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Trip Report Trip Report - Madrid, Seville, Granada, Toledo (with two kids!)

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Hi everyone, just back from our trip to Spain with our boys (ages 10 and 8) and before I get overwhelmed with work and the holidays, wanted to provide a quick report. Thanks to everyone who posts on this board - I didn't have that much time to plan and relied heavily on your thoughts and experiences. We definitely didn't chart any new territory, but it was a great visit to Spain (our first to the southern part). And we didn't kill each other, which always makes for a successful trip!

Day 1 (Madrid) - we arrived from NYC on a Saturday morning and had booked two rooms at the Ritz. Although I can understand the basis for some of the mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, I thought the hotel was fabulous. The service was superb - there was no question that we would ever carry our own bags or turn the revolving door by ourselves. Sure, there are some parts that feel run down - it's a little like staying in your incredibly wealthy grandmother's house - but that was offset by the extraordinary luxury. Crisp linen sheets, gorgeous bath fixtures, bath towels as big as the bed, bathrobes that weighed 20 pounds, etc. Our room connected to the kids' room through a warren of beautiful wooden closets. We leaned heavily on the excellent concierge staff, who assisted us with lots of little and big projects.

After checking out the rooms, we grabbed some chocolate y churros at a nearby place, then took a walk over to the Plaza Mayor and to the Mercado San Miguel. The place was absolutely mobbed. We lined up (at separate stalls) for oysters, jamon, cheese, and pintxos. All excellent, but it wasn't effortless! Then we wandered back to the hotel for a nap. That evening, we headed off to Estadio Bernabeu for a 10 pm Real Madrid match. What fun! We found a great little place nearby for some raciones of ventresca and (of course) jamon, and some cava, then joined the throngs in the stadium. It was a fun match - RM demolished the opponents from Bilbao - and the best part was halftime, when, as if on cue, everyone (except us) pulled out their foil-wrapped bocadillos. It was midnight when the game ended, but we found a place to eat in Chueca. The boys were super excited to eat dinner so late. We fell into bed at 2 a.m.

Day 2 (Madrid) - After waking up late, we headed out to the flea market, which was a great street scene, lots of people and fun wares, mixed in with some beautiful antiques. After a couple of hours, we grabbed a cab to Casa Mingo for pollo asado. The place was filled with families - we had a to wait a bit, but it was worth it (and the boys were able to snack on some chorizo at the bar while I stood in line). The restaurant is very lively and atmospheric. After a satisfying lunch, we walked up to the Palacio Real and back over to our hotel via Puerta del Sol. We rested for two hours, then went to the Prado for a quick visit. The boys don't have much tolerance for museums, but we forced them to spend 90 minutes viewing the beautiful Goya and Velasquez paintings. Back to the Ritz for a drink before meeting friends for dinner at Iroco in Salamanca (their recommendation). It was tasty, but not the best Madrid has to offer.

Day 3 (Madrid - Seville) - After another late start, we packed up and then walked over to the Reina Sofia. The boys much preferred this museum. We played a game where we'd spend some time in each room checking out the art, then on the count of three, we'd each point to our favorite piece. If you chose the same work as someone else, you got a point (oh, and you also had to say what you liked about the work) - the game worked great until the boys started to collude! But at least we got some time in each room to enjoy the art. And wow, the collections at both the Prado and the Reina Sofia are jaw-dropping. For lunch, we took a peek at nearby La Sede, but we weren't thrilled with the menu, so we wandered a bit further and found Le Petit Bar - - where we had a really wonderful lunch, with excellent wine - a beautiful salad, lacon with lemon and olive oil, codillo. I highly recommend this tiny spot, which is run by very gracious women.

Then we were off to Atocha to catch the Ave to Seville. The trip was super easy - it has been said before, but Spain's high-speed rail puts the Acela to shame. We took a cab to our hotel, the Alma Sevilla - Palacio de Villapanes. My husband and kids loved this hotel, which is very modern but set in a spectacular old palace. I would recommend this hotel; the staff were gracious and accommodating and the rooms were pleasant. The only downside to our time in Seville was the weather. We had cloudy skies and/or rain for all three days, which definitely put a damper on things. In any event, we walked through town that evening, stopping for a bit at Cerveceria Giraldo (the food was not worthy of mention), then more wandering before having a very late dinner at Vineria San Telmo. We weren't all that hungry, so we ordered tortilla, jamon, chorizo and queso, but it was all a very nice way to end the day.

