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Espagne, Olé! Ancient to modern, through Andalucia, Toledo and Madrid

Espagne, Olé! Ancient to modern, through Andalucia, Toledo and Madrid

May 28th, 2015, 02:56 AM
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Espagne, Olé! Ancient to modern, through Andalucia, Toledo and Madrid

We just returned from a fabulous 3-week trip through Spain and I am seriously missing my café con leche right now! It was everything I had hoped for and more. The regions we visited were so beautiful and so rich in so many ways - visually, culturally, historically, gastronomically – that I’m still trying to absorb it all and soak it up as I transition back to the RW (real world, for those who don’t know my reference). As we sort through our 1000+ photos, we both find ourselves oohing and ahh-ing at the beauty of these different locations.

The overview:

We stayed:
Toledo – 2 nights at the Santa Isabel – small, modest hotel in central location - Highly recommend
Seville – 4 nights at the Veoapartment Pajaritos 2 – great location, mixed feelings about the apartment
Cordoba – 3 nights at an AirBnB apt, Atico Terraza Mezquita Cordoba – wonderful apt & great host.
Granada – 3 nights at the Hotel Ladron de Agua – excellent hotel, great location –recommend
Ronda – 2 nights - Hotel Montelirio – Beautiful hotel, fabulous location, excellent staff – highly recommend
Malaga – 2 nights – Don Curro – Modest business-style hotel in great location – recommend
Madrid – 4 nights – at an AirbnB apt, Prado Museum Air Apt Madrid – Great location, sweet, modest apt and truly lovely host. Highly recommend

As you see, we had a mix of apartments and hotels for our trip and it worked out very well. It’s great to have a place that feels like “home” for a short time – it gave us a sense of belonging to that city, and, in all cases, the apartments were centrally located yet not in the middle of crowds, so they were also a respite from the trip. The downside of having an apartment, of course, is not having someone to help you out with reservations or recommendations any time of the day. Hosts were available with the AirBnB apts if there was a specific issue, but not the same as having someone 24 hours a day in a hotel. Still, we were very happy with our experience with both AirBnB aparments, and the personal relationship with the host made a huge difference.

We were less happy with Veoapartment, and the difference is, I think, the personal connection. We had no real problems with our apartment, but it was an impersonal relationship and the agency sent someone to meet us with the keys who was inexperienced and completely unfamiliar with the apartment. I’ll write a little more about the apartment when I write about Seville and I’ll post links to the different apartments as well.
progol is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 03:18 AM
Join Date: Jan 2015
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Looking forward to your report.
My planned Spain trip did not eventuate, but your itinerary looks almost identical to my aborted one (hopefully just postponed).
I'd be interested to see how your days worked out for you (I prefer your plan rather than day trips).
Adelaidean is online now  
May 28th, 2015, 04:16 AM
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Glad to hear you had such an excellent trip, looking forward to more details.
kimhe is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 05:30 AM
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It was wonderful and I really appreciated the many recommendations I received here on the board. I can't wait to share my own experiences - I just need to find time to write it all down! So much wonderful info I received here and many of our own "discoveries", too.
progol is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 04:53 PM
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Who we are:
M & I, a couple in our early and later 60s, tend towards value/budget accommodations. We go for a mix of mid-range accommodations, and an occasional splurge (for our budget range). We are definitely not luxe travelers, though I will go in for a bit more pampering now as my backpack days are long gone!

What we hope to find or look for when we travel:
An appreciation of the historical context of a place; a cultural exposure to the region; walking and generally soaking up the flavor of a place. We are not “foodies” but do enjoy good meals; and are not big shoppers, though will pick up something unique or unusual, if it’s just right.

Travel Style:
I’ve managed to carve out 3 weeks for an annual vacation for the last 3 years and we’ve gone to India & SE Asia for the last 2. We returned to Europe to see Andalucia -- and were very glad we did. It's got the exotic and familiar all in one!
We tend to cover a fair number of places within that time frame, but generally stay several nights in one place, so we are not moving around too much.

Travel Guides and other resources
I did go a bit mad ordering travel guides, and I’ve yet to find the “perfect” one. I downloaded several ebooks to my mini-iPad and I ordered a couple of hard copy books as well. I have discovered that travel guidebooks on an iPad are not user-friendly when you’re actually traveling. I never took the iPad out when we were actually touring (too risky; too heavy), and it’s also difficult to quickly find what you’re interested in – have you tried skimming through a book on an iPad?

