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13 Delightful Days in Spain!

This is the beginning of a trip report of a 15 day trip to Spain, leaving Houston On October 30th 2019 and returning on November 13th. We spent four nights in Barcelona, two in Granada, three in Seville, one in Cordoba, and three in Madrid, with a day trip to Toledo. Friends have asked about my favorite place, and all I can say is that each was wonderful in its own way. The people, the sights, the hotels, the food were all winners! I hope you’ll join me as I reminisce about our adventure in Spain!

My husband and I share a life-long love of travel, especially to Europe, but postponed it for graduate school, work, and rearing children except for two trips to England and Scotland (one of them with our children), one to Paris, and another to Switzerland. Our goal for our post-retirement years was to take a spring and a fall trip to Europe each year but this is the first year we’ve made it, although we did travel to Italy for three weeks in 2014, and France for three-and-a-half in 2015. This past spring we spent 24 days driving through the hill towns of Tuscany, revisiting Rome, and cruising through Greece, Turkey, and Italy. This past summer I turned 70 (my husband is 72) and we realized that we needed to slow things down a bit and take shorter vacations. So as we began planning our time in Spain, we decided to limit it to two weeks. We wish we’d had another day on Granada and one more in Madrid but we were able to see and do the things that mattered to us most.
For those who are planning your own trip to Spain, I’ll share some information about the cost for two people of the various components of our travel. Here are the totals:
Airfare to Barcelona from Houston – $2042
Train Tickets, Alsa bus, Metro Tickets, Taxis, Sightseeing Bus - $533 (Some train & bus fares were at reduced senior rate)
Hotels & Apartment - $1868
Food - $588 We budgeted $75 per day but food was much cheaper than we expected. Our hotel in Barcelona included a 24-hour buffet and we ate most of our meals there. We typically ate breakfast and a late lunch or early dinner and took protein bars with us for a quick snack.
Admissions - $428 (Most admission were at a reduced senior rate)
Weather - The weather was wonderful! There were a number of cloudy days but only a few very brief rain showers. Temperatures during the day ranged from the mid 50’s to mid-70’s, with nighttime temperatures in the 40’s-50’s.
Walking – In the past we’ve usually walked 7-12 miles per day while traveling but made a choice to decrease that to protect my knees from the pain I’ve experienced on previous trips. Our miles walked on this trip ranged from 2.5 to 8.83 for a total of 82.7 and an average of 6.36. I’m happy to say that I experienced few problems with my knees as a result of limiting our walking and the number of steps I climbed. When I did have pain, I used the topical Ibuprofen gel that is available in Europe and works quickly to relieve discomfort.

Keep coming back as I post on each stop on our journey!

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Our Flight and Arrival in Barcelona

We departed Houston two-and-a-half hours late on October 30th but had a long layover in Newark and we made our connecting flight with no problem. (I always allow several hours for a layover.) We arrived in Barcelona at 9 am on Thursday morning, October 31st, and although the line for customs and immigration was long, additional agents were added and we were moved to a very short line and finished the whole process in less than 30 minutes. We were surprised to find that, although there was signage in English, the airport was not as well signed as others we’ve experienced in Europe and directions to various forms of transportation were not as clear. Fortunately, information kiosks were available throughout the airport and multi-lingual staff members were friendly and helpful.

I was given directions to an Orange kiosk in the Marketplace to get SIM card and data/phone plan for my phone so that I could use Google Maps and call hotels and restaurants. The SIM card and 10 GB data and 200 minutes of talk time cost 25 Euros.
We also asked for directions to the Aerobus and were able to purchase tickets at the bus stop. Staff announced that the bus would not stop at the university because of a demonstration there that day. I don’t know whether traffic was especially heavy or the bus had to take a different route than its usual one but the bus to Place de Catalunya took about an hour instead of the usual 35 minutes. It was a comfortable ride with easy luggage storage and cost only 5.90 Euros per person.

Arriving at Placa de Catalunya In a jet-lagged brain fog, I mistakenly set Google Maps to driving directions instead of walking and we spent about a half hour walking far out of the way to get to our hotel, the Continental Palacete on Rambla de Catalunya. An elevator carried us from the ground floor to the reception desk and our room (#138) nearby. We had planned to leave our luggage and check in later but our room was ready when we arrived about 11 am. The decor was pleasant throughout the hotel and our room was spacious by European standards and was well appointed, with a queen-sized bed with end tables and lamps, a desk and chair, a small table with 2 chairs in front of a large window, and a closet with safe and small refrigerator. The bathroom had an excellent tub/shower with plenty of hot water and good water pressure. The room was quiet and we didn’t hear any street noise.
We unpacked and ate lunch at the round-the-clock buffet, where there was a wide variety of choices (meats, cheeses, salads, fruit, vegetables, breads, cookies, cakes, ice cream, juices, coffee, tea, milk, wine, beer, and more, with additional hot egg and other breakfast dishes after 8 am). Each day we ate breakfast from the buffet and returned at lunch and sometimes for dinner or an evening snack. The dining room was beautifully decorated and furnished and provided a place to chat with other guests. Staff members were friendly and helpful in providing assistance and recommendations.

The hotel’s location in the heart of the Eixample district was perfect. Placa de Catalunya and Casa Batllo were only a couple of blocks away, Casa Mila just a couple of blocks more, and many other sights were within easy walking distance. Metro stops were also close, making it easy to reach sights that were farther away.

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Thursday, October 31st “Exploration”

We began our exploration of Barcelona with a two-block walk to Placa Catalunya, filled with people feeding a large flock of pigeons, then on through Placa Nova to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, also known as Barcelona Cathedral or Le Seu, a Gothic Cathedral constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries (7 Euros per person senior admission). This was our first encounter with the elaborate use of gold in altarpieces here and elsewhere in the cathedrals we visited in Spain, as well as the beautifully carved choir stalls. An elevator and a couple of flights of stairs carried us up to the roof, where we caught our first sight of the towers of La Sagrada Familia. Back on the ground, we passed through the old Roman gate and wandered around the Barri Gotic and then down to the waterfront, passing the interesting sculpture referred to as the Barcelona Head. As we walked the promenade to the Rambla del Mar, there was a sprinkling rain that lasted only a few minutes and stopped by the time we reached the Christopher Columbus Monument. Despite having to navigate a major traffic circle, we found that here, as elsewhere, it was easy to cross the street via the crosswalk. Drivers were courteous and seemed careful of pedestrians.

Our walk took us up Las Ramblas, the wide pedestrian thoroughfare from the waterfront to Placa de Catalunya, and we enjoyed seeing the street performers; the various stalls selling souvenirs, food, and flowers; and a few people dressed in costumes for Halloween. Visiting the Modernista works of Antoni Gaudi was a primary interest in Barcelona, so we took a slight detour to view the exterior of Palau Guell, one of Gaudi’s earlier buildings (1886-1888), and marked by the intricate forged ironwork decorating the facade. Returning to Las Ramblas, we soon found ourselves at the huge La Boqueria Market with its colorful food stalls, where we discovered the always tasty croquettes available on menus across Spain. Continuing on through Placa Catalunya, we stopped at a tobacco shop to buy a T-10 Metro card ($10.20) that we shared (we bought a second one later in our stay) and soon found ourselves at our hotel, where we ate dinner from the buffet and, exhausted from lack of sleep and our almost 7-mile walk, crashed in bed.

