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Just back from Spain - starting in Madrid , ending in Bilbao via Salamanca, Leon, etc.

Just back from Spain - starting in Madrid , ending in Bilbao via Salamanca, Leon, etc.

Jul 27th, 2004, 07:41 AM
  #1  
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Just back from Spain - starting in Madrid , ending in Bilbao via Salamanca, Leon, etc.

Just came back last night from a glorious 2 weeks in Spain. I'll be posting more details later( after I recover from a very long day of flights which brought me from Bilbao to Puerto Rico!) but wanted to quickly mention the places we visited in case anybody has specific questions.

I want to thank all the posters in this forum, specially Maribel, which provided me with such wealth of information without which my trip would not have been as enjoyable. I also would have not visited some of the sites without their encouragement and info.

We started with a 2 day stay in Madrid and stayed in the Villa Real. Then on to Salamanca for 3 nights in the Palacio de Castellanos, 1 nt. in the Parador in Zamora, 2 nts. in Parador San Marcos in Leon , 2 nts. in Oviedo( Asturias) in Hotel de la Reconquista, 2 nts. in Cangas de Onis at the Parador( my favorite!!!), 2 nts in Santander at Hotel Hoyuela( liked Santander very much but this was my least favorite hotel) and last 1 nt in Bilbao at hotel Lopez de Haro.
Will give more details later, but all in all was a fabulous trip with great weather, great food and great memories!
Feel free to ask any q's about any of these places and I'll try to answer.
cruiseluv is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 10:30 AM
  #2  
 
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A friend and I are flying into Barcelona and out of Madrid, with 10 full days in between of open itinerary. We are on a tight budget since she is a student and I do clinical research, both in Manhattan. Can you recommend some of your favorite towns, places to stay and possible means of transportation to get to and fro? We of course would like to see the main attractions, but also really want to feel the flavor and culture of Spain. Thank you so much for your advice!
leg114 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 06:06 PM
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Leg114,
Although I have been in Barcelona and Madrid I have not traveled much between these 2 points. The trip I just finished was north of Madrid. I particularly enjoyed my stay in Cangas de Onis in the region of Asturias. It is very green and offers a lot of outdoor activities. While there I visited the shrine to the Virgin of Covadonga and the lakes of Enol and Ercina in the Picos de Europa region.
In terms of transportation I can tell you that we moved from city to city by bus , different companies cover different regions but in the north it was mainly a company called Alsa. Prices are very cheap and the buses are very comfortable. I found it easier than traveling by train, specially moving the lugagge.
Good luck with your trip!
cruiseluv is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 09:38 PM
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Looking forward to your trip report...am planning on going to that general area and have lots of questions...thanks so much for posting!
artlover is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 07:12 AM
  #5  
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These are the highlights of our trip to Northern Spain. Once in Spain our mode of transportation was in buses which we found to be very comfortable and easy to take.
We started our trip flying into Madrid where we stayed for 2 nts at the Villa Real in Plaza de las Cortes, almost in front of the Prado. I love this location and the hotel was great. I liked it better than the Palace , which is right next to it , where I had stayed 2 yrs. ago.
While in Madrid we did the Prado and Thyssen Bornemiza museum and the Royal Palace. I dad done these before but always find it enjoyable and see something I've missed the previous time. Weather in Madrid was lovely, we were there before the heat wave .
As far as restaurants , we had dinner the first night at Matritum, on the Cava Alta after having some tapas and wine at the Plaza Santa Ana( Cerveceria Alemana and Vinoteca Barbechera). Eventhough we had been to Madrid several times before I was not familiar with the Plaza Santa Ana , a small , very relaxed Plaza not far from the Villa Real. We really liked it. The next night we had dinner at the Posada de la Villa( a recommendation from Maribel)in Cava Baja and it did not disappoint. My husband and I had the lam their specialty) and it was out of this world. We ended the evening in Plaza Mayor listening to music , having after dinner drinks in one of the cafes in the plaza and soaking the atmosphere of what has to be one of the most beautiful plazas of all Europe.
2 things I learned in my first day in Madrid which I'm almost ashamed to admit since I've been to Spain several times before: 1) there is a difference between Jamon serrano and jamon iberico, the latter being very similar to prosciutto and , IMO, much better and 2) that you call beer on tap a "caña".
Another place we enjoyed while on Madrid was the Cafe de Oriente were we had a coffe break after visiting the Royal Palace.

