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Solo tour of Spain in 16 Days - loved it!

Solo tour of Spain in 16 Days - loved it!

Old Nov 4th, 2010, 05:02 PM
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Solo tour of Spain in 16 Days - loved it!

Hello Fodors Forum Fans!

This is my very first trip report, where I’ll be discussing my trip to Spain last January. I was actually there 10 months ago, but just haven’t gotten around to writing this! There are 2 main reasons why I wanted to post this:
1. I did a TON of planning and research, beginning 5 months prior to my trip. It would seem like a waste if I didn’t share it with you, especially since the trip was a great success and all my research really paid off.
2. I really relied on these forums in researching my trip, so it’s only fair to give something back and help others who may be considering a similar vacation, and may not have the time to investigate every detail in their own preparation.
First a bit of background. I am a male in my mid 30s, from Ontario Canada, who has been to Europe before, but never took a solo trip like this and does not speak Spanish.
In brief, my trip began in Barcelona and moved onto Granada, Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial & Valley of the Fallen, Cordoba, and finally Seville. I traveled for 16 days and slept in 6 different cities. I’ll talk about my accommodations in detail later, but my main objective in choosing a place to stay, was to pick the cheapest possible option that met 2 conditions: (a) central location and (b) well reviewed by others. I’m happy to say that all my lodging choices worked out great, and I would strongly recommend them to anyone.

Preparation and Research
First off, a bit about how I got ready to tackle Spain and why I picked it. Simply, I was getting tired of hearing countless friends rave about what an incredible destination it is! I had to go see it for myself! So I committed to seeing as much as possible in the time I had. I wasn`t going to Spain to lounge on a beach or to feast on 3-hour dinners. This was all about seeing as much as possible, while keeping an eye on the outflow of euros!
My original thought was to take a guided tour and leave the planning to others. But I am quite independent, and I enjoy planning things and don’t mind having the responsibility fall on me in case things don’t quite work out.
I went back-and-forth on this decision for a few months...independent travel or group tour?
In the end, I suppose it was these Fodors forums that really helped me decide on doing things independently. I read a great deal of comments from people who had gone through a similar dilemma, and it seemed that the vast majority of them ended up being so happy that they decided against the tour-group thing. Now I can count myself among those happy independent travelers! But I knew that traveling independently was going to mean LOTS of research...which cities to visit? In which order? How long to spend in each place? How to get from A to B to C to......?

To prepare for the trip, I went to the library and read ALL the major guidebooks on Spain: Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, etc...I’m sure you know the list if you’re researching a trip of your own. (My 2 cents worth: after having read them all, I felt that Fodors was the best. I liked the layout of the book, the fantastic writing, and simply the way it inspires a travelers’ imagination.)
Because I was very limited in terms of packing, there was really only room for one guidebook. I chose to pack the latest Rick Steves Spain book because it was about half the size of Fodors Spain, and also because of his unique way of walking you through the major attractions and sites...whether it be Madrid’s Prado Museum or The Alhambra in Granada. It pointed out many things that I definitely would not have caught on my own while visiting these sites.
By reading all the travel guides, I was able to form a consensus on which cities were most significant, held the most spectacular sites, and were really worth my time. I also examined the itineraries of the various tour companies (ex., Trafalgar and Contiki) to see which cities their Spanish tours visited, and what they highlighted in each location.

Accommodations were chosen mainly by consulting the TripAdvisor and Booking.com websites. My method for choosing the hotels was to rank them by price using the tools on the respective sites, then to pore through reviews for each one, to see if they offered decent quality to go with the low prices. As I said earlier, all the hotels (mostly `hostals`, which are different from hostels) worked out great and I`d stay at each one again. They all had private baths and were centrally located. And each one was perfectly quiet, allowing me to get a good night`s rest after walking a few kilometres every day!

Traveling Light - the ONLY way to go!
I mentioned being limited in my ability to pack - that’s because I was traveling very light. I decided to do what many travelers have chosen to do: leave the big suitcase at home! And how happy I am with that decision! I brought along a carry-on size Samsonite rolling backpack, purchased especially for this trip. I can’t say enough good things about it. It was lightweight, and so easy to manage flights of stairs, getting in and out of trains, and simply being mobile while having just enough room for the things I really needed.
This philosophy of bringing less on vacation is another idea I learned through these forums. Thanks for the recommendation everyone! Sure, I could have brought a large backpack as many others do, but I would probably have filled it up with things I didn’t need, while at the same time, not being able to roll it on smooth surfaces and saving space and weight.
Here’s what I brought for my 16 days: small notebook with pen, small backpack, Rick Steves Spain guidebook, Barcelona city guidebook (which I left behind when I left town), 2 tshirts, 2 pairs of cargo pants with lots of pockets, 1 long sleeve tshirt, 1 button-up shirt, 1 sweater, a light jacket, hat, toque, sunglasses, flannel sleep pants and sleep tshirt, about 4-5 pair of socks, 1 pair of Skechers casual shoes, and underwear. (Tip - I brought old underwear that had seen better days...rather than lugging it around til the next laundry stop, I simply threw it out as I went! Cut down on bulk and laundry duties, while getting rid of items which were due to be tossed out anyway!)

Traveling in Winter
Due to my work schedule, I have more time to take my holidays in January and February. Although some destinations may have lacked the ambience that comes with big crowds and spectacular summer weather, that’s a small price to pay for enjoying little to no lineups, small crowds, and lower prices! I was able to enjoy ‘low season’ rates at all my lodgings, availability was no problem (although I did book about a month in advance), and check-in and check-out were a breeze. Cathedrals, buses, restaurants and museums weren’t overly crowded...a great thing for a person like me who doesn’t have a lot of patience for waiting in line and fighting through throngs of tourists!
The weather was very comfortable throughout Spain in mid-January. On the coldest day (in Segovia), the temperature was about 7 degrees C, but sunny, so I was warm enough in my layers of tshirt, shirt, sweater and light jacket. Whenever I felt a slight chill, I only had to think of what my home (Ontario, Canada) would feel like (BRRR), and suddenly I felt a lot warmer!
Fortunately, there was a lot of sunshine during my vacation. Most days averaged 12-15 degrees C, with the mildest day being 18 degrees in Barcelona. That felt great in January!

So that covers my introduction. I will be adding detailed descriptions of the points on my itinerary. Along the way I’ll hopefully give you some ideas for your own Spanish trek, and save you a few euros along the way! Thanks for reading so far!
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Old Nov 4th, 2010, 06:07 PM
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Deonca, glad to hear that you had such agreeable weather in January. Also great to hear packing suggestions for a male traveling to Europe. Look forward to your report on Spain.
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Old Nov 5th, 2010, 05:24 AM
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Thank you, looking forward to your next post. Planning a solo trip to Spain, for the near future.
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Old Nov 6th, 2010, 12:40 PM
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Day 1 - Barcelona

(Before getting into my report, I should tell you that I have included as much detail as I can remember, or wrote down in my trip journal. I have decided to err on the side of ‘too much information’. If you’re like me, you kind of enjoy the little details such as the cost of a beer or a sandwich, or how long a typical visit to a tourist attraction would require. This info might help you budget your time and your funds!)

(I had actually flown Air France from Toronto to Paris, and spent a week with family in Belgium prior to going to Spain.)

After seeing an Ian Brown concert in Brussels (what a way to kick off the trip!), the next morning I caught a Ryanair flight from Charleroi (about an hour from Brussels) to Girona.

Ryanair turned out to be a great money saver for my trip. I had planned to take trains between cities, but when I priced out the flights on Ryanair`s website, I was absolutely blown away...I actually bought my flight tickets at 1 EURO EACH!!! It cost more to process my credit card (5 euros per transaction) than for the actual ticket! (Airfares fluctuate so you need to check their site often.)
There are drawbacks to Ryanair, however: checked baggage costs extra, you always need to print your own boarding pass prior to coming to the airport (to avoid their stiff 40 euro fee), and Ryanair usually flies to suburban airports, outside the city centre. Fortunately there were easy bus connections into each city.

