(Mostly) Dodging the Rain in Spain

Oct 24th, 2018, 03:30 PM
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twk
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(Mostly) Dodging the Rain in Spain

October 5, 2018 through October 21, 2018

PLANNING:

Our 2018 trip presented my first opportunity to travel to Europe outside of summer since my most frequent travel partner, my older sister, retired from teaching. So, we decided to take advantage of this new option by going someplace that you would prefer to go to outside the heat of the summer. That led us to choose Spain, a place I had not previously visited.

As a self-employed attorney, I find that 2 weeks is about as long as I can manage to be away, so with a Friday departure and Sunday return, we would have 15 nights. Originally, one of my secretaries was going to join us on the trip, with an eye toward meeting up with her brother, who splits time between Madrid and Doha, and this objective shaped our planning, causing us to allot more time to Madrid than we would have otherwise. Ultimately, she had to back out, which left just my sister (fifty-something female) and I (fifty-something male) to make the trip.

With DFW and OKC being our airport options (same distance to both), the ability to fly nonstop to Madrid on American drove us to choose a Madrid round trip option, rather than open jaw. Our limited time, and the unsettled political situation in Catalonia while we were planning the trip led us to leaving Barcelona for a future trip. Beyond Madrid, we opted to spend our time in Andalucia. Seville and Granada were our top priorities, and I also wanted to avoid one night stops. Another objective was to see Gibraltar for the history and unique geography (I was content to see Africa without actually venturing into Tangiers), and I wanted to see some of the pueblos blancos, but the experiences of others led me to believe that an overnight stay might not be necessary or even desirable. And, although I’m not a British tourist looking for a beach holiday, I did want to see something on the Costa del Sol. All this led me to choose the following for our Andalusian excursion: we would see the Mezquita in Cordoba on our way to Seville, where we would spend three nights. Leaving Seville, we would pick up a rental car in order to drive though the pueblos blancos on our way down to our coastal base, Marcella, where we would spend two nights, with the intention of making a day trip to Gibraltar. Next, we would travel to Granada where we would drop the rental car and spend three nights, allowing us to make a day visit and night visit to the Alhambra. Finally, we would return to Madrid by bus/train, spending our final night near the airport for an easy departure.

LODGING:

In Madrid, we used VRBO to rent a 2 BR, 2 BA apartment at 14 Calle de Esparteros, just east of Plaza Mayor and a couple of block south Puerta del Sol. This is a 4th floor, 2 level (3 if you count the rooftop terrace) penthouse. It has elevator access to the 4th floor, but you have to use the stairs (rather old, and slightly uneven–takes a little getting used to) to reach the bedrooms, which have glass doors (and thus, are not as private as they might be) in order to allow more light to get to the inner bedroom. In fact, the bedroom on the street side also has a glass wall to an opening over the living room, and is more designed as a children’s room than a room for adults or a couple. Currently, there is a full bath in the “children’s” room and a sink in the other bedroom, but I understand the landlord is planning to make some changes in that respect. If you sleep in the inner bedroom, you get a queen sized bed and more quiet, but you either have to go through the other bedroom or downstairs to use the bathroom. There is some street noise (you can hear it in the front bedroom, but not very much at all in the inner bedroom), but less than you would expect in the heart of Madrid. The ground floor commercial space is an ice cream shop (my sister mistook the chopping sound they make when mixing ice cream for someone doing flamenco), and many of the neighboring properties are hostels, so this is a pretty quiet street, when compared to others in the neighborhood. I would recommend this place if your party needs separate bedrooms. The landlord (the Ruiz family) was great to work with, and the price was good. We booked the day before our arrival so that we could check in as soon as we arrived from the airport, and the landlord was willing to accommodate us.

