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Trip Report Spain Trip Report

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I realized recently when I was answering someone's post, that I had not posted my trip report for Christmas 2013 to Spain, so I am posting now.
December 2013
12 Fly overnight
13 Madrid, arrive 7 am
14 Madrid: tour Royal Palace
15 Madrid: xmas Markets, etc
16 Train to Granada
17 Granada: tour Alhambra
18 Drive via Costa de Sol/Marbella to Ronda
19 Ronda: Hill cities drive
20 Drive to Puerto de Santa Maria
21 Day trip: Ferry to Cadiz
22 “Rest day” @ P. de Santa Maria
23 Drive to Seville
24 Seville: tour city & Alcazar, Christmas Eve Mass
25 Seville
26 Fly home @ 9:25 am; arrive 19 hours later at 9:15 pm

I will post the details in several posts below.

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    December 13 – 15 MADRID
    Arriving to an empty airport 1 hour early, 7 am. Took bus into town for 5 euro ea. We walked for 20 minutes across town snapping photos in the clear morning light … so nice!
    We arrived @ our Hotel Francisco in the old town area around 9:30 am. Needing to kill an hour before the room was ready, we walked to a famous chocolate & churros cafe, San Gines…. WOW, hot chocolate was a cup of melted chocolate to dip the churros in.
    22 hours without sleep then caught up with us, so we slept the day away (5 hour nap). After a shower, we walked the old town toward Plaza Puerta del Sol. Artistic Christmas lights draped the streets and a large 3-story golden tree-like sphere sat in the square. Photos would have to wait as we walked in the drizzle with hundreds of locals who turn out each evening. We went to the box office @ Teatro Munoz Seca to purchase Saturday night tickets to a famous Flamenco: Espana Baila Flamenco 2013. Stocked up with some groceries and a pizza for dinner. Then watched a DVD and lights out.

    Sat. 12/14th Royal Palace, Madrid
    With our eyes now open from coffee and toast breakfast @ the hotel, we walked 10 minutes to the Royal Palace arriving just before they opened. We paid 14 euros each with audio headsets to tour 24 rooms. The marble and light was wonderful throughout. Our favorite room was the large dining/ballroom (where walls were removed from 3 rooms to house table for 50 and dance floor). We came back to our hotel room and then lunch @ Sidrerin Restaurant El Escarpin across from hotel. Wonderful Paella!
    We took the metro to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte: Reina Sofia –modern art with Picasso and Dali; Housed in an old hospital building. The first hour was nice, then art overload, so we sped through and back to the hotel to join Spaniards in a 2 hour nap.
    At 7 pm, we attended Spana Baila Flamenco, a special 2-week only event. 90 full minutes with 1st half tracing all the styles of the dance and costumes. 2nd half was fast-paced foot action and more modern with a show stopping performance by an experienced woman who had fantastic footwork and artistry. Truly Fabulous!
    The streets were sooooo packed…. Thousands of people and families dressed for the holidays filled Plaza de Sol and Calle Arenal where stores and our hotel sat. Street performers & vendors on blankets made it difficult to walk. The Spaniards seemed to love it, however a little too busy for us so we returned to the hotel and watched DVD before bed. We ate a picnic meal on the bed of bread, cheese & ham with fruit – just right!
    Despite street noise & police sirens during night… slept 10 hours! Wow, we are now on Madrid time.

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    Sunday 12/15th Slow Day in Madrid
    After breakfast, we did the Rick Steve’s walking tour of the area while most of Madrid slept. All the Christmas markets were out in every square. At the Plaza Mayor, we loved some wood nativity with ceramic figures but decided to wait until Seville. In a local bar, Shannon took pictures of bulls and bullfighting pics.
    Then we walked over to a wonderful food market enclosed in glass and had coffee before walking by the cathedral, Palace, Opera House & then detoured up to Gran Via. In Plaza de Espana, a wonderful arts & crafts fair was going on… purchased jewelry & leather gifts – handmade & excellent! Fantastico!
    Enjoyed a late Italian lunch at Ginos (next door in the basement, tunnel) that was extremely popular as waited behind 20 people for 3:30 lunch. Then, home to pack for early train.

    Monday 12/16th Train to Granada
    Woke at 7, breakfast @ 7:30, then walked to metro to Atoche Train station. Train left promptly @ 9:05 am with car full of people. Read books on the 4.5 hours ride to Granada on fast train.
    On arrival, all the taxis were too big to get down the street we needed but with no English-speakers, one cabbie then drove us as close as possible and we then pulled our rolling bags down cobblestone, narrow streets, then stairs down to our apartment. Arriving at 2:15 @ Apartment Mirador de Comares, 8 Gloria, Arabela was waiting to greet us with a kiss on each cheek.
    Enjoyed our first Sangria & Tapas at La Bella y La Bestia with lunch (again at 3:45 pm). Afterward, we strolled to Plaza Nueva to Tourist Info for info on how to reach Alhambra for the next day. Then to the Alhambra Bookstore to pick up our tickets. We had just enough time to tour the Cathedral – the pipe organ & 3 story dome with inset paintings contrasting with white molding and lots of light. Impressive.