The Ryanair flight landed at 11:45am. I purchased a return shuttle bus ticket (€21) from Girona to the Barcelona Nord station. Here’s the link for the ‘Barcelona Bus’ (trip time 1h15m): http://www.sagales.com/index.php?Ori...=15&secc=cerca
I reached my hotel around 1:30.

I stayed at the Best Western Hotel del Teatre Auditori, a short walk from the bus station. It`s near the Monumental Metro stop, about a 10 minute walk from Sagrada Familia. Fortunately, I was able to book this hotel using rewards points. The rooms here are ultra-modern, incredibly clean and comfortable. The staff is excellent and very friendly. There were no problems communicating in English. Each morning I enjoyed a breakfast consisting of various cold cuts, bread, cereal, fruit, coffee, juices, cheese, and chocolate croissants. This kept me full until mid-afternoon.

After checking into the hotel and taking a nap, I met up with a friend who lives in Barcelona, along with her friend who was visiting from Poland. First, we walked a few blocks to the Sagrada Familia, the massive church which is still under construction. This is a truly spectacular sight, one which I couldn’t wait to see. I quickly snapped several photos in the fading afternoon light, trying to take it all in. There`s so much detail to behold, one could spend hours staring at the awesome workmanship which has gone into the construction of this unbelievable structure.
From there, we walked over to catch a glimpse of Casa Mila and Casa Battlo, two more architectural ‘Modernista’ marvels which are a must for any Barcelona visitor.
By now it was dark, so we sought out some dinner at a tapas bar near my friend`s place. Because it was too far to walk, we took the Metro, so I purchased a package of 10 Metro tickets for €7.85.
The tapas bar was fantastic! My first taste of authentic Spanish tapas! We had plates of cheese, tortillas, croquettes, and a `Jamon Serrano` sandwich (delicious ham!). My friend ordered a plate of olives, which I first ignored because I don`t like olives. But guess what...I decided to try a few, and now I like olives! The total was €10 per person for all this food and a bottle of pink cava! Off to a delicious (and cheap) start! Sorry I don’t remember the name of the place.
We met up with my friend`s co-workers and had a few drinks before calling it a night. A cab ride back to the hotel (about 10 minutes) cost €10.
After years of anticipation, my first few hours in Barcelona were wonderful. Can’t wait to see more tomorrow!

Day 2 - Barcelona - Parc Guell

After a great night`s sleep, I awoke at 9:15. Right away I was glad that I wasn`t on a guided tour. There`s no roommate to keep you up with his snoring, and you don`t have a 7am wake-up call!
After a hearty breakfast, I took the Metro up to the Lesseps station, met up with the girls, and we walked about 15 minutes uphill to Parc Guell. We spent about 2 hours there (plenty of time for a relaxing stroll and lots of picture taking). This was one of the highlights of my entire trip. The weather was spectacular (crystal clear skies, sunshine and 15 degrees), which made our visit to this magical site even more special. The sun caught the sparkle in each tile of the long serpentine bench. I had read that this can be a very crowded place, but thankfully it wasn`t too crazy. If you only have a day or two in Barcelona, please make time to visit Parc Guell...you`ve never seen anything like it! The views over the city and the Mediterranean are breathtaking. A number of musicians (buskers) are there to provide a little extra ambience to the place. Very peaceful, and very unique. Already I was feeling like Barcelona was going to be a fun place to be!
Around 2pm we took the Metro to Placa Catalunya, the main square in Barcelona. We enjoyed a drink outside on a terrace along Calle de Tallers. I am an avid collector of music, so this street was definitely one of my targets, as it has a great number of very cool record stores.
We then wandered down The Ramblas, the famous strip filled with street performers and various vendors selling everything from artwork to birds to flowers. This strip just teems with energy and bustles at any hour of the day.

A word about safety: a lot is said about Barcelona`s reputation as a haven for pickpockets. I was well aware of this beforehand, so I always made sure to carry my wallet in my front pocket and be careful in crowds. I never had any issues here (or in any other place I visited in Spain). I wore sunglasses, walked with purpose, and looked everyone in the face as I was meeting them...it served me well and I made it through alright!

From La Ramblas, we wandered through the maze-like Barri Gotic. We visited the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar as it was getting dark. (Free entry). Afterwards, we had something to eat at a restaurant at #46 Via Laetana called ‘Rosa Negra’. I enjoyed ‘tortilla soup’ and we shared a bottle of red wine.
In the Barri Gotic, I visited one of the shops recommended in the guidebooks - ‘Bubo’ is a famous pastry shop located near Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral. My sweet tooth wasn’t going to let me pass this place by, so I had to sample one of their cakes. A slice cost €3.50 - it was amazing! I don’t recall the name of the cake but I’m sure any one of their many choices would be excellent.
At 7pm we went to Plaza Espana to see the `Magic Fountains`. We waited for an hour but there was no water show on this night! Too bad...but a good reason to come back again!
We enjoyed a late dinner at a friend’s house, and then went out to a bar called ‘Quilombo’ with live Catalan music provided by a lone singer with acoustic guitar. What an atmosphere! There were about 75 people packed into a room which probably measured 30x30 feet! The stools were about a foot off the floor and we were literally packed like sardines! It felt a little weird to be jammed in so tight, but after a while I got used to sitting in the cramped quarters. Everyone in the room was clearly having an awesome time, shoulder to shoulder, singing along at the top of their lungs. As I surveyed the room, I didn’t see a single tourist, which made this an even more authentic Spanish experience. It was one of the most vivid memories of my trip.

Day 3 - Barcelona - The Ramblas, The Port and FC Barcelona

After a nice long sleep, I caught the Metro to Placa Catalunya at 11:30. I spent a long time shopping at FNAC, a large retailer which carries CDs, DVDs, games, books, etc. I then wandered down The Ramblas to the port, and went up the Columbus Monument (only €3!). I took tons of photos as I enjoyed a commanding 360 degree view of the city. I was up there for about 20 minutes and only saw 2 other people. Just another reason to visit Barcelona in January rather than July!
At 4pm I met up with my friends, outside the Hard Rock Café at Placa Catalunya. From there we wandered down to a restaurant called ‘Creps Barcelona’ (Via Laetana 45) which specializes in crepes. I enjoyed an outstanding Dulce De Leche crepe with a sparkling water (€8). We then took a nice 2.5 hour walk down to Barceloneta, checked out Gehry`s Fish, and back up through the Raval neighborhood to my friend`s house.
I then caught the Metro up to the Casa Mila area, where I met up with my cousin and her husband, who live in Barcelona. We grabbed some tapas and then took a cab to the Camp Nou - home of the world`s greatest soccer team, FC Barcelona! They were playing Sevilla at 10pm. I was really looking forward to this. To avoid disappointment, I bought my tickets online before leaving for Europe. (They cost €40 for seats in the upper deck). A light drizzle didn`t dampen my enjoyment of the game, and the talented Barcelona team made it look easy as they rolled over Sevilla by a score of 4-0, with 2 goals by the world`s best player, Lionel Messi (yes I am a little bit biased!). I had expected to be seated in the midst of local supporters, but most of the fans in my section were fellow tourists, many of them American. As the game ended, and tens of thousands of fans flushed out onto the streets, we had to hold hands to avoid getting separated in the crush of people! After a couple beers at the pub, I made my way back to the hotel at 3:15am.

Day 4 - Barcelona - Museum Day

I took the Metro to Pl. Universitat at noon. I had planned to do some relaxed shopping in the many record stores along Calle des Tallers, but unfortunately they were closed. So I altered my plan and headed to the City History Museum (€7 admission including audioguide). This was definitely a worthwhile destination, as recommended in the guidebooks. Here you see the ruins of an old house, 65 feet underground, with different rooms for laundry, dyeing, curing fish, winemaking, etc.

