First & Likely Only Trip to Spain

May 3rd, 2019, 07:07 PM
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Sberg is offline  
May 3rd, 2019, 07:32 PM
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Thanks to all of your excellent suggestions we're madly trying to figure out what to do about Toledo. It seems there are 3 options:
1a. travel there from Merida on our way to Madrid and spend one or two nights there (Train Merida to Torrigos thence bus to Toledo - total apx. 4.5 hours)
1b. Train or bus from Merida to Madrid then transfer back to Toledo to spend one or two nights there
2. do it as a day trip from Madrid ... it looks like the train is no longer than getting other places in Madrid ... we could leave early, spend all day plus the evening, and go back to Madrid quite late. A few years ago we did a day trip from Stuttgart to Tübingen like that ... Tübingen ended up one of our favorite places on that trip.
We're struggling with where to shift the day/nights from, and in general we don't like "one night stands", so were leaning to the day trip option, but still considering. The mention of El Greco and Toledo especially spurred interest.

Annhig: We're taking your caution to heart, and will reserve soon, especially your suggestion re Granada.

As for what we look at for hotels/BnB's: we don't have a specific budget, we're flexible there. We tend usually to be frugal, looking at hotels as a place to sleep (not looking for any luxury or extras - we prefer spending money on the experiences during the day). We ALWAYS look for it being conveniently located and clean and comfortable. Often we stay in one of the economic chains like Ibis, Holiday Inn, Premier Inn, or preferably their equivalent in a non-chain local hotel, or a run-of-the-mill BnB. ... ***BUT*** ... every once in awhile we splurge ... especially if it's a hotel or BnB with character or a great view or just a nice treat, or a BnB with especially interesting & friendly hosts. We go to Vancouver a lot, and sometimes stay in the Sylvia, a good old "grande-dame" historic hotel, nicely located ... it's a bit pricey for what you get, but we like the atmosphere ... or in one of the various historic national park lodges. (My all-time favorite lodging was when I was in college in the late 60's and a buddy and I took a wrong turn in Mesa Verde National Park after dark, came across an unlocked gate, and ended up sleeping in our sleeping bags under the stars in one of the Cliff Dwellings that had only a partial roof, and carefully left very early in the morning before the rangers made their rounds or tourists showed up. But that was long ago. We look for comfortable beds now.)

Last edited by elbegewa; May 3rd, 2019 at 07:36 PM.
elbegewa is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 11:58 AM
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Kja and all: We've been struggling with how to put a full day and and 2 nights into Toledo (as a rule, we find it too hurried to try to stay any place just one night).

We've come down to three options, as follows:
1. Our current itinerary, post #48 above, which has us visiting Toledo as a day trip from Madrid (staying in Toledo until quite late in the evening - it appear the train is only 45 min - 1 hr. between the two)
2. Adding 2 nights, one day at Toledo, and omitting 1 day and night from Merida (leaving us there for only 1 day, 2 nights) and omitting one night from Madrid, leaving us there for 3 nights, 2+ days - leaving us the same time to see Madrid)
3. Adding 2 nights, one day at Toledo, and omitting 1 day and night from Granada (leaving us there for 3 nights, 2 days) and omitting one night from Madrid, leaving us there for 3 nights, 2+ days).

In all of the options we have a travel day following days in Madrid. On that travel day our flight doesn't leave until 5 PM, so we have much of that day as "extra" in Madrid

Of the options, our first inclination, very marginally, is # 1, with #2 running a very close second.
What do you guys think?

(It's unfortunate that nowadays one must make hotel/BnB reservations in advance. It used to be nice when one could make those decisions on the fly, during a trip.)

Immediately after making that decision we can begin in earnest shopping for hotels.

Last edited by elbegewa; May 4th, 2019 at 12:02 PM.
elbegewa is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 03:09 PM
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How about taking one night from both Granada and Merida? Highly recommend two nights in Toledo, at least!
joannyc is online now  
May 4th, 2019, 04:16 PM
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I visited Toledo on day trips 3 times. ( twice with other people)
It is a historic, lovely spot but a bit claustrophobic for me.
Unlike most here, we were fine with not spending a night there .
We prefer Madrid at night.. or any other time.
The train from Madrid takes only 30 min, bus closer to an hour.
Your choice ..
danon is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 04:17 PM
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Originally Posted by elbegewa View Post
Yes, Annhig's itinerary is very close to what we seem to be honing in on.
We've unfortunately decided to eliminate Tangier ... I'm fascinated by the Moor history in Spain, and thought that would be a good combination. I was even tempted to fly to Casablanca, but that's all cramming 10 pounds into a 5 pound bag.

