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Trip Report: 2 Weeks In Spain – Solo Woman Traveler

Trip Report: 2 Weeks In Spain – Solo Woman Traveler

Jun 2nd, 2007, 08:26 AM
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Trip Report: 2 Weeks In Spain – Solo Woman Traveler

Trip Report: 2 Weeks In Spain – Solo Woman Traveler

I’m not sure if this will be helpful to anyone, but it would have been helpful to me, so here it goes. I’m a solo woman traveler in my mid 30’s, and I just got back from two weeks in Spain. I stayed in Barcelona, Madrid, and Toledo, then headed back to Madrid. I’m going to share some observations, and offer several suggestions, comments, etc. Brace yourself –I’m rather verbose.

ITINERARY:

Flew from U.S. to Barcelona (via U.K.)
Barcelona – 4 nights
Madrid – 4 nights
Toledo – 2 nights
Madrid – 2 nights
Flew from Madrid to U.S (via U.K).

*Looking back on my itinerary, 4 nights and Barcelona and 4 nights in Madrid were just right. However, if I had to do it over again, I probably would have cut back Toledo to one night (see below) and then either just stayed in Madrid one night (rather than two) and flown home OR conversely, I would added a couple of days and gone straight from Toledo to Sevilla (which I did not see) for two or three days before returning to Madrid. Given the all of the delays on the train, I would definitely recommend spending the night in Madrid the night before your flight home (rather than, say, going straight from Toledo to the airport).

GUIDEBOOKS: I used info from Fodor’s postings and the 2007 Spain guides from both Rick Steves' and Lonely Planet. Fodor’s web postings saved me many, many times. Rick Steves’ book was great, and I ate at almost every single restaurant he recommended. All were great – some a bit pricey but worth it. His book wasn’t so good for night-life. If you want to know the clubs and dance places to go to, refer to Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet had the worst maps, particularly for Toledo and Madrid (actually had some wrong street names, etc.). Also, since the publications of these books, the Metro in Madrid has added stops and an airport connection (see below, near end of post)

FLIGHT: *Flew British Airways from the U.S. to Barcelona (connected in London). Then flew BA back from Madrid to the U.S. via U.K. Overall, BA rocks. Great service, great flight, and they gave us lots of wine and chocolate. Only one complaint: I am 5’4 and 125 pounds and the “world traveler” economy seats felt really cramped and small to me. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably fork out the money for business class, if only for the sole purpose of actually being able to exhale during the flight. Aside from that factor, British Airways is the best airline, hands down.

SECURITY: Expect to go through security at least 2 or 3 times. For some reason, I heard a lot of Americans complaining loudly and not understanding why they had to go through security so many times - especially when they had connections to countries in Europe to and from the U.K. It’s important to realize that England and Spain, for example, are two different countries. I know, I know – it shocked me too. But seriously, expect to go through security in each place. As soon as you get off the plane in the U.K. head for the nearest bathroom, and then know that you will have to stand in line again before you can get on your connecting flight to Spain. Just accept it.

LIQUIDS AND GELS: As expected, the U.K and Spain were both very strict about liquids and gels. My suggestion is that you read the web site for the airline and the airports BEFORE you get to the airport. This will save you a lot of grief. In the U.K. for example, they were really strict about making sure that passengers had put their carry-on liquids and gels in a small zip-lock bags - and the fact that passengers were only allowed 3 oz containers of these products. How strict were they? Well, the pilot for my flight from the U.K. to the U.S. seemed to think that he was exempt from this rule. He was not. While we (the passengers) were all waiting for him on the plane, our pilot was stuck in security – they would not let him through with the large amount of liquids he brought (this was announced very apologetically over the PA system on our plane). He was forced to go back and check his bag. As a result we were delayed an hour and a half.

CARRY-ONS and PURSES: Expect to be able to only bring ONE carry-on bag on your connecting flight, and that your PURSE counts as your carry-on. Yep. On some flights – as of very recently - a purse now counts as a carry-on bag. Twice in the U.K., they had me put my purse into my backpack. I expected this because they had this information posted on the British Airways web site, which I checked the day before my trip. For women who were NOT able to fit their purses into their backpacks, etc., security said it counted as TWO carry-on bags, and they made these women actually go BACK to the check in counter and check the second bag. This didn’t happen in Spain, and I couldn’t quite figure out what the overall rule was. Maybe just luck of the draw. At any rate, if you can plan on having your purse fit into your backpack/carry-on – so that you can quickly slip one into the other while in line for security - you’ll be fine.

MONEY: If you have a connecting flight in the U.K. (Heathrow for example), before you leave the U.S., you might want to get some British pounds. I got a 20 pound note from my bank before I went on my trip (along with a couple hundred in Euros). I was VERY glad that I did this because my flight from the U.K to Spain was delayed at Heathrow. I was exhausted after flying 10 hours from California, and I just wanted something to eat quickly. I am not a patient woman when I’m hungry. Luckily, I had the 20 pound note, and didn’t have deal with trying to find an ATM or with exchanging currency. The line for currency exchange was HUGE – filled by all the folks on my flight who didn’t realize that the U.K. does not use the Euro.