https://www.vrbo.com/1085176ha

In Seville, we used VRBO to rent a 2 BR, 2 BA apartment a 7 Plaza Alfaro, next to the garden of the Alcazar in the Barrio Santa Cruz. It was a nice 1st floor (2nd US) apartment, with a master (queen bed and en suite bath) and 2nd bedroom with twin beds (and a hallway bath), but what really makes this apartment great (perhaps my favorite rental of all time) is the location. Not only are you close to everything, but the building itself is a bit of an attraction–people are always looking into the courtyard from Calle Agua (didn’t realize this when booking, but a picture of this view appears in the 2018 Rick Steves guide), and every time we opened the door on Plaza Alfaro, people were always trying to get a peek inside. On top of the convenience, it was an extremely quiet location, and a great place to get some rest. I wish we had stayed here longer than 3 nights. The landlord (Ramon), gave us a thorough 15 minute briefing on the apartment, and what to do in Seville, upon check in.

https://www.vrbo.com/6800064ha

I chose Marbella for a 2 night stop on the coast looking for someplace on the coast, not far from Ronda, close enough to make a daytrip to Gibraltar, but not so far south that it made the drive to Granada further than it needed to be. I saw a number of beach resorts that would have been good for the location, but they were way overpriced for what I was looking for. The Hotel La Villa Marbella was much more competitively priced, and proved to be a nice, comfortable place to stay. It is a bit of a unique concept, spread over several unattached buildings in the old town section of Marbella (we stayed in the building with the reception desk, but walked down the street to another building for breakfast every day). The only negative thing I have to say about this property was with regards to the parking situation. The hotel does not have its own parking, but directs you to use the Parking Mercado (which, I believe is a municipally-owned garage) a short distance away, adjacent to the old town. This would have been a perfectly acceptable situation, but for the fact that the city was re-paving (or, more precisely, preparing to re-pave) the streets around the garage during our stay, so we never could get access to this garage, and the streets around it were a complete mess as well. We ended up parking at a garage just off the main thoroughfare, about 3/4 of a kilometer away, which was extremely inconvenient when lugging our bags to the hotel (we took a taxi over there on the way back). I know that the hotel has no control over this, but it is something to keep in mind if you are driving to Marbella and thinking about staying here. It may never be a problem again (or at least not until they need to repave these streets), but I’ve stayed at plenty of hotels that rely on off premises parking and never had this kind of trouble before.

La Villa Marbella - Old Town

In Granada, I found out about the Alhambra Apartamentos Turisticos from the excellent trip report of MaiTai Tom. We rented two apartments, one standard and one executive (when I thought we were going to be 3 rather than 2), and took rooms on the 2nd floor (3rd US). No elevator, so keep that in mind if you are considering the property, and the central courtyard is open to the elements (which makes the last flight of stairs a little interesting in the rain). The location in the Albacin district means that you don’t have to make a special trip to this district as you would if you stay elsewhere. It’s a short walk down Calle Zafra to Paseo de los Tristes (a little bit harder walking up), or you can walk down the more gradual slope of Calle San Juan de los Reyes to get to Plaza Nueva and the taxi rank there for your trip to the Alhambra (if you don’t want to walk). The rooms, although not luxurious, are nice, with the living space and limited kitchen facilities being a nice extra, but the big selling point is probably the view of the Alhambra from the rooftop terrace. With this view at your lodging place, there really is no need to make the climb up to the Mirador San Nicolas, only to be subjected to the crowd (and the buskers), as the view here is excellent. Have a taxi take you to the apartment (or from the apartment) is entertaining in and of itself, as Calle San Juan de los Reyes is breathtakingly narrow in a couple of places.

https://www.apartamentosalhambra.es/en/

For our final night before the flight home, with an 8:33 arrival at the train station, an airport hotel seemed most prudent, and, being a Hilton honors member, I opted for the Hilton near the airport. It was a pretty modern hotel–the bathrooms utilize a lot of opaque glass, in lieu of walls or conventional doors, which isn’t to everyone’s taste, so keep that in mind if you are thinking about sharing a room (we weren’t). Otherwise, this is pretty well appointed chain hotel, and the shuttle to the airport made it an ideal place for our final night.

https://tinyurl.com/yb4wgsq6

GROUND TRANSPORTATION

I booked all train travel (daytrip from Madrid to Toledo; Madrid to Seville with a stopover in Cordoba, and Granada to Madrid) using the loco2.com web site recommended by The Man in Seat 61, purchasing about 90 days out. This site proved easy, and sent me PDF ticket files which I printed at home and took with me (but, I also had copies of these files on my phone and tablet). We ended up spending about 240 euros for the full set of tickets, with the Madrid-Cordoba and Antequara-Madrid segments being in Preferente class. Because the high speed line from Antequara to Granada is still not completed, this segment was by special bus from the train station (it was not a regular bus line, so it was non-stop from station to station).