Following my tour, I made the short walk over to the Picasso Museum, arriving at 2:45pm. I got in line outside, to take advantage of free entry which began at 3pm. There were about 30 people ahead of me at that point, but the line moved smoothly and wasn`t a problem. I spent an hour in this museum and enjoyed it very much.
This turned out to be a quiet Sunday evening, spent with friends who had to work the next day, so I wasn`t out too late on this night...lights out at 1am (which is early for this vacation!).

Day 5 - Barcelona - Gaudi Day: Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila

Off to an early start today, up at 8:30am. First stop, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, begun in 1882 and still under construction. This was one of the big items on my list of things to see, so I took my time here. I paid €16 admission (including audioguide). I was inside from 10:10am until 12 noon. Price was a little steep, but I believe it was worthwhile and I’m glad I saw the inside. Unfortunately, access to the stairs or elevator was closed, so I wasn’t able to go up for what is apparently an excellent view of the city and the church. Part of the visit includes an interesting exhibit which shows how Gaudi was inspired by nature as he developed his plans for the church. After taking a few last photos of Sagrada Familia, I hopped onto the Metro and headed for Casa Mila.
Casa Mila (La Pedrera) is another unique building which is definitely worth a look. I paid €13 admission, including audioguide. My visit lasted 1 hour. Although I found it interesting, I can’t honestly classify this as a ‘must see’. From the outside, yes, it’s very cool, but I didn’t find my inside visit terribly memorable. Perhaps that’s because I had just come from the remarkable Sagrada Familia, which made it hard for Casa Mila to impress me as much. I think Rick Steves’ guidebook has it correct when it assigns 3 stars to ‘S.F.’ and only 2 stars to ‘C.M.’ But that’s just my opinion...others may be more impressed by it. I guess you’ll have to see for yourself!

Enough Modernisme for a while, time for a change of pace...
I caught the Metro and headed to Calle des Tallers for some CD shopping. Great shops along here, outstanding collections of all types of music.
Then I walked over to the Boqueria, the city’s famous market just off The Ramblas. I was getting hungry so I downed a couple of fresh fruit smoothies (offered in about 20 flavours at only €1 each) and a smoked ham and cheese sandwich (€2). Real food, fresh and delicious.
Refreshed, I walked over to the Cathedral of Barcelona, which was free after 5:15pm. (I’m so glad I did my homework ahead of time to catch some major attractions during their free admission times!) I stayed for about half an hour.
At 6pm I found a little coffee shop in the Barri Gotic, where I made time to enjoy a temptation I had read about in the guidebooks - ‘chocolate con churros’. This is basically the thickest, richest hot chocolate you’ve ever seen, and it’s served with deep-fried donut sticks (prepared fresh for you) which you dunk in the thick chocolate. Cost was €4. This is one rich treat! Mmm!
My final night in Barcelona was spent with my cousin and her husband. We enjoyed delicious tapas at a classy bar called ‘Ciudad Condal’. Selections included large red pepper skins stuffed with tuna, hard strong cheese, mini juicy cheeseburgers, asparagus, and scrambled eggs mixed with spinach. I quickly understood that ‘tapas’ doesn’t just mean nachos and cheese - it can be meat, fish, veggies, virtually anything! A fun way to sample several delicious foods without waiting. Service as provided by the waiters in white jackets was very prompt. Several plates of tapas, enough to satisfy my appetite, and 2 beers, worked out to about €18 each.
After our tapas dinner, we walked to 2 different pubs in the area. First, the Philharmonic Pub for a pint of Guinness (€5), and then to the Wall Street Pub for a pint of Fosters (€4). This pub has an interesting pricing system - all drinks and their prices are listed on monitors over the bar. During your visit, prices actually fluctuate (hence the name of the bar). I thought this was an interesting theme for a pub. It was a Monday night so the bars were rather quiet. By midnight I was back at my hotel, looking forward to heading to Granada tomorrow!
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Old Nov 7th, 2010, 06:21 AM
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We recently returned from a visit to Barcelona so I really enjoyed reading your trip report so far. Our two favorite Gaudi sites are Sagrada Familia & Casa Batllo. We also toured Casa Mila & really enjoyed the crazy rooftop, so I would recommend that people see Casa Mila for the roof, but it was #3 on our list of favorites. And Parc Guell is awesome, too! Definitely a highlight of our trip.
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Old Nov 10th, 2010, 02:20 PM
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Thanks to those who have been following my trip report so far! Here's a large post dedicated to Granada, Toledo, El Escorial, and Madrid!

Day 6 - Barcelona to Granada

Moving day. Around 11am, I checked out of the Best Western and took the ‘Barcelona Bus’ back to Girona Airport.
A few last thoughts on BCN before leaving town...
- this was a great start to my Spanish trek...so glad I started here (in a city where I had contacts) to get my feet wet!
- I’d definitely love to return someday...I would love to see more of Montjuic and the Olympic Park area, take a side trip to Montserrat, and come back to see the progress at Sagrada Familia!
- I was lucky to have time for 5 days in the city. For those of you on a tighter time frame, I’d really suggest a minimum of 3 full days.
- favorite sites were Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Camp Nou for the soccer match, and the area around the Columbus Monument and the port. The Picasso Museum was another major highlight, not to be missed.
- the architecture of Barcelona is beautiful. The boulevards in the Eixample, the ‘edged off’ corners, and the lighting make it a lovely district any time of day, especially at night.
- it seemed that Barcelona offered something truly unique, and fun, around every corner. I had never encountered a city quite like this.
- my impression of the people I met, is that they are happy and proud to be living in Barcelona. They are warm and optimistic people. The bar has been set high for the next stops on my Spanish tour!

But all good things must come to an end, and it’s time to head south to Andalucia...by Ryanair again!

I arrived at Girona Airport at 2pm (the bus from Barcelona was jam-packed.) Flight left at 3:55pm (10 minutes late) and landed at 5:20 in Granada.

After 2 Ryanair flights, I’m noticing a few trademark Ryanair characteristics:
- very strict staff at the airport gate, making sure your carry-on bag is not oversized. They move down the line with their metal bag-frame and if they don’t like the looks of your bag, your bag has to go in the frame to verify that it’s not oversized. And ladies, don’t even think about bringing a purse and carry-on separately - if the purse won’t fit in the bag and suit their size specs, you’ll have to check the bag and cough up 40 euros! Hey, they’ve gotta make up for their cheap ticket prices somehow, right?
- constant sales of food, drinks, lottery tickets and artificial cigarettes during the flight. Feels like walking through the county fair!
- when the plane lands on time, an announcement comes over the PA to inform us of another ‘on time flight’. This announcement is sometimes followed by a musical flourish.
- as I said before, make sure you print your boarding pass beforehand! If they have to issue one at the airport, it’ll cost you 40 euros!

Now, back to Granada...
After my 5:20pm landing, I picked up some useful information at the airport. There were pamphlets which listed the hours of operation for the major tourist sites in Granada, as well as entry costs. This was very useful and helped me plan my activities. In the other cities I visited, I made sure to pick up similar info sheets from the tourist offices.

I caught the bus to my hostal. It left at 5:43 and arrived at 6:22 (€3). The bus makes 6 or 7 stops in the downtown area. I walked to the hostal and arrived at 6:40, just as it was getting dark. Temperature in Granada was 15 degrees C.

‘Hostal Rodri’
My accommodation in Granada was the Hostal Rodri. I did a lot of digging online to find a cheap, centrally located lodging that was well reviewed, and my efforts were well rewarded here. The hostal is located a few minutes from the Cathedral and Plaza Nueva. I had a double bed with private bathroom and shower. It was very clean and although my room was an external room overlooking the street, I never heard any noise at night. Mind you, I was staying there on a Tuesday and a Wednesday in January. Not exactly the peak time for merrymaking in Granada! Cost was only €25 per night...an amazing deal!

On arrival at the hostal, a young woman greeted me at the front desk. She issued me 3 sets of keys: one to the room, and 2 for the external doors. This certainly made me feel safer about the security of the place (not that I consider the hostal to be located in a sketchy area). She did not speak English, however, so that made communicating interesting! She pointed out several tourist attractions on a map, and also showed me where to get some good tapas. After a long afternoon of traveling, I was definitely ready for that!

