springtime in Spain: Trip report

Jun 23rd, 2008, 10:17 AM
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springtime in Spain: Trip report

My work schedule has finally freed me up to write this overdue trip report from my late March/ Early April trip to Andalucia and Barcelona in 2008. It was a fantastic trip, thanks to all who helped...First, an overview and an idea of our perspective....

We originally planned this trip as our daughter was studying abroad in Seville, so that influenced some of our planning. But I would have done it all the same again, regardless!
I traveled with my husband and part of the time with our 20-year-old daughter.
Our interests: 1) History--wow, I hadn't realized what a fascinating history Spain has until I started researching. So many cultures ruled these lands, from so long ago, thereby influencing so much of its architecture, art, food, and yielding a fascinating historical perspective on all we saw.
2) Natural beauty. My husband and I are gardeners and nature-lovers, so we were seeking gardens, interesting landscapes and photo ops. We got it.
3) architecture--the interest there ties in with natural landscapes and art in general
4) People. I speak Spanish, so had an advantage there, and used it on every opportunity to talk to people--cabbies, hotel clerks, people on the street. My family laughs or cringes when they see me stopping to talk to people, but then they love the stories of the characters we met. I found Spaniards to be very warm, friendly, fun-loving and laid-back. (some stories to follow!)
5) We weren't interested in museums--we wanted to walk in the steps of history and be in the midst of the beauty of Spain itself.

Our itinerary:
4 nights in Sevilla
(day trips to Cordoba, Cadiz)
1 night Ronda
2 nights Granada
1 night Barcelona

Thursday, March 27:

The trip started with delays, as a freak snowstorm delayed our start, thereby causing us to miss the London connection and subsequent AVE from Madrid to Seville. So grateful to have the advice that we could change tickets only if done in advance, so went online in London and switched our AVE tickets. Sure enough, the tourist class was sold out for a Friday afternoon, so we ended up with pricey first class tickets. Oh, well...use it or lose it. We took the Madrid metro from airport to train station, which was too much hassle. Normally it might have been fine, but after all the airport waiting and running around, we were exhausted at this point, and wish we'd just taken a cab.So by the time we got on the AVE, got a glass of first class wine, food, hot towel and very comfortable seat, I didn't care WHAT we paid--I was sooo happy to kick back! After a little food and another glass of wine, I napped, only to be woken up to find that the highly efficient AVE train had broken down. Businessmen around us assured us that this never happened. Well, after about 1 1/2 hours of waiting, the staff decided to just get off in Cordoba, leaving the train, and the galley, to the whim of the restless natives. Now, I heard not a single whine or complaint from any Spaniard on the train about the delay. I think raiding the liquor cabinet was simply a chance for fun! Soon a food fight even ensued, with laughter and liquor flowing freely. This took our minds off the delay--welcome to Spain! These people were crazy. It was sure to be a fun trip full of unexpected surprises, if this was any sample of what was to come! As it turns out, the funny experience on the train came gratis--after our 2 1/2 hour delay, they gave out coupons for 100% ticket reimbursement! Meanwhile, our daughter sat waiting for us at our Seville hotel, and got to know the pleasant staff at the Puerta de Sevilla. (We had managed to email her in London, then called on a cell phone from the train). We were there 7 hours later than expected but all was smiles as we settled in, had some food in always-awake Seville and even got a moonlight tour of the Cathedral and Plaza de Espana. We had arrived!
snorkelluvn is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 11:11 AM
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Great so far! I stayed at the Puerto de Sevilla in 2005. Cute room, world's smallest shower.
Kristina is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 01:16 PM
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It looked like bathrooms at Puerta de Sevilla have been updated...all modern and clean. It was a great location and a nice little hotel.
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Jun 23rd, 2008, 01:36 PM
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Here is the slideshow of photos
http://picasaweb.google.com/gogarden/OurSpainTrip08

