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Better Late Than Never: Madrid/Barcelona for Christmas/New Year's Trip Report!

Better Late Than Never: Madrid/Barcelona for Christmas/New Year's Trip Report!

Mar 3rd, 2008, 08:20 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 109
Better Late Than Never: Madrid/Barcelona for Christmas/New Year's Trip Report!

This is my first trip report, so be kind! I do not pretend to be a writer so keep your expecations appropriate and you won't be disappointed (I hope!).

Background: Married couple, I'm 43 and DH is 54. We love to travel and Europe is one of our favorite destinations. We're excited about this trip because it's been 4 or 5 years since our last trip across the pond (Scotland). We chose Spain because it seems to be a bit cheaper than other European destinations. We also like trying adventurous cuisines and Spain seemed like it would not disappoint in that area. Hope you enjoy!

Departure Day 12/24
BA Flight leaves Boston promptly and arrives at Heathrow early (about 5:30 am). We had just over 2 hours to make our connection from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2. This went off without a hitch and we did not see much enforcement of the 1 hand luggage rule. Our corkscrew did get confiscated though. We had enough time to grab some coffee in the departures lounge before they announce our gate. I also grabbed some wine from the Duty Free store as I was unsure what would be open on Christmas Day in Madrid. Iberia flight to Madrid leaves ½ hour late. Iberia charges for all drinks. Flight attendants seem to be ignoring us as she passes right by our seats whilst passing out chocolates just before landing.

Day 1 12/25 Madrid

Taxi to the hotel was very quick and with tip and airport surcharge was about 30 euros. Our hotel was the Room Mate Alicia at #2 Calle del Prado (right on Plaza Santa Anna). The lobby is decorated in all white and silver (sort of art deco-ish). There is a looped video of headless nude cartoon passing for art! Check-in was painless and quick then it was into the tiny elevator for a ride to the 4th floor.

Room 403 was an executive room. It was a decent size by European standards. Decorated in IKEA style with a double platform bed, small glass top table, 2 chairs, about 19” flat screen TV mounted on the wall opposite the bed. A sliding glass door led to a terrace that was bigger than the room! It overlooked Santa Ana square if you stood on your tiptoes! There was a vinyl chaise and some teak outdoor furniture along with an outdoor shower (this certainly wasn’t getting much use in December!).

After a 1 hour nap and shower we’re out on the streets. It’s Christmas Day and more people are out and about than we expect. In Plaza Mayor a Christmas Market is in full swing. Booths are set up all around the square and are selling nativities and small toys. There are lots of masks and wigs for sale, too, and we notice many people wearing wigs. We stop at Museo de Jamon for a plate of Serrano ham, manchego cheese, bread and olive oil with cavas to drink. We end our snack with espresso for a nice pick-me-up. I am pinching myself as we are walking around the old part of Madrid because I can’t believe we are finally in Spain! We find an internet café and I email my brother to see if he can call the company that we rented the cell phone from as I forgot to bring the card with the PIN # that unlocks it (arrrgh!).

Walking around we find a shop selling these delicious cookies (polvorons) that the hotel had in a bowl in the lobby, so we buy a few to take back to the room. Back at the hotel for a break and we happen to catch a bit of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on TV dubbed in Spanish. We drink a bit of the Rioja that we grabbed at Heathrow.

We have 9pm reservations at Botin. When we got there, they couldn’t find our reservation (we made them back in September). It’s a good thing I brought a print-out of the confirmation e-mail as that got us our table. We walked down some steep stone steps to our table. We ordered ham croquettes for an appetizer. These were delicious! They were crispy on the outside with creamy potatoes and tiny bits of ham inside. I ordered the famous suckling pig and DH orders the lamb. Side dishes of white asparagus (cold and pickled) with “homemade” mayonnaise and Spanish style eggplant garnished with a spicy tomato based sauce complete our Christmas Day meal. With more red wine this was a very good meal indeed. I could not pass up the flan for dessert. DH orders something called “clotted” (cuajada) and it comes in an earthenware bowl, he takes it with him to eat later.

I pause to check out the wood burning oven and all the little pigs waiting for roasting. The chef opens the half door to give me a better view and lets me take his picture.

We walk leisurely back to our hotel to call it a night.

Day 2 12/26 Madrid

Free breakfast buffet at the hotel consisted of scrambled eggs, spicy sausage, tortillas, ham, cheese, rolls, croissants, danishes, etc.

Walked to Puerto del Sol, up to the Opera area, then Palacio Real. Throngs of people were standing around the palace and we’re not sure why. On to Plaza de Espana where there was a market taking place. I buy a handmade beret style hat and got a lesson on the proper angle at which to wear it!

