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Ger’s Trip Report: From Bilbao to Toledo September 2018

Ger’s Trip Report: From Bilbao to Toledo September 2018

Nov 5th, 2018, 03:07 PM
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Ger’s Trip Report: From Bilbao to Toledo September 2018

Hello all:


Starting my trip report from Spain.

Introduction

The only thing I regret from this trip is that it was not longer: I took a 21 day trip and condensed it into a 17 day trip. Its what I do, and I make no apologies for it: I am a glutton for experiences, and I can walk 10 miles a day, every day.


I will start the report, but, as always will probably fail to finish it, so I’ll give you the valuable information up-front, regarding the Itinerary, the Hotels and the Restaurants.

With regard to my day-by-day itinerary: It may not be of interest to many of you, as I overdosed on my usual indulgences: Art, Architecture, Archaeology, and spent most of my time exploring Cathedrals, Convents, Museums and Art Galleries. I am warning you up-front.

My Itinerary:
I struggled with the Itinerary for many weeks, as I tried to figure out to get from point A to point B, by bus and train, and argued with myself as to how much time I should spend in each city or town.

The fact is that I could have spent the entire 16 days in a few of the cities I chose and have been completely satisfied. So, I chose well. I also adjusted my itinerary several times on the journey, as one can, when the cost of the journey from A to B is only 8 Euros! I settled on the following Itinerary, and have added comments:


Bilboa: 3 nights: In some way, it felt like home (Dublin) because of the persistent smell of the sea, and the people (talkative, charming, rebellious and humorous), but it far more stylish and prosperous. The food is exquisite. I could have spent the entire 17 days there. One day, I hope I might live there – that is how much I loved it.

Vitoria: Day trip on the way to Burgos: Worth a visit before it gets more ‘gentrified’

Burgos: 2 nights: Gorgeous elegant town. I wished I had at least another day or two to explore. I will come back.

Leon: 2 nights, with day trip to Astoga . With the exception of the the Basilica and Cathedral, I did not fall in love with Leon, which is why I did the day trip to Astorga, which was well worth the trip.

Valladolid : 1 night. I loved this University town and would gladly spend weeks there learning Spanish. I want to spend more time in this town.

Salamanca : 4 nights. My third visit, but it never fails to satisfy. Unfortunately, it has become very busy with tourists. You must stay at least overnight, but I suggest at least a 3 day stay. I would like to spend weeks here learning Spanish. It would feel comfortable here.

Avila: Day trip to Avila on the way to Segovia: Worth a day trip. This was my third visit. It is getting very crowded! Arrive very early.

Segovia : 2 nights: Third visit. I was lucky to visit during a weekday. Enjoyed it. Never do this at the weekend!

Toledo: 2 nights: Second visit. Unfortunately, visited on the weekend. Not ever going again on the weekend.



Overall:

I will visit again, and often: Bilbao, Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca
Will never visit again on a weekend, or perhaps never: again Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Leon


Next: Hotels

Regards …. Ger

Last edited by OReilly64; Nov 5th, 2018 at 03:43 PM.
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Nov 5th, 2018, 03:41 PM
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Along for the ride...
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Nov 5th, 2018, 10:26 PM
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I'm onboard.
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Nov 6th, 2018, 05:16 AM
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Great stuff as usual, Ger!
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Nov 6th, 2018, 11:07 AM
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Thanks guys for following along!

I forgot to tag this as a Trip Report. Any idea how to add the tag?


Hotels

Overall, I was very pleased with my choice of hotels and pleasantly surprised at how much less one has to pay for a decent hotel outside the major centres. All hotels were booked on Hotels.com.

My criteria for all hotels were: 10 minutes’ walk or less to the Plaza Mayor or Cathedral; minimum Four Star; bookable through hotels.com with excellent ratings on the site; standard room in most cases; no breakfast included, as I find the cost to be outrageous for my usual egg or toast and cup of tea and I love to get up and out as early as possible.