Seville:
What a lovely city. We stayed at the Puerta de Sevilla, which we chose based upon good reviews and its location on the edge of Barrio Santa Cruz. It was easy to find,close to numerous good restaurants, cafes and even a small grocery store around the corner, and the beautiful Murillo Gardens were at the end of the adjacent plaza, viewable from the roottop patio.
Seville, at least the Barrio Santa Cruz, was surprisingly clean. It was easy to walk to all the tourist areas from our hotel, and we always felt safe, even at night. Exploring the twisty streets was quite fun, tucking into surprisingly ornate churches and little cafes and shops. I liked that there was no traffic in this area and by the cathedral-- less noisy than other cities, which translates into greater relaxation for us, anyway. Springtime was lovely here, with so many blooming plants, bushes and tree, accompanied by the fabulous scent of the orange blossoms,jasmine, wysteria,etc. A city that smells great!! I laughed that the city of Don Juan and Carmen truly seemed to be a city of "love..." Couples kissing on the park lawn, elderly couples strolling hand-in-hand, and even pairs of doves in the trees in Maria Luisa Park. This is a colorful city--brightly colored buildings, and the bright painted tiles everyone, on benches, street corners and even service building roofs. A favorite pasttime was checking out the great weathervanes and windows, decorated with flowers, ferns, caged birds and tiled accents. The Royal Alcazar is quite a sight...especially loved the gardens and the queen's "baths" with the geometric patterning. Seville was the commercial center and cultural pride of Spain at the time of Spanish exploration, and city received much of the wealth at that time, still so well-preserved. Very interesting history here. A walk up the ramps to the top of the Giralda, entered through the Cathedral, is a "must." Great views, and so interesting to think that the Moors used to ride their horses up the ramp to call the faithful to worship.
Food in Seville: We learned to seek out the great sauces put on various tapas--usually a good bet. Good bargains for the small crusty sandwiches served with homemade potato chips at Cerveceria Mondeditos 100, and breakfast and sandwiches to-go (para llevar)for 2 euros apiece at Cafe Indias, both near our hotel. Loved the fun waiters and good food at El Modesto and had a lovely, romantic dinner in the Corral del Agua on Callejon del Agua, adjacent to the Alcazar walls. We discovered Tinto de Verano here--the everyday-man's sangria, quite tasty and only about 1 1/2 euros each, purchasable throughout Andalucia, even in the park cafe in Maria Luisa Park. Seville is a city to just enjoy, and relaxingly explore. Murillo Gardens and Parque Maria Luisa are enchanting.
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Jun 23rd, 2008, 05:46 PM
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shorkelluvn,
Thank you so much for the wonderful trip report and the beautiful pixs. And what a great attitude you had about the train breaking down!

We went to visit our daughter when she was studying in Siena, and that was one of the best trips ever, as I'm sure you'll remember this one to be.

Can't wait to read more.
artlover is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 05:00 PM
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Wonderful, wonderful photos! Can't wait to read more of your great report!
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Jun 24th, 2008, 07:22 PM
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Day trips from Seville: Cordoba and Cadiz...
We hopped the quick, 35-minute AVE train from Sevilla to Cordoba with our daughter. Her host father told her it was his favorite town in Spain, so she was anxious to see it, as were we. If you are a history-lover, Cordoba is a great stop...1000 years ago, it was the largest city in Europe, complete with lighted streets and irrigation to bring water into the city, at a time when much of Europe was mired in simple feudal states. First stop was the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (castle right near the Mezquita, where the taxis and carriages stop). This castle is quite ancient, not huge but well-preserved, and you can explore the ramparts and some chambers, peer out arrow-slits, etc. The gardens were quite exquisite. We loved all the intricate cobblestones here and in Seville...a lot of extra work for the sake of beauty. Or was there another reason? The Mezquita is so truly unique, as a combined mosque/cathedral. The Christians did a great job of blending in their Christian symbols and artistry into the exquisite mosque. The city of Cordoba was fun to explore as well. Had lunch just inside the old city gates, a cool stone bodega called La Fracjua, where we had wonderful tapas for reasonable price in a great Spanish atmosphere.
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Jun 25th, 2008, 06:14 AM
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Snorkelluvn your pics are great & so is the report. Enjoying it very much.
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Jun 26th, 2008, 07:39 AM
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Cadiz (day trip)
My husband wanted to check out the Mediterranean, so we hopped a bus to Cadiz, which sounded interesting, as the oldest port in Europe. This was probably the one city/ trip I would have scratched on our trip. Although it was enjoyable, it added more hustle to the vacation and would perhaps have been more fun to relax in Seville and not travel. It was interesting to see the difference in building style here from other places we visited in Andalucia--windows had white wrought-iron, different shape and shutters, giving a more European feel and less of the Moorish influence. So, it was pretty in a different way. Recommend walking out to the Castillo de San Sebastian and strolling a pretty park along the seaside promenade. Lunch provided good people-watching. Ate outside at a cafe on a pretty little street. The action was happening at the tobacco shop, run by a cheerful lady in a tight orange pantsuit with exuberant personality and visited by all nature of characters. Meanwhile, a canary sang from a cage above our table--something for all the senses. Cadiz wasn't quite as pretty and interesting as the other cities we visited, but interesting, nonetheless!
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Jun 26th, 2008, 10:47 AM
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Cadiz could be the oldest western europe city, but there is nothing left of much of the past. (founded by phoenicians around 1100bc, knwon as Gades).

