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Spain Trip (Warning - Much detail follows!) :)

What a wonderful trip to Spain! This trip was not only my first trip to Spain, but my first time out of the U.S., and the longest and the most complicated in terms of how many different places we went. I found this travel forum to be very helpful to a newbie traveler like me, and so I hope my trip report may help other newbies too, and not too much overkill on details.

Itinerary:

Madrid - 2N, Cordoba - 2N, Granada - 2N, Nerja - 2N, Ronda - 1N, Seville - 2N, Madrid 1N

I knew going into it that we were doing a lot of moving around for 12 nights, but it really worked out well and I’m glad we got to see so many places. I am especially glad we stayed two nights in Cordoba and did not make it a day trip - It was my favorite town of the trip.

We spent a couple nights in Nerja for some beach time, since Nick (my traveling partner) had only seen an ocean a couple times in his 40+ years. If that had not been the case, I would have skipped Nerja and added a night in Ronda and a night somewhere else, probably Seville or Madrid.

I’ll do separate replies for each city.

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Madrid: We arrived late afternoon at the airport and managed to find our way to the Renfe station in terminal 4. A nice man helped us buy the correct tickets to the Atocha station, where upon arrival we immediately became lost finding our way to the apartment, even though it was only one block away, ha! I think just being travel weary and a bit intimidated at first by the big, bustling nature of the Plaza Emperador Carlos V roundabout, threw me for a bit. We arrived about 7:30pm at the apartment, but I apparently missed an email with the code to the door. I had booked through hotels.com and had what I thought was the code, but apparently the 60 Balconies Urban Stay had sent a separate email with the code and I missed it. So it was a little dicey as I tried to figure out who to call, and with my cell phone nearing death. A nice British man happened to be coming out of the building and let us in and I was able to call the emergency number to the office and get in to the room. Whew! That’s my key learning from staying in Airbnb’s and apartments that do not have a front desk like a hotel: Make Sure You Have the Code! Anyway, we were pretty tired, took a nap, but managed to get back up for a quick dinner. We found a place right on the corner whose name I cannot remember and I also can’t find it on Google - maybe we dreamed it up in our jet lagged state! It was right on the corner of Calle de Santa Isabel and the roundabout. We had delicious cured meats, burrata, pan con tomato, and jamon croquettes.

After a restful night, we strolled through town and saw many sights: Plaza Mayor, Cathedral, Royal Palace, Puente del Sol. I had read somewhere on this forum that there are no street signs - the names of streets are on plaques on the sides of buildings at intersections - and that took some getting used to. We would stop into various restaurants for an agua fria (you have to pay for water at restaurants) or a glass of wine and tapas, and just pause to watch the people go by. It was a great first day. We stopped in a market to buy some meats and cheeses for siesta time back at the apartment. Siesta is a wonderful thing! After relaxing and a short nap, we went to the free admission to the Prado (6:00-8:00pm). The Prado is massive and impressive and we barely scratched the surface. If you are an art lover, you clearly need to spend more time there. We strolled around the Plaza Cibeles, saw the Puerte del Alcala nearby, both of which were lovely to see lit up at night.

Next morning, we went to the Archeological museum, which I highly recommend. Such a thorough history and amazing artifacts starting from the time of the Australopithecus. Then, it was back to the train station to take the AVE train to Cordoba. I had bought all Renfe tickets ahead of time through the loco2.com site, so it was easy to show my ticket to an attendant who helpfully pointed the way to the correct platform - for example, Cordoba was not listed as a destination on the boards since it was only a stopover to the final destination of Cadiz. It was a very pleasant 1-hour 45-min trip.

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Cordoba: We got settled in our apartment after a short 10-minute walk from the train station. Appreciated having light bags to walk with! Our apartment was in a residential neighborhood and it was very special to spend time there among locals. We walked through the park that runs through the center of Cordoba and came upon a plaza with many restaurants. Can’t remember the name of the plaza - the one with the statue of the man on the horse. (That’s a joke - all the plazas have statues of men on horses!) After dinner close to midnight, I took us on a wine-inspired impromptu walking adventure through all the narrow winding streets, thinking how great it would be to see the Mezquita and Roman Bridge at night. Ha! It was actually very nice to see them at night, but we had to take a taxi back to the apartment, since my navigation abilities were done for the evening.

