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3 weeks in Spain - Ole

I thought I would do my trip report by category (I’m sure I am copying someone’s).

ITINERARY Barcelona 3 nights, Madrid 6 nights, Granada 3, Seville 4, Cordoba 3, Toledo 3
Definitely needed more time in Barcelona, even a few more nights in Madrid. 2 nights in Toledo would have been sufficient. All others were perfect.

HOTELS
Barcelona- Eurostars Exe Laietana on Via Laietana. Great location, just behind the Cathedral. Short walk down to the water. 20 minute walk to Sagrada Familia. Near Las Ramblas. Breakfast was nice and plentiful.
Madrid - Eurostars Plaza Mayor on Calle del Dr. Cortezo. It was a s short walk to the Plaza Mayor and Calle Mayor. About 20 minutes to the Prado. BUT, it was in the theatre district so it was busy at night and at the corner there was a distribution center for food and clothing for the homeless. Many of the homeless slept there and congregated. It wasn’t the most pleasant smelling block. And, also at the corner was an underground parking garage with a tunnel to the other side of Puerta de Sol. This made for a very busy block that was very narrow. I definitely would stay at a different hotel next visit.
Granada - RS recommended Hotel Anacapri. Great location, just one block off the Main Street and the old section. An easy walk everywhere. Breakfast was nice, nothing special. Best place to have your laundry done. They charged €16 for a bag, whatever you could stuff into it, and we stuffed it. Terrible Wi-Fi connection. Couldn’t get on at all.
Seville - H10 Corregidor Boutique Hotel on Calle Amor de Dios. It was a little out of the way, about a 20 minute walk to the center of the city, not horrible, but I like a hotel closer. This was our first time staying in a H10 hotel and it is quite delightful. At check in they greeted us with a glass of Cava (Spanish Champagne), explained the city with a map, recommended restaurants (which were good), and had the best breakfast by far. Could have eaten more then we did, it was fabulous. We had coffee/tea each day in the terrace and the bartender couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. I would definitely stay in an H10 hotel again.
Cordoba - Another Eurostars, this one Patios de Cordoba. Great located but as we passed by the H10 nearby we wished we were there. Same breakfast, lovely people.
Toledo - La Posada de Manolo. This is a RS recommendation. The location was fantastic, down the street from the Cathedral. We could stop by when we wanted a quick break or had a package to drop off. The Wi-Fi was okay, not great. No elevator. We were on the bottom floor and breakfast was on the top floor. We had no problems but others might. Breakfast was only €7 and it was very limited. But we like being able to grab a quick bite, have our morning juice and coffee and decide on our day. The rooftop views were lovely.
All hotels were paid for at the location. What was interesting to us was not one hotel had a gym or spa services. My husband and cousin always like starting their day off in the gym while we ladies enjoy a facial or massage. We were disappointed. Just curious if this is all over the country.

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HIGHLIGHTS
MADRID - Bullfight - I know, it is not for everyone but after much discussion we decided to attend. It is a big part of their culture. At first it was hard to watch, but if you concentrate on the matadors you can see and appreciate the beauty of their movements.
Real Madrid soccer game - my husband follows one of their players, Luka Modrić. They played Getafe at the Getafe stadium. It was a 20 minute taxi ride and not expensive at all. We had great seats and got there early to see the warmup. We did leave 20 minutes early to grab a cab back and avoid the crowds.
Botin Experience. This is, according to Guinness World Records, the oldest operating restaurant in the world, opened in 1725. It has only had 2 family owners. For the €78 you have an hour tour before it opens, your choice of seating on whichever floor you want, a bottle of wine per couple, 5 different tapas, bread, sucking pig dinner, and a few desserts with coffee and tea. We were 4 people and they gave us 5 different desserts. They also gave us a choice of a gift - a sangria pitcher or a decorative plate. It really was a fabulous experience. Reservations necessary.
SEVILLE - Cooking Class at Taller Andalusia de Cocina at the Tirana Market. We learned to make Sangria, Gazpacho and Paella. There were 13 of us, people from the US, England, New Zealand and Australia. It was so much fun, everyone was nice, the instructor a sweetheart, and our food very edible. I just printed our the recipes to try this weekend on a few friends.
Flamenco Show - we saw the show at Tablao Flamenco Los Gallos. We purchased the tickets the same day. Their website lets you know how many tickets are still available. It was very different than what I imagined but very moving. The passion of the dancers, 2 female and 1 male, was unmistakable. We thought it would prepare us for the next day….
Flamenco Dance Class - OMG, the best one hour of the entire trip. We did fortify ourselves with some Sangria first but it was unnecessary. To our surprise and delight, one of the English couples from our cooking class were there to enjoy this experience with us. We rented the shoes, male and female, for an extra €5 each, it is a must. The instructor was a lovely young woman who had the patience of a saint. We booked it through Sevillewalkingtours.com (in Rick’s Spain book). Do yourself a favor and take this class, please, you will have a blast.
CORDOBA - with a recommendation from Frank, TY, we booked a 14 course tasting menu at Terra Olea Restaurant. It was only €44pp. It was excellent. In retrospect, we should have went for the 18 course €56 menu. It was about a 20 minute taxi ride out of the city center, but cabs are so inexpensive it was fine. I think it was around €10. There are only 5 tables and one seating during the weekdays so a reservation is a must.
Horse/Flamenco show - did not know what to expect, especially with the flamenco thrown in, but it was a delightful evening. They show was about 1.15hours with a very short intermission. Afterwards you can go see the horses up close in their stalls.