Not a primary touristic destination, but also, not a waste of time. You visited some real spain.
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Jun 26th, 2008, 03:55 PM
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Hi Victor,
Yes, one of our disappointments with Cadiz was that we didn't get a feel for the ancientness of the city when there...wondered if maybe we had just missed it. Nonetheless, we truly did enjoy ourselves and found the streets and seaside promenade quite nice.
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Jun 26th, 2008, 04:31 PM
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Do you think you would have enjoyed it more had you not been rushed and stayed overnight? I've been thinking of adding Cadiz (since it's the birthplace of Cameron, a real favorite of ours), but am torn.
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Jun 26th, 2008, 04:35 PM
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I was in Cadiz a few weeks ago. It was a stop in our cruise. Many people went to Sevilla from there , but since I had been in Sevilla before I stayed in Cadiz. It was a nice enough city but frankly I wouldn't make a special trip or overnight to go there.
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Jun 26th, 2008, 04:35 PM
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On to Ronda!
After our daughter finished classes, we caught a bus to Ronda, purchasing tickets right before we got on, no problem. The bus we took made stops in numerous cities, which sadly took us longer, but gave us another peek at everyday Spanish life as we dropped into several small towns along the way. (As you can tell, I love experiencing the culture and people in places I visit). Then Ronda--my favorite city we visited on this trip. Why? So unique, so beautiful set on the edge of that huge gorge--there is even a waterfall that drops below it, which you can see from paths on the far side. The views by day and lit up at night are breathtaking. Second--this was just relaxation, no crowds or street noise, just beautiful surroundings in a setting that felt so unhurried and far away from my home. Third--add in a little interesting history and more friendly people, good food. It was just ALL good.
We knew we'd enjoy ourselves right away, when we asked a local woman for directions to the Puente Nuevo, our landmark to find our hotel. Lucia was amazing--she walked us all the way to our hotel, stopping first at the tourist office by the bullring to get a map, narrating the history of the town as we went along. Of course, she knew our innkeepers. We left her with the Spanish double kiss, on each cheek--this lady had become a friend in 10 minutes--and who wouldn't (and wasn't) friends with this charming Spanish matron? Hotel San Gabriel was our destination--lovely, lovely, lovely. So unique, built in the 1700s,full of unique character, the true example of a boutique hotel. (see photos on the web album)Our daughter headed out for a run down toward the gorge, and we set off to explore, shortly coming to an exquisite little plaza (Plaza Campilla) complete with the requisite fountain and benches, as well as an overlook of the gorge. We noticed some folks going into a villa, so we wandered in and found ourselves in the most perfect spot--inside the villa gates was an expansive patio and lawns with a large veranda that overlooked olive groves, misty hillsides,whitewashed homes and the gorge. As we watched the sun set and shadows mount in layers, sipping wine (me) and beer (my husband), I felt all my cares float away. Just heaven. It appeared that this place also served dinner, but we were off for a new adventure. We found it at the recommended Dona Pepa restaurant, over in the new side of town (translation: cheaper, where locals eat)and had a fantastic meal with complementary sherry. T. had chicken stuffed with langostas (shrimp) and vegetables, and my daughter and I had one of the pre-set 3-course meals for 12.60 euros apiece. all marvelous, and the wait staff was just terrific. Waiters don't depend on tips in Spain, but that certainly didn't translate into poorer service. Just great!
We tripped back over the bridge and explored Ronda's winding streets and more lovely plazas in their lamplit and moonlit glory. The next morning, our innkeepers marked out hikes to see the sights. Just one photo op after another, with more gorge, drmatic riverbeds, quaint streets and bridges (a Roman one and one, I believe from the 1500s,making the Puente Nuevo the "new bridge" cuz it was merely built in the 1700s!). It seemed unimaginable that the scene described in Hemmingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" could have taken place in this beautiful town. Near the Roman bridge was a craggy hillside pasture where sheep dozed in the sun. As we later sat on the patio of the San Miguel restaurant next to the New Bridge, we saw their shepherd herd them up across the bridge--Just a charming sight. Wow! We were not in Chicago anymore! This made a fitting end as we left Ronda and parted from our daughter, as she boarded the bus back to Seville and we headed off by train for Granada...our next destination!
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Jun 28th, 2008, 06:19 AM
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Granada. This city has such an impressive backdrop, with the snowcapped mountains, esp. the view of the Alhambra with the peaks beyond. Our initial impression of Granada wasn't as positive, however. While the winding, narrow streets of the Albaicin, where we stayed, were charming, it was also hard to find your way initially. We soon got oriented, but at the start, it's tough. Also, so much graffiti. After the cleanliness of Seville, Cordoba and Ronda, we were a bit taken back. But the city really worked on us, and we ended up loving it. Just not a place to stay if you have trouble walking, because it's all hilly and cobblestone. We stayed at Casa del Alharife, an old nobleman's mansion B&B in the Albaicin area, with a lovely inner courtyard and great view of the Alhambra from our bedroom window, at a reasonable cost. We really felt like we got a true taste of Spanish living here, compared with a more typical or larger hotel.