We stop on a street somewhere near Fuencarral and Gran Via and have a light lunch at a café/bar. I had a baguette with tortilla (Spanish omelet with potatoes) and peppers. DH had ham and cheese. This was washed down with…why Rioja, of course!

We continue walking down Fuencarral towards Puerto Del Sol and the neighborhood suddenly turns a bit more dicey with sex shops and risqué clothing boutiques. We walk up Calle de Acalia to Calle de Sevilla, which I know leads us to Calle del Principe and our hotel. It’s time for a break.

We hit the tapas bars in the Huertas area beginning at a place that I can’t recall the name but I remember a sort of Mediterranean décor with tile floors, small raised dining area near the window to the street and a bicycle decorating the entrance? We had MORE Rioja, potatoes brava, calamari, ham and a plate of tiny fried green peppers (YUM!). We walked around the stalls set up around Plaza Santa Ana that were selling a variety of crafts, Christmas stuff, leather goods, etc. We’re early to bed again…we have an early train to catch to Toledo!
sofee is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 03:42 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 12,492
don´t feel too bad about missing the "chocolates" iberia passed out..

unless they have upgraded their system for the holidays, it wasn´t chocolate... just hard sugar candies!

nice report.
lincasanova is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 07:01 PM
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 3,160
Hi Sofee

Enjoying your report very much! I like the food detail too......yum
amsdon is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 08:38 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 4,255
Enjoying your report. It's great to see first-time reports. Thanks for writing.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 09:06 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,044
Lin, in Christmas and New Year´s it´s chocolates. Nothing on the Kings Eve, mind you.

Bye, Cova
cova is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 09:38 PM
Join Date: Aug 2005
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Enjoying your report, Sofee. You write better than you think you do!
5alive is offline  
Mar 9th, 2008, 06:05 AM
Original Poster
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Posts: 109
Day 3 Day Trip to Toledo

The wake-up call call way to early. It's still dark outside @ 7 am! Calle de Atocha is a block away from our hotel and we walk straight down the hill to the station. We entered the station somewhere in the back from a lower floor and found it a bit confusing. A couple of wrong turns and we found where we should be, we had plenty of time so we weren't panicked. We boarded the train and took a seat, my priority being to find a seat where we would face the same direction the train was going. About 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure 2 gentlemen approached and said we were in their seats! Umm...sorry...we didn't realize the seats were assigned! We managed to find our car and our seats and sad to say they were facing BACKWARDS. It was a short 30 minute ride to Toledo.

When we arrived we decided to take the tour bus ride (10 euros each). I'm glad we did as this allowed us to get our bearings. We were the only English speaking people on the bus. She could not speak 2 languages in the time allotted so we'd get off the bus for photo ops and she would give us the abridged version in English. We got off the bus at Plaza de Zocodover and continued on foot.

It seems that lots of windows have a favored Christmas decoration...a Santa climbing down a ladder! The tour guide took us down a narrow street, which she described as the "commercial center" of Toledo (chain boutiques) on our way to the Cathedral.

Toledo has interesting history and intriquing mix of architecture due to Islamic, Jewish, and Christian influences. Lots of hilly, narrow streets...lucky we had a great map.

We stopped at Monastery of Santa Ursula to buy some marzipane. We entered the church and saw a beautiful display of their marzipane, but where to go to enter the store to buy some!? Ah...finally...a sister opens a small door and I ask for several smaller packages of marzipane so I can take some home for gifts. She spins a wooden carrell for my money and returns my purhcases in the same. I wish her a Happy New Year in Spanish.

There are lots of touristy shops selling Toledo's famed swords and damascene jewelry. I bought a pin for our cats babysitter, a hair clip for a friend and a small decorative plate for ME! We had found an out of the way shop owned by a father/daughter pair. They were very friendly and giftwrapped all my purchases.

We stop at San Juan de los Reyes Monastery and pay the 2 euros to see the cloister. It was gorgeous with beautiful roofscapes and arches. There were orange trees in the courtyard (Toto, we're not in Maine anymore!).

We were walking up Calle Real and a saw a small side alley with nice views over the countryside. I told DH to go ahead that I was going to snap some pictures from there. I lingered to admire the view and turned to join DH. Wait...did I notice that gate before? There is a
CLOSED gate barring me from the street. I look around for a button or a latch...NOTHING. I couldn't see DH as he was probably half-way up the hill by now. What a predicament! After a couple of minutes a woman in a police uniform walks by. I motioned for her and pointed at the gate and shrugged my shoulders as in, "how do I open this thing!?" She seemed quite annoyed and spoke to me in Spanish, which I didn't understand a lick. She walked away and about a minute later the gate opened. I thanked her profusely and she she had a good laugh at my expense. She wasn't the only one, a couple of employees at the hospital adjacent to this alley got a giggle (maybe they were the ones that opened the gate?) before going back inside.