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TRANSPORTATION
We used the Renfe trains between each city except for Cordoba to Toledo. We booked the tickets before we left but had a little trouble using our credit card. We ended up paying through PayPal. We booked the trains as soon as they were available. We booked first class when it was available just because it wasn’t outrageously expensive. I figured we couldn’t afford first class on the flight but we could on the train. Also, you get access to their lounges, bonus. They serve you a meal, with wine or, I quote, spirits. The meal was much better then any I have had on a plane. It was very easy to travel this way and when you exit the station taxis are lined up waiting. Very civilized. The reason we didn’t from Cordoba to Toledo was because you had to go to Madrid, then change trains, with an hour layover. We were four older adults and didn’t want to deal with the changing and day trippers who go to Toledo from Madrid. We booked a private driver through ZoneTransfers. Yes, it was very expensive, but to us well worth it, and they took us door to door. From Toledo we booked a private driver to the Madrid airport through booking.com. That was a reasonable price and again, worth it at the end of a very busy 3 weeks. We mostly walked in each city but did find the taxis very inexpensive, by New York comparison, so if we were tired or our feet had had enough, we grabbed a ride.

I still have a few categories to add (tours; museums; food; shopping - Not on everyone’s list, but I know my shoppers are out there; and cathedrals- yes, they warrant their own category. I’ll add them this evening.

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Thank you for this. I've bookmarked to read later. I'm going to Madrid and Toledo next year.

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Nice trip report, Barbara. The layout is easy to read and includes a lot of good information. I have made some notes in my RS Spain guidebook for a future trip. Thank you!

