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Feb. 2024 3-week Southern Spain Trip Report

“Everything packed & ready?” “Check”
“Flexible attitude, patience and a sense of humor packed for this trip?” Luckily we brought those along, too! : )

This was our 20-day itinerary:
3-Malaga (flew into Malaga). We lost one day due to fog.
3-Madrid (flew home from Madrid)

Crowd sizes:
Pleasant - Malaga, Estepona, Tarifa, Madrid
An excited crowd! Cadiz Carnaval!
Very crowded in tourist area - Sevilla. At the level of Oct. 2017.

Well, let’s start with gelato - just what you’d expect from a trip report from me - LOL! The best gelato award goes to “Verde Pistacchio.” The couple’s background mixes Spanish & Italian, and the shop itself is a very cute VW bus backed into the shop near Plaza de San Antonio in Cadiz. The initial look reminded us of a fun lunch spot in NYC. The Verde Pistacchio gelato is displayed in the back portion of their VW. All of the colors & texture looked authentic, and their salted pistachio & pistachio options - yes, there’s two!…..well, I had to have one of those. : ). I paired the salted pistachio with Croccante. Salted pistachio - outstanding! But, the Croccante! Could I have a new favorite flavor? The proportions mixed together were a perfect blend of taste, crunch & smoothness. Our last day in Cadiz, we walked all over the center core “taking a shortcut” - ha! Finally the green vehicle shop was in sight! I ordered a true large-size cup with Croccante. “Second & third flavor?” All Croccante! That made the owner smile. The graphic just shows vanilla with cherry & dark chocolate, but I tasted and saw almond pieces in it - perfecto!

This trip was a new adventure for us. For the past 10-15 years, we’ve had a 2-week getaway to Hawaii or Arizona for a break from the Seattle winter gray skies. When we moved to Idaho, my husband wanted to keep that tradition.

We had planned to go to Hawaii again. Later, my husband casually said maybe southern Spain. When he mentioned it a second time, I quickly pulled together a Spain itinerary!

This was my 17th trip to Europe & my husband’s 11th. The last time we were in Spain was October 2017. Our preference was going to be staying along the coast, plus returning to a few favorites. This trip was an interesting “test” to see if I could still embrace the typical winter relaxation mode/carefree itinerary, or if landing in Europe would automatically kickstart my mental engine into its usual European “go mode”. It ended up being a little of both!

So, away we go! Or not….

Our home airport was fogged in, so the dominos of flight delay went into motion. Spokane, Seattle, Paris, Malaga became this new route: Spokane - WAIT, Minneapolis - OVERNIGHT, Amsterdam - 10-hr WAIT, Malaga. So we arrived in Malaga 1 1/2 days late. Our new overnight in Minneapolis gave us ample time to walk through the Mall of America. The 10-hr layover at Schiphol was the brutal one because we landed at 6am - tired but needing to walk. Of all of our options, we decided to just take the short train to Leiden, Netherlands after storing our bags since we wanted something easy to do with our jet lag brains. Brrr, it was very cold! Fortunately my favorite, Kopje van Leiden was open for a cappuccino as we arrived. After an amazing apple thick pie type dessert we walked in the center until we both were too cold to enjoy it. Back to Schiphol.

We finally arrived in Malaga late evening to a warmly lit hotel and celebrated by sleeping 11 hours! Whew, we’ve never slept that long!

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Our lovely Malaga Soho Boutique Colon Hotel was a great location & very short walk over to Calle Lario. The bed was perfect, and they provided a variety of pillows, modern bathroom and a cordial staff. I paid $100/night, reserved in August.

Next morning it was time for sunny Malaga, Spain! We were up and ready to enjoy! We started the morning with a fantastic breakfast! BrunchIt near the Alcazar lives up to its reviews! I ate the Sexy Spanish Omelette (Ole!) with oj and an espesso - all excellent. I really appreciated that the assortment of fresh, brightly-colored food on my plate included fresh salad greens, etc. to be extra healthy after days of flights. And, the first taste of fresh intense orange juice was a sweet return back to Spain!

In Malaga, we enjoyed the Cathedral, the Alcazar, strolling through the botanical garden and walking along the waterfront. Their Carnival was beginning the next day, so the main street’s light decorations were up & illuminated at night.

