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First trip to Spain - Part 1

Old Oct 31st, 2010, 01:57 PM
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First trip to Spain - Part 1

Just returned from our first trip to Spain. Went to Zaragoza, Valladolid, Seville and Madrid with day trips to Cordoba and Toledo. Before I forget, wanted to post some highlights, comments and tips.

General Tips and Comments

Many places don’t take credit cards, so we used more cash than we expected Fortunately, there are lots of ATM machines. Be sure to call your credit card company before you leave to let them know you’ll be in Spain.

Museum hours are nonstandard and very unreliable. In Seville, we got a brochure from the tourist office that listed the Alcazar (their biggest attraction) hours incorrectly. Be sure to call or check the museum or site directly.

Electrical adapters – I checked in the Fodors Spain book and an independent online site – they both said that Spain took the standard European 2 prong round plugs. Since I had a voltage converter from U.S. to this prong type, I thought I was in good shape. Wrong. We stayed at four hotels in different parts of the country and they all had outlets that accepted round two prong plugs, but the holes for the plugs were recessed into a small circular area. My converter didn’t fit. Fortunately, three of the four hotels had adapters I could borrow.

Clothing. I had read online that Spanish people dress more conservatively than Americans and don’t generally wear T-shirts and sneakers. We found this to be generally true. However, since it was still relatively warm, I brought comfortable walking sandals. No other women wore sandals and most wore boots – even when it was sunny and 70 degrees! Oh well, so much for fitting in.

Zaragoza

Hotel Sauce – Really liked this place. It’s small and personal. Just a few blocks from the main plaza.

We went here for the Pilar festival. This was an interesting experience. We were among very few people in Zaragoza from outside Spain. They have a two different parades where people dressed in traditional costumes bring flowers or fruits to donate to the Virgin. In the evenings, there were many concerts and street entertainment at different locations. Can’t say much about the food, since it was so crowded, we were happy to get in anywhere.

Will try to post more later. If you have any questions, I'd be glad to answer them if I can.
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Old Oct 31st, 2010, 04:26 PM
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Thanks for this. We rarely hear about Zaragoza!
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Old Nov 5th, 2010, 10:12 AM
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Valladolid
Not much to say about this. We went here for a law conference, but it’s not really a tourist town. The people hosting were very gracious and took us out to dinner every night.

Seville
Stayed at Vincci La Rabida. This was a lovely hotel. It’s a little fancier than we usually choose, but we got a great deal online. You walk into the hotel and the smell of fresh flowers greets you and then you hear the sound of water in the fountain – nice. If you stay here, be sure to go up to the roof bar in the evening – the view is unbelievable. Location was also very convenient.

Highlight here was the Alcazar. I should note we used the audio guide in English & it was fine. Be sure to allow time to walk around the gardens. Also took a couple English walking tours from Sevilla Walking Tours. They were fine, but not memorable. Best advice from tour – in the old section of Santa Cruz, the maps don’t list all the streets & you will get lost – so just expect it. Of course, after the Cathedral tour, you must walk up the Giralda Tower for the view. This is not as hard as it might seem because there are no steps – only ramps.

Saw flamenco at two different places - Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andalus was the best. The room had only 3 rows of chairs all around so you could really see well. Las Carboneras is a bar with flamenco & no cover charge. Unfortunately, the night we went, their show was late & very short.

Best restaurant was Vineria San Telmo. They had a great selection of tapas in a relaxed outdoor setting for reasonable prices.

Daytrip to Cordoba
Went by train for a day. Really enjoyed this trip, not for any specific thing as much as for the overall atmosphere. It was fun to walk through the old medieval streets. The Mezquita was amazing, though we haven’t seen the Alhambra for comparison. Maybe next trip. We also enjoyed visiting the old synagogue and Sephardic House Museum. (Hint, if you are Jewish, skip the English tour. The guide is really bad and it’s geared to people who know nothing about Jewish customs and traditions.)

