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Spain Trip Report: Road Trip, Aching Thighs, Pieces of Heaven, Fabulous Time

Spain Trip Report: Road Trip, Aching Thighs, Pieces of Heaven, Fabulous Time

Oct 22nd, 2005, 11:56 AM
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Spain Trip Report: Road Trip, Aching Thighs, Pieces of Heaven, Fabulous Time

I know this is very long, but I've organized it according chronological order by the places we were in - and we were in a lot of places! We were in Spain from Sept 19 through Oct 6, so this is a bit late, but I had demands on getting my pictures/scrapbook in order and I just can't do both at the same time! I did want to "pay it forward" because I received so much valuable information from this site, and hopefully some one someday can glean something from all of this.


Background

2 people - myself, female mid 40s, and my Significant other, male early 50s (called "G" throughout this report). While we do like museums, cathedrals, history and such, we both feel there is only so many one can take, so we also try to balance with nature, smaller towns, and just taking things slow. We are not into nightlife really at all. While we enjoy trying new foods, neither of us would be considered "foodies", though a good meal on occasion is a nice splurge. My S/O is a recovering alcoholic so alcohol is something that is never part of our vacations.I somehow managed to win the airfare to Spain in November 2004, so we had nearly a year to
plan and make preparations for the trip. I used a number of sources for resource, including internet, guidebooks, and people who had traveled to Spain. I gained the most online information from Fodor's and Madridman.com, and feel indebted to the people who helped on these sites!

We had decided early on in the planning that we would forego public transportation and rent a car for 2 weeks, essentially making this a road trip. Because this is an unusual approach, I will address this later. We used AutoEurope to reserve our car and were extremely satisfied with the service received. I had asked for a Renault Scenic, diesel if available, and we received an Opal Zafira, diesel. The car was probably larger than most people here would rent, but it suited out needs perfectly. Inside it felt large and comfortable - just what one needs for long road trips. Yet, it manuevered well in tight spaces, did well on fuel, and had quite a peppy engine. And, most importantly, it stowed all of our luggage perfectly. G, who did all of the driving, actually became quite attached to this little gem by the end of the trip!

Our itinerary was something I did not really share here because I knew it would draw quite a bit of fire. Admittedly, it would not work for most people - especially if they were using public transportation - but it worked very well for us. It was a bit whirlwind at times, but we felt most fortunate that we saw many faces of Spain. Many of those faces were in smaller towns and out of the way places, but we personally could not see rushing madly from one large city to the next to see crowds of tourists. That works for some. Our way worked for us. In our itinerary we were able to cover Madrid, Toledo, Extremadura, Andalucia, and La Mancha. We did make use of the Paradors 5 Nights Card. The cities/places we stayed were: Madrid, Toledo, Mérida, Seville, Ronda, Antequera, Cazorla, Pedro Muñoz (yes, this is an actual place and not some one's home), Cuenca, and Madrid again.

Our flights were through British Airways from LAx to LHR and then Iberia from LHR to MAD. Uneventful going to Spain, thankfully. On the return trip, I got the distince feeling the agent in Madrid had rarely encountered anything other than a hard copy ticket before and wasn't sure what to do. I explained to him several times we were flying to Heathrow and then connecting via BA onto Los Angeles. He nodded and eventually gave us our boarding passes. However, as with our connection in Heathrow, Iberia seems to not assign gates until the last possible moment and I'm unsure as to why. Now, for some odd reason as I was sitting and waiting for the gate to open I happen to look at our boarding passes, and informed G there was a problem. Our luggage had only been checked to LHR, not all the way throuh to LAX. I know this was party my fault, but hey they both begin with an "L". At first G tried to say the airlines would work it out, and I had to explain this to him. He then spoke to the agent at the gate, who told him we had to speak to some one in Heathrow. I wasn't pleased, as our luggage was sitting on the tarmac at this point and the plane was not even half full. Oh well. In Heathrow, we encountered a BA representative just before security who told us to go ahead through security and get our boarding passes because "we had an hour to go back and get our luggage from the carousel if needed." Was this lady nuts!??! Even I knew this wasn't happening, and while G and I were going to LAX that night our luggage was spending an extra day or two in London! G still held out hope, though. Gotta love him! The BA agent at the ticket counter confirmed my thoughts when he told G that we would never make our flight if we tried to retrieve our luggage. He suggested we file a claim in LA, which we did and our luggage was received within 24 hours after our arrival home. A lesson learned for me, but I was not thrilled with Iberia. They also ran late, which irks me, and gave no apology. (I don't expect a reason, but an apology is nice.) As a comparison, our flight out of Heathrow was late as well. Not only did the pilot give an apology, we arrived in LA earlier than expected. Actually, I enjoyed traveling on BA. I often hear complaints here, but I had nothing but good things to say about the service.

I'll try to write this trip report with sections for each place stayed and hopefully that will provide the most information? I am open to whatever questions anyone may have!

Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 11:58 AM
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Driving In Spain

I would like to address this topic separately because I had so many questions regarding this before I left and so much misinformation given to me. I have read where other people were trying to plan road trips (either part or in full) and were dissuaded from doing so, and I had long conversations with G trying to dissuade him from this plan, based on information that received from others. My advice, after spending 2 weeks on the road in Spain? If you want to do a road trip in Spain? Go for it!!!

Don't listen to others, just do it! But! Do your homework. We didn't need our International Driver's Permits, but it gave us peace of mind to have them. Get a good road atlas. I got mine through an online site, and it was a godsend. I also sent away for every single road map of every single major city that I could get my hands on. Become good friends with sites such as viamichelin.com and mappy.com. They are not perfect, but they give you a good point of reference. Also, the desk clerks in the hotels are your friends. When you leave one hotel, tell them where you are going. Chances are they can print out exact directions (in English) for your next leg. If the opportunity arises, use the internet to email upcoming hotels to find out specific driving directions to your next hotel. We were amazed at how helpful people were. You will need to plot out your trip a bit. It's to be expected. It does help to have a good navigator, though, one who can read maps well and tell directions. Finally, be realistic about the amount of time and distance you can travel. We really tried to travel no more than 3 hours in one day (this did not work out for 2 days during the trip). Anything more than that, and you will suffer road fatigue.

Roads in Spain are well kept up, even the regional roads. The signage is going to be a bit different than the US, but once you are used to it, it seems a piece of cake. The roundabouts at first seem intimidating, but can actually be helpful, especially if you aren't sure of where you are going - just keep going round until you are certain which "branch" you want to take. Be careful on the more remote roads - there will be livestock crossing at times. Driving at night can be dicey, so use discretion; although, if you are on major highways there is nothing to worry about.

Spanish drivers normally drive fast. They also do have a tendency to pull up very close behind you at traffic signals. (This usually on hills when everyone is driving manual transmissions.) However, Spanish drivers are also very courteous and do observe the rules of the road. (The exception to this is Seville, where all bets are off) We never saw one instance of "road rage" and only one accident the whole time we were there. Of course, G doesn't speed and really doesn't like people behind him, so often he would pull over and let people pass him. In that, we never encountered any angry drivers.

Do be aware that, while there are traffic lights, the signals are often even with the driver. This means that when the driver is the first person at the intersection, s/he cannot see when the light turns green (unless maybe the navigator might be able to). This can be nerve-wracking, but not to worry. The driver behind you will honk to let you know. A friendly wave while moving forward is usually all that is needed. Also, the street signs are posted on the sides of the buildings - if they are posted at all. This means you typically will not be aware of the name of the street until you are at the street. This is where a good navigator comes in. However, be aware that streets change names frequently along the same stretch of street. Once you catch on, it's okay. Also, getting a bit lost is part of the fun. And the locals are usually very helpful in getting you back on your way.

Driving in Madrid is madness. This was the only place G really did finally give up. I'm not sure how anyone drives in that city, but somehow they manage without actually hitting each other. The streets are fine. It's the roundabouts that will give the most grief. Truly, avoid this, if possible. Although, I really think the rental agencies should give out t-shirts that say something like, "I drove in Madrid and survived."

Driving in Seville is tedious, but not the same madness as Madrid. The problem with Seville is that, unlike Madrid, there are no easy ways to turn around if one makes a mistake. You must drive for what seems like miles just to find a way to turn round to get back to where you were. The drivers in Seville were also - and I really hate to say this - rude. They are totally unlike the rest of Spain.

