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wvmom Nov 16th, 2006 06:52 AM

If only I could park! Spain trip report
This trip was a lot of firsts for me: my first trip to Spain, the first time I moved around a country rather than staying in one place, and my first solo trip. It all turned out wonderfully, thanks to the researching I did here at Fodor’s, although I did manage to get lost in practically every city I visited. Part of the fun was getting “unlost” and I proved to myself that I’m pretty good at taking care of myself and navigating around strange places and situations. Here’s a report of my trip.

<b>Day 1 – in flight</b>
I flew US Airways from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia then Madrid. There were mechanical problems with the first plane we boarded in Philadelphia, so we all had to get off and reboard another plane they provided. We ended up being delayed about two hours. I was disappointed that there was no seat back entertainment on this flight, as on flights I have taken with US Airways in the past, but otherwise it was a typical flight.

<b>Day 2 – Madrid to Cordoba</b>
I had fortunately allowed a pretty big window for making the connection to the train to Cordoba when I arrived in Madrid since it was cut down to about three hours with our late arrival. I hadn’t checked any bags, so after Passport Control I just rolled on out of there. I got some cash from one of the ATM in the terminal (note – it works better when you use the correct pin with the right card; I tried two machines before I figured out what I was doing wrong!), then followed the signs to the Metro.

This seemed to be a walk of about 14 miles from the international terminal, but maybe it wasn’t quite that far. This was the first of many times I thanked the wisdom of the board that influenced me to pack everything in a 19-inch roller bag and a tote bag. There is a Metro information office just before the escalators to the ticketing, and I got a map and instructions on how to get to my stop there. I got a 1E ticket from a machine, and made my way to Atocha to catch the AVE train.

This is where I had problems – I could not figure out where to pick up the ticket I had reserved on-line. I went from ticket counter to ticket counter, each time having a clerk that spoke no English look at my papers, tell me no, and point down the hall. Finally, with the third clerk (still no English), I got my ticket, plus a ticket for Seville then next day. By that time it was 2:30 and the train left at 3pm, so I didn’t have a lot of time to spare.

The train ride was smooth and fast, and in Cordoba I found a map and a bus to the area near my hotel. I circled the area twice before finding <b>Hostal Lineros 38</b>. This was a nice little place with a friendly staff, and I got a tiny little room. The shower was only 15 inches square, but everything was clean and nice, and it was only a short distance from the Mezquita and other sights. They also let me leave my luggage there the next day after I checked out while I toured the town.

I loved Cordoba. I spent the evening roaming around the streets and finally got up the nerve to enter a restaurant for dinner. I had a wonderful lamb roast, a nice introduction to Spanish cuisine.

wvmom Nov 16th, 2006 09:36 AM

<b>Day 3 – Cordoba to Sevilla</b>
When I arrived at the Mezquita the next day, I found that entry was free from 8:30 to 10am, and at 9am it was pretty quiet there. I think that most of the tourists come in just on day trips, so the town is pretty quiet in the mornings and evenings. After about 10am, things really pick up.

I spent about two hours at the <b>Mezquita</b>, a fascinating place, then wandered toward town, where I spotted the ruins of a Roman temple just down the road. Heading back toward the Alcazar, I happened across a Roman mausoleum, which was also kind of cool, then I finally found the <b>Alcazar</b>. While the building was not terribly interesting, there was a nice view from the tower of the Alcazar and I loved the gardens.

I stopped for lunch at <b>Cafeteria El Rincon de Carmon</b>, having eggs over fried potatoes, sprinked with Seranno ham, very good. I caught the <b>Sinagoga</b> just before it closed at 2pm for siesta, but was not terribly impressed with it – just a small room with decorated walls.

By that time I had had enough of Cordoba, so I went back to get my suitcase and headed for the train station, catching my 5:45pm train to Sevilla after a bit of a wait.

My plan for arrival in Sevilla was to 1) find the Tourist Information office and get a map, and 2) find a bus to the Barrio Santa Cruz area. Well, first I couldn’t find the TI office, then I couldn’t find a bus. I decided to take a cab, and handed the driver the map to my hotel that I had printed off the website. He could not speak English and apparently could not understand the map, as he apparently wanted more information from me that I couldn’t provide. Finally I said “Catadral”, and he said “Al Centro”. I said si, and off we went. He dropped me off in El Arenal (figured this out later) and when I asked about the Catedral he indicated it was just around the corner. Well, it wasn’t. I wandered around the streets for a while, dragging my suitcase after me, trying to spot something that looked like a cathedral, and just got more and more lost. Finally I found a newsstand and bought a map, and using that map and the hotel map from the website, I got myself to the hotel. Boy, was I mad at that cab driver as I trekked that half mile to the hotel!

I stayed at the <b>Hotel Amadeus</b> and got the little room off the lobby that’s been mentioned here before. I was never bothered by music from the lobby as no one played the piano in the time that I was there, but the street sounds outside my window did wake me up a number of times. I liked this hotel, but the noise did bother me.

DeborahAnn Nov 16th, 2006 09:59 AM

Terrific report and congrats on your first solo trip. Looking forward to reading more of your travels. Deborah

wvmom Nov 16th, 2006 10:11 AM

Thank you, DeborahAnn, I'm so glad someone is reading my report!