I bought the Fodor’s guidebook to Spain, and it is heavy! I tore apart the book immediately and took only the sections we needed. We also used the DK Eyewitness books, but the info really is limited. Pretty pictures, though!

The best overall travel guides – Maribel’s guide! I found it extremely helpful – concise but with just the right amount of detail. I had it on my iPad, but I wish I printed it out to carry it around with me during the day. I used for hotel & restaurant recommendations, and found her thoughts right on target.

Phones & SIM cards

I had done some research on line and found that there was a Happy Movil shop just a few streets away from Atocha,; this is where we bought SIM cards for our phone. Since we were beginning our trip in Toledo, we had a few hours at the station before our train departed. If we had more time in Madrid at the beginning, we would’ve looked at more options, but we wanted to get it upon arrival, and this was nearby.

We are still novices at purchasing SIM cards. This seems to be a much better deal than using our Verizon phone service, and it worked well enough for our needs. The rare call to the States; the occasional call between us; and the occasional call to a host or our friend in Madrid. The MOST important function was its GPS function for the few days we had a car. We would not have survived Ronda without it!

The downside of a foreign SIM card, of course, is language – when texts come in, we don’t know what it’s telling us and finding someone to answer questions was difficult. I don’t know if our phone service was better or worse than any others, but it had decent coverage and we muddled through the language problem. Partway into the trip, one of our apartment hosts was able to help us figure out how to add time to our phone, which on our own was daunting.
progol is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 06:25 PM
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So the trip begins….

An uneventful flight from Newark to Madrid on United and we arrive, at last! After a few hours in Atocha, we caught the Madrid-Toledo AVANT train, which I’d purchased about 2 months earlier. I read that the tickets can get sold out and we met some day trippers who had to scramble to find tickets.

After a quick and easy ride, we arrived in Toledo – really liked it immediately. The train station was a great introduction – a lovely structure built in the early 20th Century and designed in Mudejar style (that is, the Moorish style that was continued by craftsman who remained after the Christian reconquest).

We stayed at the Hotel Santa Isabel, right in the downtown area and only a few streets away from the Cathedral. Loved it! I read some critical comments about it on another trip report, but our experience of it was wonderful. It’s a modest hotel, but very comfortable, with a good selection of amenities on offer. The WiFi in our room (214, a large twin room with a view of the cathedral) was excellent. And it was very quiet – of course, we weren’t there during Semana Santa. There is also a small rooftop terrace that is a lovely place to sit. This was a Maribel recommendation and was terrific value. It’s not a boutique hotel, but we found a warm welcome and a good introduction to Spain.

I used the Booking.com site for booking several hotels; easy, and no charge to cancel:

It would be very easy to burn out in Toledo, given the number of sights that there are in such a small city. Over the course of the 1½ days we were there, we covered a lot!
The Toledo Cathedral, of course, is the star of the show (though there is a stellar cast in this town!). Of all the cathedrals we saw, this one remains, for both of us, the standout – and believe me, there are a lot of cathedrals and churches that we saw. Many separate components that are remarkable that add up to a rich experience. The gold altarpiece of the Capilla Mayor; El Transparente with the hole cut into the ceiling to let in light (so dramatic!); the Sacristy and all the art; but our favorite part was the Coro, or choir, with its carved wooden stalls. We spent some time there looking at the individual carvings, and there are some wonderful grotesque and bizarre scenes carved into the lower stalls.

And that was only the beginning!

We stopped into the convent of Santa Israel de Los Reyes, right next to our hotel, and enjoyed the quiet simplicity of the place. We wandered through the Juderia countless times, as many of the other sights are located there. We visited the Museum of the Visigoth Councils and Culture/Church of San Roman, a wonderful structure with Moorish/Christian/Visigoth layers of architecture. It’s not one of the primary sights on the quick tour of Toledo, but it’s well worth a stop. We then went on to the church of Santo Tome, where the El Greco painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz, is hung. It’s a fascinating painting and considered to be one of the artist’s masterpieces.

After that, we were off to the museum of el Greco. There is an excellent collection, and I do appreciate El Greco, though by the end of the visit, we were both feeling slightly “arted” out. But more art to see, more holy sights to enter!

We visited the Sinagoga del transit/Sephardic museum, which is another structure with layers of history. As many of you probably know, there are only 3 medieval synagogues left in Spain, and 2 of these structures are in Toledo. I did want to see them, but it’s hard to really feel the past in them, as they have been reconfigured as other structures (usually churches). This synagogue has some Hebrew lettering around the top and some attractive stucco decoration. The museum exhibition on Sephardic Jewry was a little too much for us to absorb, so we passed through it quickly.