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TOURS/TOUR COMPANIES
MADRID - we took a private 4 hour walking tour with Stephen Drake Jones of the Wellington society - wellsoc.org, in Rick’s book. I say walking tour but it was more of a history tour with tapas and wine. I had read the tours offered by the society and emailed him to ask if 3 could be combined since we didn’t have time for 3 separate tours. He agreed. We paid 125€ pp which included 3 tapas stops with a drink. We did walk around the city a bit and sat in the bars to listen. He knew his stuff and was quite entertaining. For us, it was a very enjoyable afternoon and we enjoyed his company. He did tell us that he was not a licensed guide but an historian. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we had fun.
We also took a tour of the Prado with Across Madrid tours, also a Rick recommendation. This was also a private tour. We purchased the entrance tickets ourselves before we arrived in Madrid. The guide, Dr. Almudena Cros, is a art history professor. She was wonderful and really made Spanish history come alive for us through the paintings in the Prado. Immediately after we took her Tapas tour and had a great time. Being it was just us, she was more flexible when we nixed a few stops. But, she did take us to a fabulous pastry shop/cafe with chocolate much better then the recommended San Gines. It’s called El Riojano, just a stone throws away from San Gines. They serve it with a ladyfinger like cookie. Since we don’t like churros, this was a better choice. Also, it wasn’t very crowded and we had no trouble getting a table and having our chocolate without rushing. I realized when I saw the storefront that it is also featured on Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes show.
GRANADA - we booked through Cicerone Granada 3 private tours (also a Rick pick) - Catholic Isabella, Evening walking tour of Albaicin & Sacromonte neighborhoods, and Mysterious Granada also an evening tour. Catholic Isabella kinda reinforced what we learned in Madrid but gave more detailed info. The tour of Albaicin etc involved a bus ride up and a walk down. It is very, very hilly and the streets are rocks embedded in cement. Wear proper shoes. She did take us the the area mentioned by Rick to see the Alhambra lit up. Mysterious Granada was fun with stories about questionable past happenings. Not a ghost tour but close. We had the same guide for two of the tours and they both were lovely. They had a very good command of English and answered all questions with a smile.
SEVILLE - we booked 3 tours with Seville walking tours (Rick again) and our flamenco dance class. These tours were not private but the group wasn’t too large. We did the Seville City Tour, the cathedral tour and the Alcazar tour over two days. Our Flamenco class was us 4 plus one other couple. The streets of Seville and a maze and easy to get lost. Having a quick city tour helped us to orient ourselves. The tours of the Alcazar and Cathedral were very thorough and much better then going in our own. All entrance tickets were included.
CORDOBA- we used ArtenCordoba, found from an internet search. Again we took 3 tours - the Patios, Historic Center and Cathedral. The Patios tour was beautiful. What we would call a courtyard they call patios. Who would have known that those plain big doors you see on the streets open up to big, beautiful patios with plants galore. You could easily buy the tickets and visit the patios on your own. They do not open till 5:00. Check their website though because they are not open everyday. If you happen to visit during May, they have a competition and over 50 patios are open for viewing. There were only 5 open during our visit. The city walk is always informative and we made notes of places we saw during our walk to revisit. Again, the cathedral is so large and massive a guide was necessary.

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TOLEDO - with booked 2 tours with Juan V. through toursbylocals.com. Again, private. Hands down the nicest guide. We took a city tour the first evening we got there. He walked us all around, very hilly, through the Jewish area and the area with the convents and monasteries. He met us at our hotel and got us back there too. The next day we took a tour of the cathedral with him. We purchased the tickets on sight, no line. Again, these cathedrals need a guide, they are just so overwhelming. Also, an Audio guide can’t answer questions.

In Granada and Toledo we took the tourist trains, which are mentioned in Rick’s book. They were actually a nice way to see the outskirts of the city, especially Toledo (sit on the right hand side for best views). The train in Granada goes up to the Alhambra but it is a very bumpy ride. In Cordoba we took the two HOHO buses. Both one the one ticket. The smaller blue route was a nicer ride. We didn’t actually hop off any where, but it was a nice respite for an hour.

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RESTAURANTS/FOOD
wow, how do you comment on 3 weeks worth of food. Not easy but I will try. The first thing I can say is that we love tapas. We ate a wide variety of food without feeling like we overate. We were 4 adults with no allergies so it was easy to order 4-5-6 tapas and share them all. Some tapas highlights:
Beef checks - the most tender meat, no knife needed. Some places had better gravy then others but no complaints.
eggplant with cane honey. We found out after about 2 weeks, that cane honey is molasses. But it is mixed with vinegar and is not the thick gooey mess we would think of. Each restaurant had a different version - roasted, breaded and fried, tempura battered, cut round, cut in slices, in chunks - all good.
Russian Salad - a potato salad with hard boiled eggs, peas and carrots, some put tuna or shrimp. We had about 8 different ones, each better then the last.
Shrimp in garlic sauce was another popular one. Always nice, not too garlicky.
Potatoes bravas - boiled, baked, or fried with a nice, not too spicy, creamy sauce with paprika.
The best cheesecake was in Granada at La Tarta, it is all they make. It is a block past the cathedral. We walked past it a few times but on October 12, Spains National holiday, there was a line out the door, all day long. Being the nosy person I am, I asked people in the line and was told about the cheesecake. We went back the morning before our departure when they opened and purchased a small cake. They sell it by the slice or cake which we realized after she was wrapping ours up. Anyway, we ate it when we got to Seville with coffee and tea on the hotel patio. It was worth the trouble. We gave the half we did not eat to the staff and they thanked us the next day.
In Madrid try El Riojano for the chocolate as mentioned above.
In Seville we ate at El Rinconcillo, a bar with a looong history. Very crowded all the time but tender, delicious lamb. I mentioned our experience at Botin and Terra Olea under highlights.
Finally the cheese and ham or Queso y Jamon. Rick was not kidding when he said how much he loved the jamon. Take his advice and go for the more expensive ham. It is moist and just slightly salty. The darker the ham, the better. I surprised myself because I do not like Italian prosciutto and figured it would taste the same. Believe me, it does not. We ate it almost everyday, along with at least one glass of sangria. Oh, and the cheese is delicious too, especially the Mancheigo.