<b>Day 4-6 – Sevilla</b>
The next day was Sunday, and I decided to try to find the pet market in the <b>Plaza Alfalfa</b>. I found the Plaza, but no pets, so I had breakfast and headed for the <b>Casa de Pilates</b>. This place was lovely, and well-worth the visit. Lunch was at <b>Azabache</b>, near the Alcazar, and I had fried cod that was very good. Since the <b>Cathedral</b> was free on Sunday, that was my next stop, including a trip to the top of the <b>Giralda</b>. I wouldn’t have gone up it if it had been stairs, but this tower has a ramp to the top. Still a long climb, but easier on the knees.

Monday I was booked for a walking tour, but it began to rain just beforehand. I ducked into a store to buy an umbrella, and took a wrong turn coming out of the store. I was 15 minutes late to the meeting spot on <b>Plaza de Nueva</b>, and couldn’t find the tour. I spent the rest of the day shopping and just walking around the city in the rain.

It was raining again the next day, but I wasn’t going to pass up a visit to the <b>Alcazar</b>. It was very crowded, with masses of tour groups blocking the way, but I still enjoyed it and took a ton of photos. I went to the gardens hoping to see the many cats that are said to live there, but on that rainy day, there were nothing but ducks out there. It would be a lovely place to while away the afternoon, but rather damp when I was there.

I also went to the <b>Torre del Oro</b>, where I took in the maritime museum (OK) and the great view of the river from the top of the tower. It was free that day (Tuesdays). Lunch was at <b>Las Escobas</b> near the Cathedral, with an uninteresting salad and a tasty Ox-tail stew. For dinner I went to fried fish place recommended by Rick Steves, <b>La Frieduria</b>, but I found the fried cod rather salty.

One other note about Seville: the major roads around the Barrio Santa Cruz and the Plaza de Nueva are completely torn up for some sort of renovation – someone told me they are putting in a light rail system, but I don’t know if that’s true. In any event, the streets around there are a mess, are impossible to drive around, and got very muddy to walk around when it rained. It seemed like all the cities I visited were undergoing major construction projects, possibly due to the improved economy in Spain in recent years.

igpjazz Nov 16th, 2006 11:35 AM

Great trip report. looking forward for more. Refreshes my memories of Spain from 2 years ago!

wvmom Nov 16th, 2006 11:45 AM

<b>Day 7 – Sevilla to Ronda</b>
I picked up a rental car at the Santa Justa station around 9am and set out for Jerez. I took a few loops around the station and nearby roads before finding the Autovia. After that it was easy – just follow the signs to Jerez and pay the toll with a credit card when it comes up. At <b>Jerez</b> I followed the signs for downtown, then found the signs leading me to the <b>Real Escuela de Arte Ecuestre</b>. There was a large parking lot down the road from the Escuela near a school, so parking wasn’t a problem there.

I had booked tickets for the “themed visit”, which is basically a tour of the stables and the opportunity to watch the horses and riders practice. This was a Wednesday and the shows are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I took what I could get. I loved watching the horses, although the training seemed a bit cruel. PETA would have a fit if they saw it. The Real Escuela is right next to the Sandeman Bodega, so if you’re interested in sherry as well you could take a tour over there. I wasn’t interested.

My next stop was supposed to be <b>Arcos de la Frontera</b>, and I found the road to there without a problem, getting there by around 2pm. I was going to tour the town and maybe spend the night, but I couldn’t figure out how where to park. I’d read that you shouldn’t try to drive around the old part of town, but I ended driving in circles around some other section of the town, at first looking for parking, then just trying to break free of the town. I finally found the road out of town and left it behind, though I did stop by the side of the road to take a photo from a distance.

I decided to take the scenic route towards Grazamala. This road took me into the <b>Grazamala National Park</b>, up and over the mountains on narrow, winding roads, into the clouds at the tops. The scenery was just stunning, and I was constantly looking for wide places where I could pull over and take pictures.

<b>Grazamala</b> was a beautiful little town nestled in the mountains. There was a parking lot available right in the town, so I stopped an looked around a bit, then hopped back in the car heading for Ronda.

I was surprised at how big <b>Ronda</b> was; it has a population of about 40,000. I made my usual number of wrong turns, but was able to find the Ponte Nueva in only a couple of circles around the town. I had heard that the Hotel San Gabriel was the place to stay, so I followed the signs to the hotel, but there was no parking near the Hotel at all, even if I wanted to park illegally. A few more circles around and I tried to find parking on the other side of the bridge, but even those lots were so tight I was worried I’d never be able to get my car back out even if I did manage to park it. Another swing by the hotel, and I found a spot in a loading zone, so I dashed in to try to get a room. It was full.

My next choice was <b>Hotel Enfrente Arte</b>, on the other side of the bridge. I followed the directions down to the hotel, and there was a large parking space right in front of the door. That was the place for me! I got the car in the space, and there it stayed for the next couple of days. This hotel was a great “funky” kind of place with really offbeat decorations and a nice homey kind of feel from the staff. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that the room was pretty dim, but it was a large room and nice and quiet. They had a wonderful breakfast buffet from 8:30 to noon that included a variety of breads, meats, cheeses, fruits, pastry, and other items, plus they gave you free access to the bar for drinks – soft drinks, beer, wine, coffee, and tea, all complementary. There were also some nice common areas inside and outside the hotel.

I walked back up to the town to look around and have dinner. I ate at <b>Taberna de Santo Domingo</b> and had sausage and bean soup and pork loin with blue cheese sauce. It was OK, but not the greatest.

Kristina Nov 16th, 2006 05:02 PM

Great trip report. Brings back memories of driving in circles in Ronda. :-) Keep it coming!

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