Her recommendation was to visit ‘Navas 14' which, oddly enough, is located on Calle Navas. Lots of eating options along this street. Inside Navas 14, I indulged myself in the fine Granada tradition of free tapas! Let me explain...
I had a seat at the bar and ordered a ‘cana’. This is a small glass of draft beer. Cost is only €1.50! I am loving this! But it gets better - along with your beer (or copa of wine), you get a plate of tapas! It was nothing fancy, mind you...just a few potato chips and a couple slices of salami. But as you order a 2nd beer, and then a 3rd, you get different food each time. I think that’s a nice touch. Somehow these bars keep track of who is on their 1st plate, 2nd plate, and so on. After enjoying 3 wonderfully refreshing canas with tapas, and forking over the princely sum of €4.50, I was excited to try other establishments, to see whether they also offered a similar deal...and the answer to this question is a resounding YES! I visited at least 6 tapas bars over my 2 nights in Granada, and each and every one offered free tapas with a drink. Now that’s good value! Frankly, I enjoyed this method of eating and bar-hopping so much, that I felt no need to visit a sit-down restaurant and order a proper meal. I was entirely content to grab a seat at the bar, let the food come my way and soak up this entirely new experience. That’s what traveling is all about mi amigos!

I may have gotten a bit off track here so let me recap my first night of tapas-hunting in Granada: I had 3 at Navas 14, and 1 each at Los Manuelos (€1.75, I received delicious warm stew with thick beefeater fries), 1 at another place on the corner near Los Manuelos (€1.50, ham omelette), and 1 at Gran Via De Colon (€1.85, cold salad). Total food and drink bill for the night: €11. Unbelievable! Tasty, cheap, and a whole lot of fun! Although tipping is not necessary, I might have left a few 25 cent tips to show my appreciation for this very cool tradition!

Wandering around Granada was a very pleasant experience in the evening. Entire families are out for a stroll (‘paseo’), people are well-dressed, and the shops stay open late (until 8:30 or 9). The temperature is comfortable and lots of locals are out enjoying it. In fact, I felt like one of the locals as I walked. A nice feeling.

I turned in at a decent hour, as tomorrow was going to be the Big One: my visit to The Alhambra.

Day 7 - The Alhambra

Up early and out of the hostal by 9:15. Walked over to Navas 14 (perhaps a 10 minute walk, there were actually closer options to the hostal), to enjoy the breakfast special I had seen advertised while there the night before. For €3.50 I had café con leche, orange juice, and a baguette with cream cheese.

First stop, the Royal Chapel from 10:25 until 10:55. Admission €3.50. No photos allowed. I saw the tombs of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Definitely worthwhile.

Next it was over to the Cathedral, right next door (also €3.50). It’s Spain’s 2nd largest Cathedral, next to that in Seville. The interior is very white and bright with lots of gold trim. Very impressive. I toured from 11 until 11:30.
Outside the Cathedral, you’ll be sure to encounter the gypsy women. They tug on your sleeve and offer you sprigs of rosemary. I was aware of their existence beforehand, so I had my guard up and did my best to avoid them. When one approached me, I put my hand up in front of my face, and in a clear voice said ‘no gracias’ and moved away. I don’t think they mean any harm, they just want to offer to pray for you and your family - in exchange for your euros, of course! I was amused by one older lady, probably close to 80, who somehow managed to circle the exterior of the massive Cathedral in mere seconds! They move quickly! I saw more of these women outside the Cathedral in Seville.

After leaving the Cathedral and the gypsies, I walked through Plaza Nueva and into the Albaicin area of town. The walk up was quite steep. I enjoyed a spectacular view from the Mirador de San Nicolas. Be sure to visit here, it’s unforgettable...the Alhambra, with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background...you’ll want to linger here for a while as you are entertained by musicians, as young girls in flamenco dresses do a twirl on the plaza.

From the Albaicin, I took bus # 32 up to The Alhambra (€1.20). Entry was easy with no lineup. I obtained a ticket from a machine, after inserting the credit card I used to reserve online from home (€13) . Entering the grounds, unfortunately I took the wrong path and lost about 15 minutes doubling back towards the Alcazaba. My visit lasted from 2:15 until 5:45pm. My reservation time was 3:30 for entry to the Nasrid Palaces. There were about 30 of us entering at that time. This was the time slot recommended by Rick Steves, and I’d say it’s perfect. Fortunately, the weather was sunny and mild (14 degrees) which made my walk through the Generalife even more spectacular.

What can I say about the Alhambra? It’s a sprawling complex. It overlooks Granada, and the Cathedral. The view everywhere is amazing. As for the structures, columns, arches, floors, walls, and ceilings, the craftsmanship is simply awesome. All along the way, you can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to be there, in these rooms, a thousand years ago. When you leave, you’re left with a feeling of calmness and serenity, and you know in your heart you’ve just seen something very special.

After leaving the Alhambra grounds, I caught the minibus back to the Albaicin district, once again to enjoy the awesome view from the Mirador de San Nicolas. This is recommended in various guidebooks and it’s something you really should do if you get the chance. Unfortunately it was cloudy, so I didn’t get that spectacular sunset, but nonetheless it was a very special experience. And I wasn’t the only one...there were lots of people, especially students, there at nightfall. It’s a nice vibe.

After taking some great twilight photos, I wandered down through the Albaicin into the central Granada area. No doubt about where I’d be finding food and drink - I was more than happy to get back to enjoying my beer and tapas combos! I returned to a couple of the places I had visited the night before, including Los Manuelos along Reyes Catolicos. First free tapas plate was sliced sausage in bearnaise sauce, and the second was mini sausages in sauce with fries. I also tried La Cueva (located near Los Manuelos) which is a smoked meat bar, before heading back to Hostal Rodri at 11:30pm.

Day 8 - Granada to Madrid and onto Toledo

This was a busy travel day, so I got up at 5am, on 4 hours sleep. I caught the bus to the airport, which picked me up along Gran Via de Colon at 5:25, arrriving at the Granada airport at 5:55 (€3). My Ryanair flight to Madrid, scheduled for 7:55, left at 8:32 and landed at 9:12, 17 minutes behind schedule.

At Madrid airport, I went to the RENFE desk and bought a return train ticket to Toledo (€17.80), and 10 Madrid Metro tickets (€10), before catching the Metro to Atocha Renfe (3 separate subway cars, approximately a 30 minute trip). After lunch at Burger King at the station, I caught the 12:20 AVE train to Toledo, which arrived at 12:50. The AVE train is smooth as silk and incredibly fast. I had thought of buying this ticket from home, prior to my trip, but I wasn’t sure what time I’d be getting to Madrid airport so I decided to just get my ticket at the airport. Price was the same as buying in advance anyway.

From the station in Toledo, I caught the little red bus which took us to Plaza Zocodover (8 minutes, €1.25). A short 5 minute walk brought me to my accomodation: “La Posada de Manolo”. I stayed downstairs. Good room, 2 twin beds, very clean and quiet, didn’t see or hear a single other person in the entire place during my stay. Cost was €48.15 including breakfast. Staff was friendly and helpful, providing good Toledo tips. Great location. Would definitely recommend this place.

Everything on the trip had gone well up to this point, but the next few hours would test my patience and have me feeling a little frustrated...here’s what happened...

After checking in and planning my sightseeing agenda for my 24 hours in Toledo, I set out to visit the Alcazar, which is a short walk from the hotel. This is where I encountered my first frustration - it was closed to visitors. I had done tons of homework before the trip, to avoid disappointments like this. But nowhere could I verify whether the Alcazar was open following renovations. I thought it was...but I was wrong...
Nevertheless, I took some fantasic photos around the outside of the building, as well as some gorgeous panoramic shots across the Rio Tajo.

Then it was a short walk over to the Santa Cruz Museum. BUT access was closed due to a meeting of European Justice Ministers which was taking place there.