More on the Train
All our travel between cities was by train and it was great. As others have commented, dealing with the Renfe website to buy tickets from the U.S. is painful. Search here or on tripadvisor for directions. However, riding the trains, especially the high speed ones is much more pleasant than taking planes. All the trains were on time – I heard that they actually refund your ticket if it’s more 10 min late. They are clean and comfortable and have free movies. Also, it’s nice to see the countryside.

Still to come….Madrid
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Old Nov 5th, 2010, 01:19 PM
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We really liked the Alcazar in Seville, too. We ended up spending much more time there than expected, including a good bit of time strolling the gardens.

Our only flamenco stop was at Las Carboneras. The show was late but quite lengthy. It was just a guitar player and a singer, and they were fantastic.

Thank you for taking the time to write a trip report. It's always lovely to read these!
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Old Nov 10th, 2010, 05:09 PM
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Madrid
We were here 4 and a half days. It was fine, but had less character than the other places. Seemed more like any big modern city. Also, the biggest attractions are probably the museums. Neither DH or I are very interested in art and the other museums often had labels only in Spanish. Oh well. I will say I was very impressed with their Metro system – everything worked well all the time, which is more than I can say about our local system in Washington, DC.

Stayed at Hotel Europa. It’s a relatively small modern hotel right off Puerta del Sol. This is a great location. There is a major Metro stop right there and lots of restaurants within walking distance. Also, it seemed like there was always something going on in the plaza – a band playing, skaters doing tricks, a magician etc. The rooms aren’t fancy, but are larger than a lot of hotels in Europe. Also, the front desk staff was extremely helpful – we were always asking them questions. Can’t tell you how many directions they gave us or things that they checked for us on the internet.

Highlight for me was probably the Palacio Real. It looks like I imagined a palace should – the amount of gold, silver, paintings, tapestries etc was unbelievable. DH particularly liked the armory with all the suits of armor etc. I’m a chemist and appreciated the old pharmacy. Note – they don’t always have an English tour, but they do have a pretty good English audio guide that we used.

Ate at two memorable restaurants.
Arabia – This is a Moroccan restaurant with really neat atmosphere. You feel like you have entered another world. The food ranged from good to excellent and the prices were very reasonable. It’s probably the best value of all the restaurants we tried in Spain.
Gato – Can’t find the full name of this place – I’ll post it later if I do. This was the most amazing meal. We went with a local who ordered a wide selection of traditional Spanish appetizers, first and second courses. Don’t know exactly what we had, but it was all great.

Day trip to Toledo
Another lovely trip by train. BTW, the station is just outside the town, but you don’t have to wait for a bus – we walked there in ~20 min. Similar to Cordoba – very enjoyable to just wander around through the narrow twisting streets. Lots of shops with leather goods, crafts and marzipan. Saw a small museum of medieval torture that was too realistic for me. Visited the two old synagogues. One synagogue, Santa Maria la Blanca, had nothing Jewish remaining and was not worth the time. On the other hand, the Sinagoga del Transito was quite impressive and includes a small Sephardic museum.

Final comment
We especially enjoyed our contacts with local people. Because of my husband’s work here, we had several dinners with locals. Also, met some people in Zaragoza who had been to Baltimore and wound up spending the evening with them. Attended Friday night services in Madrid and stayed for dinner there as well. All told, we met many warm and hospitable people.

Hope this is helpful as I always read the Fodors boards before every trip. If you have any questions, I’ll be glad to answer them if I can.
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Old Nov 11th, 2010, 11:47 AM
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The name of the restaurant in Madrid is Restaurante La Gallette II at 10 Barbara de Braganza Street. Tel. number: 0034 + 913193148 or 0034 + 913085413.
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Old May 11th, 2012, 05:14 PM
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also interested in friday night service either in toledo or madrid. where exactly did you go? and did you need to call ahead to attend?
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Old May 13th, 2012, 09:49 AM
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Hi Hem23,

We went to services at Congregation Bet El in Madrid. http://www.bet-el.org/
It's a Masorti\Conservative community. You definitely need to e-mail in advance. Their e-mail at the time was [email protected]. When we went, they met in the social hall of an apartment building and there was no sign to indicate where it was. It's a small, friendly community and definitely worth visiting.

Have a great trip.
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