Bilboa

NH Collection Ría de Bilbao: Four Star

https://www.nh-hotels.com/hotel/nh-collection-ria-de-ilbao?_ga=2.42005293.945691875.1535283177-185037980.1535283177


Well located within a 5-minute walk from the Guggenheim on the opposite side of the river and about a 10 minute walk to the old town. It is a solid 4-star hotel, large room and bathroom. Recommended.

Price: 425 Euros for 3 nights (145 Euros per night) for a standard double room

Burgos

AC Hotel Burgos by Marriott: Four Star

https://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/rgsbu-ac-hotel-burgos/

Loved this hotel on the banks of the river, just 5 minutes’ walk to the cathedral. Very large and nicely decorated room with a river view. Highly recommended. Price: 289 Euros for 2 nights (145 Euros per night) for a superior double room with view

Leon

NH León Plaza Mayor: Four Star

https://www.nh-hotels.com/hotel/nh-collection-leon-plaza-mayor?_ga=2.267046478.1385290063.1535491512-405515736.1535305840

I had high hopes for this hotel, as it was by far the most expensive of the trip. Loved its location on the Plaza Mayor and was delighted to be upgraded to a room overlooking the Plaza, and then slightly disappointed to discover that almost the entire square was taken up with scaffolding and tents in preparation of a festival that weekend. Room was large with two large windows overlooking the Plaza. Word of warning: the square buzzes at night, as there are many restaurants with outdoor tables. Being Spain, the partying continues into the early hours. Luckily, I am a heaving sleeper. Recommended for location, but overpriced compared to the other hotels on the trip. However, Leon is a major city.

Price: 412 Euros for two nights (206 Euros per night) for a standard double room. I used a free hotels.com night to reduce the price to 140 Euros per night.

Valladolid
Atrio: Four Star
https://uk.hotels.com/ho295157/?display=description

Very pleased with this little hotel, conveniently located within yards of the Cathedral and walking distance to everything. Highly recommended.

Price: 85 Euros per night for a superior double room

Salamanca
NH Puerta de la Catedral – Four Star
https://www.nh-hotels.com/hotel/nh-salamanca-puerta-de-la-catedral?_ga=2.60025453.1385290063.1535491512-405515736.1535305840

Location could not have been better – right behind the Cathedral. I loved it. Beautiful room, but I did not pay the extra for a Cathedral view. Highly recommended.

Price: 495 Euros for 4 nights (124 Euros per night) for standard double room


Segovia

Hotel Convento Capuchinos: Five Star

https://www.eurostarshotels.co.uk/eurostars-convento-capuchinos.html?_ga=2.194301165.1788030822.1535491 670-1493697868.1535491670

Be still my heart! Sensational hotel in a former convent, about 10 minutes’ walk from the Plaza Mayor, with an amazing view over the valley. I was delighted on waking up on both mornings with a view of hot air balloons sailing over the valley. Room was huge and simply gorgeous. The entire hotel is beautiful. There is a very good and very pricey restaurant on premises, which I did not try. Highly, Highly recommended. Amazing value for the price.

Price: 258 Euros for two nights (130 Euros per night) for a standard double room and worth twice as much!

Toledo

Hotel Sercotel El Greco: Four Star
https://en.hotelpintorelgreco.com/

I was in Toledo over a weekend and had a hell of a time finding a reasonably priced hotel. This is more than I wanted to spend. The hotel is more of a 3.5 Star – the least glamourous of my trip, but perfectly acceptable. Admittedly, I was going to be slightly disappointed with any hotel after my exceptional experience in Segovia. The hotel is located just across the street from the El Greco museum and about 15 minutes’ walk to the Cathedral. Recommended, but don’t go to Toledo at the weekend, for this and many other reasons.

Price: 370 Euros for 2 nights (185 Euros per night)


Next: Doing the trip using public transportation. I never want to rent a car again!