Miles walked 6.83 miles
Sim Card/data plan 25 Euros
Bus to Hotel 11.80 Euros
Metro Card (T10) 10.20 Euros
Hotel 205 Euros
Food 4.50 Euros
Cathedral admission 14 Euros (for 2 people)

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Friday, November 1, 2019 “Gaudi Day”

We rarely sleep in while traveling as we try to schedule crowd-beating early admission times for most sights. So we were up at 6:30, dressed and had a filling breakfast, and left at 8:15 to walk through a beautiful residential area to the nearby Passeig de Gracia Metro entrance, take Line 4 to the Anton X stop, and connect to Bus Guell, which took us to the entrance of the park area of Parc Guell (7 Euros per person senior admission, including Bus Guell), originally developed by Gaudi as an upscale housing development (1900-1914). We were glad that we had purchased our tickets several weeks before as we heard that they were sold out for the day of our visit.

The walk through the nature trails was refreshing and allowed us glimpses of Gaudi’s incorporation of natural forms in his architecture. We arrived in plenty of time for our 9:30 admission to the Monumental Zone and were transfixed by Gaudi’s colorful whimsy. Having seen many photos of the tile-decorated benches undulating long the edge of the terrace, we were disappointed to find that most of them were blocked off for restoration. A few sections were open, however, and we waited our turn to take photos sitting on the benches with the skyline of Barcelona in the distance. We were equally captivated by the colorfully decorated Hall of 100 Columns, the stairway and fountains, the famous ceramic dragon often used as a symbol of Parc Guell, and the gingerbread lodges near the main entrance. We wound our way back up to the terrace and through the nature trails to the exit, where we caught Bus Guell back to the Alfons X Metro station and returned to our hotel for lunch and a brief rest.

One of the great pleasures of the location in which we stayed was being able to view the beautiful homes that lined the streets as we strolled along. Everywhere we looked there were interesting facades, pretty sculptures, and intricate ironwork balconies, and even the sidewalk was paved with tiles designed by Gaudi using his original cast. Of special note was the “Block of Discord,” a single block along Passeig de Gracia that is home to three different styles of Modernisme by three of the most important modernist architects 19898-1906): Casa Lleo Morera at #35, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner; Casa Amatller designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, at #41; and Casa Batllo, designed by Antoni Gaudi, at #43. Two blocks farther along Passeig de Gracia, at #92, is Casa Mila (La Pedrera), also designed by Antoni Gaudi and Jose Maria Jujol. Both Casa Batllo and Casa Mila have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Because of the uncertain political conditions in Barcelona around the time of our visit, we hadn’t purchased tickets to the two Gaudi-designed houses on Passeig de Gracia, and we had already seen long lines forming at Casa Batllo (remodeled by Gaudi 1904-1906) during our walk to the Metro station in the morning. We checked online and knew that tickets were available, so we purchased them while eating lunch at the hotel (22 Euros per person senior admission) and made the easy walk to the colorful house at #43. An interesting audiovisual tour was included in the ticket price and included a device that showed how each room would have looked when it was furnished and decorated. There were a lot of stairs to climb as we ascended to the various floors but we were rewarded with interesting sights, including the fanciful structures on the roof.

We purchased our tickets (16.50 Euros per person senior admission) to Casa Mila, also called La Pedrera (built 1905-1910) on our walk there and were able to enter quickly. We found it even more fascinating than Casa Batllo, especially the rooms that were furnished as they would have been for the Mila family, and, of course, the incredible rooftop with its creative stairwells, ventilation towers, and chimneys.
To be continued...

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Friday, November 1, 2019 “Gaudi Day” Continued

We returned to the hotel for a snack and a little down time and then walked to Ciutat Comtal, a nearby restaurant recommended by the desk clerk. We preferred to relax at a table and had a half-hour wait, which gave us time to familiarize ourselves with the various offerings on the menu. We were fortunate to get a table in the main downstairs dining room and a delightfully engaging waiter, Tony. We ordered primarily from the tapas menu but had one dish from the main menu. All were artfully presented and delicious. Our choices included Salmon & Prawn with Cream Cheese (2.70 Euros), Fig with Ham & Mascarpone (4.65 Euros), Prawn with Avocado & Asparagus (2.75 Euros), Cod with honey allioli (10.95 Euros), Sirloin with foie (5.95 Euros), Shrimp Skewer (4.45 Euros), Eggplant Chips with Honey (5.70 Euros), three mini desserts - Cream Catalan, Apple tart, and Torrija St Teresa for 2.85 Euros each – and a small pitcher of amazing sangria (11.60 Euros). It was our second most expensive meal in Spain but well worth the splurge. I hadn’t coached my husband that tipping wasn’t expected, and when he added 15%, Tony encouraged us to return to see him the next night for the featured suckling pig! After dinner we walked a block to see Placa Catalunya lighted up at night and then returned to the hotel.

Miles walked today - 6.08 miles

Hotel - 205 Euros

Food – 71 Euros
Entrance charges – 91 Euros for 2 people (at senior rates)

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Saturday, November 3, 2019 La Sagrada Familia - The Crown Jewel of Barcelona

We rose early again to allow time for another filling breakfast and chatting with other guests at the hotel, most of whom were in town for a few days before departing on a transatlantic cruise, something that we hope to do ourselves one day. We had purchased tickets for a 9:00 am admission time to La Sagrada Familia and wanted to arrive in time to take photos of the exterior before entering the basilica. A quick ride on Metro Line 2 delivered us there and we were immediately struck by the immense size and intricacy of detail. We snapped some photos from a distance and joined the line to go in. As we waited, someone asked one of the guards where he could buy tickets and was told that there were none available for weeks. The man seemed surprised, and it surprised me that someone would not have done even basic research on a place that is so world-famous, and I was grateful to have the time and resources to do such detailed trip planning.

After passing through security, we were first admitted to an outdoor area from which we could capture closer photos of the Nativity façade, and waited there until the doors to the basilica were opened. It’s difficult to find words to describe my first sight of the interior. It is so simple and yet so extraordinarily beautiful, vast in size and yet intimate in experience. The support columns soar up like a forest of trees and the many stained glass windows glow with light. Perhaps most striking was the sparseness of the altar: a simple figure of Christ suspended in mid-air beneath a canopy edged in lights. The decoration of the cathedral was minimal, yet each one was exquisite, like a brilliant jewel in a perfect setting. We each had an audio tour that explained the construction of the basilica and the meaning of the details but it was almost more distracting than helpful as this exquisite place required no explanation to grasp its brilliance.

My husband’s ticket (26 Euros senior admission) included admission to the Nativity Tower but I was reluctant to attempt the climb down the many steps from the observation crosswalk so I simply purchased the entrance with audioguide (20 Euros senior admission) and continued to take in the details and be overwhelmed with awe at Gaudi’s brilliant creation. After he descended from the tower, we exited from the door on the Passion façade, which stands in stark contrast to the Nativity facade. The grim, angular sculptures by Josep Maria Subirachs express clearly the agony of Christ’s betrayal, torture, and crucifixion. After exiting the basilica, we walked around to view the unfinished Glory façade, its towers swirling upward with resplendent reminders of the hope of the resurrection and salvation.

La Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882 and its construction is planned to be finished by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

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Saturday, November 3rd, continued - Arc de Triomf, Cuitidella Parc, Santa Catarina Market, Barceloneta Beach, Placa de Espanya and the Magic Fountain

From the basilica we took Metro Line 2 to the Tutuan stop and walked to the Arc de Triomf, built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World’s Fair, and on to Ciutadella Park, where we passed by the Castle of the Three Dragons, an example of early Modernism designed by architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner and home to the Barcelona Zoological Museum. The highlight of the park was the beautiful Font de la Cascada, a double waterfall and small lake with four dragon sculptures and a sculpture of Diana on a clamshell that is part of a monument topped with a golden chariot drawn by four horses. It was designed by Josep Fontsére with the help of a young architecture student, Antoni Gaudí.