Driving in Barrio Santa Cruz was probably the most misinformation I received. Yes, the streets are narrow. But we came across even more narrow streets in other places. The problem with attempting to drive in the Barrio is getting in. It seems you can only get so far and then all streets only lead one way - and that is into the area where you are. However, I had been told the streets were so narrow that if one were driving a Renault Clio one would have to get both tires up on the curbs to drive. That simply isn't true. There are full sized taxis driving through the Barrio. And...surprise!...delivery trucks drive through the Barrio on a regular basis. At home I drive a Honda CR-v (mini SUV), and I could have easily driven it through these streets. Making the turns would have been a bit iffy, though. We didn't crack the code to getting into the Barrio, so ended up parking just at the outskirts and walking a short distance to our hotel, which was fine.

As far as doing the road trip? I'd do again in a heart beat! We were able to see so much more of Spain, and we were able to see and do it on our time. We didn't have to fuss with time schedules and lugging our baggage through train stations and such. We did have to leave our luggage in the car in a couple of places, but we were in parking areas were there were lots of people, and it was perfectly fine. I would actually encourage people who want to do this to go for it. But you cannot be faint-hearted. You do have to have somewhat of an adventurous spirit!

Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 11:59 AM
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Toledo

We flew into Madid, and spent the first night there, but I'm skipping that because we spent the last 4 days there and I'd rather share my thoughts and experiences at the end. Besides I was still jet-lagged and a little off my game when I first arrived!

Hotel: Parador de Toledo. (1 night) I knew this property was a bit out of town, but I had heard so many nice things about it that I really wanted to stay here. For me, this hotel lived up to its reputation. The room was quite large and comfortable, and the terraza afforded a specatular view of Toledo. The staff was friendly and courteous and eager to help in any way possible. We did have dinner in the Parador, and the food was good but the portions large - I couldn't finish what I had. (partridge) Dining at the Paradors can be pricey (at least for us), so we considered this a bit of a splurge. Free parking.

Sights

G and I both fell in love with Toledo. We were unable to see the monastary or the alcazar as they were closed. We were able to see the Cathedral, the Igelsia Santo Tome, and Casa Museo del Greco. We spent 5 hours walking around Toledo, and we both agreed we could easily have spent 2 days here. It seemed every time we turned down a street there was something else to see. This is a city made to stroll, though it is all up and down hills. (Little did we know what we were in for later on!) We both admired the Cathedral greatly, and this was to become our favorite in Spain. I discovered the wonders of Toledan Marzipan here - wonderful! We were stopped by an elderly Spanish woman who had lived her whole life in Toledo. She said she liked to stop and chat with tourists to find out what they thought of "her city." We told her thought it was absolutely lovely - almost magical, and she seemed to glow. She asked us how we felt the Cathedral in Toledo compared to others, but we told her we had just arrived and hadn't had a chance to see any others yet. She told us she felt we would think Toledo's was best. At the end of the trip, we felt she was correct.

Personal Feelings

I'm glad for the time we had in Toledo, but I think we could have spent one more day here. G and I puzzled over the fact that people do this city as a day trip. In fact, when we reached Madrid, and looked at the time schedules for tours, it seemed impossible that one could experience this city in the time allowed. We walked until our bodies could no longer physically do so, yet our minds still wanted more.

Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:02 PM
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Mérida

The drive to Mérida was one of the longest - 3 1/2 hours. We really didn't know what to expect to find in the drive through Extremadura, but were delighted when we got there. As the name implies, this is a land of extremes. The scenery changes suddenly and sometimes dramatically. Sometimes agricultural plains, then something similar to So Cal (our home), to rolling hills filled with olive groves, to mountains. We did manage to see those stork nests the area is known for - they are huge!

Hotel: Parador de Mérida. (1 night) This was once a 16th century convent, so it is one of the "old" paradors. Finding it is not so much a problem. Driving to it is a little bit difficult. We did happen to see "Parador parking", but it was gated and as we were trying to figure out how to get in, some one was leaving and the gate opened. Good luck at just the right time!

The Parador looks small, but once inside seems a confusing maze. G and I both had a difficult time at times locating our room, which made for a fun time. We opted for the stairs more often than the elevator simply because they are so nice. Or they seemed so to me, and I really don't know why. They were tile and rather simple, but I liked them.

The room, again, was large and nicely appointed. The window gave a wonderful view of the parking lot (okay, some sarcasm here!), but we did have a small bit of a balcony. However, Mérida was so hot (somewhere in the 90s) that not only did we keep the windows closed, we also kept the wooden shutters closed, so the lack of view was of no consequence to us. The fact that the Parador is a bit winding and maze-like makes it all the more interesting to wander around and try to find one's way around, like where the front door is. There is also a small garden that is a lovely place to relax in the early evening. Again, the staff is friendly and helpful - I think that must be a requirement at all Paradores!

We had breakfast here and we enjoyed it. A little pricey at 11 euro per person, but the selection is great and the food is very good.

Interesting Note - Siesta

When we arrived in Mérida at roughly 1:00pm, we came into a city that was bustling with people on the streets and shops in full swing. It was hot, but after being in the car, we couldn't wait to get something to eat (had missed breakfast) and get out. We dropped off the luggage and had bocadillos at the Parador, and stepped out into the hot afternoon sun to see the sights. Except that it seemed we had stepped in the Twilight Zone. There were no people on the streets. All the shops were closed. There were no cars on the streets, except for a very few and they seemed in a hurry. We wandered down to Plaza España where even the fountain was shut off. Yes, we had encountered siesta! We tried to ramble through the streets to the Roman ruins to take pictures along with the 4 or 5 other touristas, but it wasn't long before the broiling sun finally got to us. When we went to look for water, we found one lone newspaper vendor who was open. We decided the locals had a good idea, and headed back to the hotel, where we cranked up the air conditioning, and snoozed until 6 before once again coming out onto the streets. G and I found we adopted very easily to siesta.

Sights

Mérida is known for the Roman ruins that are still within the city. I was expecting these to be somewhere outside the city, but no. You turn a corner, and BAM! There is the Templo Diana mixed in with the shops! Really kind of amazing. I had been to Israel a few years before, so seeing ruins like this is not new for me. But G had not ever seen anything like this and it was something special for him. I'm glad I could share that with him.

There is also a Moorish fortress here that is closed during siesta that we wandered about when it was closed. It re-opened after siesta and stays open until 7pm, but by the time we remembered that, it had closed. It did look interesting, though.

Coming out after siesta was a real treat and was like entering a whole new world. The temperature went down 10 -15 degrees, people filled the streets, cars could be seen, even the fountain was in operation. We settled in at a table in the plaza with iced teas and watched the evening paseo. Children playing, young people strolling the shops, families walking with strollers, elderly people gathering to chat. It was so comfortable and relaxing and so unlike anything back home.

As we sat there a toddler wandered over to our table and pointed to black thing sitting on our table. (the camera) G explained what it was. The toddler looked at it curiously, before climbing up onto one of our empty chairs and proceeding to have a conversation with us in toddlerspeak that only parents and grandparents can understand. We glanced over to his grandmother who looked at us and we all shared a good laugh. How can one not fall in love with such a place as this??

We finally decided we should have something to eat, and were surprised to discover it was after 9:00pm! We found a restaurante around the corner called Casa Benito and decided on tapas. We were going to have tapas and then dinner, but got filled up on tapas, so.... Before we knew it, the time had passed watching people and it got to be quite late so back to the hotel for us.

Personal Feelings

I guess one can tell that I truly liked Mérida. Actually, I loved the place, and again could have spent more time in this region. There isn't a whole lot of informaton about the region of Extremadura - it's not all that popular with tourists, and not a lot of tourists can be found here. Then again, there really isn't a whole lot to do here. There is no wild nightlife. There are few great and wonderful cathedrals. No world famous art museums. No restaurants that find themselves in the pages of Condé Nast. Just simple towns and cities filled with ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in some of the most incredibly relaxing surroundings. For me, the rest of Spain would be measured by Toledo and Mérida. I know that seems unfair, but these two places really touched me.



Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:04 PM
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Seville

Okay, I'm going to go against the grain on this one. I really disliked Seville. To me it wasn't Spain at all. It was hot and humid and crowded with tourists and seemed more like Spanish DisneyWorld. In my opinion, Seville is highly overrated and the praise that is heaped on this place is mostly undeserved. Now, this might be that just about everyone I've talked to has told me to avoid the rest of Spain and only concentrate on Seville because it is "the true Spain". Or perhaps my own expectations were so high that no place on earth could have met them. Or maybe coming from two places that deeply touched me and finding myself in the madness that is Seville left me a little less than thrilled. I don't really know. I only know that I've done Seville because one should, and I've absolutely no desire to repeat the experience in this lifetime.