The next morning, we visited the cafe on the corner where we had a traditional breakfast of bread, ham, tomato compote and olive oil. Walked about 15 minutes to the Mezquita. The Mesquita was my favorite place of the entire trip - the Great Mosque with a Cathedral built inside. The Garden of 1,000 Columns was like nothing I have ever seen (obviously since I’ve never been out of the U.S.!). We also saw the Roman Bridge, and the Alcazar of the Christian Kings and strolled in the gardens. We used siesta back at the apartment to do some laundry and freshen up. Dined at a place called Restaurante Campos de Toro and had some delicious Oxtail.

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Antequera: Had a bit of an early morning the next day to catch the 10:49am train to Antequera. I had read on this forum that there was construction on the tracks between Cordoba and Granada and that we would be stopping in Antequera anyway. So, we bought two separate tickets - one to Antequera and then one from Antequera to Granada. In Antequera, we took a taxi to see the Menga and Viera Dolmen, which are 5,000-year-old megalithic structures (really, really old tombs) - purported to be the largest in Europe. They were very interesting to see and I am glad we made the side trip.

Granada: Our ride from Antequera to Granada was by bus, a quick and uneventful trip. It was easy to get a taxi from the Railway station, and we met our Airbnb host who walked us to the apartment in the Albayzin district. I’m very glad he did walk with us because I am not sure if I would have found it on my own. I loved this apartment, very unique, and with a fantastic rooftop deck with a view of the Alhambra. After getting settled, we walked down all the winding roads (and steps!) through the Albayzin neighborhood down to Plaza Nueva, passing many shops on the way selling all manner of touristy items: magnets, clothes, ceramic goods.

Decided we did not want to eat dinner on the Plaza and made our way back up. We lucked upon a great place called Taberna 22. Only a few tables and a small menu, and the service was so friendly. I had read on this travel site and it is true - Granada is the one place where you get a free plate of tapas for every drink ordered. It was almost hard to order an entree (almost!) because we kind of filled up on tapas. While enjoying our leisurely dinner, we discovered the concept of street musicians. They play for a bit and then come around to the tables asking for money. It is not as annoying as it might sound, and the music was really pleasant.

The next day was for the Alhambra. I made scrambled eggs with jamon and queso in our apartment to sustain us for our journey. We had an 11:00am entrance to the Nasrid Palace, so we set out around 9:00. We elected to walk the entire way, although it is easy to get a taxi from the Plaza Nueva. I had read about the long uphill walk on this travel forum, and Holy Moly! That was quite a hill! I have a level app on my phone and at one point I measured it as a 13.5 degree incline. I am glad we walked it in the morning while it was still cool out.The Alhambra was amazing, and that is an understatement. So many intricate scriptings and mosaics. It was hard to not take pictures of everything! It is a lot of walking on cobblestones, and lots of steps, so my legs were getting pretty sore by the end. We spent a total of four hours strolling around.

Granada is one place where I wished I had thought to research and make restaurant reservations in advance because many places we read about that had good reviews were completely booked. Our apartment was maybe 500 feet from a place called Restaurante Trillo but it was impossible to get in. We decided to walk uphill and found a large square that had a few restaurants. Our Airbnb host just happened to be there and said it was his favorite dining place. I think it was the Plaza de San Nicholas, but not for certain. Had another leisurely dinner and listened to street musicians. This time they were playing classic rock songs on classical guitar. We heard Pink Floyd, Sting, Led Zeppelin. I wondered if others recognized them too.

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Frigiliana/Nerja: This is the part of the trip where we rented a car. I reserved on EuropCar in advance, and it was easy to pick it up back at the Railway station. I was fairly terrified to drive in Spain, but it was not that bad. We used Google Maps and it worked quite well. We stopped in at Frigiliana, which is about 10 minutes from Nerja. I cannot recommend enough stopping in for a brief stroll (although steep - and steps!) and bite to eat. The town is very picturesque. Parking is super easy too, as there is a parking garage right at the entrance to town.

Nerja had a large, free parking lot (a dirt lot and dusty, but free!) on Chillar street, which was walking distance to our Airbnb. Our location was not very picturesque, like in Granada, but it was right around the corner from a market, and a quick walk to the beaches. We didn’t do much in Nerja except sit by the Mediterranean (Iberian?) Sea and eat. It was our time to relax and recover from all the walking done so far (more than 50 miles!). There is a square by the Balcony of Europe with lots of restaurants, and more street musicians playing classic rock songs.