We were hungry and hoped to find something to eat at Santa Catarina Market. Unfortunately, Google Maps led us on a long goose chase before we found our way there, only to find that it wasn’t filled with places to eat as La Boqueria Market had been, so we ate one of protein bars and forged on through Barceloneta to the beach. My husband loves to dip in his toes in the water whenever we are near a beach, so he rolled up his pants legs and did just that. The beach was surprisingly populated and a few people braved the cold water. As we walked along the promenade we checked out the wares of the street vendors spread out on the sand and my husband haggled the vendor down to the price he wanted to pay (8 Euros) for a large cotton spread with an exotic design.
By this time we were pretty exhausted but had to find our way back to the Barceloneta Metro station to return via Line 4 to the hotel. It was late afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch so, remembering our wonderful dinner at Ciutat Comtal, decided to return. We should have asked to be placed at a table with Tony as our waiter but instead ended up tucked away in a dark corner upstairs with a not-nearly-as-helpful-or-personable waiter. We would have been wise to order the things we’d liked the night before before but in our quest to try new and different tastes, ordered the canelloni (5.70 Euros) we had seen delivered to another table and found it only OK, especially as we couldn’t figure out what it was stuffed with! The scallops gratin (7.40 Euros) was better but the winner was a dish recommended by the waiter, a tasty mixture of cuttlefish, squid, prawns, and clams (9.35 Euros). Once again I was reminded of my general rule NOT to return to a restaurant where I’ve had an especially good meal as I’m often disappointed the second time around.

After a short rest at the hotel, we walked to Place de Catalunya to ride Line 1 to Placa de Espanya. What a busy place in evening traffic! We walked to the Font Magica de Montjuic and, having arrived early (as usual) found seats directly in front of the fountain. A group of young men put on a dance show as we waited and passed their hats for donations. Gradually the fountain began to send up sprays of water and the lights came on as a delightful show set to music – rock for the first part and classical for the second part – began. It was fun to watch the changing patterns of water, light, and music, and we enjoyed being out among families and tourists alike on a beautiful autumn night. We left before the show ended, hoping to beat the crowds on the Metro, and enjoyed strolling along the fountain-lined avenue leading back to Placa de Espanya and seeing the lighted Arenas de Barcelona, which once served as a bullfighting arena but is now filled with shops and restaurants.

Miles walked today - 8.83
Hotel - 205 Euros

Food - 36 Euros
Entrance charges - 46 Euros for 2 people (at senior rates)
Metro Card (T10) 10.20 Euros

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Sunday, November 4, 2019 Farewell to Barcelona - Recinte de Modernista de Sant Pau, Palau de la Musica Catalana, Eglesia de Sant Jaume

Our last day in Barcelona was a Sunday and admission to Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, a beautiful complex of Modernist buildings designed by Lluis Domenech I Montaner and built between 1901 and 1930, was free. It served as a fully functioning hospital until June 2009, when restoration for use as a museum and cultural center began. The Metro delivered us to the modern Hospital de Sant Pau, and from there it was a rather long but fortunately downhill walk to the Modernist complex. The buildings were even more beautiful than I had anticipated and the displays of medical equipment and explanations of treatment practices were interesting. It suddenly began to rain and we retreated to a porch to wait for the shower to pass, which it did pretty quickly.
Dreading the uphill walk back to the Metro station from which we had come, we chose instead to walk to the stop at Sagrada Familia, which had the added incentive of giving us another look at the basilica. Our original plan included an afternoon visit to the Picasso Museum, also free on Sunday, and possibly a visit to Poble Espanyol on Montjuic. But we were tired from our busy days of sightseeing and decided to return to the hotel via Metro (Line 2) to eat lunch, rest, and pack for our departure to Granada the following morning.

Feeling somewhat refreshed by late afternoon, we were ready for our favorite way to say farewell to a city we have come to know and love with a stroll around some places we had visited previously and some new ones. We meandered to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, where we could take a peek at the interior beauty on the first floor, then past the Cathedral and the Roman gates into the Barri Gotic, where we stopped for a slice of pizza and a ham and cheese focaccia (6 Euros) at Focacceria Toscana –both good. Nearby we noticed open doors into a small church (Eglesia de Sant Jaume) and I went inside while Bill ate his pizza. The depictions of Jesus and the pieta of a tearful Mary holding the body of her bloodied son were quite moving. From the church, it was a pleasant walk up Las Ramblas and through Placa Catalunya to the hotel, where we enjoyed eating from the buffet – especially the ice cream sundaes with chocolate and caramel sauces and peanuts!

Miles walked today - 5.86 miles

Hotel - 205 Euros

Food - 6 Euros

Come back for posts on Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba, Madrid, and Toledo!

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I'm really enjoying reading your trip report, especially since Spain is one of my very favorite countries to visit. Your attention to detail in the report will no doubt help future travelers who are considering a trip there.

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Great report! So interesting. I'm really enjoying reading it!

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To diveloonie aka Tammy - No problems with language, which I have found to be true everywhere in Europe. Almost everyone who interacts regularly with tourists speaks enough English to carry on the needed transaction. I do know a few words in Spanish but rarely used more than "please" and "thank you," and numbers to indicate how many of something I wanted, along with raised fingers. Our son, who is fluent in Spanish, had visited Spain a few years ago and said that everyone he met wanted to talk with him in English in order to get in some practice. The other issue is that Spanish in Spain is not exactly the same Spanish that we speak in the US, especially around Madrid. And in Barcelonia and other towns in Catalonia, the people speak both Catalan and Spanish. Just brush up on the recommended words and phrases in Rick Steves guide book and you'll be fine. The Spanish language is very phonetic so try to learn the sounds of each letter and most words will be pronounced exactly as they are spelled. You could also do one of the online Spanish programs or check out some CD's from your library. And in a pinch, you can always use the Google Translate app on your phone. I hope that you enjoy Spain as much as we did!

Thanks to everyone for your feedback. I'm trying to include the kind of information I would like to see in others' trip reports. I do all of our planning and it's helpful to have specific information when making decisions.

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Great trip report! Thank you for taking the time to post and with so much detail.

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I am enjoying your detailed report! It brought back fond memories of our time in Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona. Adding your expenses to your report will be helpful for those planning a trip to Spain.

As mentioned up thread, language was not an issue. Just having the 4 years of high school Spanish & brushing up was fine. You mentioned taking the stairs down from the tower at La Sagrada Familia. It was a little daunting but I was bound and determined to walk down. It was worth it!

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Excellent trip report, very detailed and helpful, looking forward to the next installment :)

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Monday, November 4, 2019 - Barcelona to Granada

Before leaving home I had booked the fast train from Barcelona to Granada (118 Euros second class Promo fare for two), which left at 6:50 AM, so we were up very early, had breakfast from the hotel’s round-the-clock buffet, and took a taxi from the taxi stand just outside the hotel to Barcelona Sants rail station (10 Euros). We arrived early and had to wait until the gate was opened to go to the platform, which was a new experience for us as when traveling in Switzerland and Italy by train we just waited at the platform. We actually appreciated the tighter security at the rail stations in Spain as well as having a waiting area with plenty of seats. The trains in Spain were superb – comfortable, clean, fast, reasonably priced, and always on time!

We didn’t pay a lot of attention to the landscape as we were busy reviewing our plans for Granada but don’t recall seeing much that impressed us until we reached southern Spain. We arrived in Granada at 1:15 PM, and finding the station to be rather small and uncrowded, decided to buy the rail tickets for the rest of our trip. Fortunately I had made a list noting the “from” and “to” cities and the time of the train we wanted to book as this was one of the few times we encountered someone who didn’t speak English. As we are both over 60, we were able to purchase a Dorada (Gold) card for 6 Euros each, which saved us quite a bit on our tickets.