Hotel: Hotel Amadeus. (2 nights) The hotel was a little difficult to find, and when we did we felt as though we had truly accomplished something! But, oh my! The hotel does live up to the expectations and reviews that it has been given. The hotel is absolutely beautiful, and it is easy to tell the owners have put a good deal of energy and work into this property. Our room was #106, the Brahms Room, which was small but nice. The air conditioning worked nicely - a huge plus in humid Seville! We had a large window that overlooked an enclosed patio, so no view but we were there over the weekend and it was quiet, which we appreciated. Our room was right next to the elevator and I was a bit concerned about that, but we heard nothing.

A nice amenity was the free use of the internet and computer provided to guests on the 1st floor, and just outside our room. This was especially nice when I needed to email the hotel in Ronda (our next stay) for directions.

The bathroom was actually a nice size, and it was interesting to have a shower stall instead of a shower/tub combination. (but at least I didn't have to worry about getting in and out of the tub every morning due to the tubs being higher than they are in the US!) Plus, there is a hair dryer provided in the room, so you do not have to ask for it at the desk. And it is a regular hair dryer, which is really, really nice and something us women types can appreciate!

Sights

I am really not a humid weather person, and have a tendency to get really cranky when it gets humid. Thankfully, the second day in Seville wasn't quite so bad so my mood was better.
We did take in the Cathedral, and I had to admit that it was something to see. It really is something to see. Not necessarily a good something to see, but it is something to see. It seriously defies all logic and order in building and is massive in scale, but it is something to see. I think I got lost inside no less than 3 times, but I don't consider that a bad thing. No, I didn't do the Giralda. I chose to live that day and not undergo cardiac arrest. But it does look like the view from the top would be simply amazing.

I would like to thank the members of Fodor's who warn people about the women outside the Cathedral with the twigs of rosemary. I didn't really understand why, but when I ran into the midst of them, I just kept walking. Unfortunately, G hadn't heard me when I told him, "Keep walking, just keep walking!" and he got suckered in. Well, that is until she reached for his palm and he started to wise up. Of course, by then I realized I was walking alone and one of these women, realizing her friend had sucess with G, came chasing after me. Needless to say, we managed to extricate ourselves from the situation no harm done.

We walked over to the Reales Alcazar, and I do have to admit that was a special little treat. I hadn't known much about that, and when I started to wander around I became more and more amazed. This was probably the best thing I saw in Seville.

We did take a carriage ride, and this was something else I enjoyed. Probably because the breeze stirred up by the ride eased the humidity! But seriously, I got to see the highlights of Seville without actually having to fight my way through tourists to get through to them! I saw people doing the carriage ride in the middle of the day and I just could not imagine this. Too hot! We took the carriage ride in the early evening, just around sunset, and I thought it was just perfect. And also sort of romantic. Well, it would have been minus the traffic and tourists, anyway!

The one thing I really wanted to see in Seville was flamenco. We went to Casa Memoria mainly because it has received good reviews and it is less expensive than other shows. I just couldn't imagine spending a lot of money on something and then finding I didn't like it. Okay. So I'm cheap. Now, admittedly I have nothing to compare this to. The first thing that really attracted me was the place itself. The show is held in a courtyard, the back wall has ivy streaming down, and stage is decorated with flowers and the lighting is fantastic. It is absolutely gorgeous! And this place is romantic. It doesn't seat very many people, and the shows usually sell out quickly. We had bought our tickets a day in advance, so we had no problem. (Tickets cost about 11 - 13 euro) The show is simple: a singer, a guitarrist, and two dancers. It lasts about an hour, but that hour goes by so quickly! I really wanted it to go on and on! The music, the singing, the dancing, all of it just caught me up and I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure what other venues have to offer, if better or worse, but I would recommend at least seeing a flamenco show while in Spain.

Personal Feelings

As I said, I really disliked Seville. Yes, there were things I enjoyed and memories I'll take back with me. But, over all, my feeling is: I've done Seville and I've no reason to go back. It didn't enchant and it didn't thrill. It was just a large city filled with tourists doing tourist things in tourist shops or eating in tourist restaurants. The people there distanced themselves from the tourists, unless it was their job to deal with them. I didn't feel that I was in Spain - I felt I was in a tourist trap, expected to do all things a tourist was expected to do. I also found the noise from the traffic - especially those irritating scooters/motorbikes - just irritated me. And the places where garbage is piled to be taken away smells so bad, one must actually hold their breath while walking through parts of the Barrio. There were also parts of the Barrio undergoing road construction, and the dust being kicked up by that just added to the general feeling of irritation. (Not to mention the noise factor once again.) Funny, but other tourists looked just as weary and irritated as I did. I really cannot imagine anyone coming here in the summer months. It just defies logic for me. It seems the noise, the dust, and stench would all be far worse.

I've thought about whether or not I would recommend Seville to another visitor, and I admit that I am torn. I suppose without the luxary of one's own transportation, one has few options. I think I would forewarn some one to expect the touristy nature of Seville. Not to let them enter the city expecting to find it unsullied. In more ways than not, Seville is worse than Madrid. At least Madrid does not really play up its tourist angle. It's there. Take it or leave it. Seville puts on a flamenco dress and hides behind her fan pretending to be something she really quite isn't. I think I have more respect for Madrid.

But that is just one person's opinion.
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:05 PM
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Ronda

As much as I disliked Seville, I was enchanted by Ronda. This city, for some reason, just Ronda so totally captivated me, held me, and I just loved every minute of being within her boundaries. I really had no idea of what Spain would look or feel like, but when I arrived in Ronda, I knew. This was Spain, at least for me. Some say that Ronda is touristy, and it can be during the day when waves of daytrippers stagger through. However, that is mainly on the main street between the Bullring and the New Bridge, with a few more hearty ones venturing out for views of the valley below. But, by mid-afternoon, the daytrippers are gone, and the town is once more re-claimed by the locals and sanity reigns until the next day at mid-morning.

Hotel; Hotel San Gabriel (2 nights) I know that almost everyone recommends the Parador if one is staying in Ronda, but they did not accept the 5 nights card for the time I would be there. And after I had arrived, I was very glad I made the choice I did. The parador sits in the middle of the "tourist parade", and the only claim to fame is to get a "gorge view" room.

The Hotel San Gabriel is a beautifully decorated 18th century mansion that is privately owned and excellently maintained. This was by far my favorite hotel in Spain. (And heaven knows, we stayed in several!) Our room was larger than average, with a huge window, letting in lots of light. We had a mini-balcony with potted geraniums, which gave it just the right touch. The hotel boasts a patio, which is small but cozy, a billards room, a movie room (which we did make use of one evening), and a nice library. The staff were extremely helpful and accommodating and professional.

We had reserved a parking space for our car, and I would recommend this. We drove up, unloaded the luggage, and a staff person took our car and parked it in a secure garage. And it was only 6 euro a day. The hotel is a block or so off from the main street, but there is very little traffic or noise in Ronda, so it is quiet. The hotel itself is also very quiet.

The hotel does serve breakfast, but we did not have a chance to sample it.

Sights

Of course, the biggest sight in Ronda is the gorge and the Puente Nuevo, which we made certain we saw the first day we were there! It is a specatular sight to see, let alone an engineering marvel for it's time. We also made the rounds at the bullring, and though I'm not a fan of bullfighting, I did find going "behind the scenes" rather interesting.

What interested me far more was simply wandering around Ronda. Going off on small streets just to find out where they went. Typically, each street was narrow, but with a gorgeous view of mountains in the background! We also found a small plaza very close to our hotel that afforded a wonderful view of the gorge and valley, and was very peaceful. We came here quite a few times to just relax or to allow time for me to write in my journal. (And watch the daytrippers come by in small waves like trick-or-treaters at Halloween!) We discovered an interesting little park called Alemeda somewhere behind the bullring, just beyond Paseo Orson Welles (who would have known that?!?!), where we could stroll with other Rondeñas and watch the children as they took in the duck pond.