In Spain, I used my Visa for almost all major transactions (dinner, hotel, train tickets), and used cash for everything else. With regard to tipping: even when I used my Visa to pay for dinner, I always tipped in cash (the waiters said they wouldn’t ever see their tips if they didn’t get it in cash). I made it a habit of ONLY carrying my Visa with me, and a bit of cash. I always left my ATM card in my money belt or the hotel safe (Why? One girl I knew had been using her ATM card for everything. A pickpocket stole it from her backpack (while it was on her back), and proceeded to use to charge tons of merchandise, thus completely wiping out both her checking and savings (both of which were linked to the card).

BARCELONA ARRIVAL – Took the Aerobus to Placa Catalunya and stayed at a great hotel (Hotel Gran Via) off the Gran Via in the Eixample area. This was a nice, safe area and I felt fine walking around alone, even up until 11:30pm or so. The cool thing about my location is that it was only 2 blocks from El Corte Ingles (major department store with everything you could possibly need), and 2 blocks from Placa de Catalunya (city center). It was close enough to the Ramblas and the Barri Gotic, but far enough away to be safe. The other cool thing is that the #50 bus picks you up right across the street, and takes you all the way to Montjuic (great if you like Joan Miro!) and back.

BARCELONA - MAKEUP AND HAIR: I really wish I hadn’t brought as much makeup and as many hair products as I did, because I didn’t use half of it and had to drag it around on the entire trip. When I got to Barcelona, I was really surprised at how very few of the women wore even a single drop of makeup. It seemed like most of them had very natural looks, and that they didn’t really use visible hair products (Caveat: This was true up until about midnight. Then, when people started to go out, I saw a bit more makeup. But still not that much). By the second day, I toned it way down and just used a tinted base with sunscreen and mascara. Oddly, even my light lip-gloss made me feel conspicuous – and being a solo traveler, I didn’t particularly want to draw a lot of attention to myself. I didn’t care that much about not looking like a tourist. I mean, let’s face it - it was obvious that I was a tourist by the perpetually confused and lost expression on my face and the fact that I was holding a 3 X 5 foot map. I just didn’t want to stand out too much.

BARCELONA: CLOTHES: The look was very casual and very European. I didn’t see a single person in shorts. It was warm and several women had tank tops, but almost always with a light sweater or cover – very tasteful (Note: remember that you’ll need a light sweater or cover up for going into any churches. No bare shoulders, thighs, or tummies). Very rarely did I see a lot of skin displayed, except for the high-school girls in Barcelona (saw much more skin Madrid). It was way too warm for jeans there, except at night. You can easily buy jeans at Mango or Zara (really cute styles there); I mostly wore khakis and capris. I saw a lot of women wearing light skirts and dresses. I didn’t see a lot of high heels except during the “going out” hours. Quite frankly, I wore my heels two or three times to dinner, but because of the sidewalks and (literally) walking for 8 or 9 hours each day, I was afraid that I was going to break my neck wearing heels. I opted for sandals.

SUNSCREEN: Use it. The sun seemed to be much more intense in Barcelona – not hotter, just more intense. I’m fair-skinned and I’m really glad that I wore sunscreen and a base. I noticed that only Americans and teen-aged boys wore baseball caps or visors. That said, I wish I had worn some type of sun hat. My scalp and forehead and nose got totally fried on the first day there, even with the sunscreen.

DINNER in BARCELONA: I went out to dinner every single night by myself. This was totally fine. I met a lot of really nice people this way. I always brought my guidebook so I had something to look at when I felt awkward or needed something to “do.” The guidebooks served as a nice conversation tool: several people noticed the guidebook and would ask where I was from. Several other tourists saw my books and then gave me tips about where they had just been. I got some great advice that way about what restaurants to try, where to go out, etc.

*I didn’t see too many women dining alone. Almost everyone was with someone else. At times I’ll admit this got a bit lonely, as Spain seems to be a very social and romantic place. But overall, I’m really glad that I went out to dinner every night. I took the “when in Rome” approach to eating, and tried every single thing that I’d never tried before. My stomach was absolutely killing me from all the fried food, meat, and beer, but what the hell. And don’t worry – you’ll walk it off. The Rick Steve’s recommendations for restaurants were perfect.

Note for veggies: Although I’m not a vegetarian, I eat mainly salads, fruits, and soy/tofu products. This type of diet was difficult to maintain in Spain, but not impossible. My savior was the supermarket in the basement of El Corte Ingles department store: there you can find beautiful fresh fruit, soy products, yogurts, and a ton of organic foods.

CLUBS: I didn’t go out to any clubs in Barcelona, mainly because people seemed to go out at around midnight and I was still too jetlagged and sunburned to move by that point (and from my point of view, Madrid had a better night-life for the solo woman traveler – it was easier to be out late in Madrid to me for some reason).