I met up with DH and he had scoped a place for lunch from a sign pronouncing a "menu del dia". It was a smallish with locals standing at the bar with their drink and tapas. We sat at a small table and ordered 2 beers. We were wondering about ordering food and asked the bartender about the menu del dia and he said that was upstairs in the restaurant. Oh well...we decided we'd finish our beers and then check it out. A few minutes later another bartender called us to the bar to hand us a small plate with a couple of pieces of what I think was blood sausage. We said, "for us?", yes... (Later back at our hotel in Madrid we read in the guidebook how some tapas bars will give you a complimentary nibble with your drinks). The sausages were great so we checked out their other small offerings of tapas and got some tuna with pimento and some yummy empanadas.

We asked for directions back to Plaza de Zocodover (I was NOT going to call it MacDonald's Square as suggested by our tour guide!). On our way we saw some locals walking their dogs. One was a Miniature Schnauzer, which is the same breed as our dog Taylor! Made me just a little homesick, but I got over it quickly! From there we grab a city bus back to the train station. We sat on the bus as it ambled on PAST the train station. I pointed as the station escaped from view and a nice woman signaled the driver the let us off...Gracias!!!!!

Back in Madrid, I rest at the hotel while DH goes off to find some pre-dinner Rioja. 5.80 euros and he only has 5.79! They give him a pass.

Next: Barcelona!
sofee is offline  
Mar 9th, 2008, 09:32 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 109
Oops...before Barcelona:

Wed Evening 12/27 Madrid

After our day trip to Toledo and a break at the hotel, it was tapas crawl time! About 9:30 pm we headed to Aloque, a tapas bar I had read about before leaving for Spain. It was within walking distance of our hotel. We scored a couple of stools at the bar as soon as we walked in. It's a very small place with an extensive wine list and inventive tapas.

We had a torta of bread, eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, pesto with a crown of roasted asparagus that was delicious. But the absolute favorite was the oxtail carpaccio with parmesan.

From there we hit another place that I cannot recall the name. It had cool vintage wine posters on the walls. We pointed to a couple of things on the menu, not knowing exactly what the Spanish translation was. The waiter wanted to make SURE I wanted the Calamari (SURE!). DH's achovies arrived with bread and then came the calamari. It was...cooked in it's ink. Now, I know, based on my prior research that some people consider this a must have dish in Spain. I am glad I tried it, but let's just say I won't be actively seeking that dish again. What does it taste like? Well, it tastes exactly as it looks...murky, earthy...the calamari were very tender though. The wine helped!

From there we headed back towards Plaza Santa Ana and ended up at Miaui, which is right across the street from our hotel. We got a complimentry tapas of tuna. I thought I asked for fried peppers and got homemade potato chips (oh well...they WERE excellent). I also ordered a tortilla because I know what it is and how to say it!

At the bar was a young single woman with a Lonely Planet guidebook prominately displayed. There was a guy next to her that kept buying her drinks. You could tell from there was a language barrier there. Her body language said to me that she was trying to figure out how to get away from him.

A waitress walks by with tall glasses of coffee and we ask the bartender for the same. What a surprise (a nice one!) that the coffee was laced with Sambucca?

I wanted to keep going, but since we were conviently close to our beds and another early wakeup call scheduled to make our train to Barcelona, we called it a night.
sofee is offline  
Mar 9th, 2008, 11:11 AM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 252
Very nice report. I am leaving for Spain in a few weeks and this report is helpful.
roadlesstraveled is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 05:46 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 29,025
Great report. I'm looking forward to the Barcelona portion. I'll be doing your same trip (Madrid/Barcelona) in April.
tom42 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2009, 12:59 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 332
Oh Yes, anxiously awaiting the Barcelona portion of your report. We're heading there in Feb. We've already been to "the south"...Toledo, Madrid, Ronda, Sevilla, Malaga, Granada in the past.
HunyBadger is offline  
Jan 4th, 2009, 01:09 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 22,285
DH and I are planning to go to Spain and Portugal in March. Enjoying your report very much. We have visited Barcelona so can't wait to "re-visit" it vicariously!
TDudette is offline  
Jan 4th, 2009, 01:25 PM
Join Date: Oct 2007
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bookmarking - thanks sofee
Bokhara2 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2009, 02:00 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,608
I'm helping a friend plan Barcelona for the spring, so looking forward to your next chapter!

Nice job on the trip report btw!!
suze is offline  
Jan 4th, 2009, 11:11 PM
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 5
Great information, thank you for sharing your experiences. I am keeping these notes.
lvnative is offline  

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