Regards … Ger

Last edited by OReilly64; Nov 6th, 2018 at 11:16 AM.
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Nov 6th, 2018, 02:38 PM
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Doing the trip using public transportation. I never want to rent a car again!

Over the years, I have driven the length and breadth of France, Spain and Italy on insane driving trips, and on my own! While I enjoyed these trips immensely, I often had many challenging misadventures: Filling a car up with leaded petrol was probably the worst (I learned to drive in Canada in the late 90s – WTF is leaded petrol???) and several times I got the car stuck in tiny laneways in medieval hill towns and had to rely on kind locals (laughing their arses off at the dumb tourist) to get me unstuck. So many embarrassing stories about Ger and rental cars, but let us not dwell on that!

Since moving to London, I have stopped driving, as it is just a nuisance to own a car, and never bothered renewing my driving licence.

So, I now rely on public transportation on my trips. I thought I would miss driving, but on the contrary, it has given me freedom to relax while being transported from A to B, and NOT having to park the effing car in remote hill towns where the sensible form of transportation is a donkey. Every town I visited on this trip, I had been to before, and remembered almost nothing about the town itself as, when I drove, my entire energy was spent on travelling from A to B, rather than enjoying the delights of being in A and B.

Travelling on public transportation in Spain, on the buses and trains, is cheap, efficient and comfortable. I am now quite competent on planning trips on public transportation, so I am sharing my sources. Please note that if you are taking the train, you must go through the same baggage security check as you would if you were flying – all bags must be scanned before you board the train. This can lead to long line-ups, so make sure you are in the station at least 20 minutes before departure. On a positive note, the officials are very polite, and nothing like their counterparts I have experience at LAX or JFK.

Firstly, check out Rome2rio.com for initial planning – a fabulous resource. It provides all options to get from A to B and provides links to the travel sources (i.e.: the train and bus websites). For trains it is easy (I use Trainline.eu most times, as the site is excellent, and better IMO than RENFE). For buses, once you know the route, then check out the specific bus sites. ALSA is the main bus company and provides services from most towns. In a few cases, for local buses, the sites may only be in Spanish. BTW, don’t assume the train is fastest – check out the buses as well. Buses are often cheaper than the train.


For trains and buses at the weekend, particularly to major tourist destinations, such as Madrid to Toledo or Segovia, book in advance, as they fill up. For example: I took the train from Madrid to Toledo on Friday afternoon and booked in advance, and was glad I did, as all the trains that evening were completely full! Also, don’t forget that schedules change, based on time of year and weekday versus weekends.

Also, do NOT assume that every train or bus station has luggage storage or even ATMs. You need to confirm your assumptions ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

Here are the routes I took, with details on the cost, times and websites of the carrier:


Bilboa to Vitoria: By bus, 60 minutes
Website: http://www.autobuseslaunion.com/en/

Cost: 7 Euros

Frequency: Every hour

Note: Bus station was about 10-minute taxi ride from hotel. Buy tickets at the bus station. Could not book on-line. I was on my way to Burgos, so had to bring luggage with me. I stored my luggage at the bus depot lockers in Vitoria bus station (please note that there are very few lockers that can store large suitcases!), explored the town, picked my luggage up at the end of the day and headed off on to Burgos on another bus. It worked out brilliantly.

Vitoria to Burgos: By bus, 110 minutes
Website: https://www.alsa.com/en/web/bus/home

Cost: 6-9 Euros. Can book your seat for an extra 1 Euro on all ALSA buses.

Frequency: About 8 buses per day (weekdays; not sure about weekends)

Notes: Can book on-line with ALSA, and it has a great site, in English. There is also a train from Vitoria to Burgos that takes 70 minutes, but as I had stored my luggage at the bus station, it made more sense for me to take the bus. Vitoria bus station is a 15-minute tram ride from the historic centre (2 Euros). You can buy the tickets at the tram stop. The system is identical to the Dublin LUAS. Locals are more than willing to help you figure it out.

