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Blissful Airbnbs,Risky Segways,Vegan Tapas: Prague-Hvar-Andalucía-Madrid

Blissful Airbnbs,Risky Segways,Vegan Tapas: Prague-Hvar-Andalucía-Madrid

Old Dec 12th, 2014, 08:47 PM
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Loving your report and definitely will try airbnb next time. Now if we had just read your report before our trip to Croatia in October!
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Old Dec 14th, 2014, 12:05 PM
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Hi Kathie - Can't wait to hear where you decide to go. I know you're considering a safari. My advise is to book it, don't hesitate! But be sure to contact me for a fashion consultation.
annhig, rialto, patty - Thanks for the kind words. Preparing the next installment now. This was our longest vacation (22 days) in the last 15 years, but will try to be concise for the remainder of this report. Hoping to finish before we head for Tulum next week.
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Old Dec 14th, 2014, 12:17 PM
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KRKA – JUST GO
We received a hot tip from someone on Tripadvisor about how to avoid the insane August crowds (is this becoming a theme?) at the stunning Krka National Park. The poster said it’s open until 8pm, so not to enter the park until 3:00pm at the earliest because there are busloads of people clogging the hiking trails and plunging in the otherworldy swimming hole under the waterfalls, which supposedly have curative powers.

We followed this advice and it worked perfectly logistically. We had the morning to walk around Hvar and eat lunch, then took an early afternoon catamaran. Mario, our man in Split, met us at the boat and whisked us to Krka, about an hour’s journey. We arrived at around 4pm, just as everyone was leaving. Ended up having a peak experience swimming for several hours in the multi-leveled pristine turquoise waterfalls - one of nature’s wonders, which I'm surprised is not more famous. It was not at all crowded, so the TA tip paid off. Warning: strong currents near the falls.

PLITVICE – SORRY, KJA, WE DIDN’T GET THERE
Many feel Krka doesn’t hold a candle to Plitivice, 4 hours away. Yes, we're sorry we didn't experience Plitvice, but the swimming is what nailed the experience for us – would have been truly different if we could only hike and take photos.

A MEAL FIT FOR A CEO
After Krka, Mario took us to the tiny picturesque village of Skradin, which he said has the best food in the country. Ate at Bonaca (where Bill Gates supposedly gets take out for his yacht). Three of us shared a giant sea bass prepared w/ potatoes and vegetables, roasted in yet another special ancient oven. Bill has good taste – the best fish we've ever had.

PIAZZA LUXURY SUITES
It was late when we checked in Piazza Luxury Suites, a brand new boutique hotel right on the main square. Few amenities, but stylish w/ super high ceilings and coffee and chocolate croissants delivered to your room in the morning. Our room on the plaza side had the best view in Split. Our sons’ (cheaper) room across the hall had the worst view, but they didn’t care. There was a lively scene on the plaza and we all decided to go out for a drink. The boys even considered clubbing with college friends who not surprisingly, happened to be passing through (Croatia is popping up on everyone’s radar: we kept getting messages on FB from friends who were on their way or had just been). But we were all exhausted and feel asleep.

SEARCHING FOR THRONES
Split is a very cool place. Scenic mountain/ocean location with a significant Roman palace, outdoor seaside promenade, good food, decent shopping and ferries going to all sorts of intriguing islands. Plus the proverbial yachts and yachters (I met some in a jewelry shop and they invited me aboard, but darn, we needed to catch a plane.)

A friend who went to both Dubrovnik and Split in October said Dubrovnik was like Orlando, but that she could live in Split because it was a 'real' place, with locals everywhere. (She said the only locals she saw in Dubrovnik were the guys serving her pizza.) When you tour Diocletian's Palace (a must-see), pay extra to visit the basement level - very atmospheric and photogenic, used as location for Game of Thrones, which was shooting the day we were there (but in a private residence…the boys are huge fans and happened to be devouring the books, but sadly we missed the exterior palace shoot by a day or so.)

CROATIA FINAL THOUGHTS
Croatia is quite something, delivers on many levels - scenery, culinary, history, service, ease of travel while slightly exotic - but far from undiscovered. The conundrum (like much of Europe) is if you like to swim in warm waters, you’ll have to go during the crowded summer. But if chilly seas are okay with you, off-season could be the ticket. If you’re interested at all, get there before the launch of the first nonstop from the US. Would our sons have been happier traveling with their partying peers? Possibly, but for us, this was an ideal 'older kid' family holiday destination.