A taxi (10 Euros) carried us quickly to our hotel, the wonderful Hotel Casa 1800, where we enjoyed a wonderful two night stay. A superior room, booked directly with the hotel, was 125 Euros per night for 2 nights, breakfast and afternoon tea included, and we thought that the cost was very reasonable for the quality of the hotel, the location, and the included food. The location in the heart of old town was perfect; our room was pleasant and nicely decorated, and had an electric kettle with packets of coffee and tea; the very modern bathroom had an excellent shower; and hotel staff was delightful, always helpful, and spoke excellent English. The breakfast offered a wide variety of foods that were fresh and delicious, including eggs, meats, cheeses, breads, donuts, sweets, and fresh fruits along with many types of coffee, tea, and juice. We made it a point to return to the hotel for the afternoon tea of sandwiches, breads and jams, muffins, donuts, cookies, fruits, coffees, and teas. Tables were set up in the serving area and in the lovely central courtyard. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and would happily book here should we ever return to Granada.

We were hungry and began our exploration of Granada with a walk to the recommended Los Diamantes restaurant on Plaza Nueva, where we joined other diners at long tables and placed our order with the waiter. It was mid-afternoon, and the restaurant was closing for lunch soon. Some of the dishes we wanted to try were sold out so we agreed to a racione of mixed fried seafood that included fish, shrimp, and squid (18 Euros). It was good but nothing special. We wandered a bit more and, still a bit hungry, returned to the hotel for a delightful and delicious afternoon tea.

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I am so enjoying your trip report and am looking forward to reading the rest. Love the details and since I have not been to Spain yet I am learning a lot. Thanks for the details.

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Thanks to all for your kind remarks. I learn so much from the posts of others when planning a trip that I hope what I write will be useful to others. I'm very detailed when planning and keep notes listing hotels, restaurants, sights, and other information from posts as well as general research on the Internet. My husband and I make a spreadsheet with estimated costs and then enter the actual costs when we return. We were within $300 of our estimated expenses on this trip! We spent less on food than we'd budgeted as food was very reasonable plus some of our hotels included some meals but spent more on admissions to sights. Some of these were pretty expensive, and it was unusual to have to pay an admission to cathedrals after visiting them for free in Italy and elsewhere (though donations were sometimes requested). We also used taxis more as we were trying to decrease our miles walked each day.

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Monday, November 4, continued - An Evening in Granada

Sunset came early in southern Spain in early November and we wanted to catch the view of the Alhambra from the St Nicholas viewpoint so we walked to the bus stop at Plaza Nueva and caught minibus C31 to Plaza San Nicolas (5.60 Euros for two senior fares round trip). Fortunately we arrived before the crowds and were able to find a seat on one of the benches. The view of the Alahambra, the city of Granada, and the Sierra Nevada mountains was beautiful in daylight but became magical as the sun set and the Alhambra was lighted up, giving it a gorgeous golden glow. We took so many photos! I had thought we might stay for dinner in the Albaicin neighborhood but the day had been long so we caught the bus back to Plaza Nueva. Unfortunately we didn’t recognize our stop and ended up taking a very long ride through the streets of Granada. As we walked through Plaza Nueva, there was some sort of demonstration going on, but as with others we encountered in Spain, it was enthusiastic but peaceful.

Miles walked today - 2.5 miles

Train - 118.10 Euros (promo)
Hotel - 125 Euros (breakfast and afternoon tea included)

Food - 18.20 Euros
Taxis - 20.60 Euros (tip included)
Bus - 5.60 Euros (for 2 people, round trip, senior rate)

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - Granada - The Alhambra and Cathedral

Tickets for the Alhambra were so hard to come by that we had planned our Spain itinerary around their availability! (29.70 Euros for two people) Our timed entry for the Nasrid Palaces was at 1:30 and we didn’t want to be rushed, so we ate a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and caught the C30 minibus from Plaza de la Catolica to the main entrance of the Alhambra, arriving about 10:30. Getting through the gate and security was quick but there was a wait to pick up the audioguide (which was quite good). We went directly to the Generalife and enjoyed a leisurely walk through the gardens and the Palacio del Generalife, enjoying the beautiful fountains and the views over Granada.

From there we wandered through the Alcazaba and the Charles V Palace and arrived early for our entrance to the Nasrid Palaces. As these were strictly timed, we relaxed while we waited and were admitted right on time. It was beautiful and the intricacy of the detail was impressive but we weren’t blown away. Perhaps most impressive was understanding the history of the Alhambra and the Moors in Spain. I’m glad that we were able to see it but think that I was more impressed by the beauty of the Mezquita in Cordoba.

We continued on through the Partal Gardens and departed the Alhambra complex via the Justice Gate, then caught the C30 minibus back to Plaza de la Catolica, where we saw the statue representing Queen Isabel giving Christopher Columbus her permission to make the journey that led to the discovery of America.

We continued on to the Royal Chapel of the Granada Cathedral and, having decided to skip the chapel, inadvertently paid our admission fee, thinking that we were entering the cathedral. Seeing the tombs of Isabel and Ferdinand and the altarpiece of the chapel was interesting but not worth the 10 Euro admission for the two of us, especially as photos were not allowed. More impressive – on the inside, at least (the exterior is rather plain) - was the Granada Cathedral (5 Euro per person admission), with its beautiful chapels, silver reliquary, and impressive organ. While lacking the “wow” factor of many of the other cathedrals we visited, the light and bright interior is worth seeing.

We scurried back to the hotel in time for afternoon tea and some rest before our night time exploration of the old town. Places that looked plain in the daylight come alive at night and we enjoyed seeing the humorous Fountain of Neptune in Bib Rambla and wandering through the shops in the Alcaiceria bazaar on our way to Bodegas Castaneda, where we enjoyed a delicious meal of homemade croquettes, Spanish omelette, grilled pork loin, bacon, broad beans with ham, salmon, and cheese (and a complimentary tapa of ham, cheese, and olives) with drinks for 28 Euros. I am not a big fan of beans and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the wonderful flavor of the broad beans with ham. The server was very personable, and we had a fun chat with the honeymooning couple at the table next to ours. We were glad we came early as we were able to get a table, which allowed us to relax and enjoy our meal more than if we had been standing at the bar. We enjoyed our evening walk back to the hotel and packed for the next leg of our trip – Sevilla!

Miles walked today - 5.84 miles
Hotel - 125 Euros (breakfast and afternoon tea included)
Food – 28 Euros
Admissions – 49.70 Euros (Alhambra - 29.70 Euros for 2 people with included audio tour; Royal Chapel and Cathedral – 20 Euros for 2 people)
Bus - 5.60 Euros for 2 people, senior rate

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I can't believe I've been away from this post for so long! I guess we've all had a lot of distractions in our lives. I'll try to post more regularly now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019 Seville
After another delicious breakfast at Hotel Casa 1800 we took a taxi (10 Euros) to the Alsa bus station and caught a bus at about 9 am (36.20 Euros for two senior fares). It was a pleasant ride that delivered us to Sevilla by noon, and after another taxi (10 Euros), we were settling into our delightful apartment in Casa Palacio San Jose at Calle San Jose 7 (325 Euros total for three nights), where we stayed in the delightful first floor apartment. The location was perfect, as all of the major sights and many restaurants and grocery stores were within easy walking distance (Cathedral of Seville 3/10 of a mile, Royal Alcazar 4/10 of a mile).
We booked through and were met by a member of the homeathomes team, who provided a thorough and helpful orientation, provided a list of restaurants, made a reservation for a flamenco show, and was available to answer questions throughout our stay and to order a taxi for us at check-out. She also left orange juice, milk, water, coffee, and tea, and other housekeeping supplies as well as laundry pods and other items needed during our stay.
The property felt very secure and was entered through a locked wooden door, then a locked ironwork gate leading to the central courtyard, and then the locked door to the apartment. Our apartment was off of the central courtyard, which was beautifully decorated, and the apartment itself gave us room to spread out and relax. There was a living room with a sofa, tables, and a TV; a well-equipped kitchen with coffee pot, microwave, cooktop, sink, dishwasher, and table; a pretty bedroom with a comfortable bed and pillows, bedside tables with lamps, and an antique armoire; and a bathroom with toilet and bidet and a tub/shower that had good water pressure, plenty of hot water, and lovely toiletries. An elevator carried us up to two large rooftop terraces with views over the city, and to a common area with a washing machine and dryer that we used to launder our clothes.