OK. So that’s 2 of the 3 major sights I came to see in Toledo, closed. (The other being the Cathedral). But staff at the museum assured me they’d be open the next morning. I counted on it.

As I walked from the museum over to Plaza Zocodover, I noticed a strong police presence. These justice ministers were definitely going to be well protected while in Toledo. I guess you never know when those models in the shiny armor at the damascene shops might ‘go rogue’ and inflict some medieval damage on the politicians...

After a less-than-stellar first hour in town, I decided to rejuvenate by enjoying a nice lunch. I had enjoyed eating tapas during the first week of the trip, but by this point I was definitely ready for a nice sit-down, structured meal. I consulted the Rick Steves guidebook and ended up at “Restaurante Cason Lopez de Toledo” near Pl. De Zocodover.
I ordered the ‘menu del dia’ for €11.50, which consisted of:
- a glass of red wine
- a warm bun
- salad with tomatoes, olives, and white asparagus, served with a tasty, salty vinaigrette
- main course of 2 chicken drumsticks and carrots au jus
- dessert of 2 large delicious profiteroles with chocolate sauce
I dined from 3-4pm and enjoyed the warm decor and attentive service. Ready to tackle more of Toledo!

After leaving the restaurant I wandered the narrow streets to Santo Tome to see El Greco’s painting ‘The Burial of The Count of Orgaz’ (€2.30 admission to see one painting). I entered just before two large tour groups - just enough time to absorb the immense detail on my own.
I then walked over to San Juan de Los Reyes Monasterio, took some external shots, but did not go inside.
I made sure to return to Pl. De Zocodover at 5:30 to catch the 6pm ‘tourist train’ which is recommended by various sources. I had timed it so that the 50-minute ride would coincide with sunset, therefore offering spectacular views of the river gorge and the landscape around Toledo. I was quite excited about this, and it’s part of the reason I stayed overnight here. BUT, this wasn’t my day, and you guessed it...

Due to the intense security presence, the little tourist train (which I had seen earlier in the afternoon) was taken off the road and wasn’t running anymore, even though my research indicated that it normally runs into the evening. I looked for some sort of office or information point for help, but I couldn’t find anyone to tell me what was happening. I lingered in the square until about 6:15 and finally gave up on it.

At this point I was lost for things to do, so I decided to walk up to the city walls to check out the escalators I had heard about. Sure enough, there they were...the biggest set of escalators I’d ever seen. I rode down 6 or 7 sets to the bottom, and came back up again. I started walking through the town centre, but almost every street was blocked off by police.
Toledo’s street plan was the most confusing one I encountered anywhere in my travels, including Seville and Cordoba. I felt truly lost, and had no interest in going out for dinner. There didn’t seem to be any nightlife to be found, no cool tapas bars as in Granada, just streets which were largely deserted on a Thursday night.
I felt my energy waning, so I made the responsible choice and went to bed at 8:30, hoping that a good night’s rest would recharge my batteries. Peace and quiet definitely wasn’t a problem at my hostal!

Day 9 - Toledo’s Cathedral, Madrid’s Royal Palace

After a great rest, I got up at 8:30 and enjoyed breakfast upstairs at La Posada De Manolo. Again, I was all alone. Where is everyone???!!!

I sat by the window and enjoyed an extreme close-up view of the Cathedral. It’s almost on top of you as you look outside!
As I left the hostal, before visiting the Cathedral, I wanted to get back to the museum which had been closed the day before, for the Justice Ministers’ meetings. I was assured that they’d be open at 10. I think you already know what’s coming next...again, closed. Sorry, come back again.

Alright then, let’s hit the big attraction in town, the Cathedral. And what an attraction it is. Absolutely amazing. The best Cathedral I’ve seen so far (compared to the two in Barcelona, and Granada). I spent 75 minutes inside (cost was €7). The Sacristy of paintings was spectacular.

OK, great visit to the Cathedral, we are back on track and feeling good! At 11:30 I returned to the hotel to get my bag, and at 12 noon caught bus # 5 to the AVE station (€0.95, 10 minute trip). At 12:30 the AVE train left for Madrid, arriving at 1pm.

I walked 15 minutes from Atocha station to my lodging in Madrid for the next 4 nights. Hostal Gonzalo is highly rated online and in guidebooks, and for good reason. Staff was friendly and helpful, and spoke good English. I met Javier and he made me feel right at home. Location is excellent, central to Atocha station, the major museums, Plaza Santa Ana (great bars) and Puerta del Sol (the ‘heart’ of Madrid). I paid €48 per night.

After a shower at the hostal, I took the Metro to the Royal Palace (tour €8, audioguide €3, no photos allowed). I toured it from 3:00 - 4:15. I then walked back towards the city centre, through Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol. It was a nice sunny day, 11 degrees C, very comfortable. I stopped along the way for a snack of apple cake from a store with the ultimate window display - a massive carousel of tempting baked treats! That’s one window I simply can’t pass by!

At 6:15 I entered the Prado Museum - for FREE. Again, I’m glad I did some homework ahead of time! No lineups to enter, either - beautiful!

I’m no art expert, so I really didn’t research the museum’s collections beforehand. I just headed inside and picked up a brochure. Conveniently, it contains a list of the Prado’s masterpieces, along with photos, to point you in the right direction. With less than 2 hours to get through the place, that guidance was certainly useful.

I stayed until 7:50 (it closes at 8). After the Prado, I stopped into a bar called ‘Magister’ near Plaza Santa Ana, for a couple of beers (with free tapas again, Granada-style!) Cost was a reasonable €4.80 for the 2 ‘canas’.

Then I walked up to Gran Via. If I wondered where the people were in Toledo the night before, I didn’t have that problem here. The streets were absolutely jammed! Tons of young people, locals, tourists, hustlers, dealers, prostitutes, salesmen, buskers, and everything in between!

Last stop for the night was at ‘Museu de Jamon’ (yes, the museum of ham!) Restaurant near the Anton Martin metro stop. More good deals here - €1 for a draft beer, €1 for a smoked ham sandwich. But smiles aren’t on the menu apparently...the bartenders are about as friendly as the staff at the DMV.

At 11pm I turned in, after a long action-packed day, to charge up for an early start on Saturday...

Day 10 - El Escorial & Valley of The Fallen

Got up at 8. Took 2 Metro lines to Moncloa bus station. Caught the 9am bus # 664 to El Escorial (€3.35), which arrived at 9:45. Had 2 pastries and coffee at the café in the station. I toured El Escorial from 10:15 until 12:30. Cost was €8, plus €3 for the audioguide. I walked through the gardens until 1, and then went to the market in town to pick up some snacks for lunch.

The bus to ‘Valle de Los Caidos’ left at 3:15 (15 minute trip). Cost is normally €8.70, but I paid only €4.70 because the basilica was closed. The bus back to El Escorial didn’t leave until 5:30. 2 hours at this site is WAY more than enough...30 minutes was enough. The on-site snack bar was closed, so most of us just sat at the edge of the parking lot for about an hour waiting.

After all that time twiddling my thumbs, I had to race to catch the bus back to Madrid! The bus from VDLC didn’t return to El Escorial until 5:45 - the exact time at which the bus to Madrid was leaving! Luckily I caught it (€3.35), but I noticed some others who weren’t so lucky. It was an hour before the next bus to Madrid!

Total cost of the excursion to the two sites was €22. I’m glad I took the daytrip, but if I had my own car at Valle de Los Caidos, I probably would have been gone after half an hour, rather than the two hours.

I was back in Madrid at 6:35pm. I took the Metro to Atocha to visit Reina Sofia Museum. I stayed til 9. As at the Prado, entry was free in the evening. Again, there’s so much to see, one could stay for hours. I did manage to rush through it in a couple hours though.

To finish the night, I returned to 2 of the places I’d been the night before, Magister bar and ‘Museo de Jamon’ for drinks and tapas. Went to bed at 12.