Our return to tapas was an exciting anticipation! We went with the recommendation from our young, exuberant hotel clerk. The place she recommended, like many others, was packed! We were seated at the bar and ready to begin. The first two were great, but all of the others came drenched with mayonnaise, my husband’s least favorite food.

Our second morning, I wanted to go back to the same restaurant for breakfast and have the same healthy breakfast. We had plenty of time before leaving Malaga to visit the Picasso Museum and stop at Lucciano’s for a gelato work of art - yum! Their tag line is “Il Maestro de gelato”, a lofty claim! We walked from our hotel over to the bus station to take an Avanza bus to Estepona. (I purchased all bus tickets ahead of time.)

Our next city, Estepona, was beautiful with lots of charm in the old center where each street is defined with different colored or designed pots on the buildings. So many restaurants looked fantastic that we didn’t buy much more than breakfast and sandwich ingredients at the Carrfour grocery for our apartment.

This was our seaside location! Five days with only a reserved golf day, lots of water & sandy beach right out our windows, and an orchid greenhouse in the city to enjoy. The city was filled with so many colorful flowerbeds! I taglined it “The city that showcases outdoors all of the flowers I can’t even keep alive indoors!” Poinsettias in shallow stacked pots higher than a person - just as an example. I took many beautiful photos of the old town white buildings lined with colorful pots hanging on the walls. My favorite color was the red polka dots. The city has a nice 12 kilometer wood & brick walking or biking path going east from town, and a brand new resurfaced block patterned promenade that runs along the length of the city. We usually walked it a couple of times a day.

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For Estepona, we stayed in a small 3rd floor sunny apartment on the promenade. What wonderful morning sunrises over the sea! Hanami Avenida de Espana Sea Front was in a perfect location! Well, it will be a perfect location WHEN they finish all of the promenade construction updates. Saturday, Sunday, & weeknights were relaxing. Unfortunately, the sounds of noisy construction work during the work day hours ruined that relaxing atmosphere - beep, beep, electric saws, etc. When I checked with the owner a month ahead of time, she assured me all of the work would be completed “long before we would arrive in February.” Well, that wasn’t accurate which we found out on Day 3.

We also had another hiccup with this apartment. Day 3 and no running water to take a shower! A construction worker had hit it. We finally gave up at 5pm - no showers, no working toilet, no sink. I reserved the cheapest room at Hotel Silken El Pilar Andalucia for one night. What a beautiful hotel in the nicest flower-filled plaza! They upgraded us to a spacious room with a balcony, and it came with running water in the bathroom! : ) Ahhh to a nice big bathroom with fragrant toiletries & long, hot shower! Sometimes it is worth spending some extra money to reset a trip back to a pleasant time. Their buffet breakfast the next morning was excellent with an exceptional variety of fresh juices, breads, meats, cheeses and coffees.

My husband had a wonderful time playing a round of golf at Valle Romano. Our final day we rented bikes at Costa Bikes and rode them on the scenic options.

Our meals ended up all being in Italian restaurants! Were we scared from our Malaga tapa experience? There are other options - LOL! We ate two delicious meals at El Rincon Toscano and a late lunch at Restaurante La Tarantella. El Rincon’s espresso was different than even what I’ve had in Italy. I would describe it as tasting like a liquid cigar - dominantly strong. I rarely add sugar, but this was perfect by adding just a little sugar to it. I enjoyed finishing the meal with espresso both days we ate there! At La Tarantella, we were seated at a nice table where we could watch the dough chef at work, making breads, pizza dough, rolls, etc. His skills of shaping the dough and handling it made me wish we had another day if he offered classes. The small basket of bread brought warm from his oven was delicious! We “waddled” out of there completely stuffed!

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Off to Cadiz! Previously, we would have always walked the mile up to the bus station to move to the next city. But this trip, we decided to take a few Ubers. €5 for some ease and comfort seemed like excellent value!

I booked two separate bus tickets instead of going directly to Cadiz. I had asked on the travel forum about toilets on buses and decided to just plan a break in the bus ride. So, our planned 3-hr break in Tarifa gave us a relaxing lunch and time to explore the center and marina before taking the last bus ride. Africa’s coastline is so close, and we were surprised at the mountains. We ate at Cafe Azul. My husband chose the Iberian meat plate & I enjoyed the Acai granola fruit bowl.

