Peggy and Sandy's Spain trip

May 19th, 2011, 12:24 PM
Join Date: Aug 2009
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I'm enjoying your trip report. I'm glad you changed your schedule so Sandy could see Grenada and Cordba. Along with Sevilla, these were standouts for us last year in our month long tour of Spain. I liked your comment about the cathedral stuck right in the middle of the Mezquita. Your thoughts were so much like my own.
Ifnotnow_when is offline  
May 20th, 2011, 08:31 AM
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This morning I was thinking about the day the water main was broken in Zafra, so that we had no water AT ALL in the hotel. Apparently it was a city-wide problem. We left town without even brushing our teeth. But more about that later.

After our visit to the cathedral, we went into the barrio Santa Cruz in search of food. We found a pleasant restaurant in a shady plaza. I think the restaurant's name was the Hosteria Doña Lina. The tables surrounded a little sandy area in which children were playing. Sandy had chicken and I had sole--both delicious, but, as usual, we had paid no attention to prices, and I was startled to realize that the lunch had cost us about $85! Just food--no wine.

We wandered through the Barrio Santa Cruz with Sandy shopping for gifts for her daughter and grandson. She never did find anything for either--until the Madrid airport where she found a couple of little-boy geegaws for Charlie. The barrio is quite charming, with its narrow streets and tree-shaded squares and brightly painted buildings. The architecture is so pretty that I even took a few pictures of places I especially liked--a mark of real interest, since I usually forgot to think about my camera.

Somewhere during our time in Sevilla, we took a hop-on/hop-off bus tour, where we saw areas we probably wouldn't have seen otherwise--the Plaza de America and the Plaza de España among them. As for the rest of the tour, it basically pointed out various buildings--la Real Fabrica de Tabacos, now a part of the Universidad Sevilla, and the Hospital de la Santa Caridad. If it go to Sevilla again, I'd want to see the interior of the hospital and perhaps wander the grounds of the fabrica.

Our hotel was across the river by the Puente de Isabel. It was a sort of neighborly place that didn't feel at all touristy and apparently had been (an perhaps still is)known for its artisans. The street leading from the bridge, San Jacinto, was always filled with pedestrians and coffee or wine drinkers. Very lively. When it rained, everyone crowded into bars and cafes, but as soon as the rain stopped, they all popped out again.

When I asked the English-speaking receptionist (he of the "mental powers" comment) if it would be possible to find a book anywhere, he at first told me that no stores would be open during Semana Santa, but then gave me directions to a convenience store, VIP's, where I might be able to find one. He even marked it on a map for me. So Sandy and I took a loooong walk (for Sandy, anyway), heading down Pagés del Curro, in search of a book. Sandy's hip was in pain, so she sat down at a café while I plodded along in search of VIP's. No such store exists.

Though the stores were closed, we did see something of the life of the people--schools, furniture stores, etc., as well as the ubiquitous bars and cafes so beloved of the Spanish. We went to Mass on Sunday at the church next door to our hotel, and I later wandered down the street to find a locutorio where I could email the folks at home.

I think I'll post this and then start another, since I seem to be on a roll.
Pegontheroad is offline  
May 20th, 2011, 09:59 AM
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Since much of the last part of our trip was to be by car, I had arranged to pick up the car at Santa Justa train station and then drop it off at Atocha in Madrid. But as time drew near to pick up the car, panic began to rise in my heart. The idea of driving out of Sevilla through Spanish traffic filled me with terror. These are the people, after all, who invented bullfighting and who celebrate the feast of San Fermín with the running of the bulls at Pamplona! The streets of Sevilla are often twisting, with one-way streets suddenly appearing to confuse the unwary. I decided to call Hertz and see if I could pick up the car at the airport instead, and to my great relief, Hertz said I could do that.