We were settled into the apartment by 1 pm and set out to the recommended Bar Alfafa at Calle Candilejo 1 for lunch. It was fascinating watching the man and woman behind the bar working together to take orders, prepare drinks and food (with help from the kitchen), and accept payment from the busy lunch time crowd. We had paella with meat (3.50 Euros), tempura shrimp (6.90 Euros), bread (1 Euro), and a dish recommended by the owner that I never would have tried but which was so delicious I had it twice more at other restaurants in Spain – Carrillada Iberica (pork cheeks) served over roasted potatoes (4 Euros). For dessert we shared a brownie tarifa (brownie with ice cream and whipped cream (5.50 Euros). To drink one of us had a Royal Cream (1.80 Euros) and a first experience with Vermut (2.30 Euros), which was so good that we ordered it again and again on our travels. All of the food was top notch, and we enjoyed a spirited conversation about travel, food, politics, and current events with a delightful couple from England who were seated nearby. The experience at Bar Alfafa was altogether wonderful and only 25 Euros total!

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019 Seville (continued)

We bought a few groceries for 10 Euros at the nearby Supersol and dropped them off at the apartment before beginning our exploration of Sevilla. We walked to Plaza del Triunfo and enjoyed seeing the many horse-drawn carriages and pretty statues. We shot photos of the exterior of the Cathedral and continued on to the Real Alcazar, which we decided to tour (6 Euros for two senior admission). It was prettier than we had expected from reading about it and we thoroughly enjoyed the Moorish architecture and decoration. We weren’t able to tour the royal apartments as they had already closed but we’ve seen lots of those elsewhere and didn’t mind. The gardens of the Real Alcazar served as the setting for the Kingdom of Dorne on the Game of Thrones, and I did regret that we were too tired to visit them.

Miles walked 3.45
Alsa bus from Granada to Seville 36.20 Euros
Taxis 20 Euros
Food 40 Euros
Admissions 6 Euros
Apartment 108 Euros

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Thursday, November 7, 2019 Seville

On Day 2 in Seville, we had a lesson in deviating from our carefully planned itinerary that added extra steps to our sightseeing and cost us some time. I’m the family travel planner and create both a spread sheet and a Word document with a day-by day itinerary, including opening and closing hours, the time we plan to visit each sight, admission costs, and any other important information. We had originally planned to visit the Church of the Divine Savior and the Cathedral on our first afternoon in Seville, but by the time we settled into our apartment and had lunch we didn’t have time to see both, and given that they are on a combined ticket, didn’t know whether we could see the church one day and the Cathedral on a different day, so we went to the Real Alcazar instead.
I forgot to check the opening time for the Church of the Divine Savior before we set out, and when we arrived, it was not yet open. We are usually out and about pretty early in the morning and found the typically late opening times in Spain to be rather frustrating, especially since some sites were also closed for part of the afternoon and/or closed early because it was November and days were short. Visiting churches seemed to be the most difficult due to irregular schedules, and I’m something of “cathedral addict,” so seeing as many churches as I would have liked proved to be a challenge.

We wandered around the Plaza del Triunfo and surrounding streets before returning to the Church of the Divine Savior, which was small but exquisite. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to all of the gold that was brought back from the New World, look no further than Spain’s churches! They are lavished with gold! We purchased a ticket that allowed admission to both this church and the Cathedral (8 Euros for two senior admissions).
After this we toured the Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Sede de Sevilla, built from 1401 to 1506. It was built on the site of the great Aljama mosque, built in the late 12th century by the Almohads, the ruling Moorish dynasty, of which the only remaining parts are the Patio de Naranjas (Oranges) , the Puerta del Perdon (Forgiveness) on the north side, and the Giralda, the former minaret that now serves as the cathedral’s bell tower. It’s A UNESCO World Heritage site that is the third largest church in the world and the largest Gothic cathedral. It has the longest nave of any cathedral in Spain at 138 feet and has 80 side chapels.
The centerpiece of the cathedral is the Gothic altarpiece with 45 carved scenes from the life of Christ, as well as Santa Maria de la Sede, the cathedral's patron saint. It was the lifetime work of craftsman Pierre Dancart and is the largest altarpiece in the world. It is estimated that the carvings are covered with 88,000 pounds of gold!
The Chapter House of the cathedral has a beautiful domed ceiling and marble floor, and houses several paintings by the famous Spanish Baroque artist Murillo.
One of the major attractions of the cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus, borne aloft by four bearers representing the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarra.
After leaving the cathedral we searched for the Archivo de Indias to look at the maps and other documents of Spanish exploration but never found an entrance. We probably passed by it and just didn’t know what we were looking for! My husband finally insisted that we give up and we stopped for s late lunch at Levies Café Bar at Calle San Jose 15, eating at an outdoor table in the square across from the restaurant. I had calamares fritos (fried calamari, 3.80 Euros) and ensalada russa (creamy potato salad, 3.30 Euros), and my husband had paella, (3.60 Euros) and lomo baja de ternera en su jugo y patatas fritas (tenderloin beef filet in truffle sauce with French fries, 6 Euros). With two vermouths, lunch was 19.80 Euros. The food wasn’t as good as at Bar Alfalfa but it filled us up and the price was right!

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Thursday, November 7, 2019 Seville (continued)

After lunch we wandered on toward the river and found the Torre del Oro, where we took some photos but decided not to climb to the top. We made a decision before this trip that we wouldn’t stress our knees by climbing every tower we encountered as we’ve done on previous trips. In Switzerland and France I overdid the stair climbing during the first couple of days and suffered for it for several days afterward. Thank goodness we’ve discovered the ibuprofen gels and creams that are sold in Europe as they do an amazing job of stopping the pain in my knees when they’re hurting.
From there, it was only a short walk to the Hospital de la Caridad (10 Euros for two), a charity hospital that was founded in 1674 and still cares for the elderly poor. The chapel is filled with works by painters such as Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Juan de Valdés Leal, and sculptors like Pedro Roldán and Bernardo Simón de Pineda. The intricate and exquisite Baroque altarpiece represents Christ’s burial and refers to the work of mercy of giving a Christian burial to the dead. On the left side of the altarpiece is a sculpture of St. George with the dead dragon under his feet. To the right is a sculpture of St. Roque, universal patron of epidemics, with a dog accompanying him with a piece of bread in its mouth. At the top of the are three figures: Faith to the left represented by a female figure carrying the cross and chalice, Charity in the center, represented by a female figure surrounded by children; and Hope represented by a female figure with an anchor, symbol of those things which keep us tied to life. At the top of the altarpiece there is an inscription in Aramaic: “Yahweh.” The patio is decorated with seven tiled panels of 1700 from Holland, representing scenes of the Old and New Testament.
From the Hospital de la Caridad, we walked back through the Plaza del Triunfo, stopping to watch the many horse drawn carriages, and returned to our apartment. Still full from lunch, we nibbled on some snacks before heading out to the Casa de la Guitarra (28 Euros for two) for the evening flamenco show that our apartment host had reserved for us. It was a small venue and we were seated close to the stage. There was a guitar player (muy guapo!), a man who sang and provided beats by tapping his feet and clapping, and a woman who danced the flamenco. It was a pleasant show with a funny multilingual announcer and we enjoyed the evening, capped off by a stroll through the nearby streets.
We don’t buy much while traveling but, inspired by the flamenco dancer, we couldn’t resist buying our granddaughters, ages 3 and 7, little flamenco dresses with matching shoes while shopping in Seville! When we returned home, we played videos of flamenco dances for them and they put on their own show for us!