Day 11 - A Sunny Sunday in Madrid

Woke up to spectacular sunshine, with a high of 10 degrees C this afternoon.

Got up at 10, walked to the GIGANTIC flea market called ‘El Rastro’. I made sure to be in town on a Sunday for this. I had read that it is huge. Now that’s an understatement. This flea market stretches for blocks and blocks and blocks. It takes about an hour to get from one end to the other due to the giant crowds. You are literally shuffling along a couple inches at a time. I was very aware of the possibility of pickpockets here, but had no problems. I would be cautious here though, it only takes a moment to lose your wallet while you are checking out a display.

There’s everything from clothing to knives, old records to antiques, you name it, it’s here. Some of it looks like it’s been at every ‘Rastro’ since 1954. The vendors clearly aren’t shy. I can still hear the echoes of them yelling “UNA EURO! UNA EURO!”

At 1pm I caught the Metro to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of Real Madrid soccer club, for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour (€15). As a big soccer fan, I took my time to check out the hall of trophies, and the history of the club. The highlight was the chance to go down on the field, or at least along the sidelines, and sit on the players benches. These aren’t your ordinary baseball dugouts though - the reserve players and coaches get to sit on plush, beautifully padded, ultra-supportive, leather chairs! I don’t think it would be a punishment to be held out of the game by the manager!

As expected, the field condition was immaculate. Maintenance staff were busy putting the final touches on things before Real Madrid hosted Malaga that evening. I didn’t have tickets and didn’t actually plan to attend the game...at the time...but I did take note of ticket prices, just in case I decided to come back later!

Leaving the stadium, I took the Metro to Retiro Park. On a Sunday, it was filled with families, dogs and tourists. The weather was spectacular and it was a pure pleasure to stroll the grounds of this large greenspace.

I walked over to The Prado just to see how busy it was - and the lineup extended down the side of the building for a few hundred feet! I was so glad I didn’t wait til Sunday afternoon to visit!

Moving up the street, I saw the Cibeles fountain and took several photos. I walked along Gran Via and eventually into Plaza Mayor. Just off the plaza is a beautiful market. Not as large as Boqueria in Barcelona, but equally tempting. I purchased a slice of cake from one of the booths towards the end of the market. After some more walking, I stepped into a diner called ‘Riazor’ for some supper. I had 2 draft beers, a huge bowl of eggs with bacon and potatoes, and 2 small pans of omelettes for €6.50!!! Even if the price were double, I would have paid it for that quality and quantity of food. (The small pans of omelettes were offered free with a drink - I ate 2 because a gentleman beside me offered me his...how nice was that? I guess with my 2 week beard, I looked like a drifter, but I was happy to take his charity! Thanks Madrileno!)

Now, what to do tonight? I really didn’t have any major Madrid attractions left to see. I’d seen the Royal Palace, 2 major museums, and wandered most of the major streets. Satisfied after a solid dinner, I decided to attend the soccer game back at the Santiago Bernabeau stadium. Yes, my arm had been twisted.

I bought my ticket at the stadium ticket window, although I had to dodge dozens of season-ticket holders and scalpers who tried to sell me theirs. I probably could have gotten in cheaper by negotiating with them, but I didn’t want to risk getting a counterfeit ticket. I paid €40 for a ticket in the upper deck. It was quite full up there, and the crowd was in good voice for the match. Madrid won 2-0 on two goals by their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Although I’m an FC Barcelona fan, I thoroughly enjoyed the match and am so glad I made the impulse decision to go to the game. It’s a gorgeous stadium. Oh, and the overhead heat lamps really do kick butt. They were about 30 feet away but they kept us fans warm all night! I left with 5 minutes left in the game, and the outcome clear. No need to stay til the end and fight 50,000 fans for a seat on the Metro! I was back at the hostal and in bed by midnight.
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Old Nov 11th, 2010, 07:02 AM
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I'm really enjoying your trip report. We were in Barcelona in May and saw many of the same sites, but I'm really appreciating your details and some of your finds. I'm putting Quilombo on the list for the next trip!
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Old Nov 13th, 2010, 01:19 PM
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Hi oopsy, thanks for your comments! I enjoyed reading your Barcelona trip report too. For my next trip to BCN, hopefully in January, I have 4 sites on my must-list which you visited: Montserrat, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Palau de la Musica Catalana, and for a treat, Hofmann's Pastry shop! Saw the outside of the Palau Musica, but didn't get to go inside - I think I'll try to see a concert if I can.
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Old Nov 13th, 2010, 02:05 PM
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Day 12 - Daytrip to Segovia from Madrid

Big day ahead, so I’m up at 7:20 today. Today would be a mainly sunny day, with a maximum temperature of 5 Celsius...the coolest day on the trip. But also literally one of the “coolest” as well!

I hopped on the subway and took a 25 minute ride to Chamartin AVE Station. I had purchased a return ticket to Segovia from home off the Renfe site, €17.80. The train left at 8:35 and arrived at 9. I then caught Bus # 11 to the spectacular Segovia Aqueduct (88 cents).

Walking under the aqueduct, I walked up the wide street to find La Colonial restaurant on the corner, for some breakfast. I had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich with coffee (€3.80). After eating, I walked back towards the aqueduct and into the tourist office. There I was given a map, and for 1 euro I bought a handy little guide to Segovia. I left the info centre and walked up to Plaza Mayor, before touring the Cathedral from 10:30-11:30 (€3). Afterwards I toured the Alcazar from 12-1:15 (€4 + €2 for the tower). Great photo op from the tower!

I then walked through the Jewish Quarter to Plaza Mayor, and as I walked I began to narrow down my restaurant choices for lunch. I knew that the local specialty is ‘cochinillo’ but it was tough to choose a restaurant. There are several which offer this dish, as well as lunchtime steak specials. I finally settled on a restaurant near the aqueduct called “Restaurante Amado”. I dined from 2-3pm and couldn’t have been happier with my choice.

I had a nice table on the 2nd floor, near the window with a view of the aqueduct. Nice music was playing, the waiter wore a bowtie and vest, it was all very nice. I ordered the 3 course ‘menu gastronomico’ consisting of ‘Sopa Castellana’ (broth-like soup with an egg inside), the cochinillo (roast suckling pig) with fries, and for dessert the ‘ponche Segoviano’ (rich sweet yellow liqueur cake, with a layer of custard). It came with bread and a beer for €21.50. I ordered an extra draft beer and a coffee, plus a tip, for a total of €28. I knew ahead of time this would be a special lunch, so I didn’t mind the cost at all. I thought it was very reasonable for a truly unique lunch, very tasty and very filling. Prices were fairly similar in most other restaurants I checked out.

The cochinillo is incredibly juicy and succulent...once you cut through the crispy outer skin. I took about half an hour to eat mine, but I noticed a local lady at the table next to mine had finished hers in about half the time! Experience!

After a wonderful meal, I was prepared to return to Madrid, but my train back to Madrid didn’t leave until 6:20. Looking back, I should have bought a return ticket on the 4:08 train. Segovia is incredibly picturesque, and a fun town to roam around, but having been there since 9am, I found that 7 hours was enough to enjoy its charms. It is suggested in some guidebooks that Segovia is a nice place for an overnight stay...perhaps in summer when there are more activities taking place, but certainly not at at the time I was there. I’d say a 9am-4pm visit is enough.

Anyway, I killed a couple hours by wandering around the commercial area, taking countless pictures of the aqueduct (which is amazing) from all angles, and stopping into an internet café. Unfortunately I didn’t find it until about 5:30pm! It’s located close to the aqueduct, not far from Restaurante Amado.

I caught the 15-minute bus back to the AVE station, and then the AVE train back to Madrid (6:20 until 6:45).

Arriving in Madrid, I caught the Metro to Reina Sofia Museum. I had been there a couple nights earlier, but wanted to visit once more. There were a few paintings I wanted to see again, including the powerful Guernica, and besides, it’s free so why not go back?!

