Laura and Steve's Spanish Adventure

Old Jun 4th, 2017, 10:03 AM
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Laura and Steve's Spanish Adventure

GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN?

Well I thought I would start this and write as we go so I don't forget details. We started off well enough, driving form our home in the four corners to Albuquerque (great lunch at El Bruno's in Cuba, but that is for another forum), checked into the doubletree and enjoyed a great Indian dinner with our son and his girlfriend and her father. Hotel was so so, but who cares - we're off to Spain, right? or so we thought. Got to the airport in plenty of time, through security like a breeze, boarded on time, and then the fun began. There was a "hold" on flights into and out of Dallas where our connecting flight to Madrid was (no problem I thought, we left almost 3 hours changeover), left 20 minutes late, but when we got to Dallas we circled and circled and circled, until the gas ran low and they had to take us to San Antonio where they let us off the plane (American airlines by the way) and basically said good luck. Almost everyone had connections they'd missed - we all got in line, the agents were overwhelmed, and handling (really) one person an hour. Eventually they rebooked us on something I knew wasn't going to work, but we hadn't eaten all day and I was too tired to argue so we went to another airport Doubletree, ate some pretty bad food and then got creative. Steve got on the phone with limo companies, I got on the phone with the airline and was able to book something out of Houston through Heathrow, we got picked up the next morning and were able to rest in the car, made it to Houston with time to spare, train to Heathrow was only 1 hour late on British Airways (fantastic flight - best overseas flight ever), made our connection and landed in Madrid today basically on time. So we only missed one day of vacation -c'est la vie.

we are staying at the Hotel Catalonia Atocha (luckily I remembered last night to call them and let them know we would miss our first night). The room is large and comfy and the staff has been very nice. We found coffee and tapas at a place around the corner (the waiter was grumpy, I think he didn't really want people yet but the food was good and better than airport food for sure). Now we are resting so we can keep the dinner reservation we made a week ago. Tomorrow we will jettison the plan to go to Toledo and stick with the Prado and other museums as it will be our only true day in Madrid. Guess we shall have to plan to return another time to see what we missed. More later.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 11:37 AM
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Enjoying reading your report. Boy! You handle things well! Hope the rest of your trip is perfect.
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Old Jun 5th, 2017, 10:14 AM
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Thanks Sassafrass
DAY ONE IN SPAIN; MUSEUMS AND A BLOWN KNEE

So last night we ate at a restaurant we had chosen whilst still at home: Montes de Galicia - it was a ways from the hotel, understated elegance, staff falling all over themselves to make it right for us. The appetizer of foie gras was one of the best I've ever had - practically licked the plate. My husband had Iberian pork with mojo sauce which was good - I ordered Monkfish but I think it was a mistranslation -not like any monkfish I've ever seen. I didn't like it much and the waiter could tell - he asked and I said it was fine, but he persisted and I said mas o menos and he immediately whisked it away and said he would bring another piece in three minutes and he did - much more tender - of course then I felt like I had to eat it all or hurt his feelings! they kept plying us with dessert and drinks and we were exhausted and wanted to go back to the hotel to collapse, but didn't want to be impolite.

funny taxi story - the driver said he loved America, wants to visit Alabama. We were surprised - turns out his favorite song is Sweet Home Alabama- I hope he makes it some day.

I'll reiterate my praise for the hotel Catalonia Atocha - best shower we've ever had in a hotel room (we decided we want one for our house!) and discovered the location is within walking distance of the art museums (I suspected it would be but wasn't sure).

Breakfast this morning was the wonderful European buffets - I do love European breakfasts!

Today we decided to stick with museums since it will be our only full day in Madrid do to the airplane mix up. sadly we had to give up on Toledo but it didn't make sense to be in Madrid and not see any of Madrid We followed advice from fodors friends and got the arte walk pass. We started with the Reina Sofia but sadly didn't realize that we had to get the timed ticket for the Guernica exhibit at the Prado first, so missed that, but really enjoyed the rest of it. We then walked to the Prado and went straight to the cafe. Had a wonderful lunch (large salad for me and paella for Steve). We focused mostly on Goya, Valesquez and Zuberin who is a new discovery for us. On the way to see the cloister we found a temporary exhibit of a collection of Spanish object de arte and paintings etc by an American collector that was phenomenal, including a map of the world by Amerigo Vespucci's nephew that was awesome, and illustrated manuscripts from the 15th century. Truly wonderful. (ok a lot of superlatives there). The only cloud on the day is that I blew out my knee a few days before we left (ironically trying to get in shape for the trip) and thus had to walk slowly and it limited how much we could do. Hoping if I don't overdo it it will heal as the trip progresses.

We're going to venture out for tapas tonight - then on to Cordoba tomorrow.

