Spain: Clean Toilets, Affordable Lodging

This may take a lot of posts. I'll try to divide them into bite-size subjects. We just returned from nearly all of April in Spain. We flew into Barcelona, rented a car and visited Montserrat, Zaragoza, Olite, Pamplona, San Sebastian, Vitoria, Burgos, Valladolid, Penafiel, Coca, Medina del Campo, Zamora, Salamanca, Avila, Segovia, Toledo, Consuegra, Belmonte, Valdapenas, Jaen, Granada, Antequera, Ronda, Gibraltar, Tarifa, Claudio-Baello, La Barrosa beach, Cadiz, Jerez, Sevilla, Cordoba, took the AVE to, and flew home from, Madrid. Overall, more one night stops than I like, but the daily driving was kept to a reasonable level. If I had to describe briefly how Spain differs from Italy, I'd say both have plenty of history. Spain, however, has clean bathrooms and decent affordable lodging (both are hard to find in Italy).

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

The flight: We booked our tickets in December, primarily to take advantage of an available direct flight from Dulles, near our home, to Madrid, on a United codeshare operated by Aer Lingus. We added a hop to Barcelona on Spanair to turn it into an open jaw flight. Price for the round trip was $660, flying there on April 1st and back April 29th. It was an extra $90 for the Spanair hop (so $750 total). I could have probably booked a cheaper flight but I thought booking it through United, as part of the same booking, might be advantageous. In January/February, Spanair shut down. Contacting United was useless, the response was simply "our reservation agents know what to do." I kept watching the booking for a change or notification and saw nothing - until I put in my Passport information two weeks before departure. Then the booking changed to just the round trip and totally dropped the leg to Barcelona. United is merging with Continental so reservations/customer service is impossible to reach. I ended up going to Dulles and standing in line - but got the booking changed to a flight from Dulles to Newark, then direct to Barcelona, all on United (probably a good thing because there were calls for strikes in Spain around April 1st). Of course, seat choices two weeks prior stunk. By checking regularly, I was able to change to decent seats before the flight.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Carry on: We don't check so carry-on rules are important to us. Most US carriers let you take one bag and one handbag/personal item. I wasn't sure what to expect with Aer Lingus. I've flown on both Lufthansa and SAS who are pretty serious about carry-on restrictions. We always make sure we're within the rules (harder for the homeward trip because the load always expands). Aer Lingus allows a personal item as well as a 22 pound carry-on. At the airport, Aer Lingus seemed about as easy going as possible. We saw people with as many as three daypack size carry-ons, plus a couple of shopping bags, who got on with no questions. I think Aer Lingus does charge $50 for the first checked bag, however, so if you fly them - and check luggage - make sure to factor that into your price.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Rental Car: Most of our trip was with a rental car. We did a lot of starting out the day in one place, stopping to see a town or sight in the middle of the day, then ending at another place in the afternoon. Normally I don't like one-nighters but we did a lot because many places didn't merit more than a night. We rented through Europecar after shopping a half dozen options. Prices were similar for most of the options, we probably saved 30 dollars by booking with Europecar for 22 days. The car was there as advertised when we picked it up and no issues dropping it off. I guess we'll wait and see if there are tickets or other surprises that sour our experience. We asked for a diesel (and paid an extra five euro for it). The car was a Renault four door, manual transmission. It worked fine. The gas mileage was 40 km per liter on the highway - I'm not sure of the math but the mileage seemed better than great. We put better than 3000 kms on the car and filled up four times, including returning it full (about 50-58 euros for each fill at around 1.40 per liter for diesel). Car Rental Insurance: American Express offers a CDW deal for $25 per rental (one charge not per day). We used a Costco Amex but had to call and get them to charge us manually because the original rental charge from Europecar didn't pick it up automatically. We returned the car without a scratch (normal for us). It's nice to have an affordable insurance option, however, that covers you if something does happen to the car.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