ATTENTION from MEN: I am blonde-haired and blue eyed, and in my mid 30’s. I’m no stunner, but I sure as heck wouldn’t wear a bag over my head either. I was not bothered at all in Barcelona. The worst I encountered was some older men who asked why I wasn’t married, or where my husband was. I actually felt a bit invisible in Barcelona, which is actually what I wanted.

Madrid was a different story. See below.

METRO and BUS in BCN: I walked a lot, but I also took the Metro and the bus quite a bit. The pack of 10Metro tickets (T10) was a good investment.

TRAIN: Took the train from Barcelona to Madrid (about 5 hours). Note: expect brief security checks at the train stations, consisting of quick screenings of your luggage. No big deal and very quick. Metro was very easy to figure out.

*I bought my train ticket a few days before by going to the train station (Sants Station) itself. I could have bought it at a travel agency in Barcelona, but I wanted to see what the train station was like before my actual train trip. I’m glad I did. That trip let me know that that there was no way in hell I was going to try to drag my luggage on the Barcelona Metro. It was WAY too crowded, just ripe for pick-pocketing (I have to say that I was more concerned about pick-pocketing in Barcelona than I was in Madrid. I saw more incidents in Barcelona – not sure why).

*Instead, I used the airport shuttle (Aerobus) (Lonely Planet provided this tip). Aerobus does NOT apparently stop at the train station on the way FROM the airport TO the Placa de Catalunya, but it DOES stop at Sants Station FROM the Placa de Catalunya TO the airport (if that makes any sense). This option was much, much better then dragging my luggage through the BCN Metro. The first Aerobus left Placa de Catalunya around 5:30am. The train station was the second or third stop.

*The train trip itself was just great. After 4 days of walking until I dropped, sitting on the train for a few hours was really nice. The scenery was interesting and pretty– the train went along the coast for a bit, and then through the hills. Most beautiful of all: the huge fields of red poppies. I just listened to my i-Pod and chilled out. They played a movie too. By the time I got to Madrid, I was well-rested and ready to party.

ARRIVAL IN MADRID: Arrived at Atocha train station and took the Metro from the train station (Atocha Station) to my hotel. As I learned later, had I simply walked, it would have only been a 20-minute walk to Puerta Del Sol (most people just called it “Sol”) - but it would have been uphill in the pouring rain (it poured like crazy in Madrid for all 4 days I was there). Via the Metro, I emerged in Sol in the midst of beautiful chaos. My hotel – Hotel Europa – was literally a few yards away from the Metro station. This hotel was great, the staff members were fabulous, and the hotel had a great outdoor café open from 7am until midnight – it was perfect for people watching.

METRO in MADRID: I have to say that the Puerta Del Sol Metro stop is one of the most confusing stops ever. There are 3 different entrances/exits to the stop, and you can get totally turned around. If you’ve never been on a Metro before, it might be a good idea to get familiar with Sol, especially if you’re going to eventually take it to the airport)

Note: Keep this in mind: if you have an early morning flight, be alert and aware on the street and in the Metro at this time. The only really drunk and disorderly people I ever saw in Madrid were at this time around 6 and 7am, when they’re all coming home from the clubs. I felt totally safe going to the airport via Metro in the wee morning hours, but it’s best to be on alert.

OVERALL/ GOING OUT IN MADRID: Madrid was one of the most vibrant places I’ve ever been. I felt really happy there. I did go to one club by myself, known as the Palace, just off the Plaza Mayor. It was multi-storied with 3 or 4 different rooms with different types of music. Some girls I met at the hotel gave me free passes - I felt weird at first going there alone, but honestly, there are so many people at these clubs that half of the people lose their friends anyway. You end up meeting all kinds of people from all over the world this way. These clubs were mainly folks in their 20’s, but there were also quite a few people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s dancing and having a good time.

People don’t even think about going out to clubs in Madrid until at least midnight – and several of the clubs don’t even open until midnight – some don’t open until 2 or 3am. I’m serious about this. I didn’t believe it until I saw it. I was coming home from a club at 2:30am, while people I met were just heading out. Some college girls I met said they would go to sleep, set their alarms for 2am, get ready, and then go out at 3am.The streets were absolutely packed at this time. The folks in Madrid seem to stay out until the first Metro starts running in the early morning hours.

Note: If you are traveling alone as a woman, and want to drink some sangria or have a couple of beers, I would say it might be best to do so at a café close to your hotel or on a route that is very familiar, in the midst of a lot of people. On a two-week trip alone, some times you just really want to go have a beer - and it gets to be a real pain if you feel like you HAVE to have someone with you to do this. There’s no reason that you should be stuck in your hotel room!