Once again, I was thankful for my Spanish, since the first Hertz office I spoke to didn't speak English and informed me that there'd be an English-speaker at the airport, which there was. We got the key to the car and the number of the spot where it was located in the garage and went off the find the car. I parked Sandra somewhere and went off in search of the car--a fruitless search. I couldn't find the darned thing. Finally I returned to the desk, whereupon a clerk came out with me and found it. They'd given me the wrong location, though it was only off by one or two numbers, and I felt foolish at not seeing the license.

The car was a Saab, which I quite liked. We made our way to our first Extremaduran town, Zafra, in an easy drive. By this time I had learned to listen to Sandra's suggestions as to directions, and after driving through ghastly-looking industrial outskirts, we found the lovely older town. Our hotel was the Huerta Honda, a rather elegant building with quirky furnishings in the labyrinthine public areas. Sandra thought some of the public areas were too dark, but I liked them a lot.

Our room was also quite elegant, newly remodeled, with a lot of lavender color as the theme. In our particular room, the bathroom was set off by a large slab of something and didn't have a separate door. The sink was very large--maybe 2 feet wide, and rectangular shaped.

We had breakfast in the bar and later ate lunch in the restaurant, which was very airy and charming. Our waiter, I'm afraid, became a bit cranky when we had trouble ordering spaghetti for Sandy. The menu listed all these other toppings one could have with spaghetti, but we didn't understand that at first. We thought the spaghetti came with all those toppings at once. I don't recall what else was on the menu, but I think the items must have been the sort that a finicky eater such as myself backs away from. I think I accidentally ended up eating plain spaghetti--and we both had mixed salads.

Later that day, I went off to find cheese, bread, and fruit for our supper, and while I was strolling about the town, I also found a bookstore. The store had a good collection of classics, as I recall, but I wasn't in the mood for anything uplifting, so I bought this book by Christopher Reich, called "Fugitivo," for which I paid the euro equivalent of $30--and that's for a book in Spanish. (And I later left the book behind somewhere!) Aargh!

This was the final straw in my European book-buying adventures. I'm a voracious reader, and the dilemma for me is what to do about books when I travel. Before my next trip, I will get a Kindle or some other e-book. At home I buy a lot of used books, and I'm not crazy about paying full price for a book that I'll read in a night or two, but anything's better than paying $15 (in Málaga) or $30 in Zafra for a book that I'll lose before I finish reading it.

We wanted to have a look at the castle, which has been turned into a parador, so we wandered through the magnificent public rooms. We also had lunch there. It was quite good, but it was the most expensive lunch I have ever eaten in my life, anywhere, at any time. I cost $105 for the two of us. Once again, I wasn't paying attention to the cost when we ordered, and I wouldn't have cared much if I had thought about it, but as I looked over the charges afterward, I had a sudden longing for a Big Mac and fries.

We had a second comfy night in our room, but in the morning, when I turned on the faucet in the bathroom, nothing happened. I tried again in a short time. Still nothing. So I went down to the desk to report the problem and was told that there was no water anywhere in town, as far as they knew. A pipe had apparently broken. They gave us a big bottle of water, and we combed our hair, put on our clothes and left. It was surprisingly easy. I don't know why I haven't thought of just skipping the whole hygiene routine occasionally.

Speaking of which, I need to take a shower and brush my teeth. I guess today isn't going to be the day I try to eliminate hygiene measures.
Pegontheroad is offline  
May 20th, 2011, 10:07 AM
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I almost never read trip reports, usually find them tedious, but I'm loving yours!

elberko is online now  
May 20th, 2011, 11:45 PM
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It is a pity you spent so little time in Zafra, this is a very charming town and a good base for sidetrips to Fregenal de la Sierra and others. The tourist office staff was very kind and helpful, and they made then walking tours for free. Though we were staying at the Parador With its impressive courtyard), we had a detailed tour of the castle. I may have a report posted here.
josele is offline  
May 21st, 2011, 03:08 AM
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Marking. Enjoying your report, peg. Sorry your travel mate having problems.
TDudette is online now  
May 21st, 2011, 04:02 AM
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I feel for your experience in Zafra with no water. Many years ago I was traveling as a chaperone with a bunch of high school students. In Granada we stayed at a hotel which was an adventure in many ways--no electricity one night, horrible food, half under renovation, leaky roof in severe storm, creepy noises at night among the problems. The experience was topped off with no water on our last day. No bottled water available. The problem was the hotel's not a city pipe.