We stopped into the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca, another former synagogue and clearly, by the name, a church! This was more aesthetically pleasing because of the Moorish arches (and, here you can see the layers and layers of history!).

We stopped in a few other churches along the way, but I had very much wanted to find the old mosque, the Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, one of the oldest Moorish monuments in Spain. And we ended up walking and walking and walking up and up hills and all around the town looking for it. It’s quite a lovely structure, and another example of a building with multiple layers of history, but the walk to find it was more than we bargained for. Still, it took us into parts of the town that were not in the tourist center.

A highlight of our time there, especially after the serious touring we had done, was taking the Zocotren, or tourist train. Toledo is sited beautifully, and the train goes to the other side of the river, so there are great views of the city, and it’s a relaxing hour spent, especially after taking in so many of the sights this small city has to offer!

Had a simple lunch of tapas at Gambrinus on the Calle de Santa Tome. It’s not a gourmet special, but we enjoyed it.
Dinner the first night was at La Abadia; we enjoyed the experience, but didn’t care that much for our choices. It was our first night in Spain, though, and probably didn’t choose the “right” things.
The second night, upon recommendation by our hotel, we ate at The Coleccion Catedral, a spartan-looking place with a cheap industrial feel, open kitchen and no-frills décor, but the restaurant aspires to more. We both had the menu del dia and thought it good; the firsts were excellent, the main dishes were nice, though not outstanding.

We really, really liked Toledo and were glad we had the 2 nights there. It’s a lovely city and we found it to be a great introduction to our trip. I would’ve been happy with another night there just to see the many sights and be able to absorb them more easily. But I was really glad we opted to stay there for the 2 nights; so thanks for the many of you who encouraged this decision!
progol is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 06:50 PM
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I did not read all of your trip report.

Why do use the French spelling of Spain in the title of your TR?
IMDonehere is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 06:58 PM
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Gee, and I thought someone was going to actually say something about my trip REPORT....


Let's see...
1) I'm multicultural?
2) I'm an ignoramus?
3) It sounds good?
4) I really didn't think it out since I'm still suffering my jet lag and my Spanish language skills are minimal. Every time I try to remember Spanish, my French seems to have a reemergence.

Choose any one or all the above.

Perdoname, por favor!

And I seriously hope this doesn't get sidetracked into a discussion over my obviously incorrect title.
progol is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 07:25 PM
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Welcome home! glad your trip turned out as well as hoped for. I will definitely be keeping your TR bookmarked for future reference. We used Maribel's guide when we went to NSpain a few years back and loved her recommendations.
yestravel is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 07:55 PM
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I thought I missed some reference, insight, or irony regarding France.
IMDonehere is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 08:30 PM
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Great report. I also love Toledo. The Toledo Cathedral is one of my favorites I have seen.

Looking forward to more.
Sassafrass is online now  
May 28th, 2015, 09:05 PM
Join Date: May 2008
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Thank you, excellent timing for me. I plan to take a similar trip next June. Please continue with your report. It is both interesting and helpful.


Leely2 is offline  
May 28th, 2015, 11:53 PM
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So pleased to get home from work and find your first instalment.
Toledo sounds wonderful, definitely on my future bucket list.
Adelaidean is online now  
May 29th, 2015, 01:43 AM
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Thanks so much everyone! I'll be working on the next installment soon and promise to try to finish it up sooner than later. That back-to-work thing is a definite impediment to trip report writing, though.

yestravel, Wonderful to hear from you! I've been thinking of you - are you still traveling? Hope your both having a wonderful trip, too!

I'mdone - nope, no intentional irony. Wish I could have a clever reason, but no.

Leely2, Sassafrass, and Adelaidean, glad you're enjoying the report so far!

Up next, Sevilla - glorious, wonderful Sevilla!
progol is offline  
May 29th, 2015, 02:29 AM
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A few more memories before leaving…during our full day in Toledo, we ran into a man who invited us in to a damascene workshop a few blocks from our hotel (don’t know the address, but will try to find it). Clearly it was an invitation to shop, but no pressure on us. I’m sorry that we were not yet ready to shop as there were some lovely pieces of jewelry and small items that would make nice gifts. Although there are far too many tourist shops with damascene everywhere you go, this seemed like the real deal.

And I nearly forgot the marzipan! We stopped into a couple of convents for the marzipan – delicious! We also tried marzipan at Mazapanes Santo Tome (Plaza Zocodover branch) but actually preferred the convent offerings.

