Spain Trip Report - Kaudrey returns

Old Feb 24th, 2004, 10:57 AM
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Spain Trip Report - Kaudrey returns

Hi,

I just returned Saturday from 2 lovely weeks in Spain. This trip report will come in pieces over the next week, so bear with me.

The basics about me and the trip, to give some perspective: I am 34, female, and I traveled alone. I stayed in 2* or 3* hotels - not budget but not fancy, either. I booked the entire trip on-line and through emails. I speak enough Spanish to order food, buy tickets, make reservations for things etc. The basics - it came in handy sometimes.

I loved everywhere I went, but Andalucia holds a special place in my heart.

It is not cheap to be a tourist in Spain. Cathedrals, Alcazars, museums, etc charge quite a bit of money to get into. 5 euros here, 7 euros there - it adds up. I am spoiled living in DC, where the Smithsonians are free. I did keep track of the total money I spent, but I haven't added it up yet. Not sure I want to!

I used a money belt and the hotel safes, but I never felt unsafe anywhere. No one bothered me. However, I am a city girl and I am pretty good at looking like I know where I am going even if I am hopelessly lost. Others I talked to on the trip had to shoo people away - in Sevilla and Barcelona, but I didn't hear of anyone getting pickpocketed. It's probably partly because things are not very crowded in February.

I thought February was a great time to be in Spain. Minimal crowds, no lines, weather was great for walking around (except for my last rainy, cold day in Barcelona). However, some places didn't do tours in English in the winter.

The itinerary: 4 nights in Madrid with day trips to Toledo and Segovia, 3 nights in Sevilla, stopping in Cordoba on the way from Madrid, 2 nights in Ronda with a stop in Arcos de la Frontera, 1 night in Granada, and 4 nights in Barcelona, with a day trip to Monserrat.

More to come...next, hotel reviews...then the trip...

Karen
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Old Feb 24th, 2004, 12:35 PM
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Hi Karen,

I'm anxiously awaiting your trip report. I'm the woman from NYC who is staying at the Hostal Palacios in May. We are going to Madrid after Barcelona. Where did you stay in Madrid? We are staying at the Hostal Acapulco on the Plaza Carmen.
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Old Feb 24th, 2004, 01:50 PM
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Thanks, Rachele.

To continue, here are my hotel reviews. The fun stuff (the actual trip), will have to wait until next installment...

Madrid: High Tech Petit Palace Ducal, Calle Hortaleza 3. This hotel is literally across the street from the Gran Via Metro. 5 minute walk to Puerto del Sol, about a 7 minute walk to Retiro Park and the Prado. Modern, spacious room. I had asked for a single but had a double bed, and big bathroom (for European standards), and a shower with multiple shower heads (very relaxing). They had a high speed internet access computer guests could use for free. Breakfast was included and was quite nice. Safe in the room, hairdryer. I would highly recommend this hotel. For reference to those researching, it is near Hotel Gaudi and Hotel Gran Via.

Sevilla - Hotel Alcantara. This hotel is basic but in a perfect location. Right in the heart of Barrio Santa Cruz, and quiet because it's on a pedestrian street. Clean, comfortable, big bathroom, the staff is very nice. Has safes at the front desk but no hairdryer in the room. I borrowed one from the front desk every morning with no problem. I'd recommend this hotel as long as you don't want luxury. Great price given the great location! I didn't eat breakfast here.

Ronda - Hotel San Gabriel - my favorite of the trip. Right in the old part of town, beautiful old mansion, lovely furnishings. I asked for a single but again had a double bed, big bathroom. The staff was wonderful. This was my most expensive hotel and it was definitely worth it. Highly recommend.

Granada - Hotel Anacapri. Modern looking, room was basic and single-sized. Clean, comfortable, great location just at the edge of the Albaicin neighborhood and a block from the cathedral. Desk staff was wonderful. Again, good price for the location, not much individual charm, but I'd recommend it if you are looking for the price range.