Several hours out of town two pairs of student roommates told us that they had put the plugs in the sink and tubs of their bathrooms and turned on the taps all the way. I don't think there were emergency overflow slots.

And there was nothing to do. We were in the middle of nowhere and this was long before cellphones. Oh well.
irishface is offline  
May 21st, 2011, 04:02 AM
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I feel for your experience in Zafra with no water. Many years ago I was traveling as a chaperone with a bunch of high school students. In Granada we stayed at a hotel which was an adventure in many ways--no electricity one night, horrible food, half under renovation, leaky roof in severe storm, creepy noises at night among the problems. The experience was topped off with no water on our last day. No bottled water available. The problem was the hotel's not a city pipe.

Several hours out of town two pairs of student roommates told us that they had put the plugs in the sink and tubs of their bathrooms and turned on the taps all the way. I don't think there were emergency overflow slots.

And there was nothing to do. We were in the middle of nowhere and this was long before cellphones. Oh well.
irishface is offline  
May 21st, 2011, 06:48 AM
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Surprisingly, we weren't upset by the water problem. The hotel gave us a big bottle of water, and we were on our way. I think the people who had a tough time were those who had to stay in town--who lived there. I do regret that I didn't see more of Zafra, though.

Irishface, traveling with a bunch of h.s. kids is my idea of a really hellish way to spend some time. You never know what they will do. I could tell you some stories...

Anyway, happily unwashed, we set out for Mérida,a drive of about an hour. Mérida is a good-sized city, so we immediately got a bit jumpy about finding the Parador, but we followed some signs and came upon it quite easily. We parked the car in the basement garage--more about that later.

The parador was a rather austere but quite elegant former convent, beautifully furnished, with corridors stretching over a large area. As soon as we were settled, I set out to see some of the famous Roman ruins, passing Trajan's arch (not very impressive except for the fact of its age and the further fact that it is, after all, Trajan's arch.) I wandered through the twisting streets in search of the temple of Diana, stopping for a coke at a sun-filled plaza and staying to admire the architecture of surrounding buildings.

I found the temple, which was mostly columns--rather Parthenon-like, and further down the street, more columns and some headless statues. As an admirer of the Romans, I thought these ruins were impressive, but it was later, when we saw the Roman theater, that I was really impressed.

I wandered through the streets, which were narrow and filled with shops and people. At one point I saw a plaque in the sidewalk with a Roman-type insignia and the name "Augusta Emerita," the original name of the city when it was established by retired Roman soldiers. I was quite thrilled when I saw the plaque, but didn't take a picture of it since it was spotted with squashed black wads of chewing gum--probably America's most notorious contribution to world culture.

I did not get lost on my return to the parador, though I admit that I probably saw a little more of Mérida than I had planned to see. When I returned, Sandy was sitting in a chair near the window, fascinated by a some birds in a large nest on a chimney nearby. They looked to me like cranes. The mother (and some of the time, the father, too) were feeding two young cranes. The young'uns occasionally flapped their wings as if they were trying to fly once they had their fill of whatever mom and dad were providing. We did ask the waiter in the bar what kind of birds they could be, and he said they were sparrows or swallows. Obviously, he was not an ornithologist! We never did find out what they were, but Sandy watched them a lot.
Pegontheroad is offline  
May 22nd, 2011, 12:54 PM
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On our second day, we went to the major attraction of Mérida, the wonderful Roman theater and amphitheater. I think an emotional highlight of the trip for me was Sandra's reaction when she first saw the theater, with its stage, columns, statues and seating all very well-preserved. She was so overwhelmed that she had to fight back tears! I'd been worried that she wasn't having a good (enough) time because walking was difficult for her, and I was reassured when I saw her reaction. Actually, I was thrilled.