AVE: We turned in our car in Cordoba and took the AVE to Madrid. We purchased the AVE ticket about 60 days out through RailEurope for 52 euros for both tickets (so half that for each) including RailEurope's 4 euro charge on each ticket. I've heard many negatives about raileurope. For us it was a good option because the Renfe site is so hard to use from the US. RailEurope allowed us to buy and print our tickets before we left home, so overall it seemed like a good choice. I wouldn't use RailEurope if I was going to Germany or somewhere easier to book. The tickets worked perfectly. One small surprise, we were told to arrive ">15 mins" before the train's scheduled departure. The gate opened for security (they x-ray your bags) about 40 minutes before boarding but that was too early, we needed to come through no earlier than 20 minutes before departure. The trains are self explanatory. It's easy to find your car (coche) and seats. The train pulled in, stopped for a few minutes, then pulled out. Ours ran right on schedule.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Weather: We had really horrible weather for most of our trip. Europe had one of their coldest winters this year and spring is late arriving. Of our four weeks, three were some combination of rainy, cloudy, windy and cold. Only about a week was nice. Our first day in Barcelona was mid-60's and sunny. Tarifa was 60's and sunny (but very windy and chilly because of it). Seville was the nicest, one day high-70's, the next into the 80's before turning colder and rainy. We had originally planned to go last September. I think late September, early October might be the better option - except we were able to experience some good Easter Week (Semana Santa) activities and Sevilla's April Fair (Feria).

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Hotel Reservations: We booked rooms in advance for Barcelona, Madrid and (working back based on train reservations) Cordoba and Sevilla. Everywhere else was done sans reservations. I prepared a list of places to stay, ranked them and called the morning before arrival to book. In all but one case, we booked a room at our first choice hotel/hostal/pension with just one phone call. The only one that was hard was Granada. The first place, Rodri, was "completo" (full). The second had a room for two nights but couldn't guarantee a third, they wanted us to come and promised to figure out the third night when we were there. We decided to call the third choice, which was "disponible" (available). That one turned out to be a bad choice, so we called number four, Pension Zurita, and had a nice room for a decent price. Most of our rooms were really nice. Barcelona (booked ahead) didn't have an ensuite but all the others did. The only night that was higher than 100 euros was San Sebastian (charged us high season prices because of Spring Break), most were half that, or less.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Semana Santa: We flew on Sunday April 1st, which put us into Barcelona on April 2nd. We didn't see much going on for Semana Santa there. The TI showed us one procession for the week (apparently started by a group of displaced Andalusians) but only on a day after we left. The highlight for us was Holy Thursday in Zaragoza. We drove into town and couldn't reach our hotel because of a Procession. It turned out there were almost continuous processions, put on by various fraternal organizations, for the whole day and night. Their processions are great, exciting may be the better word. Hundreds of people, dressed in colorful pointy hoods and robes (purple/white, red/white, white/blue, etc.) and playing drums like they're trying to put a hole in the skin, escort a relatively smaller group of people carrying crosses, candles or floats. Our hotel balcony was directly above one of the main routes. We had double doors plus heavy blackout curtains that kept the noise reasonable. We watched one at 8, another at 10:30, a third at 1 am, and opted to stay in bed for another at 3 am. On Good Friday we were in Pamplona and watched their procession. It was much more sedate than the ones we saw the previous night. Next was San Sebastian, where we didn't find any processions, just noisy spring breakers (mostly from France). We didn't see anything on Easter Sunday in Burgos or Vitoria either (except almost continuous masses at various churches). We saw processional floats, that hadn't yet been returned to storage, in churches all over Spain.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Autopistas, Autovias, and N (Nacional) roads: Autopistas (AP) are toll roads. IMO they aren't worth the money. We used a toll road out of Barcelona and spent about ten euros on about an hour drive. Maybe on a longer trip but it just wasn't worth it to save less than five minutes. Autovias (A) are not toll roads. They're similar to major interstate highways in the states. They work fine. Nacional Highways (N) work fine too. N's might include going through towns with lower speed limits and roundabouts but otherwise get you where you're going. GPS: I've used both the TomTom 920 Go and now the Garmin Nuvi 275. I liked the TomTom a LOT better (maybe it's just the model's features). I had more confidence in my TomTom to find an address. The Garmin often took me to roads that were no entry, and refused to find another alternative. In Jaen, we wanted to go to a particular site (I think Arab Baths), the Garmin took us to one area so we found parking and got out and looked around. We didn't see anything that looked remotely similar, so we jumped back into the car and the Garmin took us completely across town (still navigating to the same address). We never found the Arab Baths but we found a TI, who told us the Baths were closed for renovation. Before I talk up TomTom too much, I should say that I bought the Garmin after TomTom sent me a device that didn't work. I sent it back to them and they sent me the wrong and not new device. I sent it back again, and they again sent me a different, but still wrong, and not new device. Meanwhile a US only TomTom I bought my wife last year is already not working.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Cell phone, Skype: We brought an Ipod touch for email and Skype calls to the states. We set Skype up in advance and put ten dollars credit on it so we could call phone numbers from Spain (I believe 2.3 cents per minute). Generally it worked well, sometimes our hotels didn't have a decent signal or bandwidth. I brought a set of earbuds with a microphone to use when there is background noise. The quality of the sound is as good or better than any phone call I've made. I also bought a Samsung cell phone from Vodaphone (purchased at the El Corte Ingles store in Placa Catalunya, Barcelona). The phone cost 25 euro but included a ten euro credit (8 cents a minute option or 60 free minutes then 20 cents a minute, I went with the first). I might have shopped for a little better deal, but for our trip we wouldn't save much below 25 euro. The worst news on the phone was it died inside of two weeks. I think it got wet from all the rain. I was making one call a day to book a room, one day it worked - the next it was dead (battery still had a charge). I had to stop at a cafe and use their wifi to call for a room. Skype worked fine for this, I had to use access codes as if I were calling from the US. I went to a Phone House in Toledo and picked up another cell phone. They had two different phones for 25 euro, both with a credit. I chose another Samsung so I could reuse the battery from the first phone (as a backup battery).