I opted to drive upon leaving Seville as that seemed to be the best way to see some of the hill towns, and the most practical way to make a daytrip to Granada. I rented an automatic transmission car from Hertz, and we ended up with a 4 door (plus hatch) Opel Corsa. This car was fine for the 2 of us, but it would have been a little less than optimal for 3 as we would not have been able to fit all the luggage in the trunk space (and it was tight as it was for the two of us). I had downloaded a Spain map to my Garmin GPS, and found it well worthwhile to take the GPS unit that I am familiar with, although I will say that the Garmin wasn’t great on picking up addresses or landmarks when you were trying to plan your route. To that end, it was nice that I could plug my iphone into the UBS port and us Apple Car Play to view Google maps as an alternative, although this ate up data if used very long. It also let me play highlights from the opera Carmen over my iphone as we left Seville and travelled the route of the Pueblos Blanco. Not wanting to take any chances on coverage through my credit card, I purchased CDW from Hertz, and the total cost for 3 days was 290 euros, which I thought was OK for an automatic transmission car with insurance coverage. Pick up at Seville Santa Justa railway station was easy, and getting out of Seville was not difficult either at 10:00 a.m. Returning the car to the Hertz office at the Granada Hotel Center was only slightly more complicated–you pull up to a driveway next to the Hertz/Thrifty office on the corner of the building (easy to spot), and have to press a button to open the door, then you are supposed to drive down to level 3 (in a tight garage). Because the Hertz office takes a siesta, it was not open when we arrived at 3:45, and, per the instructions of the hotel desk clerk, I went back and left the key (and corresponding paperwork) in the drop box. So, not difficult, but not as easy as some locations.

COMMUNICATIONS

Both my sister and I use iphones from Sprint. Rather than use an international roaming plan, we opted to purchase pre-paid SIM cards on arrival. This was a little tricky at the Madrid airport, as there were several kiosks offering SIM cards at outrageous prices, so we kept looking until we saw a WH Smith’s store near the exit, where we purchased Lebarra SIM cards (I think we opted for the 30 euro version, but there was a 20 euro version which probably would have done as well). This gave us the ability to use data, and text one another, without worrying about running up an unexpected bill.

TICKETS

I purchased tickets about 90 days in advance for the Alhambra, about 30 days in advance for the Alaczar in Seville, about 2 weeks before leaving for the Atletico Madris vs. Real Betis soccer game (from Stub Hub, or, actually, through their European partner, as I was unable to complete a credit card purchase on the Atletico site), and the day before for entry to the Prado (online, provided a link for PDF tickets, which I downloaded and printed off at an internet café near the apartment).
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Oct 24th, 2018, 03:42 PM
  #2  
twk
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THE FLIGHT OVER

On our last European trip in the 2016, to Switzerland, we opted to fly business class because we had a really long day of travel on the first day. For this trip, we decided that business class was probably not necessary; I believe it would have cost us $3,100 (coach was about $1,200). However, we did opt to spend a little extra premium economy ($1,600). On American, this cabin is just to the right as you enter (business class to the left), and features a 2-3-2 configuration, as opposed to the 3-3-3 configuration in economy. The seats are basically domestic first class seats, but perhaps an inch or two narrower. The meal service is similar to business, and they provide amenities that include a pillow, blanket, sleeping mask, ear plugs, and socks. If you are like me, and find it difficult to sleep on a plane, even with lie flat seating, then this is a really good option. I thought it was well worth the $400.