I'm happy that my Spanish seems to be holding up, although really struck by the differences in pronunciation between what I am used to in the American Southwest and how it is spoken here. I'd been warned but guess I hadn't realized just how different it would be.
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Old Jun 5th, 2017, 09:12 PM
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Enjoying your report. Hope your knee is getting better.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 01:45 AM
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Enjoying your report. We will be in Madrid & Andalucia in Sept. I am traveling in china right now with a bad leg due to arthritis. It's not fun.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 10:48 AM
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Oh Karen - I feel you. I hope your leg feels better soon.

DAY TWO - THE TRAIN TO CORDOBA

We had intended to have tapas for dinner last night - discovered that our hotel was also very close to the Bario de las Letras, so wandered about a bit, but somehow wandered into a little restaurant instead - on the Plaza Anna - called Ginger. Service was very good, food was quite nice. I had chicken and cous cous, Steve had veal rolls. It was low stress if tourist-laden, and that was what we needed.

This morning we took a cab to Atocha Renfre - some colorful cabby arguments included - got there 45 minutes in advance. Other than some difficulty lifting our suitcases the whole thing was easy as pie - five minutes through security, train platform and cars easily marked.

The journey of 1 45 minutes was lovely - gently rolling hills studded with farmhouses, some quite old gave way eventually to more dramatic hills and trees - think I even saw a castle in the distance but who knows - I could be hallucinating.

We are staying at Hospes Palacio de Baillo - we were welcomed like royalty, upgraded to a suite (we have our own private courtyard!). The room is lovely but the grounds even more so. The building dates from 1571 and has beautiful courtyards with orange trees and bouganvilla and fountains. There is an old roman bath on the grounds and a lovely pool surrounded by gardens. Except for swimming in the Aegean I don't think I've ever swum anywhere so beautiful.

As our room wasn't ready yet we wandered into town - finally had our first tapas (eggplant drizzeled in honey and pork cheeks), then walked down to the river and went to the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos - sort of mind blowing to walk where Isabella and Ferdinand walked (more thoughts on these two tomorrow) - the gardens were absolutely lovely as promised - and there was no line to get in at all, at all.

However it was much hotter than Madrid, and even though we cooled down with cafe frio by the time we got back to the hotel (included ten minutes of getting lost), we were dripping.

now we are post swim, relaxed and cool, and planning to eat here tonight. I think that is about it for today.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 01:49 PM
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Enjoying your report. Thank you! Going to Spain for the first time next year.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 08:02 PM
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Do you know what the temps are in Fahrenheit for Madrid and Córdoba? We will be there mid September through Oct 3. I hope we will have cooler temps. Glad to know finding the train was easy. We will be taking train from Madrid to Córdoba, as well.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 11:48 PM
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Karen, Madrid was lovely, mid 80's, Cordoba is very hot, more like mid 90's
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Old Jun 7th, 2017, 01:54 AM
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Bookmarking!
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Old Jun 7th, 2017, 03:34 AM
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Would love to visit Cordoba ��
Thanks for your report.
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Old Jun 7th, 2017, 04:50 AM
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@KarenWoo, you can look at historical temperatures in F or C on Wunderground. I see last September there was a heat wave...
https://www.wunderground.com/history...eqdb.wmo=08223

Laura, enjoying your trip report. Thanks for keeping us up to date. Hope that bum knee is healing.
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Old Jun 9th, 2017, 06:52 AM
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Quiltingmama, thanks for the link. Average Madrid temps should be high 70's when we are there mid-September. Hopefully, no heat wave. I also like to hear from travelers personal experiences regarding weather, too. I tried looking up Córdoba but the link wouldn't open. I am traveling in China right now, and my iPad has been slow here. Will try again when we get home.
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Old Jun 9th, 2017, 09:19 AM
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KarenWoo, just google 'wunderground weather cordoba spain'. from there you can look at 'calendar' and choose months and years. Cordoba will be warmer than Madrid.
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Old Jun 9th, 2017, 10:15 AM
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DAYS 3,4,5 AND 6: LOVELY CORDOBA AND ON THE ROAD TO SIERRA DE ARANCENA

So the first night in Cordoba we ate at the hotel (can't remember the name of the restaurant but it is the one at the Hospes Palacio de Baillo. ) Sort of split review - the food was maybe the best to date - a fusion of Spanish and Asian, we had gyoza and I had a wonderful lamb dish - my husband had suckling pig. But the service was oddly lackadaisicle even though they did everything right - their hearts weren't into it and we had to nudge them each step of the dinner. There was a choir singing in the courtyard - they were a motley crew and it took us a while to figure out that it was a fundraiser for cancer research. They sang beautifully and with much spirit - but it did make it a bit hard to converse.

After another wonderful breakfast the next morning we set out to explore. We visited the Mezquita/Cathedral and as many others have noted it is awe inspiring (imagine 30,000 people praying in the main hall) and quite beautiful. We then wandered until we found the synagoga and the museum across from it (see my other post on confronting the pain of history). I found the museum both well done and incredibly moving - probably the highlight of our visit.

