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First Trip Report: Madrid, Toledo, Avila, Salamanca

First Trip Report: Madrid, Toledo, Avila, Salamanca

Jun 23rd, 2007, 09:34 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: May 2004
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First Trip Report: Madrid, Toledo, Avila, Salamanca

I just returned from my 8-day trip to Madrid last Sunday. We were there from June 8-17, and then bf went straight to Germany for work while I flew back to the US myself.

A little background: bf was going to Getafe for business and I was invited to tag along. This was my first trip to Spain (not to Europe), but his first trip outside the continent. Instead of doing the day to day trip report, I plan on just writing out the highlights and tips from the trip.

PREPARATION

This trip came up probably two months before the actual trip date, therefore in comparison to all of past trips, this was the one that I must say that I had the least preparation for. However, I managed to read up on several different trip reports on this board, including Maribelís Guide, all very useful in giving me a little sense of familiarity of what we were about to see. We purchased Frommersí Madrid guidebook to take along with us, because itís thinner and tailored specifically to Madrid and areas surrounding to the city. I also didnt take any Euros with me, I just withdrew some from the ATM at the Baraja Airport Terminal 4 (International Terminal).

MADRID

I spent a total of 5 days in Madrid out of the 8 days and I still felt like there were still so much, yet, to be explored.

HOTEL

We stayed at the Sofitel at Plaza de Espana, which was conveniently located about 5 mins walk from the Ventura Rodriguez Metro Stop, and max 7 mins from the Plaza de Espana metro stop. There are bars, restaurants, VIPs (similar to our 7-Eleven in the US), liquor stores, and even the American chain establishments (Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonaldís) right around the hotel. I really liked the hotel because the staff was very friendly and helpful and the rate was very reasonable (160 Euro for a king size bed). The room has a generous-sized safe lock (which was very important to store my bfís large camera and our important documents) and a very nice plush bed and comforter. Breakfast (24.99 Euro for the buffet and the internet connection (6E for 30 mins) were not included, I think because this place could be targeted to business travelers.

My bf has a theory that when traveling as couples, the woman should be the one that places requests at the front desk because we would have a better shot at getting our request fulfilled. I like to negotiate prices so I told my bf to negotiate a 30-min free internet usage since we were staying at the hotel for 8 days so we could send emails to our parents at home. No luck. When I tried, I was able to logon for up to 45 mins for free! He was very glad that his theory was proven right!

FOOD AND DRINKS

-Madrid tap water is safe for drinking, even the locals confirm so! We drank the water all week, and no problem!

-LA COCINA de NEPTUNO. We really liked hopping from one tapas bar to another, so we didnít really stop for a big lunch except one day (in Salamanca). Our favorite tapa bar in Madrid was La Cocina de Neptuno which is located right across from the Prado Museum. They have generous-sized tapas and non-smoking (!), which is unusual in Madrid.

-We tried a different take on beers: cerveza con limon (beer with lemon). The taste is very similar to Blue Moon in the US, but way more refreshing. I tried this my second day in Spain, and was hooked on this for the remaining time of the trips (so did the people in our group).

-At our stop at the Royal Palace, we also stopped at their cafeteria, and I was surprised by the quality and price of their tapas. We ordered two plates of chorizo with our usual cerveza con limon, and also received a small basket of sliced crusty French bread. The bill came to about 6 Euro, we thought this was a really good deal.

-We also tried mutzo, a refreshing grape juice that most Spaniards drink instead of beers or Fanta.

- BALI restaurant. We really didnít mind the late-dinner lifestyle. We liked Bali Restaurant (this is Indonesian restaurant, about 10 mins from our hotel. The only surprise that I had at this restaurant was that the meal we ordered excluded the white rice, but later on I found out that this can be true in some other type of meals, sometimes they will just have the meat on the plate and no potatoes or vegetables on the side, which I thought was different). Our bill (without wines) came to about 40 Euro, but we had two appetizers and two dishes.

-CASA de MATIA. Again, this was only about 5 mins walk from our hotel. This was a business dinner for about 14 people (glad that we didnít see the bill) so we were lucked out to have seen a lot of different types of food. We had five different types of appetizers: tiny chorizo (they had a different name, but I couldnít remember), thinly-sliced salty ham, sautéed asparagus soaked in olive oil (loved the Mediterranean style diet!) and Spanish omelets (usually they are made out of potatoes and eggs, but this restaurant also had cod in it!). Steaks seem to be the specialty of this restaurant, so thatís what I had.