DAY ONE: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 4:45 p.m., but our aircraft was late arriving from Korea, so we did not depart until 6:10. We made up some time in the air, but still did not touch down until 9:45 (scheduled for 9:05), and reached the gate just before 10:00 a.m. By the time we cleared customs, collected our bags, and purchased SIM cards for our iPhones, it was 11:00 a.m, which was when I had hoped to arrive at our apartment.

One other note that seems appropriate here: as in Switzerland, we decided to get prepaid SIM cards for our phones. I had read some discussion about purchasing at the airport versus waiting to get into town, but we needed to call our landlord from the airport to let her know when we would arrive at the apartment. In the baggage claim area, there was a kiosk selling SIM cards, but the prices were outrageous, so we passed that up, and another kiosk right on the way to the taxi line, deciding that there had to be some more reasonable option, and there was; at the very north end of T4, there was a W H Smith store selling SIM cards from a number of providers. We opted for the 30 euro card from Lebarra with phone and data (they had a cheaper option with less data, but I opted for this hoping I would not have to add time or data). The clerk had limited English, and was having to help us while manning the register for other customers, but she was a trooper and got us up and running.

Our apartment is located at Calle des Esparteros 14, just East of Plaza Mayor. We found it on VRBO. Our landlords (the Ruiz family), apparently owns this entire small building, which they renovated and turned into apartments (except for a ground floor ice cream shop) several years ago. We had the penthouse, a 2 floor, 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment, with a rooftop terrace.

The plan for arrival day was simply to take a short nap on arrival (having not slept on the flight over), then walk around the neighborhood a bit, forcing ourselves to stay up until something approximating a regular bedtime (but not by Madrid standards).



Puerta del Sol


Plaza Mayor
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Oct 24th, 2018, 04:24 PM
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Great TR! Looking forward to more.
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Oct 24th, 2018, 06:43 PM
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twk
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DAY TWO: SUNDAY OCTOBER 7

Still not fully recovered from the flight over, our only activity planned for the day was a true cultural experience; we went to a futbol game. The local teams in the top division, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, alternate home game weekends, as I understand it, and this was Atletico’s weekend to be home. La Liga didn’t set the schedule very far at all in advance of the season, so we had no idea what the schedule would look like when we booked our flights and reserved accommodations in February, but this worked out pretty well. Aletco's stadium just opened last year, and the game featured two clubs (Real Betis, a team from Seville), that were close in the standings at this early stage of the schedule. Getting tickets was not as straightforward as it might have been. The club does not sell to non members until after the game time is set by the TV networks, and this only happens several weeks out. Then, when the club website started offering tickets, I could not get it to take my American credit cards. So, needing some other means, I bought tickets from StubHub (technically, their international partner whose name escapes me, but it was linked through the StubHub web site). I paid a premium (with fees, it was about 100 euros, compared to 62 euros on offer from the club), but I suspect the seats we bought were better than what we could have bought from the club. After ordering the tickets two of three weeks in advance, I had to wait until I received an email on Monday, October 1, before getting a PDF file with tickets. Attending the game was easy, as we simply took the Metro to the stop right by the stadium. The game was scoreless until about the 76th minute, when Atletico broke through, which was perfect timing, as we had planned to leave early to beat the crush at the Metro station and get back home to some restroom facilities (my sister stood in line for the restrooms at halftime only to find no toilet paper in her stall, and didn’t have the language skills, or feel comfortable asking around for some). One interesting thing is that we made sure to wear the home team’s colors, but I was a little surprised to see many visiting fans wearing their team colors outside of the visiting team section. It didn’t cause any problems that I saw, as this proved to be very much a family friendly event. One thing I hadn’t realized is that my cap (I’m bald headed and always wear a Texas A&M baseball cap when out in the sun for extended periods) actually fit in, sort of. It was the wrong color (maroon instead of blue or red), but the aTm logo used by my alma mater was a fair approximation of the Atletico logo ATM. Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t wear that cap to a Real Madrid game.