We did discover something called "La Mina" (The Mine), which evidently was some type of fortress designed to protect the water source for Ronda. It was built all the way down the gorge....all the way down. It was only 4 euro per person, and G thought it sounded like a good idea. Okay, I was game. Until I saw the stairs. Twisting, winding, and half-lit, with a small, rusted metal railing to hold onto. Water dripping from somewhere in this place. But we made our slow descent. It was actually quite cool inside, but the stairs were uneven and just a bit hard to see. Eventually we ended up at the bottom of the gorge, and I have to admit it was a bit amazing. It did smell a bit, but still...looking up at those sheer cliffs was something else! Of course, this was about the time I realized that the only way back up was all those stairs! I'm not sure how I did it, but my thighs were screaming by the time we reached the top. And my thighs ached for the next 2 days, causing a trip to a Spanish pharmacy for some topical ointment to alleviate the pain! Live and learn, I guess! But one of those memories that will last a lifetime, I'm sure! And something G and I will have to laugh about for just as long!

Restaurant

The hotel did make a restaurant recommendation that we took and I would like to share. It was the Casa Santa Pola. It is located just past the Puente Nuevo, but a bit downhill from the main road. It is in one of the oldest houses in Ronda. The food and service are excellent. We were able to sample different olive oils, followed by a first course of (me) fried bread crumbs with an egg on top (sounds weird, but was very good), and G had the gazpacho, and our main course was (me) shrimp in a vodka cream sauce that was to die for, while G had what looked like a huge slab of beef. (The man lives for steak) Without wine, but with water and iced tea, the bill came to 70 euro, so not cheap, but could not find any fault with food, service, or ambiance. (The restaurant does overlook the gorge and I believe is open for lunch, but I'm not sure what they serve or what the prices are.)

Feelings

I just loved Ronda. When it came time to leave, this was the only place I really wanted to stay longer. If I were to go back to Southern Spain, I would skip every other place and head directly here and hide. There are enough nooks and crannies and shops and streets to keep one busy for days. Touristy? To some degree, yes. But so is just about everything in Southern Spain. But the interesting thing in Ronda is getting up a little early and going to a cafe for coffee and suddenly seeing the influx of tourists arrive. It's actually kind of funny! And, in the early evening, after the daytrippers have left, watching as the Rondaleñas make their way down the streets from their homes to the shops below with their children to share sweets. Yes, to me this was Spain. And NO scooters or motorbikes!!! Also, one while we were there, either Spain or Ronda won a formula 1 race and the town was going crazy with cars driving around blowing their horns and waving the Spanish flag. We couldn't help but get caught up in the almost festival spirit!
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:06 PM
  #7  
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Antequera

Okay, on every vacation, I always do one blunder. It's inevidible. Hey. One can't be perfect all the time! Well, this was my blunder. The orginal plan was to leave Ronda, drive toAntequera, check into the parador, drop off the luggage, then drive to Cordoba. Visit Cordoba, leave Cordoba, drive to Antequera, get some sleep, get up early, then drive to Granada to see the Alhambra. When G and I talked these plans over in Ronda, and he asked me what was in Cordoba to see, I said, "The Mezquita." He asked what that was, and I said it was a Mosque that had been turned into a cathedral. I got a look. We both said, as if on cue, "How many cathedrals do we really need to see?" And Cordoba got dropped. I had heard that Antequera had something called El Torcal located close by, which are some rock formations. We weren't sure if that interested us, either.

Hotel: Parador de Antequera (1 night) This is a newer parador, and while not bad, it certainly is in need of a facelift. It just has a 60s or 70s look about it, though it is clean and well-maintained. It just doesn't have much in the way of charm or ambiance. But, hey, we were only looking for a place to spend the night, and this was a comfortable place to do it.

Sights

Well, there really aren't any to speak of. We ended up not doing the El Torcal thing. We did end up walking through town, which is fairly small. This place does get tourists, though not many (if any??) Americans, because I did hear British and German accents. However, I got the distinct impression this town does not care at all for tourists and would rather not have them around. We were not treated rudely in any way, it just seemed the general feeling that both G and I had. The town itself was functional, but not necessarily pretty, though there was one plaza that we found nice. There was a castle or ruin that was high above the town that looked interesting, but neither of us had the energy or the inclination to seek it out.

Feelings

This was my blunder, and I take full responsibility for it! It wasn't that we were bored to tears or that this place was awful, it was probably the least interesting place of all that we had seen. Though I must admit we did find a small place with seemingly the most pleasant waitress in all of Spain who served up some of the most delicious tapas. Go figure. Also, ended up at a farmacia for my aching thighs and received an ointment that truly works great and doesn't make me smell like I'm 95 years old. So there were a couple of good things about this place, anyway!
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:08 PM
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Granada

We did not stay overnight here, but rather did this as a daytrip. However, I just feel this deserves a section all to its own. I was a bit hesitant about not staying in Granada, but why we didn't was based on: the parador was far too expensive, G was not thrilled with the idea of staying in another big city, when asked what there was to do besides the Alhambra, G wasn't keen on "Cathedral and the Albacyn." I did struggle with this and was certain I was going to really regret not staying in Granada - until I saw Granada. It was not as I imagined it would be. It was indeed a large city with all the requisite traffic and people, not the cute, sweet town. Again, I think my expectations were too high.

Alhambra

Because we were driving, I had some serious hesitations. I recieved some mixed reviews from message boards about what to do while in Granada. Some said just drive to the Alhambra, others said it would be too complicated and that we shoud park our car in town and take the bus. I really didn't like the last idea. We asked the hotel staff in both Ronda and Antequera about driving to the Alhambra, and were told it wouldn't be a problem and to just "follow the signs." I was still a bit nervous and so was G. Our tickets were pre-bought for 10AM and if we missed our window of time, we would have to re-buy our tickets. We decided to get up very early (5:30AM - YIKES!) to be on the road by 7AM. We did indeed follow the signs, which were very easily marked, and before we knew it we were in a parking lot. I kept asking G if he was sure this was the Alhambra, and he kept assuring me it was. It wasn't until I had ticket in hand that I believed it. It was that easy to find. I'm not sure how easy it would be to drive from the center of town (we got a little lost leaving Granada), but from the Autovia, the Alhambra is a snap.

On buying tickets in advance. We went on a Tuesday at the end of September. The line for advance tickets had 3 people in front of me. There were maybe 25 people in line for the tickets to be bought that day. Because we arrived early (around 8AM), we stopped in the cafe to have coffee and went back to the car to get my jacket, and by then the line for same day tickets was down to about 5. When we let, there was no one in line. Pre-purchasing tickets is probably a good idea, especially if you know the day you will be going to the Alhambra, and certainly if it is during the high tourist season. However, on low tourist season times I doubt it matters.

Admittedly, my expectations for this were high. I had seen pictures. I had read trip reports. I read "Tales of the Alhambra." I noted the history of the Alhambra. The result? I was completely and utterly blown away. The Nasrid Palace left me standing there speechless in wonder. I thought after seeing the Reales Alcazar in Seville my appetite for the Alhambra would be tempered. Not at all. Not even in the slightest. I couldn't see enough. At times I wanted to lay on the floor so I stare up at the ceilings!

The time for us to go through the palace was 10:00, which was actually just after sunrise (sun rose shortly after 8). The timing of this was terrific because the slant of the rays of the sun played beautifully through a lot of the windows and onto the tiles, adding to the beauty. Because I had read "Tales of the Alhambra" shortly before leaving for Spain, I was excited when we entered different parts that were mentioned in the book and as I stood there I could almost picture what Washtington Irving was writing about. Of course, trying to describe this to G was nearly impossible and I'm certain others were wondering what I was doing! I knew I could not stay in the Nasrid Palace all day, but I felt I could have. It was so lovely - I wish I could have seen it when it was truly a palace!

We wandered through the Alcazar, which was a bit of an agony with my thighs screaming at every set of stairs! Climbing was okay because most of the time I could use a handrail to pull myself up, but going down I found my thighs would give out almost completely. G would have to give me his arm to help me. Talk about feeling old!!! I cursing "La Mina" that day!

As many have stated, the palace of Charles V is hideous. Well, correction...it's hideous in its location. I'm sure if this were located somewhere else, in a more appropriated setting it might actually be, well, maybe somewhat attractive. Perhaps? could be? Alright, it's downright awful, but it's there. I just think it's funny how the interior really looks like a bullring. But that's just me.