SUPER IMPORTANT TIP
If you go, take water shoes. Absolutely essential even if you’ve been to other pebble beaches and did fine without them.

NEXT: THE VEGAN OF SEVILLE
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Old Dec 14th, 2014, 12:44 PM
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Thoroughly enjoyed your trip so far and am looking forward to the Andalucian adventure!
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Old Dec 14th, 2014, 01:52 PM
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No apologies are needed, crosscheck -- I knew you had decided against the Plitvice Lakes, and I understood your reasons. Krka is quite wonderful, too, isn't it?

And I'm very glad you enjoyed Split. I sure did!
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Old Dec 14th, 2014, 03:23 PM
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Not to mention that I had no dog in this race. ;-)
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Old Jan 10th, 2015, 03:35 PM
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Crosscheck -- looking forward to the Soain report! (Nudge, wink, nudge)
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Old Jan 10th, 2015, 05:01 PM
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Thanks for the gentle nudge. I had been feeling guilty, so I will get on it. Expect an installment tomorrow.
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 06:57 AM
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Paule
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 12:15 PM
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ANOTHER BUDGET AIRLINE
In keeping with our cheapo internal flight theme, we flew Air Nostrum, Iberia’s discount cousin, from Split to Madrid. We had one BA award ticket and paid for the other three. Mr. C ended up with a supposed First Class seat, which just meant he was in the front row of the all-economy flight but didn’t qualify for lounge access. So, on the busiest travel day of the summer, we waited for our flight in the jam-packed, unrenovated Split airport, which offers the least interesting duty free selection in Europe. (In general, Croatia has to work on its shopping.) The flight itself was fine though. Left on schedule. Landed on schedule. And most importantly, got us to the hotel in time for our sons’ Skype fantasy draft.

THE WORST HOTEL OF THE TRIP, WITH THE WORST SERVICE IN SPAIN
I hadn’t been to Madrid since I was 26. Now I found myself in a cab with my 20-year old where he would be studying for a semester, making our way down the wide avenues at sunset. He was taken with the grandeur of the city, and I hoped for a somewhat majestic, or at least a cool hotel. Not so.

We had chosen the Vincci Via 66 because it was within walking distance of my son’s apartment in the Malasaña, and in keeping the vistas-to-die-for theme of our trip, offered a spectacular-looking roof deck. I had confirmed two adjoining, non-smoking rooms with decent views. But when we arrived, all that was available were two smoking rooms in different wings, both with claustrophobic views of interior walls. The décor (with lots of mirrors) was 21st Century Brothel. There was a loud, wild, alcohol-infused party on the roof deck. And instead of yummy tapas, we had undercooked chicken from room service. Not the ideal place for the last evening of the family part of our trip. But it didn’t dampen our spirits…in fact, I was secretly pleased that Mr. C agreed it was awful - he’s always on my case for being too tough a critic. And the boys were not annoyed at all. Their 3-hour draft was a success despite mediocre wifi, and that’s all they really cared about.

Ended up walking over to our son’s apartment, which was ideal on every level – in the artsy, charming Conde Duque part of Malasaña. Then it was time to get out of Dodge and refrain from stalking our son as he embarked on his abroad experience. The next morning, after a predictably terrible breakfast, S1 flew back to the US for his job, S2 united with his roommates, and Mr. C and I got on a fast train to Sevilla.

NEXT: PURE, POWERFUL UNPLUGGED FLAMENCO
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 12:27 PM
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Good God, you're a wonderful writer.

I have been holding my breath, hoping I had not booked your crummy Madrid hotel. Phew.

As it's my first trip to Spain and I head to Sevilla after Madrid, I'm on the edge of my seat.

(Already bookmarked your Prague sections, as I'm there before Spain.)

Thank you. You represent the best of this site.
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 01:04 PM
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Yes crosscheck. Love your writing! We are off to Europe with 4 teens for 6 weeks in the summer. I am getting psyched for the adventure reading yours!
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 01:10 PM
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Ah, missed this when it started, just caught up. Looking forward to Ronda, which I liked a lot more than Madrid.

I thought Prague was overcrowded ten years ago, can't imagine it now. That said, I thought it was worthwhile for the Jewish quarter and the Art Nouveau buildings, but it didn't make my go-back-to list.

Since you liked Croatia, plenty of other places to explore in the Balkans next time...