Entering Cadiz, we rode through the long causeway to the main Cadiz bus station. Our place was just a quick walk over to a nearby plaza. This was the location where I focused our lodging for a special experience. I reserved the Skyline 10th floor Penthouse on Avenida del Puerto through - wowza! Amazing views over the city and overlooking Plaza San Juan de Dios. Gorgeous morning and sunset views, plus the Cathedral illuminated at night! The huge apartment’s interior layout was an “L” with the living room/kitchen at one end and two bedrooms & bath at the other end. The terrace completed the layout into a square. Almost all of the rooms had large windows or doors out to the huge private terrace.

With the weather forecast, we immediately went out to go grocery shopping…wait, a gelato shop! Wow, my husband’s radar is well tuned to spot one - LOL! He jokingly says he needs to make up for all of the lost gelato opportunities when I am traveling solo in Italy. : ). After gelato & grocery shopping at the Carrfour, we settled into our apartment just in time to avoid the rain & wind.

The first night and next morning were 50 mph wind gusts and heavy rain. The buildings’ antennas on the roof made eerie sounds! :O Fortunately, we had the spare bedroom. My husband was worried the lighter terrace furniture pieces might possibly fly off the 10th floor and injure someone below since they were gusting all over the terrace. He was able to store them in the second bedroom. I contacted the owner to let them know we were caring for their place. They were wonderful and immediately addressed an issue when we didn't have any hot water the second day. They also contacted us the third day - just to make sure everything was still fine. Appreciated their responsiveness & hospitality!

One of the shop owners later mentioned that was their worst storm for several years, so we were certainly glad to be cozy & comfortable inside our spacious place the next day. We were VERY thankful for the groceries and a quick dash to McDonalds in our plaza. Burger King was located in the first floor of our building, but, hey, we have travel standards - ha! We did dash over to the cathedral that afternoon - a good day to see its interior. Later I marveled at the photo I took in the rain with one lone person in the cathedral plaza compared to the crowd the rest of the days!

In Cadiz for seven days, we walked all over the old town, the waterfront, the promenades, the beautiful park, lots of narrow lanes, the plazas - we enjoyed all of it!

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I scheduled our dates to be in Cadiz for the beginning week of their Cadiz Carnaval! We love attending local festivals, and this one was very entertaining! Instead of showy, glamorous outfits, this carnival is focused on being witty, humorous and using irony - especially aimed at politics or current events. Even though we don’t know the language well, much of it could be inferred & enjoyed! Their costumes reflected these themes and so many participants of all ages of the crowd were dressed in themed costumes! I saw very elderly people in costume being pushed in wheelchairs or walkers. It was a true city community event! We bought funny hats from a vendor - (yes, that’s me in a pink cowgirl hat! ) to not feel out of place and join in the fun! My husband is not the costume type, so photos of him in a red sequined hat that he volunteered to buy & wear several days are priceless! Our kids loved seeing those show up on our group iCloud folder! Informal gatherings and animated singing groups popped up all over the city at plazas or street corners. Plazas and narrow streets were overflowing! Everyone was in a happy community mood! The weather thankfully cleared for the huge Sunday parade that goes for about four miles.

The carnival could be described as lots of singing, continuous singing & more singing! Families, teenagers, children’s groups, groups of friends, older women’s groups, men’s groups & more kazoos than we’ll ever hear again!

Our last two days were blessed warmth & sunshine - ahh! Time to enjoy our wonderful terrace during morning coffee & lunch!

We did take one day-trip over to Jerez de la Frontera while in Cadiz. When I checked the Andalusian horse show on their website at home, it only showed a performance on Thursdays in February. Unfortunately, that was the day-of-the-week we arrived and left Cadiz. Luckily they added a performance for Tuesday when I checked one morning in Cadiz, so we took the train there. The performance of the beautiful & elegant horses reminded me of Vienna. And the facility, including the mansion next door was gorgeous. A day well spent!

