by 2:30 to get to the National Palace. Took the hop on hop off bus to the palace. Very hot on top and below. National Palace was great to see. Found and outdoor cafe that was misting water and had more sangria.
June 19: AVE train to Cordoba (all the trains we went on in Spain had spots for luggage but you need to be first on and grab them quickly). We were so glad we went to Cordoba. Easy city to walk. Stayed at Hotel Marci Alfaros. Nicest hotel we stayed at for the trip. Food in dining room had first class service but food was sub-standard and we aren't picky. We loved, loved seeing the Mesquita. It was stunning as were the gardens of the alcazar. Glad we went, glad we only stayed one night.
June 20: Train to Granada. Stayed at a B&B called Carmen de la Alcubilla del Caracol. Glad we stayed there but it is not easy to access. You are told to have the taxi drop you off at a restaurant and have them call. Well the "street" is like and alley for 2 way driving, not busy though. The walk down to the hotel in on a steep road that is paved with rocks that are turned sideways. We are so glad we stayed but it would not be a place for the physically challenged. We had bought our tickets for the Alhambra ahead of time (met lots of folks who didn't and they didn't get in at all). The hotel advised us to pick up our tickets that day since we would be going the next morning-wonderful advice. We started by walking downhill to the city center to have lunch. Had a great paella at a place the hotel recommended. Huge though. 3 of us only finished 1/2 of it. We then walked to the bus stop to go uphill on bus #32 to buy our tickets, then walked downhill to the hotel (very close to the Alhambra). Had cava and olives stuffed with anchovies on the terrace of the B&B.
June 21: Breakfast outside, temperature delightful now but we can feel it heating up. Walked uphill to the Alhambra. Very strict rules on time. We were so, so glad we got early morning tickets. Our time was 9:30. YOu are only allowed to enter from 9:30 to 10:00. Keep your tickets, we had to show them over and over. Loved Alhambra and Generalife. Very hot. In hindsight, would have been better to go to the Alcaxaba after the main jewel (the one they are very strict on time) the Palacios Nazaries because it is so hot with no shade. Generalife looks far and it is but it is shaded a lot. Charles V Palace is nothing great but we didn't spend the extra to go the museum. 3:00 Back to the hotel for a siesta since we are very overheated. Between 3 and 6 is the hottest part of the day. Went downhill to see the Cathedral and the chapel where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried. Again glad to have the Rick Steves book for reading, made a difference. Rode the hop on hop off bus all the way around the city. Took the #32 bus back to the Alhambra Palace Hotel and walked down to the B&B.
June 22. Another nice morning. Manuel, the owner, showed us how they eat tomato bread in Spain. Toasted hearty grain bread, a tomato-type spread on top, salt and olive oil. I liked it. Went to the Arabe district. Took #32 bus up to St. Nicolas Plaza stop. You get off and have no idea where to go. Found an elderly man who walked with us to show us the way, very nice. Beautiful views. Mosque closed that month. Had the best food of the trip so far when we ate at an outdoor cafe (called Kiki's I believe). Waiter was the best yet. He spoke a little English but our daughter speaks Spanish and he made some suggestions that turned out to be outstanding. Moroccan beef dish that had raisins and dates served with fried potatoes (these are served everywhere, cooked in olive oil) and a cod and shrimp dish. It was great! Walked around a lot. Plaza Largo not that great. Walked around a lot. Went to an old convent but it was closed. Hot, hot day. Went through the Arabe markets, fun. Hop on hop off bus tickets were good for 2 days to we use it to go back to the hotel. After a much needed rest and showers, we walked to Plaza Nuevo and the walk by the "river" for a nice dinner in a place the hotel recommended. We were below the Alhambra and watched as it lit up for night. Outdoor eating means you put up with sticky, musically-challenged people who play some instrument for a while then come to tables to beg for money. It was a little bothersome but great night.
June 23: Train to Sevilla. Train station in Granada poorly run. They have a luggage scanner which no one was operating but it took the tourists a while to figure out we just go past on on to the train platform. Rush to get on the train for luggage space. We are glad that we bought sandwiches at the station before the ride. We get off at San Juanista (the last stop in Sevilla). We stayed at Hotel Alminar. Nice hotel but noisy at night. We just put in ear plugs and went on. It is near the cathedral so people who stay up later partying will be awoken at 10 ot many church bells.
June 24: We were up early to go on a white villages tour with Paul from Australia. Tour was fine but in hindsight I wish we had made the effort to go to one of the beaches.
June 25: Cathedral. Mass is going on but since we participate, there was no charge but they also kick everyone out and it doesn't open again until 1/2 hour after mass ends. Tomb of Christopher Colombus is here and was easy to visit on our way out of mass. Went to the Alcazar which is lovely. Great cool gardens. Walked forever to get a little lost and finally found Casa de Pilatos. Great day. Hot but actually seemed less than Granada. We had a wonderful, wonderful tapas meal at a place the hotel recommended called Vinos y Tapas. Waiter was supberb and we just took his suggestions. We then walked to a flaminco show. Really nice way to end our trip to Spain.
More later on Portugal

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