We eventually walked to the Generalife, and though it seems as though it is fairly close, I was surprised by the distance. But the walk is beautiful (and, thankfully, mostly flat!) so it was very enjoyable. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the Generalife - I'd not really seen very many pictures. But I was not disappointed. Granted, not on the same level as the Nasrid Palace, but an amazing use of fountains and water. This must be a joy to see in summer - but I guess it's really hot then, huh? (It was very cold the morning we arrived at the Alhambra!)

We spent 5 hours total roaming around the Alhambra, and enjoyed every minute of it. As some here might have figured out (if you're still reading, that is) I can be a tough customer if my expectations have been set too high. But the Alhambra did not disappoint at all. In fact, it was one of the best things I saw and remember from Spain!

Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:09 PM
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Cazorla

This was the first day that we exceeded my no more than 3 hour driving rule, and I did worry about that but G was having such a great time driving he didn't seem to care until that night when he just crashed!

Okay. Now I had a little idea of what to expect with this, but not totally. Cazorla is a pueblo blanco. It is one of the last ones that sits at the farthest easternmost part of Andalucia at the base of Sierra de Cazorla, which is a Nature Preserve. There is a parador there. Now, I understand that the paradors are usually a ways outside of the town, and this one states that it sits in the Nature Preserve. I talked it over with G, and being the country boy that he is, he was all for it. I was under the impression that the parador sort of straddled the town and the nature preserve. I was wrong. The parador is not named for the town, it's named for the Nature Preserve and is not associated with the town in any way. We didn't find that out until we got there. I thought this would be another blunder (2 in one vacation would be terrible!), but this turned out to be the perfect place to recoup and recharge. Now, I can really chat this place up because there is not really any public transportation here, which means tourists ain't gonna find this one so easy. YEAH! A few hearty souls were there, but we were mostly joined by Spanish tourists.

Hotel: Parador de Cazorla (2 nights) Although not one of the "old" paradors, this one is built to fit the landscape. So there is no ultra-modern glass and wood thing. It is remote. Very. And if anyone thinks that getting to Ronda involves white-knuckle mountain driving, they ain't seen nothing! The views are, quite simply, stunning. Although not equivalent to Yosemite Valley (what is?), this comes very close to many other parks throughout the Western United States. But with far less traffic.

Our room was actually quite small for a parador and I think that had something to do with the 5 nights card. Still, it was cozy and for 2 people we got along just fine. Because of the temperatures here, the windows are a bit different: there is the typical wooden shutters, inside windows, about a foot of ledge, and then outside windows. If the windows are double-paned, this would mean the windows are quad-paned?? Noise is not a factor, so this must be done for temperature. The parador does not have air conditioning. The rooms are equipped with a ceiling fan and it suffices just fine. The parador has bar/cafeteria and only one restaurant that doubles for the breakfast room in the mornings.

Things are a bit noisy in the morning, and I believe it comes from the kitchen because shortly after the noise begins the smell of food wafts up to the room. Actually, it is not entirely unpleasant. It almost has a homey effect. There is a huge terraza off the back of the parador that gives a splendid view from the second floor. From the ground floor, one can reach a grassy area that has a play area for children and a pool that looked like it would be perfect for a summer day. During the early evenings a small herd of deer come down from the mountain near one side of the terraza where hotel staff set out bread and lettuce for them to feed from.

The parador does offer several hiking trails around its property ranging in difficulty, and the staff and knowledgeable about those trails and what you might see along them. They are also well versed on other things to do in the park - you originally think there is nothing to do - and are very helpful in pointing possible places to explore or visit or just to drive to. There are various excursions one can book through the parador as well such as 4 wheel driving and horseback riding, but these are normally only done on the weekends.

Because a guest must rely on the parador so much more than in the other places we stayed, I got the impression the staff gets to know their guests a little more. Indeed, because this parador is so remote, staff have housing here so they live on the premises during their shift so you see the same cleaning and waitstaff, which is actually quite nice.

Sights

Actually, all around you! Okay, enough of that! We did take one of the parador's suggested hiking routes. My thighs were beginning to feel better, and I was armed with good ointment, so why not? We got a relatively early start, while it was stil cool, and we were surprised to find we were the only ones on the trail. It really was very beautiful, peaceful, and serene. We did meet up with a family of deer (G called them a herd), that even seemed to follow us for a bit. We found an abandoned house, and my imagination ran wild - who built it? When? How long had they lived there? With who? And why did they abandon it? We got to see where the Guadalquivir River actually begins. (For those who don't know, this is the main river that runs through Seville - it is birthed in Sierra de Cazorla) All in all a wonderful way to begin the day and work off breakfast!

We did drive through the Park and find out that Spanairds do like to go camping. Who would have thought! And here they were always presented as so urbane and sophisticated! Now, the campsites didn't have the huge mega-RVs that are actually bigger than most houses that we have in the US, but I was really amazed! The Spanish do go camping in style! There are trailers and tents and cabanas and all sorts of little comforts - I really have to admire them. Most Americans would gripe big time at dragging that stuff out there.

There is an olive pressing "factory" on the floor of the valley that we thought we might want to explore, but of course we timed it at siesta so we missed that. Instead we happened on a little place called Arroyo Frio - and it is little! A few small restaurants, small market, one or two small hotels and that's about it. We were hungry so we stopped at one of the outdoor cafes for lunch. G told me later he thought the waiter didn't like us, but I didn't pick up any such vibes. (Then again, G was wearing his softball championship t-shirt that day and maybe this fellow didn't understand just what it was, who knows?) There was a table of Spanish tourists next to us and we found ourselves in an engaging conversation with them. Very nice people. We also tried wild boar chorizo. I thought it would taste like ham or some variation thereof, but it really had a taste all its own. And a good one at that. G and I had the same and really enjoyed it.

Feelings

This was an unexpected piece of heaven, and a whole different face of Spain. Walking through nature trails by day, smelling the mountain air, and feeling the sunshine filtered through the trees. By evening, sitting on the terraza feeling the brisk coolness descend on the mountains and listening to the animals in the distance calling out and trying to figure out what they were and then listening to the quiet. Coming out once it was completely dark and looking up.......and seeing the evening sky filled with stars as the cold touches your cheeks. In the morning, sipping cafe con leche on the terraza as you watch the rays of the sun move over the mountains and listen to the birds. How much better does life get?
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:10 PM
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great report, great title!!!
cigalechanta is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:16 PM
  #11  
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Castille-La Mancha - Pedro Muñoz

I am an over-planner. I admit it. I own it. I live with it. I can spend months planning and researching a vacation and live for it! When one vacation ends, I immediately start planning the next one. It's what I do. I like arriving in a place and knowing I have a place to sleep. A safe place to sleep. A clean place to sleep. I'm funny like that.

G, on the other hand, is my complete opposite. His idea of going to Spain was to "show up and wing it." Everything. Car. Hotels. Itinerary. Sights. I fuss with details. He never wants to hear about details. I want the history of a place. He's only interested when he gets there, and then wants the abbreviated version.

With this in mind....I made one promise to G during the planning stage of this trip: I would leave one night completely open. I would not make any hotel reservations. We would wake up one morning, decide which way to go, drive, and pick a place to stay "wherever the hat lands." I promised. I bit the inside of my lip and promised I would do this. And yes, I kept my promise. And this section will be a bit different from the others because of it.

We took off from Cazlora heading north because we knew we were eventually going to have to get to Cuenca. G toyed with going to Valencia (we had watched "El Cid" and he really enjoyed it), but it was roughly 5 - 6 hours away, so we scratched the idea. Plus, I had told him that, if possible, I would like to see the windmills either in Consuegra or in Campo de Criptana either going to or coming from Cuenca.

We started our drive through Castille-La Mancha, and I was surprised. Yes, it is flat and plainish for most of the way, but that is very different for me. Maybe it's not what a lot of people would call beautiful, but it's different than what I have at home and I was in Spain and this was just another facet of the country that I was exploring. Plus, I was surprised to find out how many vineyards there were! Overall, the drive was nice. I thought perhpas we might stop at Cuidad Real or Manzanares, but we bypassed both places. Well, okay. Not much of anything to do in either of those places anyway. But we were coming up to the 3 hour drive limit when G told me he was heading for Alcâzar de San Juan. Okay, that was right outside of Campo de Criptana!

We stopped at the equivalent of a Spanish greasy spoon that was filled with locals for lunch. Not exactly the type of place that I think most here would stop at, though the food was good. Funny thing though, the place was packed and I was the only female in the place other than the waitresses. That was a bit unsettling. But I guess we had found the locals and not the tourists.