Barcelona - Hostal Palacios - 2 blocks from Placa Catalunya, it's a good location if you don't mind walking a little to get to La Rambla and Barri Gotic, which I didn't. The room was basic, but clean, good-sized bathroom, the lounge area is very nice with a couch, chairs, and a fireplace. It's a pretty, old building on a busy street but I had a room that looked over an alley, so it was quiet, but no view. They had a computer with internet access that they let me use for free even though a sign said they would charge me, which was nice. I'd say the room was comparable to Alcantara in Sevilla. It was about what I expected for the "moderate" price range I was looking for.

The only hotel I ate breakfast in was in Madrid, since it was included. Everywhere else, I found cafes every morning for tostada and cafe con leche.

OK, the fun stuff comes next - what I actually did in all of these places!

Karen
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Old Feb 24th, 2004, 01:52 PM
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Kaudrey,

Welcome home! I can't wait for your report - I head to Spain in less than 3 weeks!

SRS
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Old Feb 24th, 2004, 02:04 PM
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Kaudrey,

I am eager to read the rest of your report. We will be leaving for Spain in 2 1/2 weeks.
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Old Feb 24th, 2004, 02:06 PM
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Day 1: Friday: Flight

Flew Delta DCA-JFK-MAD. The flight to Madrid was not full, so I was able to have a 2-seat section to myself, which helped me sleep a little. Flight was fine, food was actually pretty decent. Uneventful, which is how I like my flights!

Day 2: Saturday: Land and tour Madrid

Landing before 7am does not make figuring out what to do very easy. The info desk didn?t know about the Aerocity bus, which I had not booked ahead of time, and I did not see a booth for them. The RENFE office wasn?t open so I couldn?t buy my tickets to Cordoba and Sevilla for later in the week as planned. So, I decided to metro to my hotel. I bought a 10-trip ticket for about 5 euros, and used 2 connections to metro to my hotel. It took about 45 minutes total. I wouldn?t recommend this if you have a lot of luggage, because there are a lot of stairs, but I packed light so it wasn?t a problem.

I got to the hotel at 8:15am. My room obviously wasn?t ready, but they held my luggage, and my touring began. Prado opened at 9am, so I first walked down to Retiro Park and walked through part of the park. Very nice, and I had to mostly to myself on Saturday morning this early! I get to the Prado at 9am exactly, and there is a huge line! I am somewhat shocked, until I realize that the line is for a temporary Manet exhibit that is ending the next day. I skip that line, go to the regular entrance, and walk right it. I have the Prado mostly to myself. This next part is probably blasphemy, but everyone is different, right? I spend about 1 hour there and then leave. I hit the highlights. I am more into sculpture than portraiture, and the art there didn?t interest me that much.

I go to Reina Sofia, and I like this much better. I like the work of Picasso, Dali, and Juan Gris. Guernica was amazing to see in person. It is so big and just overwhelming. I spend about 1 hour here too (it?s smaller than the Prado).

Since I am across the street from the Antocha train station, where RENFE is, I go there to buy my Cordoba and Sevilla train tickets for Wednesday. No problem, although the woman didn?t speak English, so my limited Spanish helped get me the right tickets!

I go to the Palacio Real. I get there right before a tour starts, so I jump on ? good timing! Beautiful. I love palaces. The church next door is closed as they prep for the May wedding. At 2pm, I metro back to the hotel. I am exhausted. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do ? siesta!

After a 2 hour nap and a quick shower, I walk to Puerto del Sol and Plaza Mayor. I see Tigger and Mickey Mouse in Puerta del Sol! It was totally touristy, but cute. I walk down around the Cava Baja area ? the wine bars and tapas places that Maribel suggests are packed, so I pick another one and have a glass of wine and some tapas. I spend some time watching the performers in Plaza Mayor and window shopping. I am tired, so I head back to my hotel around 10pm for a good night?s sleep. On my first day, I cannot embrace the ?eating late? concept.