We had coffee and toast at our hotel, and then a cab off to the train station, catching the train back to Madrid and then taking the 12:00 AVE to Sevilla. 2 ½ hours later, we arrive – I love these trains! We opted for the Turista class and it was fine. I bought these tickets through Petrabax before I figured out the Renfe site and purchased them in early February, when they first became released for early May.

and now, to Sevilla...
progol is offline  
May 29th, 2015, 03:15 AM
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And now our trip in Andalucia truly begins… we arrive at the station Sevilla-Santa Justa and I can’t help but smile. We find the taxi stand and maybe 10-15 minutes later, we are dropped off right in front of Bar Estrella, a tapas bar that I recognize from my readings. It’s at the foot of Calle Pajaritos, which is to be our home for the next 4 nights.

Apartment living in Sevilla


(Long discussion over the apartment – skip this if you find the details boring!)

Our apartment, Pajaritos 2 Terrace, was rented through Veoapartments. We had mixed feelings about the apartment and dealing with the agency. There were no problems, but after renting 2 AirBnB apartments, we found there was a huge difference in dealing with someone who had a personal connection to the apartment and the impersonal relationship with an agency. The location of the apartment was fabulous – close to everything yet on a quiet street. And discovering that Bar Estrella was just a few doors down was a plus. The rep from the agency who gave us the keys, however, was pretty clueless about the place and couldn’t answer anything more than the basic questions about the apartment. To be fair, the agency was pretty responsive by email, and I would imagine that if I called them, they would’ve been responsive, too. There were no real problems, however, but we found the apartment very sterile and the layout wasn’t user-friendly. The place was spotless and in working order, though, so we made peace with it and, overall, it was fine.

For those who want more details: the apartment is on 2 levels, and the small bedroom is up a long flight of stairs. Then there are doors from the bedroom or tiny hallway leading to a small outdoor space with a spiral stairway leading to the patio, which is a third level. I chose the apartment specifically for the patio, but we really didn’t find it comfortable or usable. It was too hot during the day and the umbrella was not workable. There was also no outdoor working light that we could find, and no candles in the little holder, so we gave up on using it altogether.

It didn’t help that my original reservation was for the Pajaritos 1 Terrace, which I reserved last July. In November, however, they contacted me to tell me it was unavailable, and gave me the option to transfer to another apartment or cancel. By that time, I had already made my decisions and didn’t want to cancel or research any more, so I opted for the sister apartment, Pajaritos 2 Terrace. I felt, though, that the pictures made it look sterile, and in all honesty, that was our experience when we were there. The living room felt like a waiting room, not a lived-in space. The bedroom was small but at least the bed was comfortable and WiFi good.

I don’t want to give the impression that there was anything really wrong with the place – it wasn’t what I had hoped for, but the apartment was pretty accurately represented in the photos. I was aware of the layout but, in reality, found it less than optimal for living. But the location was superb and it was comfortable enough to be home for a few days.
progol is offline  
May 29th, 2015, 03:39 AM
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At last, Progol, you have returned! I've been checking daily to find your TR. We're going to Andalucia in October, so your TR is great info. Awaiting the next installment. As for "Espagne," it's your TR, go for it! C'est pas grave, t'en fais pas cherie!
EYWandBTV is offline  
May 29th, 2015, 06:38 AM
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I appreciate all the detail with apts and lodging since those are the things one cant always figure out with regular reviews.

Yes, we just got back, suffereing jet lag too. Italy was fabulous, Sicily just gorgeous with all the wildflowers. Thanks for asking.
yestravel is offline  
May 29th, 2015, 06:41 AM
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Glad to hear you had a great trip! Thanks for the report.

Against all advice we have skipped Seville for our October trip, which will be OK for us. Looking forward to hearing about your time in Ronda, Cordoba and Granada, and Madrid. Glad that we have planned a few nights in Toledo as well.

I think the Toledo Zocotren does not allow hop on-hop off, it's a one way ride with one photo stop only, correct?
Nelson is offline  
May 29th, 2015, 11:57 AM
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Hi Progol,
Good see you're back and that you had a wonderful trip. Glad you enjoyed Tomas' apartment in Cordoba, we thought he was a wonderful host.

Your report on Toledo is great as we're heading back to Spain this year in the early fall and Toledo is our first stop too. We've decided to spend two days there as well, so it's nice to see you had no shortage of things to see and do during your visit.

Looking forward to the rest of your report. Again, really glad you had a great trip!
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