Overall, I always felt safe in Madrid. There are so many people out at night that it’s like being in a shopping mall during the holiday season. But being even a little bit tipsy alone in a foreign country can be iffy at best – especially if you’re really tired. Only a few times at about midnight or so did I feel like I had turned down a wrong street or needed to walk extra fast. I listened to my instinct and never had more than two or three drinks over the entire course of an evening – always with food. That’s why the Hotel Europa was great. I was able to sit in the outside café and people watch, and also be right at my hotel.

LANGUAGE TIP: KNOW YOUR PRONOUNS: I learned Spanish via audio-cassettes for 6 months before my trip. As a solo woman traveler, when you are trying to….oh, I don’t know…ask how difficult it is, say, to get from point A to point B, I would highly advise that you know the crucial difference between, “It is easy” and “I am easy.”

ATTENTION in MADRID: I was really surprised and amused - in Madrid, I got more attention than I have anywhere, any place, any time in my life (by this time I had mastered my pronouns). Although meeting someone was not my purpose at all, I have to say that I encountered some very handsome men in Madrid – mostly business men – usually in suits – walking in the city from 3-5pm (lunch) and after 9pm at dinner.

In Madrid, I frequently experienced what I like to call “the big SG”: the smoldering glance. On several occasions, this gave me a good chuckle, sometimes I just burst out laughing. The big SG involves a man who spots you from a few yards away. As he walks by you, he locks his eyes onto yours. His eyes are invariably deep and dark. He does not smile, he does not speak, but his eyes burn into your very soul. It doesn’t matter how he looks; it’s the degree to which he has perfected this art form. He watches you until he has just passed by, and then it’s over. You are absolutely hypnotized and can barely move…that is, until you trip over the cobble stones and almost get hit by a car, or, perhaps, run into a little old woman on her way to Mass and knock her into to the street in front of a group of stunned onlookers who then shake their fists at you in anger. Not that this happened to me or anything.

I also received “verbal appreciation” – that is harmless comments, whistles, etc. This hasn’t happened since I was in college. This type of thing usually came from construction workers, etc. But let me say this – although on some occasions it was downright annoying, I never once felt harassed, threatened, or unsafe, and no one ever said anything rude or offensive. Most of the men that I met in Madrid were absolute gentlemen and simply minded their own business. I have to admit that I actually felt pretty damn good by the end of my stay in Madrid. 

That said, if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of attention, especially at clubs, etc. be aware that while it can feel very flattering, some of these Casanovas may simply be after your wallet. Keep your wits about you. I always kept my purse in a death grip and walked with purpose - as if I actually I knew where I was going. I tried not to invite any attention; while on occasion I would smile, most of the time I didn’t make eye contact – I just kept my eyes straight ahead and kept on walking.

FOOD/ DINNER IN MADRID: Since many places do not serve half raciones of tapas (which was VERY frustrating for a solo woman), eating at the bar (standing up) was the easiest way to get a smaller plate of food. Most of the sit down places I went to served huge plates of tapas, and some would ONLY serve plates to a minimum of two people. There were other things to eat, obviously, but it was a bit frustrating when I wanted tapas while sitting at an outside café (especially around Plaza Mayor). Several times when I just didn’t feel like dealing with it, I just ducked into a Pans and Company or I just went to the supermarket for fruit.

On many occasions when I went out in Madrid, I only saw men out eating alone or at the bar. I rarely saw women alone. Women were almost always with at least one friend. This didn’t deter me in the least – I like to eat! I simply sat up at the bar and practiced my Spanish on the (poor, unwitting) bartender. I felt uncomfortable only at first. Usually I was so hungry that I didn’t care, and then I just got used to it. Most people just minded their own business and let me eat in peace. I went out to dinner every single night of my trip – food was my easily my largest expense. At first I ate at about 7pm, but since hardly anything was open, I gradually began eating at 9pm.

If you’re dying for a salad and you’re just desperate, there’s a place called VIPS right across the street from the Prado. It’s like a Denny’s or Eppie’s. Not the most Spanish place and not the best place in the world, but they have huge bowls of salad (that is, with actual lettuce).

HAIR AGAIN: If needed, you can pick up a straightener or curler or blow dryer at El Corte Ingles. This is a great option if you plan to return to Europe. I read on Fodor’s that this was a better option than using a converter because several people noted that their American products had gotten fried and literally melted when using converters. As it turns out though, the only thing I ended up using was the dryer at the hotel. Most women wore their hair in buns. The women that wore their hair down had a very natural look. I quickly realized that I would have looked ridiculous with more styled hair. Many women seemed to just have opted for pony tails or twists during the day.

MAKEUP AGAIN: I definitely saw more makeup in Madrid than in Barcelona, but not a great deal more. Most of the women seemed to have beautiful, clean looking skin with very little makeup, even when going out. On the days that I wore blush and lipstick I felt conspicuous and uncomfortable, and found myself rubbing it off and opting for the “less is more” approach.