Miles walked 8.38
Lunch 19.80 Euros
Pastries 5.70 Euros
Admissions 18 Euros
Flamenco Show 28 Euros
Apartment 108 Euros

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Friday, November 8, 2019 Seville Day 3

We started our third and last day in Seville with breakfast in the apartment and then began our 1 mile walk to the Plaza de Espana, passing through the Murillo Gardens and past the monuments to Christopher Columbus and El Cid to the entrance to Maria Luisa Park. It was a lovely walk on a beautiful day. As we entered the Plaza, my mind was blown by its beauty. The buildings, the canal, the bridges, the towers, and the fountain all blended harmoniously to create a visual feast. We walked past the tiled alcoves representing the various provinces of Spain, climbed on the bridges to pose for photos, searched out the location used for the city of Theed on the planet Naboo in the movie Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, and thrilled at the rainbows created by the fountain in the center of the plaza. I bought some painted fans from a delightful elderly vendor who kindly corrected my Spanish when I attempted to say that I spoke only a little. When I said “Hablo un pequeno de español,” he gently explained “Pequeno es para joven” (pequeño is for “young”) and indicated that I should use “poco” (little) instead. We both smiled and enjoyed one of those exchanges that creates good travel memories.
All in all, the Plaza de Espanya was one of the highlights of our time in Spain. However, I wished that we had come either very early in the morning or near sunset because even though we were there by 10:30 in the morning, the sun was high in the sky and made it difficult to take good photographs. I could only imagine how breathtaking it would look during the “golden hour.”
From there we walked toward the river and again saw the Torre del Oro in the distance. We strolled the path that ran along the Guadalquivir River and crossed at the Puente (bridge) San Telmo into Triana, the “scruffy, vibrant old quarter” of Seville. We continued along the river on Bettis Street for a little while and then turned left to find the Iglesia de Santa Ana de Traina (4 Euro admission for two), built in 1276 in the Gothic-Mudejar style. It was a small but lovely church well worth a quick stop if you’re “into” churches as I am (and as my husband patiently endures).
By this time we were hungry and stopped at the Bar Santa Ana at Calle Pureza 82, which was recommended but disappointing as the service was poor and the food was just OK. We had heard about patatas bravas and decided to try them here. The dish seemed to be (perhaps) cooked frozen French fries with a so-so sauce. The gambas were two very large prawns on a plate with a few shreds of lettuce. I can’t remember what the third plate was and can’t identify it from the photo but it looks like some kind of pork with a few fries. With drinks, lunch was 14.50 Euros.
We wandered some of the narrow side streets and enjoyed looking at the beautiful ceramics on the buildings and sold in the shops. We finished our walk through Triana with a visit to the Mercado de Triana and purchased some amazing looking pastries for breakfast the next morning in a pastry shop called Manu Jara Dulceria – a croissant dior covered in a gold frosting, another croissant covered in raspberry frosting, and an apple pastry. It was a lot of deliciousness for 7.40 Euros!
We passed by the Chapel of El Carmen before crossing the Puente de Isabel II, a pretty arch bridge that led us back into Seville proper. I had been searching for churros and chocolate and stopped at the Chocolateria at the end of the bridge (4 Euros for one order), which had been recommended to us but was another major disappointment. We have much better churros in Houston, and the dipping chocolate was nothing like I had imagined it would be. We don’t shop very much when we’re travelling but do try to find a little something for our son, daughter, and grandchildren, so we looked into some shops on our way back to the apartment, where we packed for our departure from Seville the next morning.

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Friday, November 8, 2019 Seville Day 3 (continued)

As sunset neared, we made the 15 minute walk to the Metropol Parasol, also known as Las Setas de Sevilla (The Mushrooms of Seville), and were glad that we arrived early to purchase tickets and take the elevator to the top as the lines quickly grew long (6 Euros admission for two). It is said to be the world’s largest wooden structure and has a museum housing archaeological remains found on site, restaurants, shops, and at its highest level a panoramic walkway that offers beautiful views over the city. Walking high above the city and watching the sun set was a truly memorable way to say farewell to Seville.
On our way back to the apartment we stopped at restaurant La Bartola at Calle San Jose 24 and had a wonderful dinner for 26.60 Euros. We shared a plate of three homemade croquettes of the day (3.50 Euros), Iberian pork cheek stew with potato puree (4 Euros), roasted lamb with cous cous (5 Euros), zucchini spaghetti with prawns (7 Euros), which was the best dish of all, and two drinks (5.10 Euros). Staff was pleasant and the restaurant was light and bright.
Miles walked 8.45
Lunch 14.50 Euros
Dinner 26.60 Euros
Pastries 7.40 Euros
Churros and Chocolate 4 Euros
Admissions 10 Euros
Gifts 73 Euros
Apartment 108 Euros

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I'm so glad you added to your trip report!

I was interested to read that you preferred Cordoba to Granada. I'm planning our 2021 trip to Spain, and I am concerned that both places might be too much for our brains to absorb.

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Estimated Prophet - I wouldn't worry about Granada and Cordoba being too much for your brain. Each was delightful in its own way, and the historical area of each town is small and walkable. The Alhambra was interesting and parts of it were beautiful. We especially enjoyed the Generalife gardens and the buildings there, but the Nasrid Palaces had some wonderful areas. I am an admitted "cathedralholic" so the Mezquita in Cordoba, with its cathedral within a mosque, provided the best of both worlds. It seemed more mysterious to me, and the row after row of striped arches mesmerized me. For me, the Alhambra and the Mezquita/Cathedral were very different so seeing both wouldn't be just more of the same. Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you are as taken with Spain as we were!

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Saturday, November 9, 2019 Seville to Cordoba

After three wonderful days in Seville, we were off to Cordoba to see the Mezquita! We took a taxi to the rail station (10 Euros) and caught an early morning train to Cordoba (26 Euros for two, senior rate). We spent that day and one night there, which we felt was enough. If your only interest is seeing the Mezquita, you could easily do that on a day trip from Seville or as a stop on the way from Seville to Madrid.
As I tried to recall what we did in Cordoba, the only memories before pulling up my pictures were of the gorgeous Mezquita/Cathedral, our wonderful hotel, and our delicious meal. I was reminded of a post I recently saw on Facebook: “We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone,” and I was thankful that I had captured so many visual reminders of this stop on our travels. I can’t say that the town itself was a highlight of our trip but the Mezquita definitely was a “not to be missed” experience, more beautiful to me than the Alhambra.
Arriving quickly in Cordoba, we took a taxi (10 Euros) to our hotel, Las Casas de la Juderia, in the Jewish Quarter (as the name implies), and only a few blocks from the Mezquita. We expected to just drop our bags off and return later to check in, but even though we arrived early in the morning we were able to settle into our room right away. This was a beautiful hotel with nicely landscaped courtyards, pleasant common areas, and the nicest room we had in Spain (room #28). The king-sized bed was really comfortable and the pillows were great. (So many beds in Europe are too hard and the pillows too flat for my preference.) The bathroom had double sinks, a deep whirlpool tub, and a marble shower, and the mongrammed towels were soft and lovely. Staff was English-speaking and always helpful. The full room rate for the classic double with whirlpool was well over 300 Euros per night in “normal” season but we paid only 127 Euros booking directly through the website:
We set out to explore the Jewish Quarter and wandered through the narrow streets, seeking out the statues of the three philosophers of Cordoba (Averroes, Seneca, and Maimonides) and the Street of Flowers (Calleja de las Flores), and stopping to tour La Sinogoga, built in 1315 in Mudejar style (admission for two about 1 Euro).
By that time we had worked up an appetite and walked about 20 minutes to Bodegas Campos at Calle Lineros 32. We hadn’t made a reservation but arrived a few minutes before it opened for lunch and were seated at the only available table for two. It filled quickly with families and friends and we were happy to be among them. I had a silky and delicious salmorejo (tomato soup) as a starter (6 Euros for a half portion) and oxtail stew with potato puree as a main (23 Euros) while my husband enjoyed a tender sirloin with foie and roasted potatoes. With drinks, this was our second most expensive meal at 69 Euros but it was a memorable splurge as everything was perfectly prepared and flavorful. After lunch we walked along the river to the Roman bridge and crossed partway to view the Callahora Tower, built by the Moors and restored by a Spanish king in 1369.
Tickets for the Mezquita in Cordoba aren't sold in advance so we had booked a 1.5 hour tour with a professional art historian through Get Your Guide before we left home as I didn't want to risk not being able to see a place that was high on my bucket list (47 Euros).

