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1st Time to Spain - Trip Report

Short version - We came, we saw, we loved Spain!
Longer version - pour a cup of coffee & enjoy reading!

My husband & I really enjoyed this first trip to Spain!

Toledo (2 nights): We landed in Madrid & immediately took a train to Toledo. Toledo was an amazing first location to stay! I walk off my jetlag in the sun while my husband acclimates best with a nap. This was the perfect location to walk the interesting hilly lanes and know I was in Spain! I had planned to take the local transportation when we arrived, but with jetlag, we were happy to just take a taxi. The initial views of Toledo were exciting as he drove us to the Jewish area to Hotel Sercotel Pintor El Greco. We recommend this hotel – very quiet, nice staff, numerous excellent breakfast choices. I paid for breakfast with the room, and we were glad with that decision.

When I pictured a trip to Spain, besides the usual, I really wanted to hear some excellent Spanish guitar. Our first night when we were searching for dinner, I heard guitar music! We followed it to the quiet plaza at the Cathedral where a man was fingerpicking a beautiful classical song – ah!
We headed to the Cathedral the next morning after touring the Synagogue near our hotel. We were almost there, and a “helpful” man told us the Cathedral was closed for another 20 minutes because of mass. But “being simpatico”, he could show us a special art exhibit at a nearby monastery. Well, we followed and enjoyed seeing the process, but afterwards understood the damascene “sales pitch” – didn’t buy anything. We recommend seeing the Cathedral – beautiful, and the tower wasn’t a difficult climb.
To take some nice photos, we took the tourist train to go to the opposite side of river. We think of those tourist trains as cheesy, but this was a nice experience. Be sure to sit on the right hand side of the train.

Madrid (3 nights): With our jetlag long gone, we were ready to enjoy Madrid. Pension Central Palace Madrid was my favorite hotel during this trip. The receptionist was so kind, breakfast at elegant Cafe de Oriente (free if you book through their site) was perfect to begin our days, and the hotel room was huge with a modern bathroom. But, the reason it was my favorite hotel was the view! Our balcony overlooked the Oriente Garden & the Royal Palace – so beautiful!
We liked the location of our hotel to be near the Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel, the Royal Place and to walk Calle de Arenal each evening to the Puerta de Sol. The tapa experience was intimidating at first with the crowds of people eating in the evenings, but we jumped in!

We saved valuable time by purchasing our Prado Museum (enter the Jeronimos entrance) and Royal Palace on-line ahead of time – walked right in both of them! Both of these were wise to not allow photography which made it so much more enjoyable for everyone to focus on the art & beautiful rooms without competing for prime space taking selfies! …personal rant ; ) My husband wanted to see a bullfight, so I planned one day in Madrid to be Sunday. He enjoyed the experience and crowd while I went to Reina Sofia to see the powerful Guernica!

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Cordoba (1 night): Cordoba is a lovely town that’s very easy to get lost! A local woman was so helpful walking us to a major turn after a college student had us turn too early from the train station. We stayed at the NH Collection Amistad Cordoba since it was just one night. Nice hotel & modern room.

For one of the best gelatos, especially if you like coconut, head to the gelato shop near the northwest corner of Plaza de las Tendillas; it has the word Creameria in the name. It’s so good that we stopped afternoon AND early evening our one day there!

We enjoyed our time at the Mesquita, going in late afternoon to miss the crowd of daytime tour groups. Even though the patio flowers were past their prime, walking through the patio identified streets was nice, and we liked the cute patio flower monument near the ancient wall. We walked across the Roman bridge both during the day and in the evening for some beautiful photo shots besides the relaxing walk.

Thanks to the RS Spain book, we were both aware of the rosemary scam and my husband knew what not to do! (Only other location this happened was in Seville.) We were glad to have the chance to stay overnight in Cordoba, and I liked that we stopped there as our first experience in Andalusia before Seville instead of seeing it after Seville.