When we got back to the apartment, we ventured out to eat at a nearby restaurant. We are not foodies, but I had hoped to persuade my sister to put a little more time and thought into restaurant selection, all to no avail for this meal. Well, that choice had consequences as, overnight, my sister came down with a nasty case of food poisoning. More on this for the next day.

Wanda Metropolitano Stadium


The hardcore fans behind the goal


Atletico's star player, Antoine Griezmann


Betis goal keeper punches away a corner kick
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Oct 24th, 2018, 09:12 PM
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Great report, and I love that you are including photos.

Looking forward to reading more!
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Oct 25th, 2018, 06:49 AM
  #6  
twk
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One funny thing about getting the tickets from StubHub was that the tickets had a name printed on them (I assume the name of the season ticket holder who was selling them). I wasn't sure if they were going to check ID or what, so I was prepared to say, yes, the name is Moron; Afredo Gomes Moron. Fortunately, they never asked. I guess I looked like a Moron without saying anything.
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Oct 25th, 2018, 08:06 AM
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keep it coming! love spain!
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Oct 25th, 2018, 12:13 PM
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Sounds like a great holiday, Spain was on my radar a few years ago, but slipped down the list a bit.
Every time I see photos, I think I have to go there and readjust my bucket list.
The detail you provide is very useful (trains, apartment location).
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Oct 25th, 2018, 01:54 PM
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twk
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Originally Posted by Adelaidean View Post
Sounds like a great holiday, Spain was on my radar a few years ago, but slipped down the list a bit.
Every time I see photos, I think I have to go there and readjust my bucket list.
The detail you provide is very useful (trains, apartment location).
Glad your are enjoying it. I'm going to keep posting a few pictures as I go along, but decided to go ahead and share the link to my Google Photos album from the trip.

https://tinyurl.com/yc4tzaf3

When you click on a picture, you can click the little "i" icon (white circle in top right corner) to get more information about the picture, which for most, will include a google maps link showing the approximate location the pictures were taken. For those without the map link, I've tried to include a description at the top. Note that there are a couple of photos that say "Ice Wave Madrid" as the location--that was the commercial establishment on the ground floor of our Madrid apartment, and the easiest way to get an exact fix on that building.
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Oct 25th, 2018, 03:19 PM
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DAY THREE: MONDAY, OCTOBER 8

I had purchased tickets though the site recommended by themaninseat61 (Loco2.com) when reservations opened about 90 days out, so our Toledo trip was set in advance. I was unaware that my sister was indisposed until she let me know in the morning. I went out and got a few things that she requested, then set off for Toledo.

My plan for the day was to see the cathedral, have a leisurely lunch, then maybe tour the Alcazar before doing the tourist train at 5:30, in order to see the famous viewpoint of the city from across the river as late as possible while still making my 7:20 train. I knew that the El Greco Museum and nearby synagogue were closed on Mondays, but there were sites in Madrid that were closed on Monday, too, so Toledo on a Monday seemed like a decent option.