We're still researching whether to stop in Ronda or elsewhere for a bicycle stop.

Annhig's ideas about flights are similar to ours. Going we want a non-stop to Europe, coming back we're willing to transfer on the east cost if need be , since its all during one of those strange day flights that's not really a day flight. But problems:

1. We'd like the marginally extra room in Premium Economy (aren't ready to spring for business class) -- and there isn't much premium economy nonstop from Seattle to EU, but there is lots from Vancouver. Flights from Vancouver are significantly cheaper, with many more options re airlines and destinations in EU, though when factoring in the hassle of getting there and the cost of hotel rooms on way back, the difference in $ gets less. (When we lived in Vancouver 30 years ago it was always cheaper to fly via Seattle. Now, when we live in Seattle, international flights are way cheaper via Vancouver.)

2. Our first thought was to transfer in AMS ... we've done that several times to northern & central Europe and like the airport there. But strangely, all of the various booking sites we use don't show AMS (nor CDG) as an alternative to/from Spain, and when we enter the legs as separate legs, the cost goes way up. We hate transferring in LHW, and with Brexit coming up fear that it'll get wore. So the best options seem to be FRA or (from Vancouver, MUC) or possibly Toronto. There are good 3 - 4 hour connections outbound via Lufthansa at FRA, but return is bad, would have to leave Madrid at 6AM, or if later, have only 2 hrs connection in FRA - that seems too tight for the mess that is the airport at FRA..

Condor has good prices and 3-4 hour transfer options SEA - FRA - Spain, and they have Premium Economy, though the pitch is 2" less than the alternatives and the seat with 1" less such as Lufthansa and Air Canada (or KLM or AF). Anyone have thoughts about their comfort?

It'll just take a bit of time to work through the various permutations. Then we'll be back asking, on separate threads asking about places to stay and things to do in individual locations.
The New Yorker just had an interesting article on AirBnB in Barcelona: It sounds like the same problems Vancouver and Seattle are facing, adding to a housing shortage for residents. For us, it tends to be a wrestling match between our ideals/conscience and our pocket book.
Don't know if you have settled on flights yet but we are also based part time in Seattle and have been using Norwegian Airlines Premium class to Europe-mostly to Gatwick, although they do have a good route that is non-stop to Gatwick then a connecting flight still on Norwegian to Madrid. We were supposed to take that flight last year but my husband had some last minute health issue so we had to re-book cutting out the Spain portion of our trip that time. But you might take a look at that flight. The premium class in the 787 Dreamliner was really great! The schedule flying back in more complicated because the Gatwick flight leaves early in the morning but you might check them for the flight over. It is also nice to be able to use the business class lounge at Seatac before as well-they have lots of free beverages and food so you can actually have an early lunch there before boarding. Also, last year we booked on the UK Norwegian airlines site since it was about $300 cheaper for the 2 tickets-so definitely check out the UK and Norwegian country site of Norwegian airlines since you might be able to save money there.
jpie is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 05:10 PM
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You could be the rare travelers to Spain that the Spanish Railpass may benefit - especially if you don't want to book trains months in advance - pass can be used on any train - hi-speed trains demand reservations and a surcharge of about $10-15 per train - but you are riding ton of trains. Check: BETS: Spain & Portugal and for pass info and lots of great information on Spanish trains. has great tips on Spanish trains and booking and Renfe - Spanish Rail's site is a hard for many to get to work but is a U.S. based offshoot that has similar fares and is a snap to use for booking discounted train tickets.

Looks like a neat itinerary.
PalenQ is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 11:12 PM
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We had two nights in Toledo, three in Granada, three in Merida and four in Madrid. I think this was about the right amount of time to see the main sights, and if we’d had to cut any, it would have been Madrid.
jacooper is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 11:34 PM
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Just a few thoughts.

In Barcelona don't stay on or too near Las Ramblas. It's the city's most touristy place with all that implies. Most people are better off just walking down it on the way to other places. Don't eat there either. You don't have to go too far away even a block will be better.

Yes stay central. Eixample in Barcelona is a large district the part near Placa Catalunya is more convenient to the touristy stuff and the bus for the airport leaves from the square. In Madrid at one end the palace at the other the museum golden triangle but any place in between is central enough for me.

Spain in general is fairly budget friendly. If you avoid events or holidays. Plenty of hostals (Not hostels) in both Barcelona and Madrid. Just pick a central one. If it matters check if the building has elevators. If I'm understanding your schedule you'll miss the festival in Barcelona end of the month. Technically hostals are all 1 star but most 3 star hotels aren't any nicer. OTOH a three star hotel will have an elevator.

