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Spain Trip Report

Old Apr 29th, 2018, 07:17 AM
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Spain Trip Report

We are just back from a fabulous trip to Cordoba, Granada, Nerja, Valencia - each place more wonderful than the last. I did get tips from this forum so want to pay it back. We are a couple, me mid-60s, DH 70. We have traveled a lot, including to Spain, but these places were all new to us.

We flew from Boston to Madrid on Iberia, landed Madrid 6 am and immediately took a taxi to the Atocha train station. The renfe train to Cordoba was very comfortable, fast, and clean. Right outside of Madrid the train went through mile and miles - kilometers - of countryside, zillions of low lying trees (orange, olive?) The plains of Spain, without rain. We arrived Cordoba 1:50 and took a taxi to our hotel..

We stayed at the NH Collection Amistad Cordoba, a beautiful hotel with multiple courtyards, new within old structures, right in the middle of the old Jewish quarter. And the breakfasts were great - diverse choices, well presented, even champagne.

Cordoba is a beautiful city. Ancient architecture, preserved beautifully. Buildings all of the same light stone, lots of greenery. Very tranquil. Also very walkable, narrow pedestrian streets.

The highlight of our trip was the Mezquita de Cordoba, which is amazing on so many levels - the Moorish architecture, geometry, history and the reverent blending of the Islamic and Christian structures. World peace should be figured out here!

We also visited the Sephardic Museum - a small private museum (next to the Synagogue, which was closed for renovations) that tells the story of Sephardic Jews in Cordoba and beyond. It is very well done, informative, well laid out with artifacts, art, history. Maimonides was very wise!

We went to a flamenco show at Tablao Flamenco Cardenal, based on the recommendation I saw on a Fodor's post. It is in a beautiful setting in a very old house with patios. If it had been summer the roof would have been open to the sky, but this was a cold night and they gave us blankets. The show featured a singer and guitarist and five dancers - four women, one man. The women were of a certain age, muscular, powerful and the overall show was simple, elegant, energetic, graceful.

Another highlight for us in Cordoba was Bodega Guzman. Rick Steves says it is a "rough holdover from a long ago age." We walked by a few times when it was closed and there was no sign explaining opening times (a common thing we found in Spain). We finally got there when it was open in the afternoon. I asked for red wine and was told "no, blanco." They have white sherry in wooden barrels. Actually quite good. We also had tapas - chorizo and sardines. The place has a very local feel; lots of bullfight memorabilia.

From Cordoba, we took a train to Granada. We got on one train and I had assumed we were going to switch to a second train, but turned out there haven't been trains to Granada in three years! (we weren't the only surprised Americans!) So we all got on a bus, which was fine. In Granada we stayed in a very nice apartment, found through VRBO. It was walking distance to great cafes, parks, restaurants.

I had read a lot on this forum about the trouble dealing with Alhambra tickets; our experience was mixed. I bought timed tickets on line through the official Alhambra website a few months ahead of time, with no trouble. They had bar codes and, based upon further research, it appeared this was all we needed to get into the Nasrid Palace. I bought two sets of tickets - one for a morning visit and one for the next evening.

We arrived at the Alhambra - took a taxi - ahead of time and got through the gate with our ticket, wandered around the grounds a little and then stood in line waiting for the 9:30 am entrance to the Palace. All went well and the site was beautiful, impressive, profound - the engineering, architecture, art. They were so advanced in figuring out how to get water, build for comfort, control the elements,. It makes you wonder what we've figured out since? And the grounds are beautiful and quite relaxing.

We took a waiting C3 bus back to downtown - very easy - and then walked back to our apartment.

BUT when we went the next night for our evening visit to the Palace, it did not go well. We had tickets for 22:00, again arrived a little early to give ourselves time to get the Palace. But they were not letting anyone through the gates until 22:00 . It was cold and there were a lot of people waiting. We got in line and at 22:00 they opened the gates. But when we showed our tickets the man examined the bar code carefully and told us we had to go to a different gate, around the wall. But we were at the same gate we had gotten through easily the day before and the tickets were purchased at the same time as the others, I would assume with the same kind of bar code. My DH was losing patience so we decided to give up on the Alhambra at night (an easy decision since we had already seen it the day before), boarded a waiting C3 bus (we were the only ones on) and devoted ourselves to the lively Granada tapas crawl instead. Still no idea what the problem was with the evening tickets.

We spent five lovely days in Granada, long enough to adapt to their late eating habits and to participate in a tapas crawl, From our observations, things only begin to get lively around 23:00. And on Saturday evening even the main streets are closed to cars and it seems that everyone - even young children - are out enjoying themselves until very late in a very communal way.

Another Granada tip - we took the C1 bus from Plaza Nueva. The buses are very crowded with diverse locals and tourists and you may have to wait for a second bus that has room to come along. The first time we stayed on for the entire circuit up to the Albayzin and back to downtown. It is a very fun ride - up narrow, twisty, steep streets, with great views. The second time we got off at Plaza San Miguel el Bajo in the Albayzin, sat in a cafe to have a drink and tapas, and people watch, and then took another C1 bus back downtown.