I arrived shortly before 11 and, not wanting to spend the money for the hop on, hop off bus, that included a guided tour of the cathedral (not optional), I walked about 30 yards past the train station to the bus stop, waiting about 10 minutes for a bus that took me to Plaza Zocodover. From there, I made my way to the cathedral and, like the idiot that I am, opted for the “complete” ticket, which included a trip up the tower. The cathedral was magnificent, and the audioguide provided all the information I needed. I thought that I had read somewhere that photography was not allowed in the cathedral, but I saw no signs to that effect, and cameras of all shapes and sizes were employed by others, although everyone that I saw had the good sense not to try flash photography, the flashes employed by 99% of amateur photographers being totally useless in a building of this size. I kept an eye on my watch as the tower entry is timed and chaperoned (I do not say guided, as that would imply that our minder imparted some knowledge, rather than merely lead us around like a work detail of prisoners out for some strenuous recreation). I managed to make it to the top, barely, only to be frustrated by the grill over the openings at the top, which, when combined with barriers that kept you five or six feet back from the grill, made photography from this vantage point pretty much useless. The only positive from this experience was the few shots I got on the way up. Once I got back down, I was too gassed to finish the last bits of the audioguide (most notably, the Treasury), as I was in desperate need of something to eat or drink. My thought was that I should be able to find a decent place, perhaps with some outdoor tables, on what was a perfect weather day (temperatures in the high 60s). But, this time, it was my fault for not researching Toledo dining options. I walked back toward Zocodover, thinking I would see the Alcazar after lunch, but couldn’t find anything but fast food or very uninviting touristy places like the place we had eaten the night before. Desperate for something to eat (and then have access to a restroom, which is not always an easy thing in Toledo, apparently), I settled for Burger King. Oh the shame. Then, it got worse. I walked over to the Alcazar only to find out that, instead of being closed on Wednesday, as I had read in the 2018 Rick Steve’s guidebook, the Alcazar is now closed on Mondays. So, no Alcazar, no El Greco Museum, and several other options unavailable. Had I known that, I might not have opted for Toledo on a Monday. I know the Rick Steve’s haters will pile on here, but, basic logistics (not food or lodging recommendations) is one area where I can’t previously remember being led astray by this author. Let’s hope that’s the last time.

With decidedly fewer options than I had hoped for, I ended up going to Santo Tome to see El Greco’s Burial of the Count of Orgaz (no photography here), then simply wandering around. I found the type of restaurant that I had imagined eating lunch at just up the street from Santo Tome, but, having eaten lunch, settled for some dessert from the marzipan shop across the street, then bought a damascene plate for my sister as a consolation for missing out on Toledo. I wandered over to some viewpoints near the Alcazar before catching the tourist train, getting the obligatory photos from across the river, then taking a taxi back to the station.

The famous viewpoint from across the river


The main altar of the cathedral


Detail from the altar


El Greco paintings at the cathedral
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Oct 26th, 2018, 05:59 AM
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DAY FOUR: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9

My Sister was still under the weather, to the extent that she was sure she would not by up to some of the more physically demanding sites even when she started feeling better, so I set out for El Escorial on my own. The bus trip over was pretty easy, taking the freeway through the Northwest suburbs of Madrid, which certainly seemed much nicer than the southern suburbs I had passed the day before on the way to Toledo. The only bad thing about taking the bus is that I couldn’t stop to take some pictures of El Escorial and the nearby Valley of the Fallen from a distance. As to El Escorial, once I got there, I never could get far enough away from it to get a decent picture. The place is enormous. It’s a pity that they will not let you take photos inside because there was plenty to see, so much so that I was physically exhausted after completing the tour. Afterwards, I assessed the dining options nearby and settled on a hotel restaurant, where I ordered the menu del dia, which included two courses, one with fried eggs and blood sausages, the other being pigs cheek. I guess the pig who provided the second course was not very cheeky as there was very little meat, but the eggs and sausage, along with a sponge cake for dessert, were more than enough. After being out in the weather for a couple of days, my sinuses were starting to bother me, so I was content to call it a day once I got back to the apartment.


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Oct 26th, 2018, 06:15 AM
  #12  
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DAY FIVE: WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10

Although my Sister was recuperating, she did not feel like venturing out, and my sinus problem from the day before had developed into a sore throat and headache. If I hadn’t felt a little better late in the afternoon, the highlight would have been doing laundry. But, late in the afternoon, I did rally enough to walk over and see the Palacio Real from the exterior, which, frankly, was good enough for me after having walked a couple of miles through the corridors of El Escorial the day before. I also checked out part of the Gran Via before heading home via the Metro. At Puerta del Sol, there was a group of buskers playing zither (I think that’s the correct instrument) music, and when I got back to the apartment, I told my sister that she would be heartbroken about missing that (she hated the Orson Welles Movie “The Third Man” because the entire soundtrack was zither music). Both my sister and I were feeling good enough to have some chocolate and churros for the first time on the trip later that evening. We didn’t go to the famous San Gines café, but we liked what we got at the chocolate shop on Calle Mayor (the chocolate was really thick).