We got up at the crack of 9:00am the next day to go see the Caves of Nerja. I highly recommend going here - it was an incredible site. So many beautiful and fascinating stalactites, and apparently the world’s largest stalagmite. It is a 45-minute audio-guided tour with a group of people. Lots of steps, cool but quite humid in there too! We had tried to get in the afternoon the day before, but there was a long line. There are time entry slots, every half hour, and the next slot available was not until several hours later. So we arrived early on this day, had no line, and were able to get in just 30 minutes later. There is a large parking lot, only 1 euro. Easy in and easy out.

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Ronda: After the Caves, we set out in our car for Ronda. We arrived about 2:00pm, too early to do the self-check in to our Airbnb. We parked in a pay lot on the Plaza Desquesa de Parcent and had a bite to eat at a restaurant there. This was our first time driving through very narrow winding streets. I had to drive through a crowd of people to get to the parking lot, and it was a bit disconcerting to do so, since I’ve been taught pretty much all my driving life to not aim for the people! But I just went slowly and they moved out of the way.

Another 10-minute walk (we were basically 10 minutes from everything) to the Airbnb and another adventure with me having missed an email with one of the codes to the door. We needed three codes this time: One to unlock a door, one to a lockbox with the key, and a third to a different door to get into the building. I had two of three. It’s easy to panic when you are locked out of a place and standing on an unfamiliar road with your luggage. So again: Make sure you have the code(s)! But I was able to call the host and get in, and our apartment was absolutely lovely! It had a balcony with a stunning view of the valley. Way better than my apartment back home, ha!

I really wish we could have added an extra night in Ronda. What a beautiful town! We saw the New Bridge, and Alameda where Hemingway wrote about Ronda in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Strolled around streets near the bridge and had a bite to eat at an Italian place (was just in the mood for something familiar).

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Arcos de la Frontera: Made breakfast in the next morning and enjoyed the view from the balcony, before setting out in the car for Sevilla. The drive was very nice, winding roads, with golden hills and green trees. We stopped through Arcos de la Frontera for a bite to eat and to see the church of Santa María de la Asunción. I wish I had done a bit more planning for this part, since we arrived and I did not know where to park. Google Maps helped guide us through more narrow, winding streets to an underground parking garage, and it was a bit of a walk uphill to the church. Striking view across the valley and plains at Plaza de Cabildo.

Seville: The drive from Arcos to Seville was on a major highway, so we sped along for a little more than an hour to get to town. We paid a $7 toll on the way. Dropped off the car at the Seville Railway station, which is quite large and was a little confusing at first to find the rental car return place. Again, thank goodness for Google Maps.

We met our Airbnb host at the apartment, and he gave us a thorough overview of the city and what to see. Our apartment was on Calle Antonio Diaz, just down the block from the bullring, and a short walk (only 5 minutes this time!) to the Cathedral. We had another rooftop deck (but many many stairs!) with a great view of the city. Didn’t do too much that evening other than stroll around and see the Cathedral and the Alcazar from the outside.

The next day we waited in line for Cathedral tickets. In hindsight, I would have purchased them in advance. The Cathedral was very impressive. Those catholics sure liked their gold! We walked over to the Metropol Parasol, purportedly the largest wooden structure in the world (and also the first elevator we encountered on the trip). Walked to the other side of town to the Plaza D’Espana, by the University, the Torre del Oro, and by the bullring.

Later, after siesta, we were very fortunate to get in to see a flamenco show at the Casa de la Guitarra. We got on the waitlist for the 7:30pm show and managed to get the last two seats in the back. If you know exactly what night/show time you want, I recommend buying tickets in advance. Wow - what a show! I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if I didn’t understand exactly what was going on. It was one man with a guitar, another man who sang, and a woman who came out to dance for two songs. Really an incredible experience!

We had dinner along the river with a pleasant view of the Puenta de Isabell II lit up at night. I wouldn’t recommend the specific restaurant (something with “del Mer” in the title) but it was nice to sit by the river. More street musicians too.

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Madrid part 2: After an English breakfast at a nearby restaurant, we took a taxi back to the train station for the high-speed train back to Madrid. We stayed at a hotel this time so that I could print boarding passes for our flight the next day. Spent the evening going to a couple different markets to buy presents for friends back home. Found saffron for only 2 euros - would have cost about $15 back home for the same amount, so I grabbed many of those.

Had dinner at a restaurant I recommend - Bodegas Rosell. I managed to grab a seat outside and we sat for a few hours watching the people go by and enjoying tapas, tomato salad with brie, and sirloin with pate.

Well, that’s my trip! I hope this wasn’t an annoying amount of detail and it was helpful to others. I’ll end with a little summary of other thoughts about apps, my packing experience and where we stayed.