I did my first AirBnB in Aix-en-Provence last trip. Very nice room, good location, good price, but no interaction with the host ("rented as a hotel room"), and I should have paid more attention to the mention of 4th etage - it was up 78 steps, 15 of them very narrow. Will read more carefully if I use it again. I thought the AirBnB fee was high.
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 01:13 PM
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What a great report! I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you.

I too am looking forward to your Seville installment.
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 05:01 PM
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Fabulous! Thanks for getting back to this crosscheck - I love your reports!
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Old Jan 14th, 2015, 06:13 PM
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Fabulous report crosscheck! I stole ideas from you for our trip to Buenos Aires a year ago, (including meeting up with Rooster) and am now planning a potential trip to Croatia and region.

I really like the sound of Split. We aren't likely to go during the summer, so I like the idea of a slightly larger place with lots of locals, rather than a place with a lot of restaurants and shops shuttered for the season.

We booked an apartment through Airbnb in Buenos Aires and it was tremendous value and well located. I'm a fan, but you have to read the fine print and scan all of the reviews to catch potential flaws.
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Old Jan 18th, 2015, 01:36 PM
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latebloomer, Wow, a million thanks for your kind words. So...where are you staying in Madrid?

simpletrip, FOUR teens - Yikes! Can't wait for that trip report.

thursdaysd - So happy you're following along. Yup, the airbnb fees are high. And you do have to read carefully (including between the lines in the reviews) and ask a million questions. But the upside of 78 steps is you're allowed a daily chocolate croissant.

IDtoTX - Thanks, and stay tuned for my Sevilla report, almost ready for publication.

progol - So great to run into you on so many continents!

geenance - You will love Split. But even off season, I would consider a day trip to one of the islands. So glad I could help with BA. Wow, Rooster truly is the quintessential Fodors ambassador. Did I somehow miss your report? Headed over there now to check.
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Old Jan 18th, 2015, 02:05 PM
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NEXT: PURE, POWERFUL UNPLUGGED FLAMENCO

BRAVO, AVE!
The Ave train is a beautiful feat of engineering. Takes you to Sevilla from Madrid in 2.5 hours of serene comfort. If you’re an organized traveler, you’ll book on the RENFE site. If you’re me, after your screen freezes, you’ll switch to the user-friendly raileurope.com, which charges a mark up, but we would have paid a premium on RENFE as well because we booked a week before our journey. No need for business tickets unless you want a lounge to wait in – the cheapest seats were fine.

HELP ME, RONDA
There was wifi on the train, so I tweaked our itinerary, still figuring out our white village plan. Our plan was 2 nights Sevilla, 2 nights Ronda, 2 nights Granada, with one full day in Córdoba before heading back to Madrid for 5 days. I realize this was controversial Fodorwise because you’re supposed to spend at least 4 nights in Sevilla. But we were were anxious to begin our road trip and were a little worried (turned out unnecessarily) about excessive heat in Sevilla. Plus we’ve stayed in places for weeks on previous trips (including Catalonia), so we figured the travel gods would give us a buy.

Friends with impeccable taste and an accomplished flamenco dancer daughter had suggested we stay at Hotel Corral del Rey in Sevilla, and also that we visit Vejer de la Frontera for our pueblo blanco experience (they think Ronda has a tacky element). We dared to deviate from their hotel advice because the pool area looked better at the extremely wordy Hotel Hospes las Casas del Rey de Baeza. Besides, Ronda was having its annual Feria de Pedro Romano, featuring a parade, carnival and everyone dressing up in Goya-esque costumes. (Culminates in a 1000E per ticket bullfight, which we would give a miss.) Seemed kitschy, but it’s the kind of colorful ethnographic experience we crave. We loved the festivals we had attended in Calalonia, so we went for Ronda over Vejer.

HOT TIMES AT THE HOSPES
Don’t let early September keep you away from Sevilla. No, you will not want to traipse around at 2pm, but mornings and evenings are idyllic, and you will be forced to succumb to the joys of the long siesta - reading, napping, sipping sherry, lounging by the pool. Our hotel, an authentic colonial building full of courtyards and patios, was a 10-15 minute walk north of the Cathedral area, but we enjoyed being in a picturesque spot. The common areas of the inn were heavenly. The beds were the most comfortable of the trip, the paint colors calming and inspirational. But the views, in a word, sucked. We were kindly upgraded to a spacious corner room but from our window we could see only the neighbors’ laundry. Would I recommend this place? Maybe – it was more authentic than the more well-known hotels we stumbled upon and we liked/needed the rooftop pool area. But the 5* hotel across the street (El Palacio de Villapanes) looked more appealing and we never did get to check out the Casa del Corral… so we now have an excuse to return.