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Seville (4 nights): Seville was a favorite!
We stayed at a wonderful apartment during our 4 days in Seville. Apartamento Logia Sevilla, Lirio 9 found through was perfect – a spacious apartment on the first floor of a home owned by an architect & his family. His wife, Leonor, was our main contact and so welcoming! She gave us a map marked with the neighborhood market, tapa recommendations, etc. Each morning my husband surprised me with fantastic pastries from nearby Pany Piu while I was getting ready. We wanted to be close to the sites but have a good night’s sleep. This location was perfect and had everything we would want in an apartment.

Our first morning started with a planned bike tour with See by bike Sevilla. We’ve taken bike tours during a few past trips and really enjoy them. Adriana led our 3-hour bike tour through a thorough path of all of the major sites, explaining the history. We also saw more interesting parts of the Plaza de Espana area than when we had walked there by ourselves. Seville was an excellent town for a bike tour since it’s so flat – an easy ride. The entire team at See by bike were friendly – highly recommend.

We had on-line reservations for Royal Alcazar that afternoon (again didn’t need to wait in line!) – beautiful, enjoyed so much of the history, and we spent relaxing time in the gardens after running through the labyrinth!

The next day we participated in a planned Market/Cooking class with Taller Andaluz de Cocina Cooking School. This was one of my husband’s favorite events! Since the kitchen classroom is located in the Triana Food Market, Jessica began the class by showing & explaining specific foods in the market, gathering a few ingredients, and then Chef José Manuel walked our small group through the specific Do’s & Don’t steps to making a perfect paella (& how the word “paella” is used too loosely by restaurants). We finished with a full meal and left satiated and happy! That evening, we walked over to La Carboneria Bar to see some flamenco since it’s mentioned in the RS Spain book and was only a few blocks from our apartment. We arrived to see the last 10 minutes of flamenco so decided we should book a reservation at one of the shows for the next night.

Our last morning, we walked over to the Triana neighborhood – well acquainted after seeing it during our bike tour & cooking class. I’d found recommendations for Ceramica Triana on-line before our trip for my main Spain souvenir. We toured the informative ceramic museum next door that detailed both ceramic & Triana’s history before selecting a beautifully painted pitcher at the store. That night we attended a flamenco show at La Casa del Flamenco. I appreciated that the setting was intimate without dinner noise to distract the dancers & music. We were glad we didn’t just see the flamenco from the previous night.

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Ronda (2 nights): One of our favorite locations. We stayed at Hotel Ronda in the older section across the bridge. The hotel was quaint & perfectly adequate with a friendly staff. The street has a steep downward grade, so pack light!

I had read about Casa Don Bosco, so we began there after checking into our hotel. For 2 Euros each, we had beautiful views over a garden to take our initial photos of Ronda away from the crowd – well worth it!

As we walked into town from the train station, we walked by the Guitar Round House store on Calle Padre Mariano Soubiron, so I could buy tickets. I’d read about Paco Seco (excellent credentials) performing a concert of classical & flamenco instrumental guitar in the back portion of the store each evening. I’ll remember this evening for a long time!

A restaurant I’ll recommend for a nice dinner is Puerta Grande. Everything we had was excellent, and our waiter was especially caring.

Our second afternoon, we toured the bullfight museum with my husband explaining everything he had seen at the Madrid bullfight. I was glad to see the bullring and many exhibits without actually attending a bullfight. Afterwards, we strolled the park beyond the bullfight museum out to lookouts across the countryside.

Most of our time both days in Ronda was spent outside enjoying the gorge, walking down to the bottom, walking on the other end through gardens and the old gate, etc.

The Best Tapa Experience that almost didn’t happen! I checked TripAdvisor, and Gastrobar Deja Vu showed up with great reviews under “Cheap Eats, so we walked over to it. The reviews warned of a busier street but fantastic food. Seeing a sign that looked like a 7-11 ad for hotdogs “10 Tapas for 8 Euro – 5 Hot, 5 Cold, Drink included” didn’t give us a lot of confidence. I was 80% willing, but my husband was about 10%. We walked back & forth trying to see what the lone couple sitting outside was eating! Finally, we decided we were willing to chance it and figured 4 of 10 would probably be good. Wow, we loved everything! My husband gave our waitress a large tip, telling her they weren’t charging enough for this great food!