Our next stop was Salamanca. We got there via Auto- Res express bus which took approx. 2 and half hours.
We had never been to Salamanca and were not disapointed. We stayed at the Palacio de Castellanos, a lovely old building very well located near the Plaza Mayor. Our room faced the Convento de Las Dueñas and the Church of San Esteban, both of which we visited.
Highlights of Salamanca are the "New" Cathedral with its beautiful gothic facade, built next to the Old cathedral . The Old cathedral is accessed from inside the new one . It has a beautiful "retablo" .
The other highlights of Salamanca were the University building, Casa de las Conchas, the University and of course, the Plaza Mayor. Although smaller than Madrid's Plaza Mayor, the plaza is beautiful and makes a great spot for refreshments and or tapas . Also , we had the most divine ice cream at Novelty on the Plaza.
Next in our itinerary, Zamora
cruiseluv is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 07:30 AM
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Always love to hear ecstatic reports about a country I love! I can just imagine the green of Asturias. We visited Cangas, Covadonga, etc., but stayed in Cosgaya at a superb place(also recommended by Maribel). Look up my old trip report to read more about it. Thanks for adding Spain to my summer travels, albeit by internet!
Schildc1 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 07:32 AM
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Thanks Cruiseluv ... I's loving this
OReilly is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 08:14 AM
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Thank you so much for your reply! Every little bit of advice helps and we really appreciate it! We're very excited to go now that we've heard so many great things about Spain.
leg114 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 02:34 PM
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We took the 1 hr. bus ride to Zamora where we stayed at the Parador. There we had reserved a room with sitting room. I was somewhat disappointed that while large the room is chopped up in 2 parts, one the living room and completly separated by a hallway and the bathroom the bedroom which was somewhat small. The Parador while in a beautiful noble building with a lovely central courtyard seems to be in need of some refurbishing of their upholstery( at least the furniture in our room). Our room was on the ground floor and faced the front of a busy street so unfortunately we had to keep our shutters closed. I didn't bother asking to be changed as I knew the Parador was full. We saw the Cathedral which was very interesting and several other very old churches. We also visited the Holy Week museum which houses the giant floats depicting scenes from the Passion that come out during Holy week. They were very impressive.
It was extremly hot and we were thankful for the pool at the Parador were we spent a couple of hours in the afternoon waiting for it to cool down.
We had dinner in the Parador , which we enjoyed very much.

The next day we took the express bus to Leon( 1 and a half hr.) where we stayed at the Parador San Marcos. I cannot describe the impression of first seeing the facade of the Parador. It is very ornate and it is just huge! I had seen pictures of it but you can't really appreciate in the pictures how impressive it is. In front of it there is a very big plaza with fountains and benches, very pleasant. Based on recommendations from this board we stayed in a room in the newer wing. The room was very nice, with a great bathroom and balcony facing the gardens and river. I had read that the Parador had been recently refurbished and I found the upholstery of furniture around the Parador as well as in our room to look fairly new. The Parador inside is as impressive as the outside, with a beautiful cloister, church and museum. We had dinner one night in the Parador and it was excellent. Beautiful dining room, good service and good food.
More about Leon and our other stops later!!
cruiseluv is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 03:59 PM
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I wholeheartedly second Cruiseluv's description of the parador in Leon. It's magnificent; the new rooms overlooking the garden and the river are tastefully appointed; the dining room is excellent.

My experience at the parador in Zamora was perhaps somewhat happier: I had only a double room, but the furnishings were new and in good taste, and it was at the back on the second floor, with French doors opening out onto a view of rolling green hills. (It was also above the swimming pool, which made it a wee bit loud for a few hours in the afternoon.)
To my mind, the cuisine at the parador in Zamora was quite a bit less sophisticated than in Leon but still quite agreeable.
Eloise is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 04:13 PM
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This is great information! Thanks crusisluv (and Eloise).

I look forward to more, particularly about the Parador at Cangas, which I really wanted to stay at.