Posted by Sharon
Atlanta
2663 posts

Excellent trip report Brad! We're reading about 25% unemployment rates in Spain. You've been to Spain before, right? Did you see any differences due to the economic conditions there? How were the prices?

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1507 posts

Thanks for sharing! Spain and Portugal are still on our ever-shrinking list of places in Europe we have never been. I'm looking forward to doing it in 2-3 years. Let us know if you do photo-sharing on line.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Sharon, The economic crisis is very real in Spain. I'm sure you also saw that Spain has slipped back into another recession. I didn't talk to anyone who didn't feel their family, business and/or future opportunities are affected. Most young people of well off families are being told to go to college in the US, Germany or England in the hopes of finding opportunities. Worse than that was the lack of optimism. When I said, "Things will get better," not one person agreed. The best I could get was a weak, "I hope so." It's really a shame.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Siesta times and finding hours online: Siesta is recognized almost everywhere in Spain - including, surprisingly, Madrid. Many places don't open until at least nine, then close at one or two. The reopen time is usually four or five in the afternoon. It's pretty random and hard to predict when you're just visiting - I'm sure residents have the places they do business with figured out. The big places usually don't do siesta (El Corte Ingles department stores and Tio Pepe Bodega tour as examples), so plan the middle of your day to visit those and use early and late to visit smaller stores and sights. I felt it was more difficult to find good information online about opening times in Spain. To his credit Rick's Spain Guide does a pretty good job of reporting Siesta times in their opening hours. Unfortunately, many of our stops aren't in Rick's books. More than once we traveled to a sight that was supposedly open from 10:00 to 19:00, only to arrive at 13:30 and find the hours were actually 10-14 and 16-19, and the last entry, before siesta, is at 13:15. Also keep an eye on open days. Monday closures are pretty normal, and I've learned to expect those, but we also saw random places with Tuesday Closures or multi-day closures every week (maybe related to economic problems).