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Granada (3 nights): This was our first experience staying at a Room Mate Hotel, in this case Room Mate Leo. The staff was exceptionally nice, and we decided to eat breakfast at the hotel since they had a nice variety and it was located on our hotel room 5th floor. This is a hotel that I would have liked if traveling by myself because the staff was always at the front desk and greeted us each time we walked in or out. I paid a little more for a balcony, and the balcony was huge with chairs and even room for a couple of loungers. We brought some food from nearby markets for a couple of casual meals here.

We came to Granada to see the Alhambra, so our second day was spent there. We arrived in the morning with a 4pm ticket to the palace. We explored the Charles V palace and fort, ate a large lunch at the Hotel America Restaurant, and then finished the afternoon at the palace & Generalife Gardens, leaving around 6pm.

Our last day we explored the Albayzin, taking the handy C1 bus and winding back down through the streets on foot. For an overdose of gold décor and a few “surprises” awaiting on the second level behind the altar, stop in the Basilica de San Juan de Dios near the Cathedral. Evening was time to take the C1 one last time up to the San Nicholas viewpoint for final photos of Granada.

Gelato – Los Italianos was wonderful on multiple stops! Los Diamantes was fun, crowded & tasty! We loved their Spanish rice along with the fish.

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Nerja (4 nights)/Frigiliana (1 day): Initally, we were planning to stay 4 nights in the charming white village, Frigiliana, in a small apartment with a pool as a relaxing location to just enjoy being there…and a chance for me to take lots of photos while my husband enjoyed his siestas. 4 months before our trip, I learned that Nerja was having their Nerja Feria festival beginning our last two days in this area, so I switched to a hotel on the Balcony of Europe in Nerja. We took the handy 1 Euro bus up to Frigiliana for one full day of exploring every small lane of that beautifully, quaint town and having a wonderful meal at El Casino (odd name) on their terrace overlooking the town.

The Nerja Cave was well worth the time. We purchased the combo ticket to ride a little tourist train out to the caves – easy transportation. That afternoon we walked over to the Burriana Beach – beautiful beach with accessible shops, famous paella stop mentioned by RS, etc. to spend the rest of our day. This beach was much nicer than those bordering the Balcony of Europe. We both liked the ambiance of some time at the Mediterranean towards the end of our trip.

Wow, their Feria was amazing! I’d describe it for us as a combination of 4th of July fireworks, State Fair concerts, full arcade plus traditional local town entertainment & participation. The first night was kicked off with an exciting fireworks/light show with Miss Espana and huge crowd in attendance – lots of fun to be there and have our hotel steps from the kick-off location. If we weren’t there during the Nerja Feria, we thought 2 days would be enough to be in this area, and I would stay up in Frigiliana, spending one day at the caves/beach in Nerja.

A few comments about Hostal Marissal. This hotel has a prime location, and I would select it as a Nerja hotel again based on that factor. On the other hand, the gentleman at the reception desk was not friendly. Our last day, we had to just leave the keys on the desk because no one was available at 8am checkout. All rooms including those facing inward have a window door balcony, so “balcony” doesn’t guarantee an exterior view. Our balcony faced another room’s balcony and the hall walkway balcony.

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The bus to Malaga, a little humor! We had tickets for the 8:55am bus. Take the 8:30am or 9:40am bus! We thought we were on the faster bus, but no, we were trapped, stopping every 3-5 minutes through several towns for a few more people! At one point, the British guy in our row was relating this predicament to someone on the phone, making it even funnier! FINALLY the bus merged onto the freeway – whew!