CLOTHES IN MADRID: Most of the young women in their 20s seemed to be wearing skinny jeans or leggings, flat shoes, and large shirts with a type of sash tied around the waist (think Flash Dance with Chuck Taylors). A lot of them had their hair in loose buns or back, out of their faces. Women in their 30’s and above seemed to just have a sense of casual elegance (slacks and nice top) or simple, beautiful attire.

SMOKING: It’s almost everywhere. Good luck trying to avoid it. This was my greatest cause of grief. Luckily, most establishments have signs posted in the window letting you know if a place allows smoking or not. I got really sick my first week in Spain from the smoke. Outside cafés also have quite a bit of smoke.

TOLEDO: Four nights in Madrid was enough. I was glad to be headed to quieter ground. I took the train from Atocha to Toledo. My hotel in Toledo was Santa Isabel. If you stay at the Santa Isabel, don’t even think of taking of the bus or trying to walk. It’s really difficult to find. Just take a taxi. It costs about 6 euros. (Note: There are no safe deposit boxes or hair dryers at the Santa Isabel). If you’re staying elsewhere, you can take the #5 or #6 bus up into town. Rick Steve’s does a good job on his Toledo section. Lonely Planet’s map is not so good. Your best bet is to head immediately to the TI next to the cathedral for one of their awesome maps. BTW, I absolutely loved the little train that goes around the city for 4 euros - if you can, get the very last one and watch the sunset.

The street in Toledo is made of these huge cobblestones – totally uneven. Wear your most comfortable shoes while in Toledo or you will regret it. I felt so sorry for women in cute little shoes and heels limping along and groaning. It was absolutely painful to walk there in anything but tennis shoes.

I stayed in Toledo for 2 nights, but I think a day and half would have been long enough. If I had it to do over again, I would have arrived in Toledo early in the morning (by 9:30) – I would seen everything I wanted to see, then stayed for dinner and spent the night, then I would have left early the next morning for my next destination. The scene in Toledo at night is unforgettable – absolutely stunning, but a bit eerie (Don’t stay there on a Sunday night if you can help it. It was like a ghost town. Monday was a bit more hopping, but the El Greco museum was closed).

*Ok, while Toledo was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I’m very glad to have gone there, I have to say that it was there that I had what was perhaps the weirdest encounter of my trip. When I went out to dinner both nights, I had the rather surreal experience of old women hissing at me as I passed by. Yes, they hissed - like snakes. Under their breath, while looking away. At first I thought I was imagining it, but it happened on several occasions. I have to say that it’s a bit disconcerting to be hissed at by a human being. I would avoid it if at all possible. After a great deal of research and field work, I discovered that you can avoid this experience by taking the following steps: do not wear makeup, do not wear high heels, do not smile, and do not wear jewelry or any other type of adornment. In general, I would advise that pull your hair back severely from your face, wear black, shuffle slowly when you walk, and maintain a visage of pious misery. Other than that, Toledo was great.

BACK TO MADRID: When I returned to Madrid, I stayed at the Hotel Plaza Mayor. This was my favorite hotel. It was the most expensive place that I stayed at, but it was well worth the money. It was just off the Plaza Mayor, where I ended up spending a lot of time just sitting outside at cafes, just people watching. I had planned to go to the Royal Palace, but the lines were so long on both days that I couldn’t deal with it. After doing touristy stuff for almost two weeks straight, the thought of being inside a crowded place with hundreds of other people was just no longer appealing. Instead, I went to the Royal Botanical Gardens and just sat in the sun smelling the flowers. It was probably one of the best moments of my trip (Note: on several street corners, you’ll see these “tourist walking routes” posted with several different itineraries. These walks are just great – especially the ones through the various gardens up by the Royal Palace, where there are fabulous views). I really learned that the Spanish have a totally different pace of life. It felt ridiculous to rush around and be totally overscheduled. On this trip, I learned the fine art of just hanging out, watching the world, and enjoying the day. The absolute best days I had were days when I put my guidebook aside, ignored my itinerary, and just chilled.

DEPARTURE FROM MADRID:

TERMINAL 4 AIRPORT STOP MADRID METRO: The biggest news is that the Terminal 4 Airport stop for the Madrid Metro is finally complete. This is huge. It made my trip home from Madrid a whole lot easier (and cheaper).

Note: As I said above, I used the 2007 Rick Steve’s Spain guide and the 2007 Lonely Planet Spain guide on this trip. A few of the stops on the Metro have been updated and changed since these books were published. I recommend that you go to the Madrid Metro web site or get a Metro map in Madrid from one of the Metro Stations to make sure you have the most recent version. Going to the airport involves 2 changes. It’s easy, but I recommend mapping it out the night before so you are prepared and so that you know when and where to change trains - especially if you’re like me and you haven’t had your coffee yet before getting on the Metro (not the wisest decision).