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Language: I was surprised how few English speakers there are in Spain - less than any other Western European country (though many Swiss can only speak German and French) I can think of. I was also surprised by how few people speak Castillian Spanish. There are the other official languages: Gallegos, Catalon and Vasco (am I missing some?), the regional dialects, plus (even in Castille y Leon and Castille La Mancha) the colloquial - rather than formal - speaking style of most people. It was a more difficult adjustment than I expected - not just me understanding them but them understanding me. I grew up in San Diego and was conversant in Mexican (similar to American vs. English) until I moved away for college. We also studied Castillian Spanish in school. I can still book a room, order a meal, ask directions without much trouble. Unfortunately, my Spanish falls short when trying to have a meaningful conversation with people I met. Here's a few of the differences: Lisp - the more the better. I knew Barcelona is Barthelona before the trip, but the good Spanish speakers lisp incessantly. Aseos - I've never seen the word before. In Tijuana people use banos and understand servicios or toilets. In Spain, some areas use aseos and don't understand servicios. va le - I've never heard this before but it's used regularly as both a statement and a question. I'd say it translates to "okay". The really long last sylable - buenaaath vs. buenas, graciaaath vs. gracias. dropped words (especially in Sevilla) - why use three words when one conveys the meaning? So you don't confuse the hell out of the tourists, lol.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Top experiences: I took about 4,000 pictures that I haven't downloaded into my computer yet. I'll keep adding to this list as I think of more things. Here's some that come to mind: Walking tour in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona. The TI runs the tours, now 14 euros. It's about a two-hour tour using the same headsets you see with most group tours. This was a good tour at a very reasonable price. Processions in Zaragoza. All I can say is wow! I'd recommend this for anyone's bucket list. Holy Thursday is their big day and one I'll never forget. Unlike the much more sedate procession we saw in Pamplona, these processions included hundreds of drums. Olite. The castle there may have been the best, but not the biggest, visit. The price includes an audio guide which is nicely done and helps you picture how it would have looked in it's heyday. Bodega tours. We went to two in Jerez, plus a wine museum tour (of an old Bodega) in Valdepenas. All were worthwhile. It was a little hard because most aren't set up for drop in tours like you see in the states. The two in Jerez were Tio Pepe (Gonzalez Byass) and Domecq. We liked the second better but were glad we did both. By the way, wine is dirt cheap in Spanish stores. One we liked was between 3 and 4 euros around spain, it's $20, or more, here. It's also very reasonable, but not as cheap as beer, in bars and cafes. Sevilla Abril Feria. Another wow to put on your bucket list. With horses and carriages and people dressed in traditional garb enjoying the casetas, it was a true cultural experience. We were invited into two private casetas (not including the one run by, I think, an anarchist club). We went to the opening at midnight and stayed til four the first night, then back for more during the day when the horses were on the streets.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

More top experiences: Meeting people. Many Spanish were extremely warm and generous. In Sevilla, we were invited into casetas. In Cordoba, we were asked to take a photo of a group, then invited to join them for a drink. One group of school kids made a point of saying Hello, welcome to Cordoba, we hope you enjoy your visit (yes, they had no problem spotting us as Americans). Clean bathrooms. In almost all cases, the bathrooms were very clean - even the roadside gas stations had clean and sanitary restrooms. Affordable hotels/hostals/pensions. I would say Spain's lodging is roughly half what you would pay in Italy, maybe less. At least half our nights were less than 50 euro for a double, at least three-fourths were less than 65, for decent rooms in good locations with an ensuite and air conditioning (not that we needed it this trip). The Prado, Madrid. Great paintings. My wife usually tolerates a couple of museums but doesn't want to get dragged to too many, or spend too much time there. When we left the Prado, she actually remarked that she liked many of the artists and wished we had more time. Maybe it's because they have a lot of works by major artists and you can get a feel for their style - instead of seeing only one, two or maybe three, paintings by the artist. Dolmens in Antequera, near Ronda. We really enjoyed these. They are similar to Newgrange in Ireland. The price is right, they're free; they also have a museum that shows a short film about how they were constructed. There were school groups there when we arrived. We let them go in front of us, waited for them to clear out, then had the dolmens to ourselves.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

Your report is very interesting and informative. You should have your own blog.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

Glad you had a good time! I'm headed that way tomorrow morning for about 3 weeks. "Lisp - the more the better. I knew Barcelona is Barthelona before the trip, but the good Spanish speakers lisp incessantly." A lisp is an physical inability to produce the "s" sound, and someone who lisps does it whether the word is spelled with an s or a c. In Spain, it is not a lisp, but the way the letters c and z are pronounced, as "th". It is done on purpose, and words with s are pronounced "s", not "th". One of my favorite Spanish grammar rules is: If it ends in a "d" it's pronounced like a "c", which is why Madrid is pronounced "Madreeth", and Vallodolid is pronounced "By a doleeth".

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Your right Nancy, it's the way it's pronounced correctly in Spain. A lisp is just the way it sounds to Americans. There's also Cahdeeth (Cadiz), Hayraith (Jerez), El Theeth (El Cid), etc. The real surprise is how often those letters are used in Spanish. We watched the Spanish version of "Wheel of Fortune" while eating lunch at a Cervezaria. In English, the big consonants are RLNST. In Spanish X , Z, and C are common.