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CATHEDRALS
Every city has their cathedral and are very proud of it. The younger cities on our tour, Barcelona (climbed to the roof, an easy climb, not too high) and Madrid, have lovely cathedrals but they cannot compare to the others we saw and toured. The Sagrada Familia is in a category of its own. We only used the audio guide here but did go up the Nativity tower.
GRANADA - we did not take a tour but just used the audio guide that comes with your ticket price €5. Tip, download it as close to the entrance as possible to get on the Wi-Fi. The router in at the entrance.
Our Catholic Isabella tour included visiting the Royal Chapel where Isabella and Ferdinand are buried.
SEVILLE - This is where, and it has been proven through DNA testing, that part of Christopher Columbus is buried. To say his tomb is over the top is an understatement. His coffin is held aloft by 4 knights, about 8’ tall, representing the 4 other kingdoms before Spain was united. Also, impressive is the solid gold alter. I had to ask a few times to confirm it is solid gold. My husband joked that now we know where all the gold Columbus stole from the Americas wound up. Anyway, it is a don’t miss.
CORDOBA - this is a mosque with a alter plunked down in the middle. It is massive and goes on forever, really. It is dark at first, but your eyes adjust after a few minutes.
TOLEDO - another massive cathedral with so many small museums within it becomes overwhelming. Our guide, Juan V. did a great job of keeping us engaged.

It is almost impossible for me to explain the opulence of these cathedrals. They make Italy’s churches and cathedrals seem like something I would design. It really was overwhelming but so worth visiting. In fact, we went to Mass at the cathedral in Toledo.

MUSEUMS
BARCELONA- Museu Maritim De Barcelona, our favorite. Explains the history of Spain’s fleets with a replica of a galley ship. Videos around with people explaining their life or job during this time period (Spanish with English subtitles) very well done.
Museu Etnologic - these museums never disappoint me
Museu d’Història de Catalunya - similarly to the ethno museum but more localized
La Pedrera - one of Guadi’s homes he designed
MADRID
Prado - took tour, overwhelming otherwise
Reina Sofia - just saw Guernica has we had very limited time, but couldn’t miss it
Royal Palace - preorder tickets. There was a long line every day we passed by. There is a separate entrance for ticket holders so just go right up to the front. We used the Audio guide. The tour of the kitchen was in Spanish but we had the Audi guide so it was okay. Cannot go on your own.
Naval Museum - very well laid out and more interesting then I thought it would be. All info is in Spanish and English.
GRANADA - Alhambra - we had 1:00 tickets to the Nasrid Apartments. We went about 11:00. Was so disappointed with the Charles V palace, never completed. The gardens were beautiful. We used the Audi guide here too and it was fine. We could rewind and take our time. I’m sure a guide would be better but we were fine.
SEVILLE - Bullfighter Museum. This was in the bullring which is one of the oldest in Spain. It is with an audio guide, no line. You even get to walk around the arena imaging you are a matador. Check out the wall tiles in the ladies room decorated with reddish pink bull heads.
Naval museum and replica ship. The museum is small but is shows all the routes the explorers took from Spain around the world with time lines. My husband enjoyed it, but he was in the navy and the merchant marines.
CORDOBA - Museo Bellas Arts - small but has some beautiful art work
Museo Julio Romero de Torres - art work by a local artist who painted the women of Cordoba
Synagogue- one of the 3 remaining medieval structures left in Europe. The other 2 are in Toledo
TOLDEO
Santa Tome - Church with famous El Greco painting - the Burial of Count Orgaz. No pre purchase necessary. El Greco Museum. I love his work.