Day 4 (Seville) - Did I mention the rain? The boys breakfasted downstairs (the hotel has an excellent breakfast, but I was stuffed from the day before), then we marched off with umbrellas in hand to see the Calatrava bridges. Perhaps it was the lousy weather, but Seville seemed a bit tired and sad, especially down by the river. I should also mention that we got lost constantly in Seville, in part because the map we got at the hotel was often inaccurate. So I spent some time in the morning marking up the good map in our book with places we might like to eat. For lunch, we had Moroccan food at As Sawirah; it was excellent and a good break from jamon! That evening, we went to the Museo del Baile Flamenco for a show, which we all enjoyed (even the boys). Then to El Rinconcillo for a very good dinner (including more jamon - thank goodness for a little stretch in my jeans!).

Day 5 (Seville) - No rain, just clouds, so we packed in a visit to the Cathedral (wow!), some tapas at Las Teresas (loved this little bar, it felt very authentic), then to the Real Alcazar, one of the highlights of our trip. It was stunning. By this time, the boys were growing weary of jamon, so we found a Japanese restaurant where they got some sushi and the adults got some not-so-tasty noodles. We finished the long day with a visit to the Plaza del Toros. We ended up eating dinner at our hotel restaurant, which was outstanding.

Day 6 (Granada) - Another easy train ride took us to Granada. I had wrung my hands a bit about where to stay, eventually choosing the AC Palacio de Santa Paula because the Parador was too pricey and I wasn't sure about the other options. Well, I have to say, I somewhat regret not staying up at the Parador. The AC was well located on the Gran Via (as were some other similar hotels, including the Fontecruz), and the layout of our rooms was very convenient to our family, but I found the place very impersonal and lacking in personality. That said, we had a great time in Granada, and it was my favorite part of the trip. After we arrived (and the boys raided the free minibar for diet coke), we took a walk up through the Albaicin. We got to the Plaza San Nicolas at about 4:30, just in time to grab a drink at El Huerto de Juan Ranas and watch the sun set and admire the pink Alhambra. For dinner that night, the boys insisted on going back up the hill, so we went to Plaza San Miguel Bajo to Rincon de la Aurora, which Maribel reported was a haunt of Bittman and Batali during their visit to Granada. We adored this little place, which was empty except for the owner's two friends. We ate so well - more jamon, tomates y boquerones, berenjenas con miel (absolutely delicious), lomo, albondigas. Probably my favorite dinner of our trip!

Day 7 - We had a quick bite at a small cafeteria on the Gran Via, then wandered around downtown, saw the cathedral, bought tea, and then made our way up to the Alhambra for an afternoon visit. On our way up the hill, we stopped at a small marquetry workshop, where we had a great conversation with the owner (who showed us how he makes his beautiful boxes) and we bought a bunch of gifts for ourselves, family and friends. Then up to the Alhambra woods. The boys spent at least an hour in the woods, floating leaves, sticks and chestnuts down the water channels. Unfortunately, it started to rain just as we got to the Alhambra itself. I won't bore you with the details of our visit, but will say that I should have hired a guide. I did buy the excellent guide book Maribel recommended, but it was difficult to read and look (and restrain our boys, who were tired - if you were there at the same time as we were, I apologize!!). Still, even the rain and the misbehaving boys didn't ruin my visit to one of the most spectacular places I have ever had the privilege to see.

We dined at El Claustro that night. The food was indeed inventive and gastronomically interesting, but not really to my taste. I had a lovely rabbit and rice dish to start, but the portion was so large and it was so rich, that I could barely stand to taste my main course (beef with truffles - also very rich, as you can imagine). My family felt the same way about their meals. Anyway, we didn't have the option of a multi-course tasting menu, but that would definitely be the way to go. A bite or two of each dish would have sufficed. We rolled ourselves upstairs at about midnight, just in time for the electricity to go out in the hotel. By the time we left the next morning, there was still no power!

Day 8 - We rented a car from Hertz in Granada (easy) and drove to Toledo. The drive - through thousands and thousands of olive trees - was really pleasant and quick. In Toledo, we stayed at Hostal del Cardenal. As others have noted, this place has a lot of natural charm, but it is run down and extremely tired. You might forgive this if the staff were pleasant or helpful, but they were not - it was even more impersonal than the AC in Granada. But Toledo was fun. We had been reading a great children's edition of Don Quixote (with fantastic illustrations by Chris Riddell), so the boys were thrilled to see the actual windmills and to purchase their very own (miniature) swords. We visited the torture museum, which was incredibly disturbing! The boys made us leave when we were halfway through, but of course they spent the rest of the day talking about the instruments of torture. We saw some more of Toledo, including El Greco's Count Orgaz, then went back for a nap. Dinner that night was at the restaurant at the hotel - fortunately, the restaurant is not affiliated with the hotel, and we had very friendly and gracious waiters. Dinner was pretty good, too.

And that is the end! It was a good trip!

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