Palacio Real


Cathedral
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Oct 26th, 2018, 07:42 AM
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Great photos. Sorry your sister was so sick!
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Oct 26th, 2018, 11:53 AM
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I learned to check official websites after my new guidebook told me that Parc Guell is free. When we arrived at the park tickets were sold out for the day. Of course the actual Park is free but one needs a ticket for the interesting bits that everyone hikes up the hill for. And no, it wasn’t Rick Steves.

Having time for proper research sure adds adds to the pleasure of one’s travel. Sadly sometimes we don’t have that time.

In Toledo I learned that when you ask for a GT in Spain what they’re pouring into your glass is the gin (Say when). Lol.
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Oct 26th, 2018, 01:08 PM
  #15  
twk
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Originally Posted by natylou View Post
I learned to check official websites after my new guidebook told me that Parc Guell is free. When we arrived at the park tickets were sold out for the day. Of course the actual Park is free but one needs a ticket for the interesting bits that everyone hikes up the hill for. And no, it wasn’t Rick Steves.

Having time for proper research sure adds adds to the pleasure of one’s travel. Sadly sometimes we don’t have that time.

In Toledo I learned that when you ask for a GT in Spain what they’re pouring into your glass is the gin (Say when). Lol.
I suspect that they changed it sometime this year, after the guidebook was published. I've never been bitten before using those guidebooks, but one reason why might be that I've always traveled in summer time (books are published late in the preceding year), so it may just be a case of the publication being a little dated. Given that I was locked in to travelling on Monday, buying my tickets 90 days in advance, it's even possible that they changed their closing day after I purchased my rail tickets, and thus, too late for me to change plans. But, yes, I'll check those a little more carefully, particularly if I travel in the fall.
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Oct 26th, 2018, 02:48 PM
  #16  
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DAY SIX: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11

For our last day in Madrid, we had some pretty persistent rain, and had to make our way to the Prado in less than pleasant conditions. With the weather forecast pointing toward rain, I decided that I needed to go ahead and get some advance entry tickets, even though I wasn't quite sure how that was going to work. But, I got on the web site, found the purchase option, and, if I recall correctly, it generates a link to your PDF ticket. Not having a printer, I downloaded the PDF file on my tablet, and emailed it to myself so I'd have it on the phone, then went down to the internet cafe that was just down the street and around the corner from our apartment. The guy at the desk had me email the tickets to the shop, and printed them off for 1 euro. It was worth the trouble because the rain was coming down as hard as it did all day when we showed up just after opening time. Having tickets in hand allowed us to skip the purchase line, and go to the Jeronimos entry. The up side to the bad weather was that the crowd at the Prado was smaller than would probably have been the case on a good weather day--in fact, the crowd started picking up as the rain slackened a bit. We set a deliberate pace, and took a break to have an early lunch in the cafeteria. In a little under three hours, we managed to see all that we wanted to see. Although smaller than the Louvre, the quantity of masterpieces was enough to keep you occupied just going from one to the next. In some ways, I prefer the Prado to the Louvre because you can spend half a day at the Prado and cover it pretty well, but half a day at the Louvre still leaves some big gaps.

With the poor weather, and we decided not to try either the Thyssen or the Reina Sofia (not being modern art fans, we might have passed on the Reina Sofia anyway), and having slogged through the rain from the Banco de Espana metro stop to get there, we made the sensible decision to take a cab back to the apartment.