This is wonderful: I am exploring vicariously, all those places I did not have time to explore when I was there.

regards .. Ger
OReilly is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 09:00 PM
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Eloise,
When I was at the pool I was looking towards those windows and wishing that our room was one of those! The view was certainly much better .

More about Leon...

Both days there we had lunch in Plaza San Martin in the Barrio Humedo( Wet Barrio) . What a great ( and inexpensive)place to have "raciones"( sort of like tapas) for lunch . I became acquainted with "picadillo de cerdo"( Pork ground meat) which was really tasty. As I told my husband, I thought it needed fried eggs and/or rice to complement it( later I was able to have it like that in Asturias!)
The other evening and also on the recommendation of this board we had dinner at La Bodega Regia in Calle Regidores, near Casa Botines( Gaudi palace). Excellent!
The highlight in Leon, IMO, is the beautiful cathedral with the huge quantity of stained glass. When I went inside for the first time I literally lost my breath! Later ia asked at one of the stores around the cathedral if they ever lit the cathedral from the inside at night( I remembered one poster saying that they did this on ocassion). They told me that around midnight they would turn off all the lights outisde and they would turn on the lights inside so from the outside you could see the stained glass all lit up. Sure enough , that night after dinner at the Bodega Regia we walked to the Cathedral and there were a lot of people milling around waiting. Right at midnight, all the lights outisde that were illuminating the cathedral went out and, little by liitle , lights start to go on on the inside, lighting up the stained glass. I still get chivers just thinking about it. It was magnificent. Everybody just silently started circling the cathedral admiring it. What a treat!
We also visited the Basilica de San Isidoro, with the "Panteon Real" which houses the crypt of the eleven kings of Leon .
I really enjoyed Leon , the Barrio Humedo
I really liked Leon , walking around the Barrio Humedo
cruiseluv is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 09:14 PM
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So much great information...thank you so much for sharing this...I was thinking of staying in the Parador in Leon on our next visit, and now I am convinced it is a must.

Speaking of which...on the parador website there is a 5 night special...did you by any chance use this? I want to do it, but they only have it through 2004 and we're not going until May 2005...any suggestion about this?

I'm also thinking of staying in the Parador in Salamanca...did you by any chance get to see it?

Also, I find your experience with the bus encouraging...I usually don't like them, but don't want DH driving (drives me crazy), so was thinking of using trains, but now am reconsidering. Is there a website where you can get bus information?

I'm curious...do you speak much Spanish? I've been taking lessons for 1 1/2 yrs. now, but am still not very fluent...did you need to be for getting around on buses?

Also am curious if you've been to Segovia before and if not, why you didn't go there this trip.

Looking forward to more.
artlover is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 09:20 PM
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Sorry, I pressed post too soon!
I just wanted to finish by saying that Leon is very special and IMO merits at least a 2 nts. visit.
After Leon we took the Alsa express bus to Oviedo( 1 and a half hrs). Oviedo is a nice city with old pre-romanesque churches( 9th century) located at the outskirts of the city( Santa Maria de Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo) . We took a cab there ( 10 mins ride ) and were planning to walk back to the hotel but when I noticed there were no sidewalks on the road decided to ask the taxi to wait for us . It takes very little time to see the churches since they are small and there is not much inside.
We later went to the Cathedral in the old part of town . The altarpiece( retablo) was magnificent and is considered one of the most valuable in Spain. Part of the cathedral is the Camara Santa( Sacred chamber) which contains, among other things, the shroud of Christ( supposedly).
In Oviedo we stayed at the very nice Hotel de la Reconquista.
More about Oviedo and other sites in Asturias later.
cruiseluv is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 09:59 PM
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Artlover,

Definitevely, make Leon and the Parador a destination of your trip!