Day 3: Sunday: Toledo

I take the bus to Toledo. I was glad I had Maribel?s description of where the bus station was next to the Hotel Florida. No problems! Although it is supposed to be 1 hour 15 minutes, on a Sunday with no traffic, we get there in 40 minutes. I take the local bus up the hill to Plaza Zacodover. The Alcazar is closed for renovations, but I walk up the hill to see it. This whole town is hills ? up hill, down hill, back and forth. I love it! There are so many little narrow winding streets that you think cars can?t possibly drive on, until you have to jump into a door way to avoid being clobbered by a side-view mirror. At 10am on a Sunday morning, I am wandering the streets of Toledo by myself. It is eerily silent, and peaceful. Nothing is open yet, it is a brisk morning, and I totally embrace the little town.

I visit the Cathedral, the Jewish quarter, several smaller churches, a small mesquita. I look for things on the map. Success is hit or miss, at least the first time. There are occasional signs, but mostly I just let myself head in the general direction of things until I really AM lost. I passed several plazas 3 or 4 times, not always meaning to. I sit in the plazas and enjoy the sunshine. I walk to the Puenta Alcantara, a stone bridge from the 1200s. I figure I walked about 5 or 6 miles up and down those hills. I take the bus back to Madrid. I have dinner at Botin, which is the oldest restaurant in the world. It was excellent, relatively pricey, but worth it.

Note to Myer: I tried to figure out your question about the train/bus to Toledo, with no success. The woman I bought my RENFE tickets from didn't speak English, the bus company didn't know, and neither did the Tourist Information office. They just kept saying to take the bus. SORRY!

Tomorrow: Segovia, my last day in Madrid, Cordoba, and beyond...

Karen
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Old Feb 24th, 2004, 02:08 PM
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Sorry about the question marks. They are supposed to be apostrophes or dashes - damn Word conversion!



Karen
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Old Feb 24th, 2004, 06:42 PM
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Thank you for your wonderful trip report. Can't wait for the next installments!
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 04:44 AM
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Thanks everyone! People on this board sometimes ask if they should take a trip by themselves. I say YES. I liked traveling alone, although at dinner it would have been nice to have a companion. But it was great setting my own pace and doing what I wanted when I wanted. As you'll see later in the trip report, I met up with others as I traveled (including 2 Fodorites), many of whome were traveling solo, so that was fun and gave me different people to spend time with.

Anyway, to continue the trip:
Day 4: Monday: Segovia

Despite waking up with sore calves from my trek around Toledo, I head to Segovia. More hills! I take the bus here, too, but from a different bus station and with a different bus company. Both buses were very comfortable. I had printed off schedules for both day trips from the bus companies? websites before I left. It takes a little over an hour. The Aqueduct is immense and very cool to see. The cathedral is very big, the Alcazar is very interesting ? I love the towers. 152 steps up to the top of one of the towers, not that I was counting. (And besides, later towers have MANY more steps!). The Alcazar overlooks a valley/gorge, and you can go to the other side.

I decide to tackle this after lunch. By now I am learning the Spanish way of life, so lunch is around 2pm. I sit outside at a café and talk to a young couple with a baby from Philadelphia. Then I go back to the cliff that leads down to the valley via a muddy path cut into it. I cross the valley, and walk up the other side. My legs get a great workout by the time I have to go back UP that muddy path.

On a Monday in February, there is no one else here. The monastery and the church that are on the far side of the valley are not open (which I knew), but the view of the town from this side is worth the walk. It is a crisp, clear day. I run into one person in the hour I am walking around this side, and he gives me my one ?This is it, I?m going to die in Spain and no one will ever find me? moment. I?m kidding, but it was kind of funny. I stop to take a picture of the Alcazar. I haven?t seen anyone in 20 minutes, and then here comes this guy up the path. He is wearing all black, chains, 2 face piercings, shaved head. I am a city girl, and he?s just someone you?d avoid in a dark alley at night. In a millisecond, I have dark thoughts of being robbed, and as he approaches, I say ?Hola?, he says ?Hola, como esta??, and keeps walking on. It was so peaceful on that side of the valley, looking at the city, that I found a patch of grass and sat, and just relaxed by myself for about ? hour before heading back.