We found what looked to be a nice hotel (I believe it was Intur?) and decided to give it a try. The parking lot was empty. We walked into the lobby (which was also devoid of any people), and G asked in Spanish if they had a room available. They stated they were booked. HUH? In this out of the way place? Okay. We got back in the car, and now I'm beginning to feel a bit like Sancho to Don Quixote. G says something jokingly about sleeping in the car, but it seems way too real to me to even elicit a smile.

Chasing Windmills

Just outside of Alcåzar de San Juan is Campo de Criptana, and on the hillside above the town stands nine "silent giants." Ever since reading "Don Quixote" last winter I had almost made it a mission to see these, and there they were! We drove through the small town (once again, during siesta!) and managed to find our way rather easily to where these squat, white buildings stand. And, almost as if the windmill gods were with me that day, not a soul was around! I had them all to myself on a beautiful clear day!I think I wandered awestruck for a full 5 minutes before G asked me if I wanted to take some pictures because is it was kind of warm. Pictures? I could have shot an entire roll of film! How easy it was to picture the scene Cervantes laid out for his readers. Although tall, the sails come down quite low and could easily unhorse a knight errant challenging them to battle. Of course, explaining any of the this to G was met with the type of smile that one is insane. But I clicked happily away, just happy that the only one actually witness my lunacy was G.

The Sojourners

After our encounter with the windmills we were back on the road and G could tell I was nervous and desperately trying to keep everything to myself. Beyond Campo de Criptana there are no large cities or towns until Cuenca, and that was going to be at least another 3 hour drive. Well, I guess the hotel gods were with G, because he noticed a billboard stating there was a new hotel in Pedro Muñoz, 15 minutes from where we were, called Hotel Barca. I quickly checked the atlas. There was nothing but villages - and I do mean villages! G smiled and said it could be fun. I tried to smile, and I think it was a grimace, and onwards we went.

15 minutes later, we entered the village of Pedro Muñoz. Now, I was born in a small town, and G was born in an even smaller one. We both know a little about them, were surprised to find out that things don't really change in Spain. We found the hotel easily. It looked like it should have be transplanted in a Western movie, complete with horses in front. And no, not necessarily a bad thing, by that. There was restaurante on one side, the hotel reception on the other, and the rooms upstairs. It looked as if everything had either been newly built or freshly re-modeled.

Unfortunately, we didn't get the suite - the gentlemen checking in before us got that. But our room was actually very large by Spanish standards. Very large. Everything was clean, floors were shining, fresh paint, TV. The bathroom was actually quite large, and I think the reason for this was the absence of a bidet, making it seem more the size of an American hotel bathroom. One remarkable thing: the bathtub looked like something Cleopatra would want to soak in - not sure what was up with that! The room was painted a bright, almost lime green which took a bit to get used to. All right, I really didn't get used to. But I was so shocked at the cleanliness that I could overlook it.

There isn't a whole lot to do in Pedro Muñoz, as we quickly found out. We did find a park across the street from the hotel and decided to check it out, as we had discovered in most cases parks look small in Spain until you start to walk through them. Um, this one wasn't like that. It was indeed small. However, the people are what were very interesting. Some regarded us with curiosity. Anyone whose every ended up in a small town by accident knows this - the staring, the "who the heck are you and what are you doing here" look. Not rude, just curious. Then there were the ones who would say "Buenas Tardes" and smile. Different strokes. We ended up sitting on a bench to people watch before getting something to eat, and watching traffic was funny. There are vineyards all around the town (I believe the major industry), and as the tractors went by, the drivers would glance, then glance again, and again, and again, until then ended up looking outright. Most drivers did the same thing. Since both G and I are familar with small towns, we were both smiling and laughing. At this time a lot of people were out for their evening paseo, and it was interesting to see the glances we were given. Some would simply try to look at us out of the corner of their eye, trying to look obvious, others would just look outright. A "Buenas tardes" from us was sometimes returned, sometimes not. Quite a few would nod as they walked by and wish us "Buenas Tardes." Overall, a friendly if curious place.

As for staying at the Hotel Barca (which cost 45 Euro, btw), G slept like a log, and I slept hardly a wink. Go figure. Seems the restaurant was the happening place in town, and once things livened up all that noise went straight up to the rooms. Also, our room was in the back of the hotel, and we had window that overlooked a veranda. Not sure what the purpose of the veranda was as it appeared not to be in use. But, throughout the night I kept hearing noises out there as something/some one was stomping around or moving around. When I told G the next day, he blamed it on cats or pigeons, but cats and pigeons don't stomp. But, anyway, if you are in Spain and ever find yourself in a place called Pedro Muñoz, don't hesitate to stop in at the Hotel Barca for the night. Just make sure you have ear plugs.
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:18 PM
  #12  
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Cuenca

I credit MaryFran from this forum as having given me my first interest in Cuenca. After her trip last year, I started looking into it and found the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) to be rather interesting. I shared the information with G and he concurred, so that was our next stop.

Hotel: Hotel Leonar de Aquitania (2 nights) I know it has become fashionable to stay at the parador since Prince Felipe spent his wedding night there in May '04, but I had used up the 5 nights card and the cost was prohibitive. Others had highly recommended Posada San Jose, but it was bothersome that some rooms did not have ensuite rooms. G nixed that immediately. (Me too) And by the time I could make reservations there, that was all that was left. So, that left this hotel if I wanted to stay in the Casco Antiguo. There was absolutely nothing on Trip Advisor from anyone who stayed there, so I was flying blind on this one. The emails I received were efficient and courteous and timely, so I decided to take a chance and see what became of it.

I was not disappointed. Although Casco Antiguo is not the easiest part of Cuenca to drive to (one can take a taxi or there are buses that go to this area), it becomes almost a mission to find one's way in! The hotel is located on a very narrow steep street, and if you blink you'll miss it. Although no parking is provided at the hotel, there is a plaza just shy of the hotel where luggage can be dropped off. The car can then be driven further up the street where there is plenty of free parking that is perfectly safe.

Cuenca has two gorges that run along each side of the city, and the hotel is built along one side of these gorges. From the outside it looks very small, but actually it is quite large. On the ground floor is the lobby and a bar/cafeteria which gives good views of the gorge and the parador. The hotel does have a restaurant 2 floors beneath the ground floor (not sure what this is called in Europe, but on the elevator it was marked "-2"), that is rather interesting. You get the feeling you are entering a cave and the restaurant appears to be carved out of the rock that the hotel is built into.

There are rooms on 3 floors, and ours was on the 3rd floor. We were lucky in that we had a wonderful view of the gorge, including the parador and bridge that spans the gorge between Cuenca to the parador. The room, again, was larger than usual. (not sure how we lucked out with that so often!) The bed was a queen, and the room included TV, fridge, and safe. There is no air conditioning. We didn't need it as Cuenca was at a higher elevation so things were cooler anyway, and we could leave the window open. The hotel does have a suite available, La Hebrea Hermosa, that is accessed on the 3rd floor, but actually sits on what would be the 4th floor.

The bathroom was good-sized, and would have been perfect except that they insised on putting that darn bidet in the middle of it! Without that, it would have be perfect. As it was, we kept having to shuffle around it. But one good thing: the bidet towels the hotel provided (2 per day) were the exact size, roughly, as a washcloth, G finally got to shower with a washcloth. Of course, he didn't know it was a bidet towel, as it was hanging near the shower. He came out of the bathroom after the first morning all excited telling me we finally found a hotel that provided washcloths! I had to go check, and only then tell him he had been washing with a bidet towel. I was a bit...Ick, but he just shrugged and said, "Well, they wash them, don't they?" I think it's a guy thing.


Sights

The biggest sights to see in Cuenca are the Casas Colgadas, the bridge, and a few other buildings in the older section of town. There are others, but those are the biggies. Of course, we wanted to see these hanging houses and cross the bridge right away! Well, somehow G got a bit lost (Cuenca is truly a maze and it if it isn't steep streets, it's steps - I couldn't get away from them!), and we found ourselves following a dirt road surrounding by lush green vegetation. I told G I didn't think we were in the right place. I was told to forge ahead. We kept walking and I looked up and saw the bridge - above us! I pointed, and told G I thought there was some kind of problem. He consulted the map and stated, "I must have made a wrong turn somewhere." Obviously. Now what? "Go up there," he says. I'm looking at a hill that leads up to a road. A side of a hill that has no trail, just bushes and stuff. I look at G and ask if he means I should go through the bushes. He says yes. I ask if he's crazy. He says to just do it. Now, I love all the Indiana Jones movies, and I have a real "thing" for the character - but going on vacation with the guy is a different story! I told G that between climbing "La Mina" and whackin through these bushes I knew exactly what he's getting for Christmas - a bullwhip and a fedora!