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    Tues. 12/17th ALHAMBRA
    Woke up at 7:30 to stroll through town to the cathedral. It was foggy and barely light. On the bus ride, we were able to watch the sun rise over the city. At 8:30, we entered the grounds and started the walk past the ruins of the “medina” or town. For 30 minutes we snapped pictures, listened to the audio guide and enjoyed the rising sun as it burnt off the fog. We were 1st in line for the palace entrance. Inside we were amazed by the detailed molding on the walls, arched doorways, intricate wooden ceiling, water features and perfect symmetry. Due to good timing, we were able to enter some rooms alone; yay, no packs of tourists. We got to see a new room, open only for December which was a two story bath for the king. Through the arched windows, we could see stunning city views. After exploring every nook & cranny and taking hundreds of photos, we exited through the garden.

    We next got some café food and sat on the wall overlooking old Granada. We explored the battlements, the oldest part of the complex built in the 13th century. We climbed many flights of stairs to get a view of the whole city & even spent a few minutes trying to locate our apartment.

    Then, we continued into the museum, which is the refurbished Palace. From the outside it is a square and inside it is round & columnesque. Very cool. We returned to the gardens & walked along the battlements finally finishing in the newest section built in the 19th century. There we saw more fountains, another palace, an outdoor amphitheater and ivy-covered path.
    Truly Spectacular …. Spent 5 hours of bliss (and then home to rest our feet after Chinese version of Tapas for lunch. After relaxing and trip planning, we took a bus around the old city. Going places I thought the bus would never fit. Steep hills and sharp turns; gypsy camps & great views!

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    Wed. 12/18th Scenic Drive along Costa de Sol, then to Ronda

    Packed & took taxi to Avis @ train station to rent car and were on the road by 9:45 am. We had a very scenic drive:
    • Views of Sierra Nevada as we drove on a nice highway from Granada to the Coast
    • Stopped for café @ Nerja with views of the Mediterranean though began to mist & cold. The drive on a smaller road from Almunicar to Nerja was breathtaking; but then got back on major highway through Malaga to Marbella.
    • Parked in the old town @ Marbella & enjoyed lunch @ 2:30 on the square.. very nice.
    • Finally drove switchback highway up into the hills toward Ronda (one of Pueblo Blancos).

    At that point, the GPS gave very, very bad advice taking us to the bottom of this cliff top town up a one-way road crossing bridge and through old gate. Diane proved she could be Mario Andretti as she had to floor it around switchback turns on 90 degree inclines without skidding backwards on the cobblestones or hitting parked cars. By the time she was near the top, she pull into a side-street with shaking hands.

    But we weren’t there yet… Shannon tried to find someone to tell us where to go to get to the hotel (didn’t trust GPS at all!) A nice man gave hand directions to go further up 1-way street, right, then left, then right to a main street. At last, squeezing barely by parked cars in the Picasso Diesel SUV that Avis had given us – we arrived at hotel to go in and get directions to a parking lot.
    WOW… we continued to relive the harrowing trip of tires spinning on cobblestone, 1-way streets to climb 330 feet to city on top of mountain! We found out the next day, if we had continued to other side of town, it was an easy drive in.

    Hotel San Gabiel is lovely – built in 1736 & remains as family home of original owners. We have a large room with 2 twin beds and balcony overlooking courtyard.
    We slept like babies!

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    Thurs. 12/19th Driving: White Cities

    Today we tried to stay ahead of the rain. After breakfast @ the hotel, we retrieved our car and drove to several other white towns in this mountainous region: Grazalema & Zahara de la Sierra. The road was nice & scenic, but we had to pull over some for oncoming car at times.

    Due to heavy mists & light rain, we arrived @ Grazalema car park, snapped a few pictures between shopping at the various local artisan stores. Diane bought a wonderful scarf that helped with the cold. Shannon purchased a one-of-a-kind leather IPad purse. We visited at length with the artist who only makes a purse once. It will last Shannon a lifetime; beautiful & simple, but also striking!

    The skies cleared a little, so we then drove to Zahara, a white town on cliffs overlooking a lake. We hiked ½ way up thru the town and took some photos, but when rain started, we went back to the car for safety (very slippery) & to Ronda.

    After dropping our backpacks at the hotel, we headed out for lunch (2:30 normal time). We impulsively went into a German restaurant - The bottle of wine for 9 euros helped the not so stellar meal! Afterwards, we enjoyed café and cake @ a nearby sweet shop before the rain started again.