Show "How the Andalusian Horses Dance" | Fundación Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre

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We were happy to return to Sevilla, and we stayed this time at Las Casas de El Arenal. The handy location is three blocks from the cathedral, tucked down a quiet street. The staff are formal but very hospitable & the buffet breakfast is excellent! I would feel very comfortable staying there as a solo traveler.

We wanted to walk & casually explore during this trip, and we also walked over to the Plaza de España, which we liked in 2017. My husband took a short, humorous video of “how not to row a small boat” after watching so many rowing themselves into the wall, etc. It included two girls getting nowhere & laughing and pointing from a boat when they saw him! We also met a friendly small group of young adults from Croatia near the tiled Cadiz spot in the gorgeous tiled half-circle. I mentioned going to Croatia last year with the RS tour, and they were very interested in what locations I enjoyed.

We booked a flamenco show at the Casa de Flamenco after we arrived in Sevilla. We knew from our time in 2017 to arrive there early to get a good seat. It was another enjoyable time to watch them up close, plus sitting where I could watch the fingering of the Spanish guitar as he played.

Cathedral tour - definitely recommend using a guide! This cathedral is the third largest church in the world, and there’s so much to learn about it and to be able to ask questions. We used Walkers Tours to book their Cathedral Tour. The guide was very knowledgeable and also maximized the time we had in the cathedral for interesting information and stunning highlights.

My husband casually mentioned something that we had seen at the Alcazar during our previous trip as we were walking around. But, the line to go into it was down the side of the building, so we skipped it. Be sure to reserve tickets ahead for the popular sites. ; )

I had reserved a food tour with Spain Food Sherpas Tours for Sevilla which made a great dinner & event! We had a nice group of people from Canada, both coasts of the US and The Netherlands. Alejandro, our guide, majored in history and has lived in Sevilla his whole life. Both of those backgrounds brought so much to this food tour! We both highly recommend this one! Afterwards, he followed up with an email listing all of the locations where we ate and the list of exactly what we ate - very helpful! We love taking food tours for the chance to try so many different foods, and they also provide so much history & culture at the same time. I love shark! Still don't like cooked spinach! ; )

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Our hotel in Madrid was a repeat of a special memory. We stayed at Hostal Central Palace Madrid in 2017 with the spectacular day & evening view overlooking the Palace Reale & Oriente park! The front desk clerk welcomed us and specifically mentioned that we had stayed here previously. I reserved their nicest room for those views, and it is beautifully decorated. They gave us the room next to our previous one - this one slightly larger and such a perfect location to relax anytime, especially with the palace illuminated in the evening. I always enjoy a spot where we can hear the happy voices of kids & adults; here it’s in the Plaza de Oriente garden. Previously, a lovely breakfast at the Café de Oriente next door was included when booked directly with the hotel. Now the Café only serves lunch & dinner, so we stopped at nearby places for an inexpensive breakfast.

We spent our first day in Madrid with no phone maps - just roaming and enjoying the city. We were both feeling that winding down of savoring the last city of a wonderful trip.

Our second day in Madrid, we started with the traditional Spanish breakfast of toasted bread with olive oil and crushed tomato. That afternoon was our Essential Madrid Bike tour with Wonder Tours. The 3-hour e-bike tour covered several places we knew but with additional history, i.e. the stinking statue in Plaza Mayor, and also a few new areas. The other participants were from France and the US.

For dinner, my husband ordered a “to go” pizza at Opera Pizza. I fixed a dining table area for us in front of our gorgeous floor-to-ceiling palace view with two fancy side chairs and square short table in our room. And as a reminder of all of the times I carried & used the TP in my purse, I made dinner napkins out of TP! LOL! Seriously, carry TP at all times in Spain. I think I replenished it every day.

Our last morning, we had a nice leisurely breakfast, soaking up the warm sunshine at the outdoor tables on Plaza Mayor at the El Museo de Jamon restaurant. Since our hotel offered to hold our luggage all day for us (they are exceptionally a great staff!) we walked from the palace through Puerta del Sol across the city to El Retiro Park. After some leisurely enjoyment of the park and nearby sites, we walked back, late afternoon stopping for some excellent burgers at Steakburger as our last combo lunch/dinner. (We often just ate two meals a day with a gelato or other snack.)