If you are looking at IBIS avoid the IBIS budget line.
Traveler_Nick is online now  
May 5th, 2019, 08:01 AM
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Totally agree about not staying near Las Ramblas. We loved Eixample and particularly if you like the architecture this is a great walking neighborhood for that.
jpie is offline  
May 6th, 2019, 03:13 PM
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If you are going to include Toledo, then I truly do recommend staying a night (see below). If you can only do a day trip there, I truly would spend it elsewhere. As you've read here, there are SO many Spains and you can't do them all.

So...I found my Toledo trip report. It was in my Mallorca trip report, "Spring in Spain: Crawling up Mallorca, Pushing Through Toledo,
starting at Post # 40-41:
Spring in Spain: Crawling up Mallorca; Pushing Through Toledo

I had a good time re-reading it because I realized that Annhig had used my suggestions in it. Yeah! That's great because I often use hers! Anyway, if you take the time to read the report, you will understand that the Toledo of Tour Buses can be utter misery. By staying overnight, you get to experience the town when it can start "breathing" again, and you can time the sweet spots before and after the tour bus people flood into and out of town.

Our Madrid hotel rec in the report,
Hotel Paseo del Artes Atocha, 123 28012 Madrid +34 91 298 48 00
was in a great location for all the museums and for the train.

Good luck planning. We've only scratched the surface of Spain. We've cycled Andalusia, Catalonia, Mallorca and the Canary Islands; we've "arted" and eaten away in Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Valencia and elsewhere. Next trip must include Galicia. Our waiter at a favorite DC restaurant has decided we "need" to do it, and I'm afraid that if we don't return with a trip report ("Where I Ate in Galicia") he won't wait on us again.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
May 9th, 2019, 02:16 PM
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The trip itinerary is now all set ... well, except for the Sevilla-Merida-Madrid portion. The detailed train schedules show only 1 through train a day, at poor times, from Sevilla to Merida and from Merida to Madrid. They do show other trains with connections, but those connections are only 15 minutes or so. Is that enough time to rely on? The alternative is buses, which have shorter duration and better times. But nothing easily gets from Merida to Toledo ... one has to go to Madrid first then transfer to Toledo. We'd been hoping this would be one of the few trips we've taken without renting a car, but are now considering one Seville to Merida to Toledo ... that would give us more time to see Extremadura and some of the other towns like Caceres. Without a car we'll probably do Toledo just as a day trip using the train from Madria, and staying until late evening

So now, it's looking for hotels. An intimidating task. There are lots to winnow through. Thanks to Annhig we have Granada reserved and thanks to a bike tour company we're getting Ronda set.

We're in the midst of researching the normal websites for hotels to Barcelona (especially in the Eixample district?), Cordoba, Seville, Merida, (maybe Toledo), and Madrid (we've gotten a few suggestions about Madrid and Toledo). If any of you have special suggestions about any of the above, let me know .. I can look at the web and reviews for the usual, but am interested in hearing about any places that are particularly special.

What sort of place would we look for?
1. Either hotel or BnB or hostal (not hostel)
2. Location - being within walking distance of many sites and sights.
3. Cleanliness and comfort and air conditioning but not luxury - not interested in pools and features other than sleeping (and meeting people if it's set up for that ... most hotels aren't, many BnB's tend to be)
4.General quality: hopefully local, non-chain, but about the same level of service & comfort as some mid-priced or lower chains. For us, a hotel is a place to sleep when not doing being out and about.
5. We'd most like a place with character (either historical or ambiance or quirkiness or something special) but would be equally happy in one of the standard mid-priced chains.
6. Availability to make coffee in the room early in the morning, or to walk down the hall for it
7. Budget variable, but we are frugal. In expensive locations we'd hope to keep it as far under under $200/night as reasonable, but as a splurge for a special place could go up to $250/night. In general near or less than $100/night when feasible.
elbegewa is offline  
May 9th, 2019, 08:36 PM
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$200 US? I'd expect three or four nights in an Madrid hostal for that price. Only thing missing from your list was the coffee making in room which I think you'll have to live without. For location . If you want the museums mainly stay in or near the triangle. It's also near the train station making your arrival from the airport and any day trips easier. If not look a bit more towards the Palace.

Barcelona a bit more expensive. Draw a rectangle with Placa Catalunya and the beach forming the basic borders. Inside that area you'll be close to virtually everything. Sagrada Familia is one of the things more out of the way but not that far.