Burgos to Leon: By train, 120 minutes
Website: https://www.trainline.eu/

Cost: 20 Euros

Notes: Burgos train station is about 10 minutes taxi ride from the centre

Leon to Valladolid: By train, 80 minutes
Website: https://www.trainline.eu/

Cost: 20 Euros

Notes: Leon train station is about 10 minutes taxi ride from the centre

Valladolid to Salamanca: By train: 75 minutes
Website: https://www.trainline.eu/

Cost: 10 Euros

Notes: Valladolid train station is about 10 minutes taxi ride from historic centre



Salamanca to Avila: By train, 60 minutes
Website: https://www.trainline.eu/

Cost: 12 Euros

Notes: Salamanca train station is about 15 minutes taxi ride from the historic centre. I visited Avila on my way to Segovia, with my luggage. I took the train to Avila, and beforehand I knew that there is no luggage storage at the train station, so I schlepped my luggage to the bus station (15 minute walk – flat, no problems). There is lots of luggage storage at the bus station. In the evening, I took the bus from Avila to Segovia. Easy Peasy!

Avila to Segovia: By bus, 60 minutes
Website: https://www.avanzabus.com/

Cost: 9 Euros

Notes: Train station is about 9 minutes taxi ride from the historic centre, or you can walk it in about 20 minutes, all down-hill. Bus station has luggage storage.

Segovia to Toledo: by Train: 160 minutes (build in more time at the weekend)
Website: https://www.trainline.eu/


Cost: 30 Euros

Notes: Longest of my journeys! I took train from Segovia to Madrid-Chamartin, then a train from there to Madrid Atocha to catch the train to Toledo. I did this on a Friday afternoon, when all of Madrid, and many many Japanese, Korean, Chinese tourists were travelling to Toledo. It was bedlam! You need to book ahead on the Madrid to Toledo route if travelling on a Friday. The trip from Segovia to Toledo is doable, but just try not to do it on a Friday afternoon.

Taxis:Fantastic! Cleanest taxis I have ever experienced, plentiful and relatively cheap. Charming and polite drivers. With the exception of Bilboa, where almost everyone speaks English (well, if they can master the complexities of the Basque language, all other languages must be ridiculously easy!) taxi drivers generally have little English. Be polite, greet in Spanish, and hand over a note as to where you want to go - don’t be silly and try to pronounce it, you will either confuse them or make them snort with laughter. Taxis appear to take credit cards, and I used several times, but I always like to have ‘cash in hand’ just in case for short journeys.

Next: The Restaurants: I never thought I would want to be a vegetarian in Spain.

Regards … Ger

Last edited by OReilly64; Nov 6th, 2018 at 02:46 PM.
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Nov 6th, 2018, 02:46 PM
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Onboard, always enjoy your trip reports.
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Nov 6th, 2018, 04:42 PM
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I look forward to this. We need new places in Spain. I'm along for the ride!

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Nov 6th, 2018, 07:13 PM
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Thank you for such a detailed report. You making traveling by public transportation easy!
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Nov 6th, 2018, 08:58 PM
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So timely -- will be in Bilbao and on part of the Camino in April!
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Nov 7th, 2018, 12:07 AM
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Bilbao (not Bilboa) is my hometown and I´m delighted to know that it´s the place you´d like to retire. Thanks! This city has been very much ignored and considered as grey (¿?¿?), ugly (?¿?¿) and dirty (?¿?¿), all of them very far from the truth. But it seems some clichés stand long in time...It´s probably the cleanest city in Spain, with the best public transport system and full of life, without the pressure of tourism.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 12:16 AM
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Great detail on public transport, very useful. Looking forward to your day to day report.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 03:45 AM
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Very enjoyable read. Thank you for posting
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Nov 7th, 2018, 03:57 AM
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Fantastic start to your report! and lots of great information. I would be very happy to stick with public transportation, too. Looking forward to the rest of your reports.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 06:59 AM
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Originally Posted by mikelg View Post
Bilbao (not Bilboa) is my hometown and I´m delighted to know that it´s the place you´d like to retire. Thanks! This city has been very much ignored and considered as grey (¿?¿?), ugly (?¿?¿) and dirty (?¿?¿), all of them very far from the truth. But it seems some clichés stand long in time...It´s probably the cleanest city in Spain, with the best public transport system and full of life, without the pressure of tourism.
mike - I can't believe I did that, and multiple times too. Please accept my apologies - I am so embarrassed . Yes, I truly loved Bilbao. The people were so friendly and chatty and there is a wonderful selection of excellent food. You are very lucky to live there.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 07:27 AM
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Thanks for following along guys. I have started the restaurant section and will be back soon.