I take the bus back to Madrid, metro to the hotel, and rest. I check emails. I email Sara, a fellow Fodorite who I plan to meet up with in Sevilla, and she will be there my second night. Awesome! A touring buddy. I walk to Plaza Santa Ana and have tapas at a Hemingway haunt, Cerveceria Alemana. It was fine, nothing special. I read through my notes and try to figure out what to do tomorrow. Then I decide to shop. I walk past Casa Mira and buy some chocolates, per Maribel?s suggestion. Yum! Stores are open late, so I wander through Cortes Ingles near Puerto del Sol. Even with the sales, things are too expensive for me, but it was fun to look.

To be continued...
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 04:47 AM
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I hate these stupid question marks were my punctuation is supposed to be! Sorry. After today, maybe I'll type on Fodor's and copy to Word, instead of the other way around...

Day 5: Madrid

I sleep in a little, have breakfast, and hit the Amex office. I don?t have any definitive plans for today. I walk down to the Fountain of Neptune, and do my best Frogger imitation to get close for a picture. I don?t think you are supposed to go right up to the fountain, but I did. Then I went to the Monastery of Descalez Reales. You have to go on a tour, which would have been fine except it was in Spanish! Oops. I understand maybe 20 percent of it, but it was still interesting.

I walk to the Teatro Real, forgetting it was closed on Tuesday. Oops. I look for other highlights from Maribel?s notes ? El Torno, for sweets from the nuns. I find it, but it?s closed. I find the Chocolateria de San Gines (I go there tonight for chocolate and churros, and was in heaven as my arteries clogged shut!). The church there ? Iglesia de San Gines, it very pretty. I wander around Cava Baja some more and have lunch outside at a café. Then I decide to go back to Retiro Park. It?s a beautiful day and there are lots of people around. I hang out in the park, but of course, the 2 buildings you can visit there are closed Tuesday. Oh well. Then I shoe shop. I search in vain for shoes, but the shoes are narrow or expensive or not in my size. Really, how would I carry them anyway? I find tapas and wine, then the previously mentioned chocolate and churros. Good thing I walked a lot today!

Day 6: Madrid to Cordoba to Sevilla

I get up early because I have bought 8:30 AVE tickets to Cordoba. I metro to the train. The train is comfortable and not crowded. When I get to Cordoba, I take a cab to Mezquita, but I decide to see the Alcazar first because it closes at 2pm. The gardens are worth it ? they are beautiful, even in February. The Alacazar was kind of plain, compared to others, but still nice. Back at the Mezquita, I have my first run in with gypsies. They try to give me rosemary and tell my fortune, but I just say ?no, gracias? and keep walking.

The Mezquita is undergoing some renovation but is amazingly beautiful. The mix of mosque and church is odd to see ? it shows a lot about Spanish history. I then wander around and get lost in the Jewish quarter (I seem to be getting good at that!). Maps only go so far in the old sections of these cities. I sit outside at a little tapas place and people watch. I see the renowned Casa Pepe, but it is more than I want to spend on lunch, so I pass.

Then I head on the AVE train to Sevilla. Takes about 45 minutes. I grab a cab to my hotel. This is an experience in itself ? now instead of being the pedestrian jumping into doorways, I am in the car that is trying to take people out! I check in to my hotel, get a map, and wander the little streets, finding the Cathedral and the Alcazar, and a bunch of the tapas places suggested by either Maribel or the guidebooks. I wander down to the river and see the Torre de Oro and several big plazas. I find an Internet place and IM my DBF for a while.

I stop at Bar Patanchon for a glass of wine and tapas. Maribel suggested fried camembert with raspberry sauce ? it was fabulous! I wouldn?t have known about it because it wasn?t on their outside menu ? you had to get their full listing to see it.