After the museum closed, I walked around the major streets - up to Puerta del Sol, visited the FNAC store, and El Corte Ingles department store (which carries everything, but I find is quite expensive - that’s probably because they have double the staff of our typical Canadian department store!).

For refreshment, I visited ‘Cerveceria Alemana’, at Plaza Santa Ana, which is apparently where Hemingway used to hang out. There I had a beer and 2 fritters (cold, deep fried fish) (€5). Then a nightcap at a bar near the hostal, before going to bed at 11. Before retiring, I settled my hotel bill and met Javier, the boss. He couldn’t have been more sincere. He gave me his card, and although I was leaving the next morning, he told me to call him if there was anything I needed. How nice is that?!

Day 13 - Madrid to Cordoba by Train; La Mezquita

Awakening at 8:30, I look out the window of my room in Hostal Gonzalo and I see wet snow on the ledge! The first and only snow I’d see while in Spain. Morning temperature in Madrid was 3 degrees C.

I walked from the hostal to Atocha station. Along the way I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts (‘Dunkin Coffee’ in Spain) for, you guessed it, a café con leche with a donut - apple filled and frosted...mmm!

I took the high-speed AVE train to Cordoba. Ticket had been purchased from the Renfe website before leaving home (€20.05, one way).

On the train’s information ticker, I noticed we hit speeds of 244 km/h! We had a slight delay on leaving, so we arrived at 12:17, which was 22 minutes late. Temperature in Cordoba was a much warmer 13 degrees...aaaaah Andalucia!

After getting some information from the tourist kiosk at the station, I walked 20 minutes to my accommodation, ‘Hotel Boston’ which is located in Plaza Tendillas. Again, I was so happy with my decision to bring the rolling backpack. It gave me such flexibility and mobility...I wouldn’t travel any other way!

Hotel Boston was a good find in Cordoba. Most hotels that I researched were quite inexpensive, so it really wasn’t hard to find one for under €40. I paid only €29.50 including breakfast. The room was clean, and included a TV and a private bath, as did all the other hotels during my trip. And as with the other places, noise was not a problem and I wasn’t disturbed during my one night stay.

After traveling all morning, I was ready for some lunch. I had a shower and set out in the rain. It wasn’t long before I found a nice place in the Jewish Quarter, during my walk down to the Mezquita. I ate at ‘Federacion de Penas’, enjoying their ‘menu del dia’. It consisted of:
- bread
- crackers
- salad
- plate of sauteed mushrooms
- main course of pork, rolled tight, breaded and deep fried (like a pogo stick), served with tasty thick french fries
- choice of fruit for dessert (I chose grapes)
- choice of drink (beer for me).
Cost was €11.
I noticed another couple ordered a type of wine in a small glass. I never do this while dining out, but I asked the waiter what those people had ordered, and asked him to bring me one. It was delicious! ‘Vino fino’ (sweet wine) for the princely sum of €1.50. A nice way to finish the meal. I wasn’t in a rush to step outside as it was still raining anyway. Total cost of lunch, with tip, was €14. Again, tipping not required, but I was very content and decided to show my appreciation!

The restaurant has a typical Andalucian decor, in a patio-like setting with a fountain in the centre. Quality of food, as well as service, is very good - I recommend it!

Now, back to sightseeing, and to the main reason for a tourist’s visit to Cordoba - La Mezquita. I visited from 3 until 4:30 (€8 entry). Not many visitors there at that time. After leaving, I walked by the river, halfway up the bridge and back, and around the Alcazar, the Jewish Quarter, and back to the hotel. After using the computer in the lobby to catch up on emails (it’s not free), I did a little shopping at night. Had a couple beers with tapas along Paseo de La Victoria (€3.20) before calling it a night at 11pm.

Day 14 - Cordoba to Sevilla - Last Stop on The Trip!

I started the day with breakfast in the hotel. For €4.50, I had coffee, fresh squeezed OJ, toast, a muffin, a small sub bun with smoked ham and salami. I checked out and walked to the train station. It was a short AVE train ride to Seville (€15.15, purchased online from home). Train left at 10:20 and arrived at 11:05.

I walked about 20 minutes from the Sevilla Santa Justa station to the Hotel Alcantara, located in the Jewish Quarter of Seville. This hotel was reserved based on excellent internet reviews, and a very decent price. Again, I was satisifed with the friendly service, room amenities, private washroom, cleanliness, excellent central location, and price. I have said this numerous times throughout this trip report, but I couldn’t have been happier with each of my lodgings during the 2 weeks in Spain. All were within easy walking distance of the main sites, and each provided just what a traveler needs - a clean quiet room at a good price. I paid €109 for 2 nights at the Alcantara, including breakfast (and 10% discount for showing my Rick Steves guidebook. In truth though, I had the 2008 edition which was a couple of years old - after some minor eyebrow-raising by the desk clerk, I was granted the discount, although it’s intended only for those who have the latest edition).

At the hotel, I met up with my cousin who had flown in from Belgium to join me for the last 2 days of my trip. It was great to see a familiar face after 2 weeks on the road alone (well, alone since leaving Barcelona).

First stop for us was the Cathedral. It’s the largest in Spain and the 3rd largest in Europe! Entry cost was €7.50. We took our time here, and spent 2 hours touring the inside and going up the Giralda tower. There’s a lot to take in! The altar is magnificent.

From the Cathedral we walked down towards the waterfront, and to the ‘Plaza de Toros’ (bullring) where we took the 4pm tour (45 minutes, €6). Bullfighting season had ended, so we didn’t have to dodge any spatters of blood during our tour.
Time for a little refreshment, so we wandered along the river and had a drink on the floating ‘bar’ge. With the sun shining, it was a fantastic setting. Very relaxing.

We returned to our hotel and purchased our tickets to see the flamenco show the next night. ‘Casa de La Memoria’ is located right at the front entrance of Hotel Alcantara! Perfect! Tickets were €15 each.

We then set out into the rainy night in search of dinner, and found a good place on a corner near the Cathedral. Sorry I didn’t take note of the name, but a fine meal consisting of the ‘menu del dia’ cost €13.50 including wine.

Final stop of the night was a surprise to my cousin, and a treat for me as well, after 2 weeks of walking. We went to ‘Aire de Sevilla’ which is basically an Arab bath house. For €32 you get to soak in the various pools - some hot, some even hotter, some saltwater, some bubbling, you get the drift. The ambience is totally chilled out, with soft Arabic guitar playing to add to the air of calm. The price included a 15 minute massage. My cousin loved it so much, that as we were leaving, she immediately booked us a reservation to return the next night!

If you’re looking to visit Aire de Sevilla, bear in mind that reservations are a good idea - it’s a busy place. I had brought my own swim trunks, but I believe they are available for those who don’t bring their own. It’s located only a few hundred metres from Hotel Alcantara, but with the area street plan resembling a plate of spaghetti, there are no easy short trips for a first-time visitor! It’s easy to get lost in the narrow streets of this neighborhood!

Leaving the bath house, we had hoped to find a good place for a late snack and some drinks, but all the bars were closing up at midnight! This came as a huge surprise. In other large cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, everything was open late, but not here. We managed to find one place though - we ducked in just before closing, and since the place was packed, they let us stay until we finished our drinks (around 1am).

Day 15 - Sevilla - The Market, Alcazar, Last Night of The Trip

A gorgeous day today, sunny and 16 degrees C. Started off with breakfast at the hotel. Took the bus to Calle Feria for the big Thursday flea market. Not as big as the Sunday market in Madrid, but still a good sized market. Then we did a little souvenir shopping at El Corte Ingles.

We stopped for a light lunch at ‘Café Bar Maria’ as we walked back from the market towards the Alcazar. Here I had some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever enjoyed - it was called ‘Hotchoc Biberon’ and had a layer of condensed milk at the bottom! Incredibly smooth and sweet! If you love hot chocolate, be sure to check out this place - they have 10 kinds available! I enjoyed the hot chocolate with a pizza sandwich for €7.