We finally made it up to the bridge, with many tourists giving us strange looks as to exactly where we came. Whew! Anyway, we did make our way across the bridge where we met a family from New Zealand who was staying at our hotel! Small world! Lovely family, too. The bridge is a bit of an experience - worn wooden boards and rusty metal, but all the more fun.

When we got to the other side, we could pick out our hotel instantly and even our room. Not sure why that seemed so exciting, but it did. No, we didn't go into the parador, didn't really feel the urge to.

After crossing back over the bridge, we found the much shorter, easier, and faster way to get the Plaza Mayor! I think G was more than a little embarassed. We decided on lunch at the Casas Colgadas (there is a restaurant there), which ended up being a pricey decision because the cafeteria was closed and we ended up in the restaurant. Fabulous view, though. Can't remember what G had to eat, but I had the pisto, which was very good (and one of my favorite
foods of Spain) and the Sopa Castallena, which I found I don't care for all that much. Live and learn.

The second day in Cuence I woke up to the all too familar feelings of the beginnings of a UTI. Normally, under the right circumstances, I can sometimes get rid of these myself by drinking tons of water. But that means staying near the aseos all the time. I explained this to G, and we decided to stick close to the hotel to give me an opportunity to do this. So, I really got an opportunity to know the hotel! We did eat lunch in the restaurant, and my biggest mistake there was to order spaghetti. Hey. I figured Spain was closer to Italy than the US, right? Wrong. It was not a good experience. Tasted like Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee (SP??). G had (don't know it in Spanish) beef on a rock. Basically it's a super hot stone with a slab of raw meat that you cook at the table yourself. He LOVED this! He finally got a steak that was well done, and is stil raving about this now! I think he considered this his best meal in Spain.

We did manage at the end of the second day to wander down to the Plaza Mayor to do some shopping and pick up some postres. There had just been a wedding at the cathedral, and it was lovely to see the bride and groom and all the ladies dressed in their best. Then the cathedral was lit up and it was beautiful.

Feelings

I really wish I could have explored Cuenca more. I think there is a lot more to see and do here. But if one thinks the towns in Southern Spain have narrow, winding streets that steep, they haven't seen anything! One has to be in good shape to take on Cuenca. Though, in its defense, Cuence does provide more places for people to sit and rest, so this helps.

Another both G and I noticed is that a lot of the locals are very cool towards tourists, and this is unusual when compared to the rest of the Spanish cities we visited. When we spoke with the man at the tourist office he did state that since Prince Felipe spent his wedding night in Cuenca, it has almost boomed as a tourist destination. I think what may have happened is that this occurred so quickly that some of the natives of Cuenca may be unsure of where this might lead to or maybe they just don't like all these tourists tramping through their cities. Not all locals were like this. The hotel desk staff were courteous, and most of the merchants were extremely friendly once they realized we were serious about buying something. However, the reception from restaurant staff was just....cool. The same with most other locals. The other tourists were friendlier. Throughout our travels in Spain, this was so reversed. It seemed most of the time other tourists were somewhat reserved, and locals were friendly, helpful, and open. That's why this seemed strange to us. But then, maybe that's just the way Cuenca is.
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:19 PM
  #13  
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Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 1,193
Madrid

I was all set up to hate Madrid. I had had so many people tell me it was dull, boring, lifeless, crime-ridden, etc that I didn't think I would find anything of value. Well, I can't say that I walked away loving Madrid, but I don't dislike it, either. I accept Madrid on Madrid's terms. It's the governmental and commercial capital of Spain, and I got the impression that Madrid does not really depend on tourist dollars, unlike many other regions of Spain. Therefore, Madrid can afford to be standoffish and fall all over tourists. That, at least, I can respect. And I don't think I would call Madrid dull, boring, or lifeless. And I don't think Madrid is anymore crime-ridden than any other major industrialized city.

Hotel: Best Western Carlos V (5 nights total - 1 night upon arrival, 4 just before leaving) I really agonized over the choice of hotel in Madrid. There were just so many options! I couldn't go too expensive, and too inexpensive is just a bit scary for me when I'm in a foreign country for the first time. The Carlos V offered a few things that met my requirements: queen size bed, great location, free breakfast. The normal price was too high (140 Euro), but I managed to get a cheaper rate through Orbitz (112.00 Euro). Both times we were on the 2nd floor. The first time we stayed there, we were facing the street. I had heard of street noise, but everything quieted down well before midnight so we were okay.
However, even though the Carlos V is on a "pedestrian street", there is motor traffic allowed until 11AM, and there are trucks making deliveries beginning at 5-6 and trash pick-up at around 5, so those noises can be bothersome. But then, we wanted to get an early start anyway. The second time around, we were given a room at the back of the hotel. Not much of a view, but very quiet which was appreciate.

Both rooms were about the same size, which was on the small side but more than adequate. Bathrooms were good-sized. Rooms were clean, with the requisite TV, fridge, and safe (safe must be paid for, however, at 1.20 euro per day). Didn't notice it the first time around, but when we returned it hit us: the rooms in the Carlos V are carpeted! Not sure that it really made a difference, but it just felt different and really made the room quieter.

The hotel has a cafeteria/bar where breakfast is served. Breakfast is buffet with an assortment of meats, cheeses, juices, cereals, and breads. Guests may also order eggs, sausages, omlettes, etc for an additional, nominal fee. The bar area is quite large and comfy with sofas and deep arm chairs. We quickly got into the habit of an afternoon cafe con leche while watching the foot traffic below or catching up on the news with the hotel's English newspaper.

The staff is friendly and helpful and very professional for this little hotel. They will help you arrange tours to Toledo, Segovia, etc. They also offer a shuttle service to the airport that is a fairly good price at 16.00 Euro for 2. It runs every hour and arrives on time.

I wouldn't say this is the best hotel in Madrid, but it suited our needs perfectly. We were just a few blocks either way from Puerte del Sol and Gran Via. And El Corte Ingles was just around the corner, as well as tons of other shops and restaurants. From here we walked to everywhere we went in Madrid (admittedly not many!), and never worried about crime, pickpockets, etc. If you aren't looking for the best or the cheapest and you can get this hotel for less than the normal price, I would recommend it.

Sights

Our sights were limited in Madrid. Okay, the original plan was to drive to Madrid on Sunday, park the car. Then drive the car to Segovia on Monday and turn the car back in on Monday afternoon. Then do Prado, Palacio Real, etc Tuesday and Wednesday and we leave on Thursday. Fine. Except that after leaving Madrid, G decided he didn't want to fuss with Madrid traffic again except to drive the car back into Madrid. So. Change of plans. Drive back to Madrid on Sunday, park car. Avis would be closed, and car was pre-paid anyway, so technically turn in car sometime on Monday. Sign up for tour of Segovia either Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and do Prado, Palace on other days. Okay. That'll work. We'll go with that.

Except that I woke up at 2AM Monday morning knowing I was going to need a doctor and some meds. (I did wait until G woke up at 8AM to tell him, though) The hotel was great about summoning a doctor for us, and a couple of hours later I'm finally on some medication. However, we decide it's best to take it easy and stay close to "home." Besides, we've done very little shopping, and we've got lots to do! So, unfortunately, and much to my great disappointment, I missed Segovia. But, it just wasn't in the cards, I guess and some things you just have to let go of.

Another quirk of G that must be understood: he's not overly fond of cities. He'll put up with them - if you give him a plan of action. I did by telling him my "must sees" were the Prado, the Palacio Real, and the Plaza Mayor. Well, that's what I got to see!

I was expecting the Prado to be huge. I mean really huge. I wasn't expecting it to be that huge. I love art museums and I could lost in them all day long, and quickly found myself doing just that. Until I looked over at poor G. G has flat feet, and while he's good to walk, it can be painful to stand on his feet for long periods. So I had to admit to myself that the whole reason I wanted to go to the Prado was to see the great Spanish painters that I had put so much effort into studying. I have to give G credit. As soon as I told him that and gave them the names, he mapped them out and off we went. He then gladly found a place to sit while I took my time admiring the Velasquez's, Goya's, and El Greco's (among others). It pays to work together! Although it would have helped a good deal more if there was air conditioning in the Prado. Or, if there is, if it could have been cranked up a bit a more. Even I was getting a little cranky at the end of the 2 1/2 hours spent there.