SUPPLEMENTAL FEE FOR MADRID METRO: When you take the Metro from Puerta Del Sol to the Airport, and vice versa, know that you will have to pay a “supplemental” airport fee: e.g. The Metro ride itself cost 1 euro, but when you arrive at the airport - right before you get inside - you have to pay another 1 euro supplemental fee. I was really glad I had one Euro coin left in my pocket. A few people griped, but the total 2 Euro cost was one whole helluva lot cheaper than the 30 Euro cab ride I had originally planned to take (and anyway I used the 30 euros the night before on sangria). The Metro was a much better choice. Note: If you have a lot of luggage, see below.

LUGGAGE ON THE MADRID METRO: This was my first trip ever with actual luggage with wheels, and it marked a turning point in my identity. For years I carried a large backpack on my travels throughout Europe. In September of last year, however, I was in the train station in Rome. In a somewhat freakish mishap involving a collision with an oversized ticket agent, I fell over and landed on my back, and was stuck there, flailing about - not unlike a large turtle. I floundered for several minutes, but realized that no one would help. It occurred to me that I actually might die that way. I was forced to eat all the airline biscuits that I had hoarded earlier (stowed handily in the side pocket of my pack) until the pack became light enough for me to turn over and actually lift again. It was a traumatizing experience, but was also the portal into my version of adulthood.

This year, I said “no more!” and I purchased a 22-inch Travel Pro suitcase with wheels. Oh, the freedom, the sheer joy of not having 20 pounds on my back! Along with that, I brought a small daypack. I am grateful that I brought only this small amount of luggage - especially knowing what I know now about Spain (cobblestones, windy uphill streets and chaotic Metro stations). Anymore than that to deal with and carry alone, and I probably would chucked my stuff mid-way through the trip and just gone naked.

For those of you with luggage (w/wout wheels): if you’re taking the Metro in Madrid, know that you will have to lift your luggage up and down SEVERAL small flights of stairs. There are (supposedly) elevators somewhere: good luck finding them. The downside of my new luggage was that while in the Madrid airport, a family that was running to catch a flight crashed right into me and toppled on to my suitcase, breaking the handle of my suitcase right off (is it just me, or is there a recurring theme here?). A suitcase with wheels is just about useless without the nice little handle. I had to lift it and carry it through out the airport. I’m glad this occurred at end of my trip and not the beginning. Bonus: the upside all the lifting of luggage is that I now have rock-hard biceps the size of a small child.

Overall, Spain ranks up there as one of my favorite places. I have traveled all over Europe – all solo. Traveling as a solo woman poses some interesting challenges – but there is NO reason that you should feel like you can’t go out to dinner, see the sites, or even go have a beer if you feel like it. If I had waited around for someone to accompany me on these trips, I’d still be waiting. Instead, I went alone and met people from all over the world. I’m glad I did. Go - go solo - and have a blast!
Magellan_5 is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 08:46 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 8,827
Interesting report, but I'm surprised you didn't mention checking Maribel's Guides to see what she recommends.
Robert2533 is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 10:20 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Thanks so much for your report. It was certainly very helpful to me as I am headed to Spain for a two week solo trip next month. I'm even staying at the same hotel you did in Toledo. So I will definitly take a taxi to the hotel from the train station in Toledo. And I'll try to wear black and pull my hair back. That was wierd, what you discribed about those women. I'm kind of surprised given how many tourists Toledo is suppossed to have, you'd think they'd be used to them. Other than hard to find, how did you like the Santa Isabela?

So I have a few questions. You mentioned Pans and Co, which I know about since I was in Andalucia in March. Did you find they were all over, and if not could you give me the locations of some you saw. Did you find supermarkets easy to find (you mentioned getting fruit, etc). In Andalucia I was surprised at how few supermarkets I saw. They must have been somewhere, but we didn't see many. I do alot of picnic type eating, especially when I travel solo.

Any highlights of things you did or saw in either Madrid or Toledo that you especially recommend?

I'm sure I'll think of more questions for you. Thanks for your report.
isabel is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 10:34 AM
  #4  
 
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What a great report, Magellan! Well written and organized, informative, and with nice personal touches.

I absolutely LOVED your recount of the "smoldering glance." I was dying with envy as I read it, having been the grateful recipient of the SG myself more years ago than I care to remember.

I believe you are now ready to begin penning that romance novel you've always dreamed about writing!
Mary_Fran is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 11:58 AM
  #5  
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Hi Isabel - I'm happy to answer your questions!

RE: HOTEL SANTA ISABEL - It was very clean and wonderfully well-located (close to Cathedral and TI). One thing that surprised me was that they keep the lights off in the hallways - it's pitch black when going to your room. Just hit the light switch and you'll be fine. The breakfast was good enough - they let you pay by item (for example, I had two cups of coffee and a piece of toast rather than the entire continental breakfast, so they only charged me for those three items). The staff was a bit reserved, but friendly enough and helpful with regard to suggesting restaurants. Also - I arrived in the morning and they let me keep my luggage at reception until my room was ready. The place was relatively quiet - I asked for the a 3rd floor room with a view. I'm glad I did, because the street was loud in the morning. I would definitely stay there again.