I stayed in a four star hotel in Seville for similar prices one August. Of course August is a wee bit warm -)

I can't tell when you're looking at going.
Traveler_Nick is online now  
May 10th, 2019, 12:12 AM
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As far as getting from Seville to Merida and Merida to Madrid, we had the same problem when we went to Spain in 2015. Our solution in the end was to go by train from Seville to Madrid Atocha and change to the Toledo train. We stayed in Toledo for two nights, then went by train back to Madrid Atocha and caught the train to Merida for three nights.

I don’t remember the details but the train from Seville to Merida didn’t seem feasible, maybe because of timing.
jacooper is offline  
May 10th, 2019, 07:00 AM
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I had a good time re-reading it because I realized that Annhig had used my suggestions in it. Yeah! That's great because I often use hers! Anyway, if you take the time to read the report, you will understand that the Toledo of Tour Buses can be utter misery. By staying overnight, you get to experience the town when it can start "breathing" again, and you can time the sweet spots before and after the tour bus people flood into and out of town.>>

great minds, AZ.

jacooper - I adopted that tactic when I went from Valencia to Madrid, and then straight onto Toledo. I decided that it would be less hassle to get the train to Toledo and do an overnight there, and then go back to Madrid, than to book into my Madrid hotel and do a day trip to Toledo. The only snag was that I had 90 mins to spend at Atocha, but I had a walk round the garden, [yes, for those who don't know about this, there is an entire garden in the middle of Atocha station] and had a snack, by which time it was time to go and catch the train, which only took 30 mins or so.

Your idea looks like a great solution to the Seville - Merida - Toledo problem.

<<Thanks to Annhig we have Granada reserved and thanks to a bike tour company we're getting Ronda set.>>

I'm glad that worked out. I should add that it is a 10 minute walk down the hill into Granada [with some interesting shops en route] or you can catch the bus. Some of the buses go all the way from the Puerto de la Justicia to the heart of the Sacramento area where you can explore the Gipsy or Roma area. Behind there is the Albercin which is also very interesting. To get back up to the hotel from the town centre there is a bus from the plaza at the bottom of the hill. It was €1 each where we were there but that was over 10 years ago now.
annhig is offline  
May 10th, 2019, 10:01 AM
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Did you see my post above?

Originally Posted by MoBro View Post
I don’t know much about Spain, except that we LOVED Seville and were lukewarm on Madrid.

We were there in late September and had good weather that was not very hot. I don’t like heat, either.

This is the apartment we liked a lot in Seville:

For mid-September, it looks to be about 160EU. They also have one-bedroom apartments in this building.
It's a great location: not too busy, but close to things for walking. Nice restaurants just down the street. Extremely clean and gorgeous apartment, lovely rooftop, free washer/dryers, full kitchen, 2 bdrm/2bath in this unit.
MoBro is offline  
May 10th, 2019, 10:55 AM
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“$200 US? I'd expect three or four nights in an Madrid hostal for that price”

A good point.
I just returned from Madrid..paid less than 200 euros for a fab. 4 star hotel in upscale
Salamanca district
danon is offline  
May 10th, 2019, 04:02 PM
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@ annhig: Before we reserved Hotel Guadalupe in Granada we used google maps to check out the distance and elevation gain between downtown and the Hotel Guadalupe (1.2 km, ~100 m elev. gain walking). That’s a lot of walking uphill for us getting from town, but doable. Checked Granada’s bus schedule and it seems convenient when needed.

@traveler_nick & @danon I just used $200 or a bit more as sort of a rough indication of an upper limit where needed. But we tend to try to be much more frugal than that … strive for $100 or less when possible

@mobro Yes, I made note of that site when you first posted. They seem to have a variety of apartments. It’s definitely a possibility. We tend to try to get away from chores like cooking when traveling, but sometimes it’s still nice to have the facilities of an apartment.
elbegewa is offline  
May 10th, 2019, 07:55 PM
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Google Streetview is great for virtually walking an area. At can be easier to understand then the maps.
Traveler_Nick is online now  
May 10th, 2019, 11:04 PM
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Traveler_Nick: and to my pleasant surprise, the Alhambra and several other places I looked at street view continued on walking paths through the compound. After being puzzled by descriptions and confusing maps, it was very helpful in understanding and plotting our trip through the Alhambra in order to figure out the ticket times we'd shoot for. If I were younger that would be a great temporary job to have, carrying an electronic backpack with a street view camera tower on it, wandering around footpaths at some of the world's great sites. For the last few years I've3 used street view extensively for a number of things including planning trips.
elbegewa is offline  

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