On Wednesday we decided to see the Palace. However, when we got there at 11AM they were not selling tickets and guard seemed to be telling people that the palace was closed that day. G and both tried listening (G speaks fluent Spanish and had difficulty understanding), but neither of us could really make it out clearly. I crushed! No Segovia and no Palace? Why? A state function? Too many people? No room for just 2 more who are leaving the next day? I squeezed my camera between the gate to at least take a shot from the outside when I heard something behind me. I turned and there were guards on horses. Huh? What is this?? Long story short, it was the changing of the guard! Wait. I planned this. I read all the web sites. I talked to people. I read all the trip reports. No one, not one person has ever mentioned anything about a changing of the guard at the Palacio Real. What's up? Come to find out this is done the first Wednesday of the month and only 3 or 4 (we were unsure which number was mentioned) times per year. Now, I've never seen a changing of the guard. Heck, I'd never seen a palace before. So I've no idea if what I witnessed good, bad, or indifferent. I do know it was rather long and with a lot of pomp, but certainly something to see. When they brought in the marching band, I think they had me hooked. I do know that I'm glad I got to see this.

Afterward, we did indeed get to go into the palace (after they had the chance to clean up after all those horses in the parade grounds!), and I know I was impressed. It was a pretty amazing site to see. It was a bit crowded, as Wednesday is the day that members of the EU can either get in free or for a very discounted price, but I was willing to deal with that.

Afterwards we went to the Plaza Mayor. Not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't it at first. The restaurants here are so pushy! Everyone grabbing at you, pushing menus in your face, wanting you to eat there. Reminds me of all the tourists traps in the Carribean, and I don't like them, either. However, once we got away from them, and walked into the center, I was impressed with the size of the plaza. I also liked strolling through the street artists that were out and seeing their work on display. There were a couple that I really liked, but how would I have gotten them home!


Restaurant

I thought about this, and decided to throw it out there because some one else might find themselves in the same spot. I have to preface this by stating by the time G and I got to Madrid we were both terribly homesick. We both missed hearing English on a regular basis, reading English newspapers, and hearing news of home. I was missing my dogs and cat. And my bed. And my shower. And basically all things familar to me. Baseball was going into the playoffs, and my beloved Angels were once more in them, but in Europe? Absolutely no news whatsoever - driving both of us baseball fans crazy!! I was tired of counting out Euro and trying to figure out ways to ditch those coins before I left. Just.....everything. And not looking forward to that looooooong plane ride all the way back to LAX. So we were really, really, really ready to leave. So, Tuesday we're wandering around the area around our hotel (sorry, don't know the street!), when I look up and yank on G's arm. Look! Up there! Ribs Steakhouse - and it's in English! What is this?? We stare curiously before plunging in. I would have sworn we landed in the middle of Texas. It says Route 66 on the wall. And over there is a Coors Light sign. And, look, over there! Miller Light. A smiling hostess in cowboy hat, plaid shirt, and cowboy boots walks up to us and greets. I almost expect a Texas drawl, but it's in Spanish.

After we're seated and looking at the menu, I see - what's this? - baked potato, chili, milkshake, salads with real dressings! I feel like Dorothy after clicking the ruby slippers! We settle in for a beef sirloin - well done, much to the waitress' dismay - and a baked potato. Oh, heaven! After two weeks of almost non-stop french fries (Exactly what is the Spanish fascination for french fries, anyway??), I'm finally going to get potatoes cooked another way! I settle in with mouth watering. I look around expecting to find a bunch of tacky little tourists like me, and to my shock I see nothing but Madrileños at lunch! And what's this? One even has a milkshake? Horrors! Finally the waitress comes and I can hardly wait! She puts the plate down in front in of me and there it is.....french fries!?!?! Is this the only way they know how to cook potatoes?? Oh, but wait a minute, she isn't done.
What's this? Ketchup? Mustard? Steak sauce? Hot sauce? Okay, I'm set to go! Enough with this eating french fries with a fork stuff. Listen up, people! French fries are finger food. Ya eat 'em with your finger - no eating utensil involved. Doesn't matter if you use a sterling silver fork and knife, it's still a french fry. And better yet? They taste 10x better with ketchup. So yup. Right there in the middle of a Madrid restaurant, I did the unthinkable. I poured that delicious red goop all over those fries and then picked through them with my fingers. Did any raise an eyebrow? Frankly my dear, I don't give a, well you know what. And the best thing? The steak and potatoes with ketchup tasted pretty darn good.

Now, when the meal was over and the check paid, the hostess came back to me all smiles (not sure from graciousness or if she had been laughing herself silly and I don't care), and placed a small tin box in front of me and said, "Gracias!" I smiled unsure of what to say, but I did not she didn't give one of these boxes to anyone else. Un-oh, looks like I got the booby prize that day! I looked at G and then slowly opened the tin, expecting exploding snakes to to jump out or something. But no! It was little stuffed sheep key chain! Actually quite cute! I suppose she figured she had bona fide Americana tourista in the restaurant, so give her one of these to take home! And it's working. I know most here would probably say they wouldn't be caught dead in "a place like that," but actually it was a lot of fun. (and at least it wasn't McD's!) So, if you are reading this and think you might get homesick in Madrid or want a little taste of home while away, I would really highly recommend this place. No authentic Spanish food whatsoever except the ubiquitious french fry that you just can't seem to get away from, but all the foods that you would be familar with. Like I said, I can't remember the street, but it is in the pedestrian street section between Puerte del Sol and Gran Via and it is Ribs La Casa de las Costillas.

Feelings

I enjoyed the time I had in Madrid, but like Cuenca, wished I could have more fully enjoyed it without illness. But then, I was given so much else to enjoy of Spain! But I definitely wouldn't call Madrid boring or dull. It's just it's own place.


Any questions or comments? Heck, Iíll just be impressed in anybody actually gets through all of this!
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:24 PM
  #14  
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Thank you, cigalechanta!
Chele60 is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 12:30 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 45,322
Hello Chele, although I have never had the pleasure of visiting Spain I am so enjoying your trip report. It is very interesting and certainly informative. I smiled about your driving experiences in Spain, sounds a lot like Italy!!

I look forward to the rest of your report. Thanks for sharing, I am sure this will be invaluable to those planning on visiting Spain.
LoveItaly is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 01:09 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 35
Thanks for your report. It was very helpful and enjoyable to read.
hermie is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 01:15 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 128
Enjoying your report. I have not done much research on Spain and found your writing style to be very informative.

Sounds like a wonderful trip!
LindyE is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 02:06 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,211
HI Chele,

I enjoyed your report so much! I must confess that I too was a little underwhelmed by Sevilla. I didn't dislike it, but if I never go back is just as well. OTOH, I love Northern Spain, specially Galicia and Asturias.

I've been intrigued by Cuenca and now with your comments I feel I need to go.

Thanks again for your very well written report.
cruiseluv is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 02:10 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 45,322
Chele, I posted my other post earlier but for some reason it didn't show up until the end of your report on Madrid. I am so sorry you had a few days of not feeling well but I always try to remind people that we should never anticipate feeling 100% well every day during our trips. I so admire the way the two of you handled your problem.

And your style of writing is wonderful. What a beautiful read. I truly felt like I was travelling through Spain with you two. I wish I had your writing abilities.

I seldom get homesick but I chuckled about your homesickness in Madrid. How wonderful you discovered a restaurant that helped, ketchup and all! I felt very homesick in Rome one day. And I truly love Rome. That evening we were having another wonderful dinner in a beautiful Rome restaurant and I wanted to cry I wanted a McDonalds hamburger soooo bad. And I never eat McDonalds hamburgers, so go figure, LOL.

I hope you two get to take more trips. For your sake and from a selfish viewpoint..there would be more trip reports from you. Take good care and thanks again.
LoveItaly is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2005, 08:14 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 8,835
Hello Chele, I too loved the title, and the report, especially the summaries of each place you visited.

First question is about Iberia codeshare with BA. How late were you leaving LHR en route to Madrid? And how much notice did they give of the gate change? I'm normally pretty laid back about airlines - I'll take what I get as a rule - but I loathe being late, and I loathe luggage problems. I've heard of both on these Iberia codeshares - but I'm stuck with one this next trip.

Second question - did you buy any other guides to the Alhambra?
Sue_xx_yy is offline  

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