DAY SEVEN: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12

Today, we changed bases from Madrid to Seville, but, along the way, we stopped for about seven hours in Cordoba, with our primary objective being a tour of the Mezquita. We used the handy taxi rank to catch a cab to Atocha around 7:30 for our 8:45 train. Our train arrived at Cordoba at 10:38, and we headed over to the bus station in order to put our bags in the lockers there. Bags stowed, we took a taxi to the Mezquita, arriving a little after 11, only to find that the place would be closed until 3:00 while the cathedral held a service, which the sign described as honoring the beatification of someone. Was this scheduled for October 12 since it was a national holiday? Perhaps. Whatever the reason, we, and the hordes of tour groups who flooded the town at midday, had to find something else to do while the Mezquita was closed, which meant that pretty much every alternative was overrun. We walked around and looked at the city wall, the long Roman bridge, and some of the surrounding neighborhood, even stopping at a municipal museum to look at a small exhibition of impressionist paintings (and use their very nice aseos), but ran out of things to do. Since our train to Seville wasn’t until 5:44, we decided to hang out in the courtyard of the Mezquita, waiting for tickets to go on sale for the reopening. I was hoping to wait as long as possible before venturing back into the sun to stand in line. Sure enough, some eager beavers started lining up around 1:45, so I joined them, near the front of what became a very long line. Fortunately, they began selling tickets at 2:30, and let us in to the Mezquita around 2:50. The dark interior made for quite a photography challenge, but, the long closure chased off all but one tour group, and let us have a very uncrowded and leisurely look around this huge ancient mosque with a Renaissance cathedral in the middle of it. An hour was sufficient for us, and left us plenty of time to kill waiting for our 5:44 train. There were other things that I suppose we could have seen in Cordoba, but I was satisfied with seeing the Mezquita as a stop on our way to Seville, given the number of days we had on our trip. We made it to Seville around 6:30, and made it over to our apartment at Plaza Alfaro, next to the Alcazar gardens. We ventured out for a snack, but called it night without doing any serious looking around.


View from the courtyard, showing how the cathedral rises out of the middle of the mosque


The mosque contains acres of these red and white striped arches


The mirah, the focal point of worship at the mosque


The main altar of the cathedral--you can see more of the mosque arches off to the right
twk is offline  
Oct 26th, 2018, 03:08 PM
  #17  
 
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An interesting read - when I was considering Spain (but ended up choosing Italy that year), I remember wondering whether Toledo and Cordoba would suit a couple of nights or whether using the cities as bases and daytripping would be better.
Adelaidean is offline  
Oct 26th, 2018, 07:10 PM
  #18  
twk
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Originally Posted by Adelaidean View Post
An interesting read - when I was considering Spain (but ended up choosing Italy that year), I remember wondering whether Toledo and Cordoba would suit a couple of nights or whether using the cities as bases and daytripping would be better.
With more time than the two weeks I had, I'd probably spend a nigh in Cordoba. Had I not been trying to maximize time in Madrid to satisfy the third member of our trip who backed out, I probably would have gone straight from the airport to Toledo and spent 2 nights there, giving us the recovery day and one full day for sightseeing, depending on the days of the week and what's OPEN (Saturday and Sunday probably would have been OK for that, although Sunday has reduced hours at a number of sights), although that's probably more due to my feeling that Madrid was a little underwhelming. Regardless, I was satisfied with doing both as daytrips, given our time constraints, so if you find yourself considering the daytrip option, I wouldn't feel like you're making some terrible mistake.
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Oct 26th, 2018, 10:09 PM
  #19  
 
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Too bad you did not see less touristy
parts of Madrid like beautiful park Retiro, the elegant, leafy barrio Salamanca full of restaurants, caffes ,galleries and upscale shops and gorgeous buildings. Lovely , long streets like Serrano ,Goya , Velasquez have a completely different atmosphere than the area around Sol and Mayor.
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Oct 27th, 2018, 06:27 AM
  #20  
twk
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Originally Posted by danon View Post
Too bad you did not see less touristy
parts of Madrid like beautiful park Retiro, the elegant, leafy barrio Salamanca full of restaurants, caffes ,galleries and upscale shops and gorgeous buildings. Lovely , long streets like Serrano ,Goya , Velasquez have a completely different atmosphere than the area around Sol and Mayor.
.
I had intended to explore that area a bit when we did the Prado, but weather did not cooperate. I looked at some apartments in that area, but just didn't find anything that really excited me. Madrid is not a bad town by any means, but I, like a lot of other folks, found other parts of Spain more attractive.
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