Posted by Marilyn
Mentor on the Lake, OH, USA
251 posts

Thanks for sharing. Very Informative. Glad you had a good trip.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

A plug for Vonage: One other note on making calls. I'm using Vonage at home. It includes free calls to landlines in most European countries. If you like to book ahead, it's great to call the hotels directly - and those calls, on Vonage, are free. I had Vonage for several years, then went to T-Mobile at home, thinking it was basically the same thing but a little cheaper. The T-Mobile line went randomly dead regularly. It usually didn't stay dead long enough to justify spending hours on the phone with tech support, but was annoying enough to get rid of. Now I'm back with Vonage.

Posted by Richard
Lafayette, LA, USA
147 posts

Brad, I have to ask. Given the choice between Holy Week in Seville and the April Fair, which would you choose? My impression is that Seville before Easter is terribly congested and that travel the days before and after Easter in Spain can be a challenge. Any comments you can offer would be appreciated.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Richard, I'd choose the fair and spend Holy Week in places like Zaragoza or Valladolid (or similar places that have good Semana Santa activities but aren't as well known to tourists). The fair is a different experience but a great cultural experience in it's own right. I do regret spending much of Holy Week in Barcelona. They really don't have much going on. If I'd gone a little earlier, I'd have liked to visit the Valencia Fire Festival too.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Food: I should talk about food a little. I'm really not a foody, just committed to not eating what I could eat at home. Spain does a lot of seafood. I ate fresh and fried anchovies (anchoas), octopus (pulpo), squid (calamari), clams, shrimp (gambas), prawns (langostinos), muscles, and maybe some other "fruit of the sea" mixed into paella. Olives are plentiful too, some areas have olive trees as far as you can see. We definitely ate our fill. In parts of Spain, a small plate of olives will be given to you at a bar (other places give you something else). You can also buy a small plastic bag of olives in grocery stores that work well for a picnic. We passed several factories with smokestacks, near the olive trees. The smell from the factories was fantastic - a really strong olive smell. I'm assuming they were making olive oil. Snails. They do snails in Spain but they're much smaller than the escargot I'm used to, more like the size of garden snails. The taste is a little more spicy than I remember from the larger snails also, they're smothered in more like a beef gravy rather than garlic and butter sauce. Ox tail. Rabo de Toro isn't bad at all. It's gamey like vennison but usually juicy and tender. It's served on the bone but comes off easily - again in a beefy gravy.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

More food: Lamb chops. Chulleta means chops, Cordero means lamb. We didn't go to the fancy restaurants but ordered them as a tapa or racione (plate with a full serving) when we saw them. Pork is normally the most common meat on the menu. It can be served as pork chops, roast pork, jamon (thin sliced cured legs), loin (many times similar to deli ham, other times like a thin sliced pork chop). Helpful menu words. Asador is what I would consider bar-b-que, essentially char-grilled. De la Planche also translates to grilled, but in many cases that's more like a meat cooked on a skillet. You will also see Barbacoa, which seemed to mean lots of things. Barbacoa Salza always means bar-b-que sauce. Pincho or Pinchito means on a skewer. Pincho Maruno was one of our most and least favorite menu items. Sometimes it was an outstanding tender meat marinated and grilled, other times it was a cut up piece of chewy Chorizo sausage on a skewer.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Still more food: We were served french fries often as part of our order. It may be the most common side dish in Spain. A small plate/basket of bread is also commonly served, sometimes they charge a little for the bread but it's never much. We had some bread that was almost a sourdough flavor but most was what I would describe as soda bread.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Tapas: Types of tapas (or pinchos in the north, probably because it's on a toothpick) vary by region. In some areas, seafood was served almost exclusively. Other areas served more game, lamb, ox tail, etc. Some places give you a free tapa with your drink, this seems to be most common in Andalucia, including Seville (but also some places, like Rick's Bull Bar in Plaza Mayor, in Madrid). In Granada, one place (Antequeria?) gives you a ham and cheese sandwich, fries, and fritos - really a full meal - free with your drink. Prices can vary widely, from under 2 euros to upwards of 7 euros. We found tapas to be unexpectedly expensive in Barcelona with the exception of the place that translates to Champagne. This was our favorite tapas bar in Barcelona by far. It was more local and lively. Many other places were more upscale with expensive tapas and drinks but very nice places. After Barcelona, maybe because we had some experience, we found it easier to find cheap tapas and had a little better eye for the types of tapas that appealed to us most.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Drinks: We generally ordered Vino Tinto (red wine), Crianza (aged red wine), Cerveza (beer) or a Cana (small beer, should have a wavy line over the n, like Canya). I don't think a Cana ever cost more than a Euro, the cheapest was 30 euro cents. Cerveza was also cheap, usually around a euro, rarely close to two euros. Vino Tinto is usually from 1.50 euro to around 2 euro. Crianza runs 1.8 to 2.60. We were happiest with some of the Riojas (from northern Spain) and the ones from the Valdepenas area (can't remember the grape). Crianza means the wine is aged for a year, Reserva means it's aged for two years. We also drank sherry in Jerez and Sevilla. The most popular is the palomino fino from Tio Pepe. The most common we saw at the feria in Sevilla was Manzanilla or Manzanilla mixed with seven-up (served in pitchers, this is the "Sherry Spritzer" Rick talks about on his show). There are dry sherries, starting with nearly clear Fino and working toward a caramel color, and very sweet/dark sherries that are suitable for dessert like Pedro Jiminez. They also make a medium sweet sherry, Harvey's Bristol Cream is an example that is exported only and not available in Spain. Other popular drinks in Spain seemed to be Mojitos and Gin and Tonics (simply called "Gintonic" in Seville).