-Another observation that I made was that we had to really ask for our steaks to be cooked. In the US, I like to order mine medium-well, but it seems like it comes out red in Madrid. I sent my steaks back a couple of time just to get them to char the steaks a little bit more to my liking.

-We also ate at this fabulous steak restaurant (so good we went there twice), within walking distance again from our hotel, and I have to get the name from our friends (we picked up a couple of their business cards). This was recommended by our hotel, and the meal was very good. With wines, appetizers and desserts, the bill came to 60 Euro for 2 people. So I will get back with you on the name.

-I also found a pretty neat bakery (I have to dig the name from my notes), conveniently located right across from the Sol Metro Station. It is very crowded but seems to be popular with tourists and locals alike. I found this place to be a great stop for a quick bite (pastries, desserts, bread, etc, with coffee). Iíd get a pastry for 1 Euro and drank the water that I had carried with me.

SHOPPING

-Gran Via is one of the main shopping streets in Madrid. I walked this street from side to the end one day to give myself a little familiarity of the stores available. Zara is a Spanish brand, which is very famous in Madrid, and can be found literally in every single block. I knew about this brand before this trip, so I was excited to see their stores all over the city.

-The more upscale stores (Gucci, Chanel, Prada,etc) are located in the Serano area, and you can hop on to the Colon Metro stop and walk to Serano street. I would caution that the restaurants or even tapa bars around this area are very pricey, so make sure that youíre well fed because you start your shopping expenditures!

-I also walked around in the Sol area for some more shopping, very crowded and very popular for pickpockets. Watch your surrounding at all time. I felt safe in Madrid, but I also tend to walk very fast, and my purse is small and always in front of me. One of the streets of the Sol area is also a popular hang out for prostitutes. I got there by mistake, but found them to be harmless (even the cops leave them alone), as long as you steer clear from them.

-El Corte Ingles is a chain of department stores that can be found throughout Madrid. I personally like their groceries area, which are located on the ground floor. I was able to find wines, olive oil, olives and spices to take back to the US for souvenirs.



h2babe is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 09:52 AM
  #2  
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ACTIVITIES

-A couple of our friends took the hop-on-and-off bus on their first day. I never did this, but they told me that the tickets can be booked through the hotel front desk, and this was a great way for them to get introduced to the city.

-Plaza de Mayor is the main square in Madrid. Itís a great place for sightseeing, people watching, tapas stops, souvenirs shopping and maybe for an ice cream. They charge a ridiculous amount of money for patrons to sit outdoors, so we actually never did this. We were happy sitting inside at a tapa bar surrounded by the locals. The doors are wide-open anyways, so you can always look outside. There is also a tourist information center at this square. It might be a good stop on your first couple of days.

-We booked a flamenco show at Café de Chinitas through the hotel. The guests have the option to have dinner with the show, or drinks with the show. We wanted to have dinner with the show, because I was suspicious that the guests with dinners would be seated closer to the stage, and I was right. They asked us to put down a deposit of 8 Euro per person to reserve the spot (make sure you take the reservation paper with you to claim the money back). The show was definitely different; I was looking for a little bit more vibrant performance. The total cost would really be up to the dinner selection, so it can be up to 70 Euro per person. Our bill came out to a little bit more because I ordered more from the menu.

-We also managed to see a bullfight however this was arranged through a friend (I will write more about this under my Avila-report). The May to June timeframe is the most popular time and you need to reserve the tickets way in advance (probably through the hotel). The locals buy the season tickets for the bull-fights (similar to our football season tickets here in the US).

-We only managed to see the Prado and the Thyssen. We were lucked out at the Thyssen because they were having a Van Gogh Exhibition, so we got to see it. I didnít buy any of the combined tickets because I liked not to have a plan of what to see or do for the day.

-Plaza de Oriente is a beautiful area where you can sit outside at restaurants or inside at their tapa bars. We didnt spend a lot of time here.

-Parque del buen Retiro is the largest park in the middle of Madrid. It's a beautiful park with artifical lake in the middle where people can rent rowing boats, or just sit on benches, or sit at a couple of their outdoor cafes. Very nice place to hang out in a sunny day.