I can’t wait to plan our next trip! Before we left for this trip, Nick was thinking of Iceland next, and I was thinking of Ireland (hey - we’re only one letter off!). But now, we are thinking of the northern part of Spain instead!

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Helpful Apps:

Mobile Passport: This is a new app that is available for entry back into several U.S. airports. Although I don’t think we would have had a super long wait through passport control after landing back in Dallas, we definitely breezed through rapidly using this app. You just set up your information (can put every member of the traveling party on one phone), take pictures of the passports. Then, when you land and are taxi-ing on the runway, you just open the app, choose your port of entry, answer the customs questions, and it gives you a barcode for each person that you scan at the passport control station. Easy and free.

Google Maps: Definitely a must for direction-challenged people like me.

Google Drive: Not really an app, but I found it useful to upload our itinerary and copies of our passports, credit cards, and other documents just in case things had gotten stolen.

Accommodations: We stayed mostly in Airbnb’s, my first time doing so. We made this choice mostly for cost, since they appeared to be much less expensive than hotels. But I really enjoyed how unique each place was. I also appreciated having kitchens and washing machines. Here are the links:

Madrid: http://www.60balconies.com/
Cordoba: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/13252857
Granada: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/821522
Nerja: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1819929
Ronda: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/9404798
Seville: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6660332
Madrid: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/madca-ac-hotel-carlton-madrid/

I thoroughly read the reviews for each location before booking, and also made sure each listed the amenities we wanted (e.g., WiFi, hair dryer, washer).

Packing: I give myself a solid B+ on packing. We used carry-on size only, 22-inch roller bags, so I kept it pretty light. Not including what I wore on the plane, my bag weighed 19 pounds! However, I ended up never again wearing what I wore on the plane - I brought a light jacket, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and booties, “just in case it gets cold.” I was kicking myself, because it did not get cold and I just carried them around the entire time, so the real weight of my bag was more than 20 pounds. I almost mailed them back to myself while in Cordoba. I made sure every place we stayed had a washer, and we did laundry twice during the stay. All the Airbnb locations had drying racks, so I did not even use the clothesline I brought. Clothes dried so quickly on the racks in the outside dry air.

What went well with packing:
My walking sandals! I splurged on a good pair of shoes from The Walking Company: ABEO Fantine, https://www.thewalkingcompany.com/abeo-fantine-neutral-gold/34173. They were so comfortable and I wore them every day.
Packing cubes. I don’t travel much, so these were new to me and such a great idea. While they don’t save room, they keep everything organized and in place. We each used one large, one medium, and one small, of these: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00XLSZWE2/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Making room for some creature comforts: I bought some travel slippers and a travel size flat iron for my hair. I think if you are used to wearing/using something everyday at home, it helps making room for it during a trip.

Travel size spray bottle of Febreeze - good for keeping clothes fresh-ish for multiple uses.
Extra ziplock bags - didn’t take up hardly any space and just came in handy for various uses.

Posted by
295 posts

Loved every bit of your trip report, many thanks for sharing! We are headed to Spain next year and will print out all your suggestions to keep with us. So so glad you enjoyed your first trip to Europe, its totally addictive, let me warn you!

Posted by
4622 posts

Morganm,

Thanks for sharing your trip with us, it sounds like you enjoyed it very much!

For future reference, there are minibuses which one can take to the Alhambra from Plaza Isabel la Católica, and to the Albaicín from Plaza Nueva.

Enjoy planning your next trip!

Posted by
3789 posts

Sounds like you planned really well for yourselves, though many would have said you were nuts for so many cities in so few days ;-) you made it sound very manageable. Glad you had a great time.
I have 2 questions:
1. What were your travel dates?
2. Are electronic passports only for US citizens?

Posted by
114 posts

Hi Maria,
Yes, we were a bit crazy trying to see so much! I wish we could have added a few more days. To answer your questions:
1) We arrived on September 18 and left September 30
2) Yes, I should have mentioned that Mobile Passport app is a recent app for the U.S. and only some of the airports here.

Posted by
11275 posts

Wow - for a first European trip, you did great! Thanks for taking the time to post this report - maybe I'll get around to posting my Switzerland report now.

Posted by
646 posts

Great report - I am planning a Spain trip myself and your report will be very useful for when I really start the planning process.
Thanks for sharing
Margaret

Posted by
8657 posts

I enjoyed your trip report and yes, I liked the level of detail!

Posted by
1312 posts

It sounds like you had a marvelous time and I really enjoyed reading about it! Reports like this definitely help the next new traveler!