We then set off to find lunch. Mostly we were looking for airconditioning as it was incredibly hot, but somehow stumbled onto one of Cordova's premier restaurants I can't seem to find the name right now but I will look and add it later. We ended up having a much more elegant lunch than intended. My husband had sweetbreads and I had the cold tomato cream soup and a pate and goat cheese dish that was incredible. After the obligatory walk across the Roman bridge we returned to the hotel drenched in sweat and jumped into the pool.

A word about the hotel - out of five stars I would give it six. It was perfect in every way. The pool was like swimming in a sultan's garden - just perfect. That night we were too tired to get clever with dinner - wandered down to La Pistou for tapas. Have to admit I wasn't all that thrilled - it all ended up being to fried and heavy for me. Part of the challenge for us is that while I know the basic food words in Spanish, many of the names of the dishes are - well foreign - to me so we are often guessing as to what we are ordering.
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Old Jun 9th, 2017, 10:25 AM
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Continued from above:

The next morning we checked out of the hotel and picked up our rental car at the bus station. I was most pleased with myself for being able to handle all the negotiations in Spanish. I am usually fearful of driving in unknown places until I get the lay of the land, but all went quite well (Steve drives, I navigate). The road to Seville was gorgeous with huge fields of sunflowers and inexplicable gigantamongous statues of bulls on the hills. the road was uncrowded and easy to navigate. After Seville we turned off towards the Sierra de Aracena, and with some help from google maps found the Finca La Fronda, between Aracena and Alajar.

The Finca has a total of 8 rooms, it is family run (by descendents of William Wordsworth - they leave a poem on your pillow each day). The son cooks meals at dinner, and last nights was wonderful, elegant and delicious. The pool sits on a hillside from which you can see Portugal in one direction and Seville in the other. Christina, who manages the property now is very friendly and knowledgable and gave us oodles of help figuring out how to spend our time today.

We drove into Aracena - promptly got lost trying to find our way through the little streets, but after minor parking trauma found the Grutto de Marveilles - a huge underground cave (reminded us of Luray VA) the tour was very nice, and I appreciated that they didn't allow cameras as it enabled me to let go of picture taking mania and just be with the experience.

Then we had a truly gourmet lunch at Jesus Carrion restaurant (we made a reservation). Almond soup, eggplant parmesan, cold cod salad and steak (the latter was a mistake and they apologized profusely. Steve was a bit sad not to get his pork cheeks - another language challenge). the only sticky part so to speak is that I ended up locked in the bathroom (clean thank goodness) - not my fault - the wood was swollen and stuck. The waiter had to oomph it open for me. These are the travel moments we remember.

back to the Finca for another swim and rest. Dinner in an hour...I shall check in again from Sevilla.
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Old Jun 9th, 2017, 01:06 PM
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Great report, I like following along on your trip. Your husband sure handled the flight issue well going.
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Old Jun 10th, 2017, 11:08 AM
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A PERFECT DAY I
know I said I wouldn't check in until we were in Sevilla but a perfect day must be honored. We are staying at the Finca La Fronda, a beautiful inn in the mountains outside of Aracena, near Alajar. Our hostess, Christina, arranged for us to meet a guide in the little village of Fuenteheridos. Hannah (unfortunately do not know her last name) is from great Britain originally, but now lives here with her partner and their two children. She teaches by day, but leads nature hikes on the weekends. We spent the next two hours wandering along old market paths between towns, she knew a great deal about both local botany and history and it was perfect. Somehow the act of walking the trails grounded me - I really am in Spain. After our walk/hike we shared a drink in a cafe and then she recommended a restaurant : Arrieros in the town of Linares de la Sierra. What she neglected to tell us is that it is Michelin reviewed and is known all over the world. Linares is a tiny town and other than a family having a birthday party we didn't see another soul. the Church is lovely from the outside, and the village classic white homes on cobblestone streets - and the restaurant - well we both agreed that it was arguably the best meal we've ever eaten. We were greeted warmly and followed the hostesses suggestions: they brought us a taster of diced potatoes in olive oil, cumin and corriander, then hot tomato soup for my husband and gazpacho for me, carapacio as a starter was the most tender and tasteful I have ever had. Steve had pork cheeks in an apple sauce (finally) and I had tongue in a spice sauce, with acorn cake for dessert. I know I'm talking a lot of food here - but it was the most amazing experience - a meal worthy of the finest chefs of Madrid or Paris in a tiny teeny town we had certainly never heard of. We are feeling calm and rested and well fed, so pleased we decided to take a few days away from the tourist hustle bustle.

(copied from the side trip report - a perfect day)
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Old Jun 10th, 2017, 04:08 PM
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Wow, that does sound the perfect day! Thanks for sharing!
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Old Jun 11th, 2017, 04:18 AM
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Lovely!
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