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Saturday, November 9, 2019 Seville to Cordoba (Continued)

We met our guide and tour group at the Mezquita at 4 and were enthralled with the beauty of this magnificent complex that houses a cathedral within a mosque, combining the best of two cultures. The guide was interesting and pleasant, but having read up on the site while planning our trip, I could have done with fewer details. Fortunately the tour group was small and the tour wasn’t rushed, so I was able to take photos to my heart’s content. I just couldn’t get enough of this place!
After returning to the hotel for a brief rest we set out after dark for the Roman bridge and walked across to view the Callahora Tower at one end and the Puerta Punte and Mezquita at the other, both bathed in golden light. Seeing ancient sites lighted up at night is always magical for us and creates a very different memory from having seen the same sites by day. Musicians played on the bridge and people young and old were out for a Saturday night stroll.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped for churros and chocolate and were again disappointed. I was beginning to wonder what all of the raves I had read online were about! We returned to the hotel, where my husband relaxed in the whirpool tub (if only I were young and agile enough to navigate my way in and out of one!) and we had a luxurious night’s sleep before heading off to Madrid.
Miles walked 6.54
Lunch 69 Euros
Churros and Chocolate 5.5 Euros
Admissions 48 Euros
Train 26 Euros
Taxis (Seville & Cordoba) 20 Euros
Gifts 24 Euros
Hotel 127 Euros

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Sunday, November 10, 2020 - Cordoba to Madrid

We had three nights in Madrid but only had a half day on arrival and another full day there as we made a day trip to Toledo. We wish we had had at least one more day to enjoy this beautiful city. We loved staying on Plaza del Sol as there was always something going on, especially at night. Many sights and good restaurants were within easy walking distance and we were able to get to more distant locations with the easy-to-use Metro.

We arrived by train from Cordoba (99 Euros for 2, senior fare) and checked into Hotel Moderno ($93/night for a double room) at about 11 am after taking a taxi from Puerta de Atocha rail station (10 Euros). Our room (205) was a good size by European standards, the bed and pillows were comfortable, and there were two night stands, a desk and chair, a sitting chair, and a spacious closet with a safe. The bathroom had a large-for-Europe shower stall with both rain shower and hand-held shower heads, sink, toilet and bidet, good towels, and very nice toiletries. We had large windows and a small balcony that overlooked a side street off of Plaza del Sol. Heavy wooden shutters and double glazed windows kept the room very quiet. While the common area at the entrance of the hotel was small, there was a large lounge area upstairs as well as a dining room with an excellent array of breakfast foods and drinks for 13 Euros per person. There was an elevator that could hold 4 people. Staff was knowledgeable and helpful. The charge for the room was extremely reasonable, especially given its location and the quality of the accommodation. We would gladly stay here again.

After unpackng, we ate a quick lunch at the Rodilla sandwich shop on Plaza del Sol (8 Euros for a meat and cheese focaccia, two half sandwiches, and a drink) and then took the Metro to the Eastacion del Arte Metro stop and stood in line for about 30 minutes to get tickets to the Reina Sofia (free for those over 65) to see Picasso’s moving Guernica painting and several other notable works. We walked to the Prado and picked up the senior discounted tickets we had bought online (7.50 Euros each) and did a two-hour blitz of the major works. I felt as if I were back in Art Appreciation class in college and was delighted to see so many major works in person that I had only seen in books, on slides, or online.

Lunch at Cerveceria Cervantes (Plaza Jesus 7) was pleasant – a free tapa of cheese and crackers, garlic shrimp (16.50 Euros), sirloin steak topped toast (3.85 Euros), and wild mushrooms topped toast (3.60 Euros). The mushrooms were especially delicious and we wish we could have eaten more of the mushrooms but we were full.

The Metro took us back to Plaza del Sol and we found it filled with people pouring in from streets all around the plaza enjoying themselves. We meandered to Plaza Mayor and popped into the Corte de Ingles department store next to the hotel and looked around but quickly realized that most of what they sold we could buy at home for less. There was a supermarket in the basement where we bought some pastries and fruit to have for breakfast the next morning.

Miles walked 6.42
Taxis (Cordoba and Madrid) 20 Euros
Train (Cordoba to Madrid) 99 Euros for 2, senior fare
Metro Card (shareable) 14.50 Euros
Hotel 84 Euros
Breakfast (at Cordoba train station) 10.50 Euros
Lunch 8 Euros
Dinner 31 Euros
Admissions (Prado) 7.50 Euros for 2

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Monday, November 11, 2020 - Day Trip to Toledo

Holy Toledo! On Monday we were off on a day trip to see the spectacular cathedral in Toledo (a quick half hour train ride from Madrid), see more El Grecos (we’d viewed several of his paintings at the Prado), wander the old town, and ride the little tourist train across the Tagus river for scenic views of the city. From our hotel we rode the Metro to Atocha Rail Station and caught an early train (38 Euros for two senior round trip tickets) to the beautiful rail station in Toledo, designed in neo-Mudajar style. A quick taxi ride (6 Euros) deposited us in Zodocover Plaza, and from there we walked to the famous cathedral (built 1226-14930), stopping to buy some nougats along the way.

We bought our tickets, which came with a very helpful audio guide (18 Euros for two), and spent an hour-and-a-half touring this amazing place. Viewing the altarpiece (constructed 1498-1504) with its intricate polychrome carvings depicting scenes from the life of Christ was a highlight. The ornate golden ironwork screens here and in front of the choir and chapels were so beautiful, as was the San Blas Chapel (1397) with its blue ceiling and wall paintings, and El Transparente (The Transparent), a Baroque altarpiece that is uniquely lighted by natural light, thanks to openings in the ceiling that allow shafts of sunlight to illuminate it.

The Choir was notable for its organ, the 13th century sculpture of the White Virgin and another depicting the Ascension of the Virgin, two carved wooden lecterns, and rows of intricately carved stalls, some adorned by whimsical animal carvings. The lower stalls were carved by Rodrigo Alemán between 1489 and 1495 and tell the story of Granada’s conquest.

In the Chapter House and the Cloisters we enjoyed beautiful wall frescoes, while the Sacristy displayed impressive works by Rafael, Velazquez, and El Greco, most notably his famous painting The Disrobing of Christ.

The centerpiece of the Treasure Room was the 10-foot high, 15th-century gilded Monstrance de Arfe, which is carried through the streets of Toeldo during the Feast of Corpus Christi.

From the Cathedral we walked a few minutes to Iglesia de Santo Tome to see El Greco’s 1584 painting Burial of the Count of Orgaz (6 Euros for two). We were underwhelmed with both the painting and the church and would suggest that unless you’re a big fan of El Greco, move this down or even off of your list of sights to see in Toledo.