Regards Ger
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Nov 7th, 2018, 07:58 AM
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Deleted

Last edited by OReilly64; Nov 7th, 2018 at 08:11 AM.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 08:06 AM
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The Restaurants:

Bilbao Friday


Life is too short to eat bad food and drink bad wine.

A vital part of my trips involves one really good meal each day, generally a late lunch, and a couple of glasses of decent wine. I generally book restaurants the day before, so I can plan my day around lunch. It was not necessary during the week, but definitely required on Sundays.

Bilbao Friday

My pal A joined me for the weekend in Bilbao, and she loved the city as much as I. Lunch FridayLunch on the first day was in Victor Montes in the Plaza Nueva. Beautiful old restaurant/bar with outside tables.

Victor Montes, Casco Viejo

http://www.victormontes.com/restaurante/.






[IMG]file:///C:/Users/gfox/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image002.jpg[/IMG]
Almost every establishment on the square is a restaurant, so its a great place to start your visit to this gourmet paradise.
The food was good, but certainly not the best I had on this trip. For starters, we split the grilled prawns – delicious! I had the baby lamb chops which were OK, but too well done for my liking. A had the cod fish, done in two ways, with a pil-pil sauce on one piece and a white sauce on the other. We washed this down with a bottle of white local white. This was one of the most expensive meals of the trip – about 55 Euros per person. I might return for the pinxtos, but not for lunch. There are far better restaurants.

If the food was somewhat lacking, the entertainment was great fun. A group of gentlemen in their 70s, on a “pintxos crawl” around the square, were imbibing in the restaurant next door and treated us to an impromptu concert. They must have been in a choir, as they sang beautifully and in perfect harmony, accompanied by a guitar. You’d never get that in London. Its easy to fall in love with the Basques – they are so full of character and humour.

Evening Friday

We returned to the Plaza later in evening, around 8pm, and visited three of the bars for wine and pintxos. It was buzzing! All generations were out enjoying the evening, the toddlers, running wildly around the square having a wonderful time. The pintxos were not just delicious, they were artistic, food for the eyes and the soul. The wine is ludicrously cheap – an excellent glass of Ribera del Duero, or my tipple of choice, or Albarino was a mere 2-3 Euros. I’d be permanently pickled if I lived here. Note: on my return to London I went for a glass of wine with friends in Soho – 15 Euros for a glass of inferior wine.


[IMG]file:///C:/Users/gfox/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image004.jpg[/IMG]




Next: Bilbao Day Two

Last edited by OReilly64; Nov 7th, 2018 at 08:13 AM.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 08:08 AM
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Apologies for the double post - I am really struggling with the new format!
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Nov 7th, 2018, 09:20 AM
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Originally Posted by OReilly64 View Post
mike - I can't believe I did that, and multiple times too. Please accept my apologies - I am so embarrassed . Yes, I truly loved Bilbao. The people were so friendly and chatty and there is a wonderful selection of excellent food. You are very lucky to live there.
It´s a common mistake for some reason that has to do with the pronunciation of Os and As in English, no worries!!! Love your report!
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