RE: PANS & CO: No they were definitely not all over the place as I had thought they'd be, but I did find 3 of them. In Madrid: there was one directly off the Puerta Del Sol on either San Jeronimo or Alcala that I went to several times for coffee and and "The Rembrandt". There was also another one off the Plaza Mayor, but I kept getting lost trying to find it. In Barcelona, there was one right next to the Cathedral.

RE: SUPERMARKETS: The only supermarket that I used (I went there every day it seemed) was the one in the basement of El Corte Ingles. Other than that, I used the little stores on side streets between to Plaza Santa and Plaza Angel, where I bought water, bananas and cherries. Note: the further you get away from Sol, the cheaper the fruit and bottles of water are. Look around the street called Espoz Y Mina (where you'll also find an Internet cafe). When I got lost one day, I noticed that there was also another cheaper supermarket far south of Plaza Santa Ana, but I really didn't feel as safe in this area, so I avoided it.

FOOD IN TOLEDO: close to the University, there are little shops that sell "picnic" specials of sandwiches, fruits, and water for only 3 euros or so. These were hard to find, but I'm glad I did because the food in Toledo was probably the most expensive of my trip. However, I did also have the absolute best dinners of my entire trip in Toledo. Ask the clerk at the desk of Santa Isabel to show you how to get to the restaurant called La Abadia (opens at 8pm). I absolutely loved that place - went there twice. It had the best food of my trip.

THINGS TO DO IN TOLEDO - Honestly, I had the nicest time when I just wandered around all the streets and just outside the city walls. Since I got lost so much there, it was fun just to wander. One of the coolest things I did was climb to the top of Iglesia de Los Jesuitas (Iglesia de San Ildefonso): absolute fantastic view of the city from the top. If you go the cathedral, I would try to get there right before 10am, when it opens. I had the sacristy (with all the El Grecos) all to myself for a good half hour before the tour groups arrived.

THINGS TO DO IN MADRID: I went to all 3 major art museums - but I have to say that my favorite was just sitting in the Plaza Mayor every evening and relaxing in the royal gardens (by the Prado) and the sabbatical gardens (by the Royal Palace). Wandering around the little medieval streets east of Plaza Santa Ana was also wonderful. I also went to the Franciscan basilica (not far from the Royal palace) where I got a tour (at 4pm) in Spanish. That was a nice, unexpected surprise.

I hope you have a GREAT time!


Magellan_5 is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 12:11 PM
  #6  
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Mary_Fran - You are too, too kind! Thanks for your response. How did you ever guess that I want to write romance novels?
Magellan_5 is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 12:16 PM
  #7  
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Isabel - I MEANT to say that the little stores were located between Plaza Santa Ana (Plaza S. Ana) and Plaza Angel. Take care - M
Magellan_5 is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 12:16 PM
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Thank you so much for your posting - I love travelling solo, but have avoided Spain because of the horror stories about Barcelona (ie, pickpockets, high crime rate, etc. ).

I have travelled to England, France and Italy solo and with the Rick Steves tours. I find that I can get some alone time as well as information about the cities/countires in which I'm travelling. I do find that eating dinner alone at night the most difficult, but I do like the idea of taking a guide book with me, both for the passing of the time, and as an "introduction" to other travelers out there.

I'm in my early 50's and I would love to see Spain, Portugal and Morocco. You have given me some great info about going it alone. Thanks
timsmom is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 01:24 PM
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I also LOVED the hissing old women part. What a great experience! Tragically, I have never been hissed at by any person of any age in any country. However, thanks to your excellent description of the "looks that get you hisses," maybe I can doll myself up and go trolling for them on my next trip.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 01:35 PM
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Loved the report! Oh, yes I remember very well the SG...... but that was years ago for me! LOL!!!
cruiseluv is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 01:46 PM
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Fabulous, well written report! Lots of great practical tips. Loved your sense of humor about things too. Good on you for going solo-you're a braver woman than I am. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and share.
Kristina is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 07:23 PM
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Great report! I loved the smouldering glances of those handsome men in Madrid. Alas! The years when I might have been the recipient of the SG are long past.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2007, 07:59 PM
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MAgellan5- Thanks for the great details in your report. I just love your "the big SG". I didn't get it in Madrid, but in Italy - and you described it to the T! You do make me want to go back and see more of Madrid, tho. I admire your tenacity in exploring, & meals alone. I know that dinners alone are the trickiest for me. Bravo!
ninasdream is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 08:38 AM
  #14  
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Thanks so much to everyone for the positive feedback! There’s a couple more things that I remembered:

TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL: The issue always comes up in my solo travels about whether or not to tell people that I am indeed traveling alone. On this trip to Spain, I was asked no less than 10 times if I was traveling alone. This almost always occurred at dinner, when couples next to me had seen my guidebook, or I had struck up a conversation with the bartender or waiter.
In many cases, I found that most people (other tourists) were simply curious (in one case, I could clearly see that one particularly exhausted mom appeared to be downright envious!). Never once did I feel like anyone was “sorry” for me, or that they thought perhaps something might be “wrong” with me (you all know what I mean here, ladies!). Most often, they wanted to know what it was like traveling around solo. In these cases, I felt safe enough and simply told the truth, “Yes, I’m traveling alone, and it’s wonderful. I get to see everything I want, when I want.” I usually feel happy and free in my travels, and I conveyed that sentiment heartily.
However, there were also a few instances when I was at a cerveceria or café and someone (usually a man, also sitting at the bar, or the waiter) would ask if I was traveling alone, and my instinct told me to tell a little fib - solely for the sake of safety. I was never afraid, but after all, you never know who is sitting close by, listening in on your conversation. Instinct was given to us for a good reason, so I listen well whenever it speaks up. In these cases, I said things like, “Oh, no, my friends are back at the hotel asleep – it was a long flight!” or, “Oh, my friend is here in Madrid at University.”
I also actually had several people ask me what hotel I was staying in – most were simply making conversation, or wanted to be helpful. In a few cases, if I felt at all wary, I would say that I was staying with my friend (rather than divulge the name of the hotel). Again in most cases, most people were just curious or trying to be helpful. But it’s best to be armed with responses for those few situations when you feel like it’s best to be self-protective.
DINING ALONE - AGAIN: As I said, there were two or three moments during my trip – usually at dinner – when I felt lonely or awkward when dining alone. I was very surprised at myself when, on occasion, the waiter would ask me “Only one for dinner?” and I would feel somehow…small. I realize now that he was actually being complimentary, but at the time, for some reason I felt apologetic, thinking, “Yes, only one - AGAIN - so sorry to be taking up space!” And then I’d eat hurriedly and leave, wishing to be invisible the entire time.
This all changed for me one evening in Toledo. I was La Abadia restaurant, where they sat me at a small table in the corner. Across the room, I noticed a woman, also dining alone, aged 50’s to early 60’s or so. I was instantly struck by her stance: I mean it when I say that she looked positively regal. It wasn’t the way she was dressed or anything like that – it was the essence that she projected. The way she looked around the room - and simply OWNED it - was a revelation to me. There was no hurried or apologetic demeanor here. Instead, she was clearly there to stay for several hours – she took her time, relished her food, and had the waitress bring an entire chilled bottle of white wine and dessert, which she obviously enjoyed. She read her novel, looked at her guidebook, and wrote in her journal. It was very apparent to me that she knew to her very core that she had every right to be there. She looked like a queen surveying her kingdom, fully confident in herself. Because of her energy, I too changed my stance. I savored every bit of food, took my time, and took notes in the back of my guidebook – writing about my experience there. I won’t ever forget that woman, and I hope other women reading this posting will keep her in mind as well. When you dine alone, walk into the dining room, survey the room, smile, and think to yourself, “How NICE that you could all join ME for dinner!”
Magellan_5 is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 09:03 AM
  #15  
joyce1
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What a well written, organized and informative report!
 
Jun 3rd, 2007, 09:26 AM
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Magellan, Thank you for another wonderful addition to your story.

I was reminded, as I read it, of a claim we've all heard, that travel is "broadening." Your last paragraph especially, with your observations about the "regal" woman dining alone, is a perfect illustration of the meaning of that claim.

Not that travel is necessarily broadening, but it can be, for those who have their eyes and hearts open, who aren't merely checking off "must-sees" on their travel agenda, but who take the opportunity to step back and learn about themselves by being placed in an "alien" environment. Travel can teach us things we didn't even know we needed to learn!

Thanks for reminding us what it means to travel well.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 09:29 AM
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Magellan, thanks for the great report. I really enjoyed your account of the hissing women and wonder what on earth that was about.

About the one carry-on rule: I believe that only applies right now to flights leaving the UK. This is why you encountered it at Heathrow but not in Madrid.

And Isabel, I think you have to stay at the Santa Isabela, how could you not?
Nikki is online now  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 09:32 AM
  #18  
 
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Hi Magellan_5:

Great report! Fun to read & helpful info. You have a knack my dear.

As far as the SG, everyone should experience that (male & female) at least once in their lifetime Just be aware, it is a practiced technique and not the real bolt of lighting (as in the God Father.)
Sadly the SG does not translate well in the USA. Years ago I saw it in action in a club and it looks ridiculous rather than smoldering here. Too bad, it's soo flatering.

Where will you travel next?

amsdon is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 04:12 PM
  #19  
ComfyShoes
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Magellan, Your report is amazingly organized! Good work.

Regarding SG, have you wondered why it is far more common in Europe than in States?
 
Jun 3rd, 2007, 05:58 PM
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Wonderful report. So organized and much more than that--delightful, amusing and true. Thank you.
Leely is offline  

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