    Back in the room, we enjoyed reading the rest of the afternoon (and Shannon watched a TV show via computer). Nice to enjoy our cozy hotel in this beautiful setting!

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    12/20th: El Puerto de Santa Maria

    Today, we head to the western seashore – Costa de la Luz & stay @ our splurge house: 2 bedroom apt. right on the beach in El Puerto de Santa Maria for 3 nights.

    But first, we did a walking tour of Ronda – the sun was out and it was gorgeous!
    • Shannon hiked down to the bottom for pictures of the famous gorge & Nueva Bridge.
    • We toured the Church of Santa Maria (half Muslem/Moorish and Baroque/Renaissance)
    • Walked down to St. Philip’s gate and yes, that was the historic narrow road we drove in on across the old bridge & up, up, up!
    • Walking up hundreds of stairs along the canyon brought us up to the other side of Nueva Bridge.

    We then packed the car & started the drive along several white villages to the West coast. It took us 45 minutes being lost @ end to find apt. – then met Javier to move in.

    Saturday & Sunday 12/21-22nd
    On Saturday, we slept late (Diane 7 am and Shannon 10 am). This was our Vacation from our vacation day!
    We enjoyed the ocean view while reading books and relaxing. Very nice!
    On Sunday, spent lazy morning, reading and enjoying the ocean. Then took the ferry to Cadiz for lunch & exploring the old city – Cathedral & some old gates. Most of the city is from 18th century. Within 3 hours, we were ready to head back.

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    Mon. 12/23rd Drive to Seville
    While confusing @ times, the GPS successfully got us to Avis @ the Seville train station by 12:30 and a short taxi ride and walk to the Murillo Apartment. We planned our walking tour of Seville in the hotel courtyard, & then were pleasantly surprised when told our room was ready early.

    Since rain was eminent on day 2 & 3, we decided to do the Rick Steve’s walking tour of Seville and headed back to the apartment to watch Miracle on 34th Street DVD to get in the Christmas mood.

    Christmas Eve
    We walked to Plaza Nueva at 10:00 for a Seville Walks tour (costs 15 euro/person). Alfonso was excellent – humor, history & recommendations for our stay.
    Based on his advice that stores would close for Christmas Eve @ 3 and most don’t open again until 26th, we then focused on shopping from noon to 2:30. Seville has a wonderful Christmas Arts & Crafts market from 12/13th to 1/6th wise men’s day. We found lovely Christmas gifts for family & friends – of course, found a few things for Shannon & I too.

    While walking around, we saw a restaurant serving 4 course Xmas Eve dinner – Robles Restaurant; so made reservation for 9 pm.
    We ate some tapas and beer at 2:30 and got to Alcazar palace @ 3:15 for a wonderful visit until they closed at 5 pm. Took 150 pictures of this remarkable palace.

    Arriving back at the apartment, we discovered the refrigerator with xmas dinner was broken. Mgmt offered to upgrade us to a 2 bedroom and we moved our stuff from #111 to #332 on top floor.
    After the lovely dinner at Robles, we headed over to Seville Cathedral for midnight Mass. We thought we’d be able to sightsee inside for free before Mass, but most side areas were closed off --- so just grabbed a seat on the center aisle. After 1.5 hours of priests singing Gregorian chants and preaching (couldn’t understand Spanish), we slipped out when they stood. We faced rain and strong winds walking home. Very busy, but overall it was a nice day in Seville.

    Christmas Day 2013 Seville
    With most things closed & bad weather (rain & 20 mph wind), we stayed in:
    • Watched Christmas Movie: Santa Clause
    • Cooked lunch: Chicken, rice, mixed vegetables, croissants & chocolate cake for dessert. Quite proud of ourselves with 2-burner stove top and microwave.
    • Evening: went to see the laser light show @ 7 pm and then attend Flamenco at 8 pm: Auditorio Alvarez Quintero
    • Grab late dinner and pack our bags.
    Thurs. 12/26th Travel Home
    Long day of travel: taxi @ 7 am (midnight San Antonio time); flight to Madrid, Philadelphia, and San Antonio arriving back at 9:15 pm.

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    Since Madrid was such a big city, it didn't appeal to us as much. So, I think 1 full day in Madrid is fine. We would also recommend skipping the car portion and instead just take a train to stay in Ronda and then to Seville.

    Madrid - 1 full day, 2 nights
    Train to Granada, 2 nights
    Train to Ronda, 1 night
    Train to Seville, 3 nights

    Then, you have time to also fit in going to the Coast and even a ferry to see Casablanca; or perhaps go to Cordova.

    Several years later, we visited Barcelona when we toured southern France rather than the long train ride to fit in when we saw Spain.

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