For our last night, we took an Uber to Hotel Madrid Alameda Aeropuerto. We don’t like to switch hotels within a city, but with a 6am flight leaving Madrid, and three flights to get back home - any extra chance for extra morning minutes was precious sleep time! This hotel was handy and exactly what we wanted for an airport hotel.

Our flights home all went as planned. Yeah!

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Did we enjoy our trip? My husband loved it and definitely is wanting to go again next February. And, he plans to study more Spanish in the meantime. That’s a positive two thumbs up! It was a fantastic time for me, too, even with the silly hiccups at the beginning of the trip. I may contemplate some more off-season/shoulder season European traveling since we could still eat lunch outdoors and most places weren’t as crowded. We had forgotten how much we enjoy Spain!

Trip by weather:
Unexpected overnight in Minneapolis - cold.
Unexpected long layover in The Netherlands - brrr! Very cold walking in Leiden early in the morning.
Malaga - cool mornings, warm days, cool evenings.

Estepona - warm days, cooled down in the evening.
Cadiz - one crazy storm of heavy wind & rain. Most days had some sun, and the last two were spectacular!
Sevilla – a little rain – mostly very nice & warm.
Madrid – warmer than we had expected during the day. Cold at night.

Total expenses for our 3-week trip, minus airplane tickets/travel insurance = $5903.

Transportation: Buses from Malaga to Cadiz. Trains from Cadiz to Madrid. Uber for any quick transportation need in each city.

Money: We pulled 300 Euro from an ATM in Malaga since the Estepona apartment fine print stated a 300 Euro cash damage deposit. But, check in was all completed by WhatsApp & a phone app key, so they didn’t collect the money. (I reserved on Otherwise, almost all transactions were by ApplePay. Some gelato shops appreciated cash instead of credit.

My clothes, including worn on plane:
1 long-sleeve t-shirt, three nice 3/4 sleeve tops, two 32 Degree micro-thin long-sleeves scoop layering tops.
1 thicker pair pants, 1 pair leggings.
4 pair socks, 3 bras, 5 underwear.
Columbia turquoise hip length raincoat.
One necklace, 3 pair of earrings.

Barely used: my regular Baggallini purse. Since I was wearing a coat most of the time, I wore a small LeSportsac crossbody under my coat which I brought specifically to wear during the carnival crowded streets & plazas.

I could have left my Keen sandals home. I used them in Estepona since I brought them with me.

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In the beginning of this excellent report you mention eating(?) croccante. Is that almonds?

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Hi Suki, it’s a gelato flavor of vanilla, cherries, dark chocolate and some almonds. Everything mixed finely, so it wasn’t large pieces of cherry like in an Amarena cherry gelato.

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Jean! Welcome back home to rainy North Idaho!

What a wonderful time you and your DH had in spite of the rough start with delays and reroutings. Wow....sunshine, carnival, food and +++gelato. So funny Dan has gelato radar, hahaha. The pistachio and the croccante sound wonderful. The little gelato shop looks so cute. Who doesn't love a VW bus for decoration?

Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up. You just got home yesterday!

Did Dan's checked bag make it back? It sounded like it made it to Seattle so hopefully it made the short hope home to Spokane as well.

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Jean, fabulous trip report! I am so glad you and your husband had a good time.

I want to personally thank you for sharing your Malaga hotel name with me several weeks ago. I’m in Marrakech now and will fly into Malaga next week from Fez. It was a last minute trip I threw together. Unfortunately, rates had doubled when I tried to book my date. I did find a nice private room for under a hundred at TOC Hostels Malaga.

I’m also thrilled to hear the Jerez Royal Andulsian horses are worthwhile. I’m making a day trip there from Seville just to see them. I did the one in Cordoba last year with the flamenco dancers and horses. I found it entertaining but not like the Lippanzer horses in Vienna.

Thanks again for sharing information with us all!

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Another wonderful trip report and trip. Glad you didn't let the hiccup at the beginning put a damper on your first days there. Looking forward to hearing more in a couple weeks.

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Thanks, Pam! His suitcase was checked from Madrid through to Seattle, so he was able to just carry it onto our last flight….which ironically was the smallest plane. No issues placing it into the overhead bin as usual. ; )

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Jean: I traveled and ate vicariously with your vivid descriptions of your hotels and gelato. So I will just sigh a little as I sit here in the rain on Camano Island, WA. It will give me something to dream about!