At 3pm we entered the Alcazar site. Cost was €7.50. It closed at 5pm, but we weren’t done looking around yet. We definitely should have come at least an hour earlier. We had spent about an hour in the initial rooms, then about half an hour trying to get good photos of a couple of peacocks, so by time we got out to the gorgeous gardens, it was about time to leave. The Alcazar is a definite must-see.

After stopping for tapas around Plaza Nueva, we headed back to the hotel, where the Casa de La Memoria was holding its nightly 9pm flamenco show. We arrived a couple minutes late, having lost track of time, but they kindly held the doors (and a couple seats) for us. Seating is limited, so be sure to reserve your tickets ahead of time. I would estimate the crowd wasn’t much larger than 50 people. The show lasts 1 hour, with photography allowed in the last 5 minutes. There were 2 guitarists, a male singer, and 2 dancers, one male and one female. It’s not a ‘glitzy’ show. I can’t compare it to any other flamenco shows (not having seen any), but my impression is that it’s very authentic and true to the origins of flamenco. The dancing is lightning-quick and extremely precise. I highly recommend catching their show.

After the flamenco, we returned to the Aire de Sevilla for our 2nd straight pampering session! (For those visiting other Spanish cities, I understand that Cordoba and Granada also have Arab baths).

As we did the night before, we struggled to find a place to get a drink after midnight, but we found one - Flaherty’s Irish pub beside the Cathedral. We hung out until 1:30.

Day 16 - Adios Espana!

We had 2 flights scheduled, from Seville to Girona, and then from Girona to Brussels (Charleroi, Belgium), again on Ryanair. But we ran into some problems here...

In the excitement of seeing Seville for the first time, we had neglected to print out our boarding passes for our flights the night before, so we went online at 9am to try and do the online check-in / printing. Wouldn’t you know it, the website didn’t allow us to print them. I am aware that the website locks you out 4 hours before your flight, but we were still outside of that window, so obviously I was extremely frustrated at this. We took a cab to the airport (€22, 25 minutes - there is apparently an airport shuttle bus from Seville but we couldn’t find it, nor did we have much time to look around after scrambling with the Ryanair site earlier). We headed straight for the Ryanair desk and and reported our problems with their website. Of course, they didn’t have much sympathy for us, so we were required to pay €42.50 (€40 plus tax) for them to issue us a boarding pass. Incredible. But it’s just one of their rules. Obviously, we should have printed it off the night before, but didn’t, and now we were paying the price...

To add insult to injury, my cousin was carrying a purse as well as her small suitcase which she did not check. Unfortunately, Ryanair considers this to be 2 pieces of carry-on, which is one too many. So she had to put her purse inside the suitcase. It fit, but it created a bulky mass at the top, and as a result did not fit inside the small wire luggage rack at the gate. Bang. Another €40 hit. If she had more time, she surely could have rearranged her things to make the purse fit in tighter, but she was understandably flustered and the gate staff had no patience for letting her pack things in tighter.

While seated at the gate in Seville, before boarding we used my cousin’s smartphone to log into the Ryanair site and use their online check-in, for the 2nd flight of the day. This time it worked, although we still had the matter of printing the boarding pass. How were we going to do this? Well, at Girona, upon landing we immediately attempted to print our boarding passes for the Girona-Charleroi leg of the journey. A member of the Ryanair staff kindly mentioned that there was a hotel next to the airport and they had a computer and printer, so we dashed over there and got things printed off. Paid only a few cents to print it off, saving us over €80 in pass-issuing fees! Finally some good luck on a day where it’s been hard to come by!

After a burger combo at the Girona airport, we were back in the air and en route to Belgium, where I spent another week with family, telling tales of my tour of Spain!

Final Thoughts

Now that I’ve had a few months to reflect on this trip, and to review the photos several times, I have nothing but the fondest memories of my in-depth tour of Spain. I got to see a good part of the country over those 16 days. Each day was a great adventure on its own. I don’t regret visiting a single city along the way...each one was well worth it. The hardest part for me, before the trip, was alloting the appropriate amount of time to each city. Sure, the guidebooks can tell you that a city is worth seeing, but how much time do you really need? I think I had just the right amount of time in each place to get a good impression of a city and to see its highlights. There were a couple minor timing issues along the way, but those don’t even register on the radar. You work with the bus and train schedules you have, and if you have a little extra time in a place, it’s always fun to walk around and just people-watch.

Here are my very brief top-of-mind impressions of each place along the way...
Barcelona - cosmopolitan, modern, fun, energetic, perfectly situated, creative, cool.
Granada - very special, big student population, mid-sized city.
Toledo - old, maze-like, best Cathedral on the trip.
Madrid - young, vibrant, intense, crowded, surprisingly accessible and compact city centre.
Segovia - a gem not to be missed, if only for a 6 hour visit. Pig out on the cochinillo!
Cordoba - old, small; La Mezquita is truly one-of-a-kind and not to be missed. Not necessary to stay overnight.
Sevilla - perfectly sized, something for everyone, a great place to spend 3 days.

For those of you who may be planning a trip to Spain, I highly recommend you try and visit these cities. I know time and budgetary constraints always affect trip planning, but I have great confidence that my itinerary can be used as a model for a nice 2 week visit to Spain.

If you’re on the fence about taking a guided tour or doing it yourself, don’t hesitate to try it alone. With some extra homework and the help of forums such as this, you can plan a fantastic holiday of your own and save a lot of money along the way.

Here is a recap of my costs.

Transportation (the Spain portion only, Girona to Girona) 177 euros
Hotels (15 nights) 480 euros (4 nights at Best Western Barcelona were on rewards points; 9 of 15 breakfasts included)
Admissions 306 euros (including 83 euros for 2 big-league soccer games in Barcelona and Madrid).

So transportation, hotels and admissions totaled 963 euros, or about $1500 Canadian.

Food and drink = 320 euros or about $500 Canadian.

Therefore, I did 16 days in Spain for about $2000 Canadian ($125/day).
If I had to pay for the other 4 nights at Best Western which were on points, they would have cost 50 euros per day (about 80 Canadian). But then, I might have stayed a couple nights less!

By comparison, a major touring company offers an 8 night / 9 day Spanish tour, which includes 2 nights in each of Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville, plus 1 night each in Granada and Valencia, plus bus transportation, sightseeing and several meals. Cost is $1650. I traveled to more cities, for twice as long, didn’t have to share my room, didn’t have to sit through any hard-sell ‘artisan demonstrations’, ate what I wanted, slept in when I liked, and all for $2000 ($2300 if I paid for the free nights in Barcelona).
Final word - if you want to travel in a group, that’s fine. Let them guide you, sit back and relax. But if you’re on the fence as I was a year ago, I’m here to tell you that solo travel is a very fulfilling experience!

Thank you for reading. Travel safe and have fun! Hasta luego!
deonca is offline  
Old Nov 13th, 2010, 04:43 PM
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Deonca, plan plenty of time for MNAC. I wish we had given it the better part of two days. I didn't research it ahead of time either, so I didn't think to start with the romanesque exhibits. Now I've been reading more about them and am very, very much looking forward to seeing them in May.

You did great with budget!
oopsy is offline  
Old Aug 23rd, 2018, 01:49 AM
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Hello Deonca, Thanks for your report. It was a clear cut explanation for anyone to plan and execute. This report helped me to accomplish my first ever solo trip to spain this summer. Thanks again.
sudovim is offline  
Old Aug 23rd, 2018, 08:31 AM
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Excellent report, and some very useful information.
twk is offline  
Old Aug 23rd, 2018, 08:40 AM
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Great report ... makes me miss Spain! Thanks.

maitaitom is offline  
Old Aug 23rd, 2018, 02:37 PM
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Stellar report!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Old Aug 24th, 2018, 12:50 PM
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Great report! Thanks!
joannyc is offline  
Old Aug 24th, 2018, 01:26 PM
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Excellent report!
melaniebonilla is offline  
Old Aug 25th, 2018, 08:08 AM
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thanks for the extensive report...
Spain is fantastic....we visit every year.
danon is online now  
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