The Alhambra was our main reason for coming to Granada, but we found it certainly isn't the only reason to visit. We had reserved tickets online. Give yourself lots of time to get to the Nazhrid Palace...It is a long distance from ticket office to there, and we had to hustle. The Alhambra lives up to its billing. The artistry, architecture, views and gardens are incredible. My favorite was the Generalife and gardens, with views over the city through exquisite carved marble windows. I was glad I had read "Tales of the Alhambra," and got the audiotour--Washington Irving acts as the "narrator" and he sort of walks you through some of his tales on the audiotape,so you almost feel the presence of the characters, making it much less dry than most guides. I discovered by now that when my husband gets a little crabby, he needs some food and drink. So we stopped for some wonderful eggs and home-fried type potatoes at the REst. Jardines Alba, near the ticket entrance, a lovely setting, and then he was ready to enjoy.

Best surprise of our visit was taking the back exit as we left, under a gate near ticket booth and down a cobblestone road called Cuesta de los Chinos. We were almost alone on this road, with late afternoon sun, following a river, passing a small waterfall, old acqueduct and moss-covered bridge, not to mention an iron gate under the Alcazaba--I couldn't help but wonder if this was where prisoners had entered hundreds of years ago. The rough edge of this area added to the mystery of the place. We chatted briefly with a gentleman from Brussels who declared the Alhambra "glorious!!" This road ended at a plaza backed by cliffs with the Alhambra above, where two men were playing their flamenco guitar next to a gurgling fountain and budding redbud trees. Amazing. This was another of those "life is good" moments. The road here was the Carrera del Darro, a medieval street along the River Darro, with bridges, shops and restaurants. Felt so old and was so charming.
People-watching was next, on the Plaza Nueva. We had great Turkish pita sandwiches at Donner Kabop. Tummies and senses filled, we returned to Casa del Aljarife to discover that a neighbor across the tiled rooftops was jamming with saxophone and piano, the saxophonist occasionally emerging on his balcony to offer a private concert for us...More "good moments in life," capping off a great afternoon. Then a trip to the two miradores (plazas with views of Alhambra) to watch the setting sun tinge the mountains and Alhambra a stunning pink. Yes, we liked Granada.
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Jun 28th, 2008, 07:39 AM
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"Snork" Really enjoying the report.....more please when you are ready....