From Granada we rented a car and drove to Nerja on the coast. It was easy - with GPS - to get out of the city and onto the highway - and the ride was beautiful through what were very quickly high mountains - Sierra Nevada. There were many tunnels through the mountains, and then suddenly the sea. The drive took about 1 1/2 hours.

.
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Old Apr 29th, 2018, 12:40 PM
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I am enjoying your report! We were in Cordoba and Granada last September, and we loved both cities. I am happy to hear that you stayed overnight in Cordoba. We stayed 2 nights but could have used a 3rd night. Many people stop in Cordoba as a day trip from Seville or going to Seville, and I personally think they are missing out on a lot. Did you walk across the Roman Bridge at night?
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Old Apr 30th, 2018, 01:47 AM
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We walked across the Roman Bridge - beautiful! - and along the river in Cordoba, but not at night. The weather could have been better while we were there - cool - I wore a leather coat - and one day was rainy. In terms of how long to stay - in fact, this trip convinced me that 3 nights is the minimum to be in any new place in order to have a chance to really explore it.

Our next stop after Granada was Nerja - our daughter had been there and recommended it to us. It is a beautiful small city on the Mediterranean. Very British - there are signs in English and you overhear Brits talking on the street. I was surprised how busy Nerja was in mid-April. But we realized that for the British this is like wintering in Florida - they are escaping their harsh winter (apparently this was an unusually hard one) and it is only about a 3 hour flight to southern Spain for them.

Nerja seemed very old world. There is the El Balcon de Europa - a walkway/promenade that juts into the sea and is quite beautiful; reminds me of something from a Henry James novel. Nerja has lovely beaches. The only one I went to was a magnificent small cove down a very steep set of stairs. I was greeted by six very plump cats lying in the sun above the beach! We did not have a chance to get to other beaches, hence my conclusion about needing more time. Just a few blocks away from the crowded restaurants and bars (walking away from the sea) we discovered a lovely small Spanish city with lively local feeling cafes, restaurants, shops.

We spent two nights in Nerja and used one of the days to drive along the sea to nearby towns.
Torre del Mar is a lovely small city, with a beautiful promenade/boardwalk along the beach and a vibrant pedestrian only shopping street. Again - not enough time to really explore.

In Nerja, we stayed at the Hotel Carabao, a small hotel with back gardens facing the sea. It is just a few blocks from the action, but pretty quiet. They served a very hearty British breakfast and also have a British feeling bar/restaurant and outside cafe.

So, again, my impressions of Nerja were positive and I wish I had more time there! But on to Valencia.
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Old Apr 30th, 2018, 03:09 AM
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Pity about the night admission to the Alhambra. I thought once they let you print tickets from your own home (instead of picking it up the old way) that it would be more convenient, not less. Did the other visitors have different tickets from yours?

Following your TR since I have a planned trip for next year.
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Old Apr 30th, 2018, 05:47 AM
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Seemed like a very bureaucratic response. But yes I agree - I thought the print from home new system had solved these problems, but maybe we got a set-in-his-ways official from old system. Regardless, we did get to see it during the day and it was amazing. And certainly important to get those Alhambra tickets way in advance - I looked at their website yesterday and it seems many summer dates are sold out already.
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Old Apr 30th, 2018, 09:12 AM
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Our drive from Nerja to Valencia was magnificent. It was along the Auto Via de Mediterraneo. Miles and miles (Km and Km) of terraced crops, greenhouses/covered crops and so many tunnels through the mountains. I did not appreciate how mountainous Spain is. We saw snow on the tops of mountains in the distance. There were quite dramatic cliffs along the highway. We passed some industrial areas and parts were like the desert - dusty, desolate, clay, but mainly the entire drive was agricultural and quite beautiful. In fact, I was not prepared for the beauty of this scenery. And, consistent with our previous experience driving in the Basque Country, the roads in Spain are in very good shape. The entire drive from Nerja to Valencia took us six hours.
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Old May 1st, 2018, 07:45 AM
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Originally Posted by joduhl View Post
Our drive from Nerja to Valencia was magnificent. It was along the Auto Via de Mediterraneo. Miles and miles (Km and Km) of terraced crops, greenhouses/covered crops and so many tunnels through the mountains. I did not appreciate how mountainous Spain is. We saw snow on the tops of mountains in the distance. There were quite dramatic cliffs along the highway. We passed some industrial areas and parts were like the desert - dusty, desolate, clay, but mainly the entire drive was agricultural and quite beautiful. In fact, I was not prepared for the beauty of this scenery. And, consistent with our previous experience driving in the Basque Country, the roads in Spain are in very good shape. The entire drive from Nerja to Valencia took us six hours.
Sounds like a wonderful driving trip!
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Old May 1st, 2018, 08:57 AM
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Thanks for taking us with you, jodhul. I've enjoyed your TR very much so far, as it's a mix of places I've been to [Granada and Valencia] and those I have yet to see.