-We also got lucked out that we were there when Madrid was celebrating its 30-th year anniversary of their first election after Franco was overthrown. We lined up for 1.5 hrs in the rain to get into the tour of the Parliament Building. After they made photocopy of our passport, we finally made it inside the building to see their history exhibitions, symphony orchestra, and free guided tour (in Spanish, which was unfortunately, useless to us). They also handed out free sodas, water, and souvenirs to the visitors.
h2babe is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 12:50 PM
  #3  
ComfyShoes
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hello h2, I remember you from a few weeks back. Sounds like "bf" and you had a good time. Did you like Prado? Any issues with language barrier?
 
Jun 23rd, 2007, 01:36 PM
  #4  
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Hi Comfy,

Yes, we had a good time. We definitely wished that we would have picked up a phrase book and learned a little bit more Spanish to help us navigate our way around. Bf is a museum buff and loved both Prado and Thyssen, but I thought Prado was a bit too big and crowded for my taste. Prado is also under some type of construction (it seems like everything else in Madrid).
h2babe is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 01:44 PM
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hi, h2,

I like the lay-out of your report- very easy to follow.

I have a hazy recollection of slamanca from a trip made 20+ years ago. Is it still as lovely as ever?

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 02:06 PM
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Hi Ann,

Yes, we really liked Salamanca, and wished that we had more than one day there. It's very pretty, and much much less touristy than Madrid (obviously because Madrid is a big city!). We know someone who actually lives in Salamanca, so we got a personal tour of the city from her, and that was really nice.
h2babe is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 03:39 PM
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nice report.

the grape drink is called "mosto". nice, non-alcoholic refreshment. especially popular in salamanca.

and just for the books. franco was not overthrown.

he died, ( slowly) BUT brought back the monarchy and pointed spain towards democracy beforehand.



lincasanova is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 04:27 PM
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Thanks for the correction. We were told this story by two Spaniards that were standing in front of us for the parliament, something might have lost in the translation ;(
h2babe is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 04:34 PM
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TRANSPORTATION

-To and from the airport, we took taxis. The airport surcharge has gone up to 5 Euro instead of 3.50 Euro. We were charged 6 Euro extra also when we ordered a taxi through the hotel front desk for our 7 AM pick up. We wanted to make sure that we were able to get a taxi at the time that we needed to head back to the airport. We asked for Oficial Recibo (Official Receipts) both times.

-I purchased a metro token in Madrid at the metro station that can be used for both the bus and metro for 6.40E (10 rides). Bf and I bought this token and shared it to use the metro until we ran out before we got the second one. We thought that this was a very flexible option since it doesnít have an expiration date, and can be given to someone else (in your group) when you leave. I found myself talking a metro to a metro stop closest to my destination, and then caught a metro back to the hotel.

-For day trips, the most convenient transportation to Toledo is definitely train and it only takes 30 mins. You should get the tickets at least a day in advance at the Atocha Station (stop at the Atocha-Renfe metro stop instead of the Atocha one). The train runs every hour beginning (if I recall correctly) from 6:20AM until 9:20PM. The station can be very confusing even with the signs, so look for an area on the ground floor with the tropical garden in the center of the room. Then you will see a Ticket Office on the side. Round-trips tickets cost 27.50 Euro for 2 people, and I was informed that if I wanted to change my departure time, I could do so by arriving at the station at least 30-45 mins before and ask at the ticket window. We kept our scheduled times so we cant say whether it'd work or not.

-To get to Avila and or Salamanca, the best way to get there is by bus. We took our bus from the Mendez Alvaro Metro stop. We bought the ticket literally 30 mins before boarding the bus. I was told by our friend that this bus doesnít get crowded like the trains. It tooks us about 1 hour and 20 mins to get to Avila.

h2babe is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2007, 06:28 PM
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Hi

Luv the report. Looking forward to the next instalment Can I ask how you got from the train station in Toledo to the actual town. How far is it - can you "hoof" it?
worldinabag is offline  
Jun 24th, 2007, 05:55 AM
  #11  
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World,

We walked from the train station to the center of town, and it took us a good 20-30 mins (because it was raining and everywhere in Toledo seems to be UPHILL!!). I'm 29 and bf is 32 - we're used to walking.

There is a bus that you can take (#5 or #6) from just outside the train station that would take you to the center of town. It costs about .80 euro and you just pay the driver. HOWEVER, from the center of the town back to the station, you can only take #6.
h2babe is offline  
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