DONDE Y COMO
Sevilla is one of the visually most stunning cities in the world with happy, friendly people (in spite of the severe recession), a strong arts and foodie culture, the kind of place where just wandering around is as good as formal sightseeing. Our first reaction was “Why haven’t we been here before?” Then, “Wow - we could live here.” And maybe we will some day. All the guidebooks warn that the layout of Sevilla is extremely confusing and not GPS friendly, that you will need a good map. True that, but what they don’t reveal that the hotel concierges confuse things by deliberately giving you longer routes to keep you on streets with names. We speak fluent Spanish and have a decent sense of direction, so we rarely chose to follow the “safe” hotel directions. Bottom line: If you’re like us and are smug about how you never get lost (or if you have a fear of getting lost), you just need to accept that in Sevilla you will basically be lost the entire time. With this attitude, you will enjoy your wanderings immensely. If you’re Type A about directions, this may not be the city for you.
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Old Jan 18th, 2015, 02:06 PM
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UNPLUGGED FLAMENCO
We are not fools, so we did abide by our friends’ flamenco rec. They said there was only one place in Sevilla to experience authentic flamenco, the unplugged Casa de la Memoria. This club was so awesome that we were deterred from going to flamenco again on the trip. Our hotel guy warned us that there would be no group dinner, no sangria and no dancing on tables. Instead we experienced an intense hour of art and passion in a gorgeous courtyard setting with some of the most talented dancers and musicians we’ve seen in a small venue. Not to be missed.

NON-CHEESY TAPAS
Mr. C, the unlikely vegan, was a great sport about existing on roasted potatoes, pasta and grocery hummus throughout the first part of the trip. Not that our omnivore boys were gone, he wanted to call the food shots, which was okay with me because I lean toward pescetarianism (or did, until I tasted the pork stew tapas in Ronda – details to come). So I let Mr. C choose our Sevilla dinner spots on yelp. Both evenings meant maze-like journeys through the magically-lit alleyways, then emerging near the Alameda de Hercules, a 15th century outdoor mall, arguably the grooviest area of town.

For the vegans or veggies amongst you, the first night we ate at Alameda Rock and the next at Arte y Sabor (slightly better). At both, I devoured the spinach croquettes – possibly prepared with fake cheese, which sounds disgusting, but I’m dreaming of them still. And let’s not forget patatas bravas (with vegan aioli). Plus free sherry everywhere. In spite of this carbfest, we each ended up losing two pounds on the trip. Our strategy: Because of hotel breakfasts, tapas at 7 and dinner at 10:30, we often settled for protein bars for lunch. And it felt as if we spent every non-siesta moment walking uphill.

SIGHTS
The Alcazar, of course. This is the Moorish fort/palace to see first on your Andalucian trip (with an audio guide, no need for a live one). We went at about 10:30 am without tickets and didn’t have to wait. It will blow you away, but might not be as impressive if you see the Alhambra or Mesquita first. We skipped the Cathedral – line was too long. However, we did not skip the gelato (sorbet for Mr. C), a must-do in Sevilla. In the evenings, we wandered the Macarena, Santa Cruz, the photogenic mushroom area and, thanks to a hint on TA, we happened upon one of our favorite spots in town…Casa Pilato, just a short stroll from our hotel. Had the whole Moorish mini-palace and gardens to ourselves. Spectacular. Our kind of place.

WHAT WE DIDN’T DO
A tapas tour. A bike tour. A gallery tour. The other side of the river. Yes, we could have used another day, but 2.5 full days was not the end of the world.

VOLVO OF OUR DREAMS
Around noon on Day 3 we headed over the Sevilla rail station where we picked up our S40 Volvo at Atesa, booked through autoeurope.com. We both loved this small manual hatchback, and even thought about buying one, but found out they’re not imported. Fired up our GPS (which turned out to be psycho) and hit the Andalucian highway.

NEXT: SO GORGE-OUS
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Old Jan 18th, 2015, 06:21 PM
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Crosscheck, I'm grinning again. You just get better and better. I'm thoroughly engrossed and taking copious notes.

In answer to your question re my Madrid Hotel, I chose what appears to be a very cool boutique hotel with a not-so-cool, slightly creepy name -- the Only You Hotel & Lounge.
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