Posted by rebecca
darlington
26 posts

Hi Brad , really enjoyed reading your trip report, we really enjoy Spain and theres some places you speak of that we really need to check out sometime .
We are just back from a long weekend in Malaga city after the need to escape from horrid British weather.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Thanks for the kind words, Planning for Spain started at two weeks, then to three weeks with some Portugal thrown in, and finally to four weeks with either no or very little Galicia, Valencia, Extremadura, or Costa Del Sol and no Portugal. So much to see - so little time.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

More language: double ll as j sound. It seems primarily in the far south, an ll takes our j, rather than y, sound. My wife's maiden name, for example is Jaramillo. We'd say Haramiyo but people we met from Malaga insisted it should be Haramijo. A shortcut on rolling r's. If you see a single r, you can substitute a d and it's almost perfect. So my wife's name sounds like Hadamiyo.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Alhambra without reservations: We carried two guidebooks with us, RS and Michelin Green Guide. Too bad RS guides don't cover more territory. Like Italy, the coverage is too sparse to rely on it as your only guide. At one point on the trip, I remembered why I like RS travel guides more than others. Rick goes into great detail with how to get places, do/see things, techniques, choices, etc. that other guidebooks don't. While most guidebooks give times and prices for sights, Rick gives you other helpful information like which entrance has the shorter line or how to get tickets for hard to see sights. Rick's book was worth the money this time just for the advice on how to see the Alhambra without reservations. We didn't travel with reservations so we couldn't pin down a time to visit the Alhambra before we arrived in Granada. Rick's book offered good advice on where to get tickets/reservations downtown. The bookstore, first option, was booked up (even for a night visit), so we went to the kiosk up the road and picked up reservations for 9 the next morning. Although they charge more, it includes an audio guide, and pass, for other Granada sights. Unfortunately, it was freezing when we went to Alhambra. Mid thirtys and windy. The wind chill was probably into the 20's (I wish that was centigrade). It was one of the coldest days I've spent in Europe anywhere. The view of fresh snow in the mountains, however, was spectacular. When you go, look for the Arab baths. It's not considered one of the big sights in the Alhambra but it's worth seeing, especially if you haven't had a chance to see Arab baths elsewhere during your visit.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Storks, Another nice thing to see were the storks. In much of the country you will see very large stork nests on the steeples of churches or on top of telephone poles. The nests look like they've been around for a long time. I didn't know when the storks, which are migrating birds, would be in Spain. It turns out the Storks are in full force at least in April.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

When I was in Spain, near Madrid, in May, I watched a pair of storks building a nest on a church tower near where I was staying. By the second day, mama stork had taken up residence. I also saw stork nests in Salamanca, and across southern Spain. Along the highway, I saw a place where they had placed poles with metal baskets on top (like fake "towers") and storks had nests in those.The last time I was in Spain, it was late May and they were all over the place, too.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Did I mention how much I love April Fair in Seville. Walking through the streets in the day - with horses, wagons and men and women wearing traditional regalia - seemed like being in a different century. What an experience.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Thanks Patricia, Even though my wife has Spanish roots, she only speaks English. I had started planning a British Isles trip where it would be easier for her to communicate with the locals. She, however, changed all that by saying, "I want to go to Spain." She ended up connecting more with locals than on previous trips to Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finnland, Russia, Estonia, Poland, Norway, Japan, Korea, etc. even though many in those countries speak perfect English. I think it was primarily that she was willing to make more effort and so were the locals we met. One thing that helped her was loading a language app on her Ipod touch. Though it was far from perfect and required some patience, she could type something into the Ipod and show a person who didn't speak English, then they could type in a response.