ams
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Jun 28th, 2008, 07:57 AM
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Thanks for the feedback! Writing the trip report lets me relive the trip,so the report itself is fun to do!
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Jun 28th, 2008, 10:54 AM
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Wonderful trip report. And so glad you too loved Dona Pepa in Ronda. Funny, DH just mentioned the other day how he'd like to go back there. Wouldn't take much to convince me!
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Jun 28th, 2008, 11:05 AM
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Artlover,
Yes, we'd love to spend more time in Andalucia, around Ronda. I haven't been to Provence, but the tranquility of the area makes me think of images of Provence. I'd love to stay in one of the country inns around there and explore the Pueblos Blancos more, at leisure.
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Jul 1st, 2008, 08:08 AM
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Last stop, Barcelona.

A couple of our best savings were on this part. We saved a lot on our flight to/from the states by going open jaw, into Marid and out of Barcelona. We got a cheap ticket on Clickair from Granada to Barcelona, taking only 1 1/2 hours. So we got a full day in Barcelona instead of spending the day taking the train back to Madrid. The other savings was our hotel in Barcelona. We stayed at the lovely, modern one-year-old Villa Emilia in the Eixample district, booked through otels.com (not hotels.com), saving 40 euros per night,compared with other ways of booking. Plus it included their champagne breakfast, best breakfast on our whole trip, and the cheapest one (free)! (If only life were always that way.) We decided to stay here based upon good reviews and thought we'd go with a more chic, modern look since that is more representative of Barcelona itself. It was indeed very slick and clean, but with warm touches like a gleaming chandelier, orchids and fire in foyer, pianist at night. Staff were great. At night, we went up to their lovely rooftop terrace and ended up chatting with the owners' parents--absolutely charming couple, capping off our impression of Spaniards as being so warm, even in a big city like Barcelona.

I thought Barcelona would be my favorite destination, but it wasn't, possibly cuz we just loved Ronda, Seville and Granada, but also because it was busier, more noise, traffic and people, and not as clean as Seville. So, what did we like? The street performers here were terrific, talented and plentiful around the Cathedral and Ramblas. Some were just fun and others very, very talented musicians, fun to watch and listen to. Also, the gothic neighborhood was cool, the tree-lined streets in Eixample area and beautiful, ornate windows and doors lovely, quite different from Andalucia. The Sagrada Familia was outstanding. We saw this in late afternoon, ate in the area and then saw it at night, and it took on a new aspect, lit up. Amazing. We visited Gaudi's La Pedrera, and I don't feel that the wait and cost were worth it. I had seen photos, so maybe it just wasn't as amazing a sight as Sagrada Familia, which is significant to see up close. Had lunch Friday at Taller de Tapas, which lived up to its bill. Their patatas bravas were incredible--their smoked paprike sauce was something I want to try and replicate!

Our last morning in Spain was spent with one more Gaudi visit, to the very worthwhile Parc Guell. This was a challenge with public transportation (metro, bus, walking a distance), and we ended up cabbing it back to our hotel, a better way to go. The Parc itself reminded me of the game Candyland, with more fantasy and flowers. A cellist was playing Pachebel's Canon under an exquisite painted ceiling as we came in, and musicians scattered throughout this unique place. Great views over the city. Wish we'd had more time here. But alas, our flight was waiting to return to the states and this wonderful, wonderful trip came to an end. We shall return some day, to explore more of our favorites and find new experiences in new destinations.
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