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SHOPPING AND SOME WRAP UP NOTES

We travel with my cousin Maureen and her husband. Us ladies love to shop wherever we go. Can’t help ourselves. Haven’t met a museum shop or market we didn’t find something to buy. My cousin collects nativities, among other things. I have a charm bracelet that I add to on each trip - I have 3, one completely filled. The only place I found a gold charm was in a small jewelry store in Barcelona. It was a fan. Gold is extremely expensive in Spain and that might account for its high price and the fact all the gold is on the altars of the cathedrals. The leather goods in Cordoba and Toledo were a bargain. The leather is soft and supple and nicely priced. I purchased mine on the patios tour in Cordoba (they have a workshop at one stop) and in a lovely store in Toledo. You can’t miss it, they only sell leather. I got eyeglass cases and small wallets as Christmas gifts. I love pins and purchased quite a few, all beautiful and will be enjoyed. In Madrid and Seville on Sundays they have an art sale in a small square. We purchased a few items here as well- I’m running out of wall space lol. Toledo is famous for its black and gold leafed jewelry. While walking past the cathedral a man mentioned that one of the convents has an artisan workshop where they make this jewelry by hand. So like good tourist we went looking for it. It was legit and there were two older men pounding away making beautiful pieces. I purchased earring and a pin while my husband purchased a chef’s knife. I was shocked and happy as he never buys anything. The internet wasn’t working so we had to pay cash.

Some random thoughts and observations: we both think the Spanish people, men and women, are the best dressed in Europe. If I was 25 years younger, I would go back with 2 empty suitcases and go crazy. I did purchase a pair of pants and a skirt. Couldn’t fit anything else in my carryon. We used cash a lot. Charge cards were accepted but we seemed to use cash, especially for the taxis. English is not was widely spoken as in other countries. My husband, not a native English speaker, attributes it to the fact they dubbed everything on TV. It wasn’t a problem cause he speaks Spanish.
Please bring very good, sturdy walking shoes, especially for the smaller cities because the streets are paved with stones from the local river. How this river could pave so many streets in so many cities is a mystery. But they are very hard on the feet. Overall it was a fabulous trip and I think Spain is my new favorite country. Going to plan a trip up north in Basque territory and a return to Madrid.

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Sitting down to read this now Barbara, thanks for sharing. Yes, I like this format too, I used it for my Egypt trip report, but I copied it from Marie! I can picture the Flamenco dance class and all the laughing that must have taken place! We have some friends who are very good ballroom dancers, and when they tried to show my husband and I some moves, well, much laughing ensued.
Was this your first trip to Spain? and how was the weather?

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I didn’t realize how much I was writing. This format is better for me to write and read. I did read your report on Egypt and your scrapbook was amazing. This was our first trip to Spain but hopefully not our last. Before we left it said rain everyday for the first 10 days. We lucked out because it only drizzled 1 morning in Madrid and not again till Toledo. Barcelona was hot, around 90 and each city got cooler as we went along. We started October 1 and flew home in the 23. By the time we left from Toledo it was around 60.

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Barbara, what a great trip report and it sounded like your time in Spain was perfect.

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Excellent trip report Barbara! Glad you enjoyed Spain. I really liked your itinerary, gives a good overview of the "greatest hits" of my country.

Now that you have cracked the first layer, you can look to return to some of the more lesser traveled spots, that are just as interesting as Granada or Barcelona I think. Maybe the Basque Country, Picos de Europa, Extremadura, or the Costa del Azahar to name a few lol!

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Thanks Carlos, Spain is definitely my new favorite country. Everyone was so pleasant and nice and we didn’t have a bad meal. Also, I love how patient the drivers are since many street don’t have defined sidewalks. I never heard anyone honk. And yes, we are planning a trip to the north next time we visit. Can’t wait.

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Barbara, a wonderful trip report! You brought back good memories of our trip to Spain in 2017, and I really like your format for the trip report! I’m not usually a shopper, but maybe I need to think about it - LOL!

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Thank you for this amazing report. I'm in the very early stages of planning our first trip to Spain in Fall 2023 and this is a wealth of information. Very pleased to read your positive comments about the H10 Hotels as I've honed in on those as strong contenders for our stays. I will be bookmarking your report for future reference.

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Thank you for posting this wonderful trip report! I am in the process of planning my first trip to Spain and found this enormously helpful. It was full of useful information and practical advice. I noticed that instead doing some of the popular day trips everyone talks about (Toledo,Cordoba) you stayed in the location for a few days instead. I am sure this is a much more rewarding experience and hope to do that as well. Thanks again!