It is strange about those evening Alhambra tickets. When we went 10 or so years ago we had pre-booked day time tickets but on a whim decided to try to get in in the evening too, which its being November was ok. We just bought them at the main ticket office and walked straight in using the same gate we used the next morning for our day visit. Weird.

We also took ourselves on a tapas crawl one night in Granada and drove south through the Sierra Nevada to the south coast, though in our case all we had time for was lunch on the beach as we were en route to Malaga to catch our plane home to the UK.

Looking forward to reading your opinion of Valencia which is one of my all time favourite cities.
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Old May 1st, 2018, 01:04 PM
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I totally agree re Valencia - loved, loved, loved it. We stayed in the Barrio del Carmen for five nights, and barely left that neighborhood. Barrio del Carmen is basically a pedestrian area, with cafes and plazas/placas around every corner. We discovered that Valencia is not a grid - it is circular, which made it fun to just wander and see what we came to next. Valencia was obviously once grand, judging by the buildings, especially the heavy wooden doors. There is graffiti everywhere, as well as beautiful public art on buildings - a mash up of old and new.

We felt that in Valencia anything goes - after Granada, it felt much less traditional - e.g. people (at least in this barrio) were not dressed up on Sunday and we could find restaurants/bars that were open at any hour. But like Granada, Valencia is a late night city! There was street noise until very late.

We stayed in a VBRO rental which was magnificent - quite large with big windows and a balcony on a pedestrian alley way, just steps from Placa del Tossal, which has great cafes and restaurants.

A highlight for us, which we just happened upon - Center of Cultural, Contemporary Art, Valencia. It is an old convent with beautiful courtyards. The art part - wow! There was a great multimedia exhibit by Okuda San Miguel in a huge space with many rooms. His pieces are creative, political, profound.

The Mercado Central, which was just a few blocks from our apartment, is a wonderful food market - we saw more kinds of fish than we've ever seen before. We went twice and both times it was busy with locals buying the fish, plus beautiful veggies, etc. And the assortment of olives was amazing!

Also loved the Silk Exchange, right next door to the Mercado - a beautiful, grand, historical building, with geometric floors a la Escher, columns that must have inspired Gaudi.

The only time we got in a vehicle for the five days was to take a taxi for our paella meal. Went to Levante Valencia, which we had read about. It is a very traditional restaurant - white table cloths, formal waiters. Our apartment hosts told us to have paella in the afternoon ("only tourists eat it for dinner"). We had Valencia de Senyoret - paella with boned chicken and rabbit, roasted artichokes, and peppers. I had read that this was traditional Valencian - not seafood paella. It was delicious.

Our last evening we tried Agua de Valencia at our local cafe - orange juice, champagne, vodka, gin, sugar served in a pitcher.
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Old May 1st, 2018, 06:02 PM
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Hi. My husband and I recently went to Granada and toured the Alhambra during the day and again at night. On our 8:30am visit we tried to enter via the Justice Gate but it was closed and had to walk up to the main entry point. And then they held us back until 8:30 even though we were in line at 8am. For the evening visit we went to the same main entry area and waited with quite a few people for entry. Only then did we realize we were in the wrong spot- all the other people were with a tour! We asked for help and were directed down the hill to a different entry point. So we rushed down the hill and then up a road which took us near the Parador. Finally we made it and of course we were at the end of the line but we didn’t mind- it was a glorious night after lots of rain the previous day or two. The evening tour was fantastic and I enjoyed it more than the daytime one due to the rain.
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Old May 1st, 2018, 07:36 PM
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Thx for the repost.
We visited Valencia several years ago and loved it.
Could you provide the listing of the rental apt. in which you stayed?
We plan to visit again in March next year.
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Old May 2nd, 2018, 06:18 AM
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Thank you very much for the information. Look perfect.
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Old May 2nd, 2018, 01:18 PM
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Sounds wonderful. I have long wished to visit Spain, but usually end up somewhere with forests and mountains instead.
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Old May 2nd, 2018, 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Adelaidean View Post
Sounds wonderful. I have long wished to visit Spain, but usually end up somewhere with forests and mountains instead.
You´d be surprised, but Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe. It´s full of forests, sierras and high mountains (as an example, about 70% of northern Spain is forest, and you see just beautiful mountains)
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Old May 3rd, 2018, 01:37 AM
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Originally Posted by mikelg View Post
You´d be surprised, but Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe. It´s full of forests, sierras and high mountains (as an example, about 70% of northern Spain is forest, and you see just beautiful mountains)
Interesting. You made me realise I have only been focussed on towns, never really considered anything else.
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Old May 3rd, 2018, 08:49 AM
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We visited Valencia several years ago and loved it.
Could you provide the listing of the rental apt. in which you stayed?
We plan to visit again in March next year.>>

Danon - are you planning to come to the GTG in Valencia which co-incides with Las Fallas? Great if you are.

In which case you might want to sort out your accommodation sooner rather than later.
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