My hotel is next to Casa de la Memoria, where there is flamenco every night. So, I go. It is 11 euros. It is smaller than what other more expensive shows are ? it?s one dancer, one singer, and a guitarist. It seems intimate because it is in a pretty little courtyard and I?d say there was room for about 50 people or so. It sold out. It lasted about 1 hour. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was not flashy, as I envision some of the bigger venues might be (just from pictures at tourist shops).

To be continued later...
Karen
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 05:52 AM
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Hello again Karen,

Great to read your report & very much looking forward to your thoughts on Barcelona!

Jim
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 07:06 AM
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Karen,

Your report is wonderful - I can't wait to go to Spain! And for more segments!

SRS
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 08:03 AM
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Really enjoying your report! We'll wait for the next batch.
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 10:46 AM
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Terrific report Karen! I'd love to get a copy of Maribel's Spain file if possible.

Thanks!
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 10:48 AM
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One more, on my lunch break:

Have I mentioned that the "Walk/Don?t Walk" signs chirp like birds when you should walk? Every time I go to cross the street, I feel just a little like a Pavlov dog - hear noise, walk.

Day 7: Thursday: Sevilla

First I visit the Alcazar. They only do tours of the upper palace in Spanish in winter, so I skip that part. The tile in this Alcazar is amazingly beautiful, as is the intricate detailing of the archways.

Then to the cathedral, right next door. The cathedral is beautiful and typical and I am starting to feel a little like I've had enough of cathedrals. Except that Columbus is buried here, so that was pretty interesting. The cathedral also has the Giralda tower, which you must go up, of course, because it is there. It has ramps instead of steps. Up, up, up you go around and around 34 times. Great view - take note, the bells are loud when you are right next to them!

I wander around Santa Cruz and visit the pretty Jardines de Murillo. I walk down to Plaza de Espana and the Parque Maria Luisa. I relax in the park near a fountain in a pond - it's a beautiful day and I just sit for a while, enjoying the quiet.

I eat lunch and hit the internet cafe - Sara, a fellow Fodorite, has arrived in Sevilla and suggests we meet at 7:30 for tapas. I do some shopping on Sevilla's main shopping streets, but don't buy anything.

I meet up with Sara, and we get acquainted for a while and decide to hop from tapas bar to tapas bar. We hit a bunch in "our neighborhood", and in one, we meet Miguel. Miguel is from Valencia, in Sevilla on business, and he speaks perfect English with a British accent. That was weird to hear! But he spent a few years in London getting his masters degree, so it made sense.

Miguel, Sara and I tapa-bar hopped a little more and then end up at Flaherty's, an Irish pub near the cathedral. We drink and dance to cheesy American 80s music until the wee hours of morning...
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 10:49 AM
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Rachele - if you give me your email address, I will send Maribel's files to you.

Karen
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 11:43 AM
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Thank you so much! It's [email protected]

You've been a great help -- let me know if you ever need any good NYC tips!

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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 02:00 PM
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Kaudrey - thanks a lot for your feedback! My friend and I are leaving for Spain in less than a month!

What kind of clothes did y ou need to bring as far as weather? We are trying to pack light for mid-late march and are struggling with option of jackets with hood vs just an umbrella and taking fleece pullovers to protect against any 'chill' in the evenings.

SEgovia - how long did you spend there before returning to Madrid that evening? We're doing the same thing also..

Cordoba - did you take up the whole day there before leaving for SEville in the evening??

Thanks so much for any feedback!!!!
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 02:56 PM
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Thanks for your report. We'll be going to Madrid, Toledo, and Segovia in May. It was great to read a first hand account of these cities. It sounds like you really know how to enjoy yourself, even when alone, I admire that. Thanks again!
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Old Feb 25th, 2004, 03:17 PM
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HI,
I am going to Barcelona for a conference at the end of March. I like to do some sight seeing at the same time too. I am thinking travelling to Madrid, Toledo and Montseurat. Should I buy train tickets ahead or is it OK to buy them when I get there? Also, would 3 days be enough time to tour Madrid, Toledo and Montseurat and have enough time to get back to Barcelona for the return flight?

Thanks.

MN
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