Malaga (1 night): I used Expedia points for Molina Lario, an excellent modern hotel with nice staff and handy location. Since we were in Malaga on a Monday, many of the major sites were closed. Instead, we strolled the Park de la Almeda containing so many varieties of palm trees and then walked to the harbor. We enjoyed the fun atmosphere in the city center in the evening. Malaga was a nice stop, but with everything else that Spain offers, I wouldn’t devote a stop here unless you’re flying home from this city.

Madrid (1 night): We only looped back through Madrid because Delta eliminated the flight that was initially booked from Malaga. We stayed at the VP Jardin de Recoletos this time - a nice hotel with a fully stocked room (dishes, frig, etc.) and sitting area in the room, excellent staff, near the Retiro Garden. It was nice to have the opportunity to stay in a different neighborhood in Madrid although we definitely preferred the area near the Royal Palace & Plaza Mayor where our first hotel was located.

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On-line purchases: I reserved all hotels and bought all train tickets and bus tickets ahead of time. We liked going to a transportation location, ready to board without needing to make decisions or wait in line. Major sites with reservations available were purchased ahead of time. I usually selected 2-4:00pm time slots and seemed to hardly have any tour groups during those times.

Surprises: I didn’t see any local women wearing capris, unfortunately. They either were wearing long pants, casual dresses or younger women in short shorts. When we reached Nerja, I finally saw others, i.e. the Brit, etc. “locals” wearing capris. I had packed 2 capris, 1 more formal dress and 1 thick long pant for the plane. Luckily, I threw in a casual dress the morning of our flight to use as a beach cover-up, so I wore it several times.

Another surprise was that we had heard we should be able to speak Spanish, in particular, at the smaller towns. We greeted people in Spanish, and the majority answered back in English. The biggest language hurdle for us was ordering tapas.

In summary a wonderful vacation with so many great memories at each location and friendly people! The RS Spain book was read completely for the locations covered along with too many hours to count on internet research; both were very helpful. I did feel that if rushed for time, I could have just read the RS Spain book and had a great vacation. I also extremely appreciate the advice that fellow RS Forum participants have shared with me – THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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What a lovely trip report. I felt like I was there will you. Will have to tag this for whenever we get to Spain (on the list).

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Loved your trip report. Can you tell me how how you got from city to city? Did you take the train all the time or buses. It sounds like you really did your research and it paid off with your wonderful trip. Welcome home.

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Yay Jean! Your trip sounds wonderful! Your report makes me want to go back for more! Viva España!

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Hi Janet, we enjoy traveling by train in Europe. A few of these connections didn't have a train option.

Trains (booked on Renfe site & paid with PayPal since our credit card didn't work on this Spain site):
Ronda-to-Granada (the Renfe train ticket includes a transfer to their bus for a portion of this trip)

Seville-to-Ronda (Los Amarillos company)
Granada-to-Nerja (Alsa company)
Nerja-to-Malaga (Alsa company)

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Can you confirm what time of year you went and how was the weather? An excellent summary, Jean and so helpful as we plan our trip for next year...thank you!

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I enjoyed reading your trip report.
It sure sounds like you had an amazing time, thanks for sharing!

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Hi Meg, we left Sept. 19 and returned Oct. 11. The weather was fantastic - no rain except small sprinkles the morning we were in Seville doing the bike tour which we didn't mind. Highs were 85-95 during the entire trip.

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Wow Jean, I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to find your trip report had posted. You had a terrific trip. I will be saving this as I plan for our trip too. Probably next Oct too. I liked that you went straight to Toledo. Not sure I could manage that after a 13 hour flight from SFO but I like the idea.

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Thanks so much for the trip report, Jean. I poured the coffee and forgot to drink it....too immersed in the report :-) I leave in 11 days, so this was particularly meaningful. It sounds like you organized a perfect trip for yourselves.
I particularly liked the conscious decision for some downtime at end of trip. I am considerinf changing my last four nights depending on how the Catalonia situation plays out. I have a plan B and C, but maybe I need a plan D=beach!

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Maria, have a wonderful time on your trip to Spain!