We were hungry by this time and made our way to Bar Ludena at Plaza Horno de la Magdalena 10 for lunch. All of the seats inside were taken but we were able to sit outside, with heaters to help keep us warm on a chilly day. My husband ordered the paella (8 Euros), which was very good, while I had the menu del dia (15 Euros), with a first course of Judias blancas (white beans with chorizo), a second course of carcamusas, bread, drink, and flan for dessert. The white bean soup was so good and so filling that I could have stopped there, but the carcamusas was delicious, too, and I’ve never had a flan I didn’t like, including this one. Total cost of the lunch with my husband’s drink was 26 Euros.

We meandered through the streets of Toledo back to Plaza Zocodover, bought tickets for the TrainVision sightseeing train (14 Euros senior rate for two) and warmed ourselves with hot coffee at McDonald’s while we waited for the train, which carried us across the river and stopped at two viewpoints, where we were able to get off and take lots of photos over the old town of Toledo. I bet the view was even more beautiful at night.

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Monday, November 11, 2020 – Day Trip to Toledo (Continued)

The train returned us to Plaza de Zocodover and we walked around the old town for a while before taking a taxi back to the rail station (6 Euros), catching the 5:57 pm train back to Madrid Atocha, and the Metro to our hotel. We’d had a large lunch and weren’t hungry enough for dinner but walked through Plaza Mayor to Chocolateria San Gines and indulged in the delicious churros and chocolate we’d been searching for throughout Spain ($8.80). What a great way to end the day!

Miles walked 7.08 miles
Hotel (in Madrid) 84 Euros
Lunch 26 Euros
Snacks 7.40 Euros
Churros & Chocolate (in Madrid) 8.80 Euros
Admissions(Churches) 24 Euros
Sightseeing Train 14 Euros for 2, senior rate

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - Madrid

Our last day in Spain was spent in Madrid. We had an early admission to the Royal Palace and armory (24 Euros for two), where it was interesting to see how the weapons and protective equipment for men and horses evolved over time. It was a beautiful place and I regretted only being able to take photos in a few areas but I understood that was sensible given that the royal family does reside there. We had hoped to walk to the Temple of Debod but there was a lot of construction that Google Maps didn’t seem to know about and we weren’t able to find our way there. We did find the Plaza de Espana, and from there walked the length of the Gran Via, noting the change in the architecture from decade to decade. We continued on to the Fountain of Cibeles and the Puerta de Alcala, and then to Retiro Park, which was resplendent in fall color. From there we took the Metro from Estacion del Artes to Puerta del Sol. We had an enjoyable late lunch at Pans (10 Euros), and while my husband returned to our hotel room to pack for our departure from Spain the following day, I walked along Calle de Alcala to the Sevilla Metro station and a little beyond, happily snapping photos of the buildings I passed along the way. That night we had an excellent dinner at El Sur (26 Euros) and enjoyed chatting with a college student from my husband’s home town who was doing his semester abroad in Madrid.

Miles walked 6.46 miles
Hotel (in Madrid) 84 Euros
Lunch 10 Euros
Dinner 26 Euros
Admissions 24 Euros

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210 posts

Wednesday, November 12, 2019 – Farewell to Spain!

On our last morning in Madrid, we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast buffet at Hotel Moderno (26 Euros for two) and caught a taxi to the airport (30 Euros). Our flights to Toronto and then on to Houston were on time and uneventful – thank goodness – as we often experience major delays on our return home.

Thank you to all who have followed our journey through Spain. It was an amazing experience and one that will live on in our memories. We had hoped to visit Ireland this Spring but like many of you have had to cancel our travel plans for now. I hope that we will all be able to travel again soon! Be well!

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4643 posts

Thanks so much for sharing your beautifully written trip report!

We, my mom and I, were in Spain back in October 2015, and it sure doesn’t seem that long ago! After reading your lovely report, I definitely want to return and explore new places, thank you!

Just wondering...
What type of tickets did you buy for the Alhambra?

You mentioned that you paid €29.70 per person (senior rate which included the audio tour)

Is this a typo or did you actually pay that amount?
The reason I’m asking is because the ‘Alhambra General’ tickets are €14 pp without the senior rate, and
€9.54 for EU citizens over 65.

I do hope you get to travel to Ireland in the future!

Edited to add... It’s interesting to read that you were underwhelmed by the churros and chocolate because my mom and I didn’t care for them either!
We’re used to the Mexican churros which are sweet and crispy with a soft center. The churros we ate in Spain were a bit salty and too starchy for my taste.

Stay well!

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5221 posts

Thanks for this great report, Chris! I was a couple of weeks ahead of you on a similar itinerary with the RS Spain tour plus a few days on my own at each end. I agree with you about the Mezquita, one of my all-time favorite sights in Europe. Like you, I'm a cathedralholic (with an indulgent spouse who wasn't on this particular trip). Sagrada Familia didn't really ring my bell, though I appreciated La Pedrera and other Gaudi works. While the tour stayed at the Hotel Europa on the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, I stayed at the Moderno for three nights after the tour -- not as nice a room as yours, but the upstairs lounge and breakfast were great. Unlike you, I enjoyed each of several chocolates con churros -- maybe because the tour guide pointed out the best places! ;-)

Your report would be a great resource for anyone planning a trip to your Spanish destinations, though other travelers might also enjoy museums like the Picasso in Barcelona and the Prado in Madrid. I hope you both keep up your travels as long as possible (I have a few years on you and, like you, I've mostly quit climbing towers). It's hard now to think about what the Spanish people are suffering with the virus. Let's hope we all get through this ordeal together.

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210 posts

Priscilla -
Thanks for your kind words and sharp eye! I checked our receipt and see that I did make an error on the Alhambra tickets. It was the general admission to the Alhambra and Generalife for 14.85 Euros each, or 29.70 Euros for both of us. This is the regular rate. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I've edited the entry for Granada to reflect the correct information.

I agree about the difference in the churros. It was mostly the dipping chocolate that was a disappointment on our first two tries, though it was just what we expected in Madrid.

I hope that you and your mom are able to return to Spain some day. It's such a marvelous place. I have watched in sadness the struggles they have faced over the past weeks.

Let's hope that we all get to keep on traveling!

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Dick -

I appreciated you response so much. Thank you! We would love to take a RS tour but they are always priced well above what we prefer to spend. I do the planning for our trips and we are always able to travel for far less than any escorted tour I can find. Doing all of the planning is a lot of work but is a process I enjoy - most of the time! We would probably enjoy having the details taken care of once we arrive but we do like being able to see what we want, when we want, for as long or little time as we want. We love traveling together but would enjoy having compatible companions with whom to share the experience.

We had considered visiting the Picasso Museum but have seen a lot of his work elsewhere and decided not to squeeze it in. I have been accused of having FOMO (which is probably accurate) and made an effort on this trip not to visit everything on the wish list. Our visit to the Prado was too brief and I wish we had had more time in Madrid.

Like you, my heart has been saddened watching the toll that the corona virus has taken abroad, as in our own country.

I'm glad to hear that you are still traveling and hope that we are all able to continue to explore new places and revisit favorite ones. Stay well!

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988 posts

Hi Chris! I definitely enjoyed your trip report. I’ve only been to Barcelona and plan to return to Spain someday hopefully to see the finished Sagrada Familia and to visit all these lively cities. I will definitely bookmark your post as it’s so full of info. I’m glad you found the definitive churros and chocolate on this trip. I hate to say that we didn’t manage to try that in Barcelona so I’ll definitely try the spot you found in Madrid.

As for RS tours, I bit the bullet and went on the GAS tour last year and it was phenomenal! I had become an independent traveler after doing an Italian tour with another company but the GAS itinerary offered so much that I succumbed to it and was so glad I did. It was worth every penny and it was so nice to have most of the planning done by someone else. There is free time that required some thinking/planning lol.

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6272 posts

Thank you for an insightful trip report. Lots of intel.

Spain has been on my bucket list for years! I’ve bookmarked your post for reference.

Here’s to wishing all of us safe future travels!