As a matter of fact we used the 5 nights card. The only Parador where this made a difference( not all paradors accept it ) was at Leon but we saved approx. 70 euros total for the 2 nights we were there. In the other Paradores we had to pay the difference between the card rate and the going rate at that parador , so it was a wash.
With respect as to if they will accept it in 2005, I have a feeling this is an ongoing promotion since I remember reding about it a year ago in this board.
The Parador in Salamanca is on the other side of the river and is a modern structure. I never considered staying there since comments from several posters and others reviews I read said it had no charm and it was not at a convenient location. We stayed at the Palacio de Castellanos, with excellent location. The rooms are somewhat small but adequate. The first room we were shown had a full size bed that looked so tiny I was afraid that my husband and I wouldn't fit! ( and we are not big people!). We asked them to show us another room and they showed us a bigger room( not by much) which had 2 double beds pushed together with a very nice view toward San Esteban church. The hotel itself is very nice.

Spanish is my native language , so I'm fluent in it and I must say that I think this made the trip much easier( my husband doesn't speak spanish , although he's very proud that he can ask for a "cerveza" or "caña" in perfect spanish). However, with respect to traveling in bus, if you find difficult communicating verbally, I'm sure that if you wrote down where you want to go they would understand you.
Most of the buses had webstes with info on schedules.The main bus compay in the north is Alsa, website www.alsa.es. I don't have the websites of others with me as I'm not at home but in a couple of days I'll be back and I'll post them.
I hadbeen in Segovia previously so that's why I didn't include it in this trip. I really liked it but never stayed overnite ( visited it as a day trip from Madrid). If you go make sure you go to the Meson de Candido( next to the Roman aqueduct) and have the cochinillo( suckling pig).
cruiseluv is offline  
Jul 29th, 2004, 05:00 AM
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Artlover,

I agree with Cruiseluv that the five-night card will in all likelihood be available next year; it's been around since at least 2000. I think I used the other promotional offer: the "stay two nights in demi-pension (breakfast and dinner or lunch) at 20% off." I do remember that the people who did the reservations for the paradors were very good about giving me the offer that would be most advantageous for me; we had quite an exchange of e-mails to get it all sorted out.

As for speaking Spanish, I don't. I get along in Italian, so I generally spoke Italian and tried to put Spanish-sounding endings on the words. Only once did someone correct me: the very superior maitre d' at breakfast -- yet! -- at the Alhambra Palace in Granada. (I couldn't get into the parador; one has to reserve practically years in advance. But I did have a very nice lunch at the parador.)

And I travelled by bus and train with no difficulty. I found most Spaniards very happy to be helpful.
Eloise is offline  
Aug 1st, 2004, 05:54 PM
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Continuing with Oviedo....

That first day we had lunch at a cider house in Calle Gascona ( Sidreria Tierra Astur). It was a lot of fun to have the waiters pour the cider with bottle high over the head into the glass held in the left hand, arm stretched out to the side They do this so the cider will get get the proper bounce. They just serve a little bit, which people drink in what seems like one gulp and throw out any amount that remains in the glass ( it is considered too flat). My husband and I were nursing our ciders so I don't think we were following proper protocol!

Oviedo is a very nice city , with a beautiful park in the middle of the city , San Francisco Park, and numerous sculptures positioned all throughout the city, some of them were pretty funny.
The streets surrounding the cathedral have a very traditional flavor and they are very pleasant to walk. We also visited St. Isidores's church (16th century), very nice.
That night we had dinner at El Raitan, sitting outside at Plaza de Trascorrales, very pleasant, beautiful weather. They had one of the sculptures there. Don't recall what I had for dinner , but dessert was an unforgettable tocinillo( a very rich custard).
This was my husband's last day in Spain since he had to return to the US the next morning.

Next day Gijon and Luanco
cruiseluv is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:35 PM
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cruiseluv and eloise,

Thanks for the information. I'm still in the beginning stages of planning (plus the 2005 5 day pass doesn't seem to be available yet)...

artlover is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:44 PM
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cruiseluv,

One other question...why did you have to pay more for the other paradores? I thought the price of the pass covered the complete cost for 5 nights?
artlover is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:11 PM
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Thank you cruiseluv I join my voice to
Schildc it has been a delight to see you enjoyed Spain. I love it too and have been in most of the cities you mentioned. May be I was the firts to recommend the Bodega Regia, ...
I am not sure, but I did because the owner of a flower shop in Leon was so kind to take us to the Bodega Regia, in response of our request for a good place to eat.
Again I loved your report , and I am learning for our new trip...gracias.
Graziella5b is offline  

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