We wandered over to nearby ruins and looked at the mosaic in the ruin of an old house. A young-ish Spanish couple began talking to us and asked if we were American. They said they were from Mallorca, whereupon I responded that I had vacationed in Mallorca twice during the sixties. They thought I had made a mistake in my Spanish numbers (not impossible for me, as I find Spanish ordinal numbers tricky), and they said something to the effect of "surely not." I said yes, "before the seventies." They laughed and said that they were "this high" (or its Spanish equivalent) and held a hand very low to show just how high. I loved it, of course.

We also went to the amphitheater, but were not as impressed with it, since it is not as well-preserved. There were flocks of young kids roaming around--noisy but charming--with teachers trying to rein in their enthusiasm, as they ducked into various openings and nooks and crannies of the structure. We left that area and went to a restaurant on the grounds, where we had something-or-other for lunch. Afterward, we wandered over to the museum, where we made the amateur's mistake of spending too much time on the first floor, so that we were too tired and our feet hurt too much to move on to upper floors.

Having lost my little digital recorder (among other things), I have no idea what we did the rest of the day, except that we had lunch in the bar. Sandy was undoubtedly watching the cranes in their nests, and I was probably working on my cross stitch. We both also read a good deal throughout the trip, and we watched television. We saw "The Queen," with Helen Mirren and also a documentary about whichever king it was who abdicated and married Wallis Simspson. I had seen both of those stories in English, so I could follow the Spanish enough to translate for Sandy when the dialogue wasn't too complicated.

The next morning we checked out, and I was amazed to see that the parking had cost $25 per night! That was more or less evened out by the fact that the breakfasts were only about $15 each, which wasn't too bad.

I guess I could say that on this trip I discovered my inner cheapskate. I've never paid much attention to costs, except room cost, on my trips, but that certainly wasn't the case this time. Maybe it's just that Spain is especially expensive. I don't know. Our room at the parador was about $150 per night--not outrageous, but no bargain, either.

So we start out for our last city, Madrid, and as we neared it,I began worrying about how we were going to get to the airport to return our car. Sandy was reading the map but couldn't see which road we needed to take. I kept assuring her that we would eventually see the little airplane on the highway sign that indicates the freeway to the airport, even on the south side of the city. I assured her repeatedly that we'd see this. However, the first thing we knew, we were in Madrid Centro in rush hour traffic, and I was getting very stressed. It was hellish! Sandy kept saying that I should ask someone how to get to the right freeway, A-2, but I didn't see what information I could get when we were stopped by a taxi, for instance, for 30 seconds. Besides I'm quite stubborn, and I hate asking for directions.

We finally did ask, though, and a confused taxi driver told us that we were going the wrong way. We were really stuck, however, and couldn't even change lanes. Eventually I decided to just head back out of town, find a freeway and look for A-2 going south. I figured that once I did that, I could take an exit and pick up A-2 going north. That's what we did, and it worked.
Pegontheroad is offline  
May 22nd, 2011, 02:32 PM
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The birds you mention were probably Storks, they are very common in the area. And the king was Edward VIII.
josele is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2011, 01:12 PM
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Peg, I am in Spain right now (completely different cities) and couldn't resist reading your report when I saw you had written one about Spain. I've read your reports in the past and really enjoyed them. I'm glad to hear that you will return to Spain next year; I'm already plotting a return!
noe847 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2011, 01:30 PM
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Lovely report! I have enjoyed following you and your friend through Andalucia.

Could the birds have been storks?

Also, become a member of Amigos de los Paradores.. you will get free parking and a welcome drink every time you stay there.
lincasanova is offline  

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