Posted by Patricia
Burbank, CA, USA
30 posts

Fantastic report! This makes me really want to try Spain! I know "classroom" Spanish, which is probably somewhere between Mexican and Spain Spanish, so that would be interesting.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Itinerary: We went through Spain in sort of a figure eight pattern. Starting in Barcelona and ending in Madrid. Barcelona Montserrat Zaragosa Olite Pamplona San Sebastian/Donostia Vitoria Burgos Valladolid (and castles in the area Penafiel, La Mota, and Coca) Salamanca Avila Segovia Toledo Consuegra Belmonte Valdepenas Jaen Granada Antequera Ronda Gibraltar Tarifa (and Baelo Claudia Roman ruins) Cadiz Jerez Seville Cordoba
Madrid

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Wow, what a great and comprehensive report Brad,, very interesting and informative read !

Posted by Marbleskies
USA
277 posts

Brad, Wonderful report, thanks for sharing. Happy you enjoyed a great experience. To all who have read Brad's reports I want to convey how spot on Brad is with his information and how Spain is easy to navigate (with some preparation). We are english speakers with very rudimentary attempts at Spanish, yet language has never been a barrier. Spanish economy is "tough" and optimism is low, but this should not deter anyone from traveling to Spain. If Spain is on your bucket list I am encouraging you to take the plunge and go! BTW: one of the things Brad mentioned was how he typically does not like "one night stands" and I want to emphasize that if you can slow down your internal "need" to maximize the trip by traveling the "most" then invest your time in spending several nights in the same locale. Safe travels to all!
Steven

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Thanks for the nice comment. My wife has Spanish roots and really wanted to visit. It's a little isolated from the rest of Europe but an amazing visit and very affordable. I hope our next visit pushes the 90 day limit for visa-free travel.

Posted by sharon
EDMONDS, WA, usa
2 posts

Brad, thx for all of the wonderful info. Any chance u recall the name of the place u stayed in Madrid? would u recommend it? Did u go into the Lavapies neighborhood by any chance? Thx

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

We stayed at Hostal Santa Cruz. It's well located (about a block and a half east of Plaza Mayor and two blocks south of Puerta del Sol. It's in the same building with Hostal Cruz Sol, which I think is recommended in Rick's book. Our room was adequate, but nothing inspiring. The cost seemed high - but we were spoiled by cheap (and nicer) rooms all over Spain by the time we got to Madrid. Note: we booked this hotel before our trip, because it was our last stop.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

In retrospect, if I could have had two months for Spain, I probably wouldn't have covered much more ground. I would have used the time slow down. Spain is like visiting four (or more) smaller European countries, not just because of its size but because of the diverse cultures - Basque, Catalan, Andalusian, Gallego. We included many longer stops in cities, so we weren't running the whole time, but some relaxing stays in smaller towns would have been more than welcome.

Posted by Lori
Chicago, IL, USA
27 posts

Thanks for commenting on this "blog" which brought it to the top again for me to see. Glad in the end I asked you for advice! Great report!

Posted by Kim
Paris
541 posts

Brad -- you really undersold yourself with your title for your trip report!!! You have so much interesting and well-packaged information in here! But one risks not even checking it out with the underwhelming title . .

Posted by Caroline
Seattle
5 posts

Brad, thanks for this great report! My husband and I are taking Rick Steves' 14 days in Spain trip in late Sept/early Oct. The trip ends in Sevilla and we have 3 full days before flying out of Madrid mid-day on the fourth day. We're trying to decide how to spend our last few days. Possibilities so far: Cadiz; Cordoba; Donana National Park/El Rocio (because we like the outdoors/birds). We'd be fine either renting a car or using the train. Any recommendations?