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Impressed you already have your TR done! I’m still working on mine from our trip to Mexico 🇲🇽 in January. Sounds like a great trip. My DH loves gelato too and boy, we sure didn’t find any in Mexico. 🙁

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What a fun trip and certainly more interesting than another trip to Arizona or Hawaii . We were in Spain in early March when our daughter was doing a semester abroad in Granada and hit similarly nice weather. We also went to Cadiz for Mardi Gras but as a day trip from Sevilla. I thought it was fascinating.

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Thenobigs, that’s unfortunate that the hotel price for your dates had jumped up. It was a very nice place to stay.

Yes, the Jerez horse show is very nice! We just walked out to it from the train station. Afterwards, we stopped at Malvon in the center of town for some inexpensive but delicious empanadas & some nice gelato at Margarita La Fresca. One of their gelato flavors was “American Cookies” which had Chips Ahoy on top of it - yuck! LOL!

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Leslie, those were our first weather travel hiccups, so I guess we were due - ha! We were mellow with the Spokane crew which I’m sure they appreciated! It does help that we’re retired, so we already had some extra days buffered in on Malaga.

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Jean, it seems like a great trip, fun and relaxing, once you made it in country. I love the gelato reports.

I travel with a paired down wardrobe as well but I’m impressed you really only used those 5 or 6 t shirts to layer if needed and 1 jacket? I usually always stick in another intermediate layer like a cardigan or crew neck just in case. You were pleased with how that worked? Is your jacket hooded?
Thanks for sharing.

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Hi Lyndash, this is how I was able to use my shirts & coat. I was definitely glad I added the t-shirt the day before we left! Top A is the one I wore the least, but it’s new & cute! ; ). I would switch it next time for a thicker fabric.

Warmer days - with or without the coat
Top A lightweight fabric shirt with an abstract pattern and cute puckered 3/4 sleeves
Top B with a diamond pattern - 3/4 length sleeves
Top C loose top with a cheetah print - 3/4 length sleeves

Cold days or nights - with coat
Top D - Long-sleeve cotton t-shirt
Top E - plum colored 32 Degree micro-thin scoop neck long sleeve
Top F - black colored 32 Degree micro-thin scoop neck long sleeve

Coldest days or nights - with coat
Top E & F layered together - worn with a necklace
Top C with F
Top D with either E or F

My raincoat is the Columbia Women's Arcadia Ii Jacket. It does have a hood.
We saw A LOT of locals wearing winter coats in Sevilla and especially Madrid while I was plenty warm with mine.

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BethFL, we met a few couples in Spain and also on the plane who were traveling to visit one of their kids studying or living in Spain. A nice experience for all of them!

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Kathleen, we saw some of your rain during our landing into SeaTac to transfer to Spokane. We do remember that gray season well. Hope you’re getting some nice days in the midst of it!

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Tammy, I’m looking forward to reading your trip report - get it done! Ha!

I jotted down a few thoughts of the day each evening during the trip on my iPad notes for remembering & the framework of the trip report. I’ve been waking up at 4:30am both mornings since returning, so I finished it that first morning back. My husband was laughing that It and a few odds & ends were completed before he woke up!

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Great trip report, Jean! I love your idea of beating the cold weather by going to Spain in February. My guess is that it didn’t cost you anymore than a 3 week trip to Hawaii?

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Hi Christine, the trip was definitely less expensive for us than going to Hawaii. We usually rent a condo in Maui north of Ka'anapali and have to rent a car. And groceries or restaurants are definitely more expensive there.

I did pay for a top-notch apartment for our week in Cadiz, and it still was less.

I jokingly judged the price of each town in Spain by how much the gelato cost. Some were 50% more than the less touristy cities.

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@Tammy - I was in Oaxaca, Mexico, in January, and delighted to find the wonderful "Alice in Gelatoland" shop!

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Great trip report, Jean! I love that you started off with a rundown on gelato--an absolutely important detail! Spain sounds like a lovely place to escape the winter gloom of the Northwest. We have sometimes done a February trip to Hawaii, but the costs have really increased in the past few years.

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Sounds like you had a very nice trip, Jean. Makes me miss Seville...