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Trip Report: Our two week family vacation to Spain -- April 2018

Hello! We are back from our first family trip to Europe, and I hope my trip report will help others in their planning. It is long (I like to keep a detailed record for myself), so if it's too much information for you... then skip it.. :-)

First, a big THANK YOU to all of you who contribute to this forum! I learned so much when I was planning our trip to Spain; all of the good information and advice was SO helpful.

Background:
We traveled as a family of five: myself, husband, daughter (age 13), son (12), and my mother-in-law. My son is cognitively and physically disabled (side effects of epilepsy); he can walk -- slooowwwwly -- and tires easily, so we have a special needs stroller for him for when we go longer distances or need to move quickly. He is a social butterfly and loves to talk (constantly!) and eat, so he is a great travel companion.

Mom-in-law is 76 and crazy active; she takes regular Zumba classes at the gym. She has been a regular world traveler throughout her life, but her traveling companions (a group of wives with husbands who didn't like to travel) have aged more poorly than her, so they and she have not done any international trips for a few years. We invited her on this trip thinking it would be a win-win; she would see new places and we would have an extra set of adult hands to help with my son. It worked out... but not exactly as we expected. We didn't realize until a few days into the trip that all of her travels have been with tours, so she was completely unable to cope with independent travel. Navigating train stations, talking with taxi drivers, walking around town, even ordering from a menu were tasks she was not able to do on her own. We worked through it and still had a great time, but we had to adjust our expectations and help her more than we initially planned.

I had been to Spain twice before this trip; no one else in the family had ever been, although husband has been to Europe a couple of times before, so he is familiar with international travel. We decided on this trip 18 months ago. We had been feeling somewhat shell-shocked at the state of the world (politics, refugee crisis, divisiveness, etc., etc.). My husband got a raise at work, and we decided that we would use the money to travel to other countries so that our kids could learn that people are people everywhere. Our goal is one big trip each year (we'll see how the budget holds up!), and I picked Spain for this first trip thinking it would be a good "test drive" for traveling with my son, knowing that I was familiar with the country, could speak the language, and could hopefully navigate any unexpected barriers.

Trip planning was all on me, and I loved the whole process! I did check in with family as I moved through itinerary decisions, etc., but they were largely happy to go with the flow. I also had them all read up on location background, history, some travel guide excerpts, and watch Rick Steves' shows for the cities we visited. My daughter loved diving in to all the information; husband was good for short bursts; mom-in-law wasn't really interested in the research and just wanted to "see things."

Itinerary:

Knowing that we are "slow travelers," I picked the following itinerary:
Toledo (2 nights)
Sevilla (3 nights), with day trip to Jerez de la Frontera
Granada (6 nights)
Madrid (1 night prior to flight home)

I've never warmed up to Sevilla in the past, and it wasn't on my original itinerary, but then I found out we would be in Spain during the April Fair. SOOOO..... Sevilla was added.

(continued below)

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Packing:

We all traveled with carryon luggage. My son's stroller was gate-checked for every flight. MIL and daughter were responsible for their own stuff; each had one roller bag and one personal item (backpack for MIL; messenger bag for daughter). "Responsible for own stuff" meant packing it, hauling it, lifting it, tracking it, and they did a great job. Husband had one backpack for himself and also pushed my son in the stroller; no personal item. I had my own roller bag, a backpack suitcase for my son, plus a messenger bag as my personal item. We've done this system for other airplane trips, and it works well for us. I'll put a detailed packing report under the packing forum for all the packing nerds (with whom I proudly identify).

Transportation:

Our flights were in/out of Burlington, VT, our local airport. I watched airfares for months before purchasing to get a feel for prices. I was certain we'd be flying out of Boston since the prices out of BTV can be really high, especially during statewide school break times. But I checked in one day, found round trip prices for BTV to Madrid for $850 pp and immediately bought 5 tickets. The next day, prices were back up to $1200+. Lesson learned: it pays to check prices often, even daily. I did have alerts set through Google flights, but I found that I didn't always get every fare change notice.

Within Spain, we did the following:
Madrid (Barajas Airport) to Toledo: Suntransfers private van ($240); worth every penny
Toledo to Sevilla: AVANT and AVE trains
Sevilla to/from Jerez (day trip): MD train
Sevilla to Granada: ALSA bus
Granada to Madrid: AVE bus, transfer to train at Antequera
Madrid hotel to airport: Suntranfers private van ($51)

I booked all transportation online ahead of the trip, when tickets became available. I had no issues with Renfe; I used Paypal to book the train and bus tickets. All travel went flawlessly. I was a bit apprehensive about traveling with my son, since it takes us so long to move anywhere -- boarding, getting seated, getting off trains/busses. But no worries; people were SO helpful and patient. Renfe and ALSA staff went out of their way to offer help, and passengers were kind and accommodating.

Around each city, we primarily walked. We used taxis here and there when it made sense, and we used the bus in Granada. We enjoyed all the rides. Since we were 5 people, we usually needed 2 taxis, so we would put my daughter in one cab (she is in her 6th month of Spanish 1 at school and can at least communicate basics) and me in the other (I'm semi-fluent). My daughter especially liked talking to the taxi drivers, none of whom spoke English. It forced her to use her beginning language skills, and all the drivers loved that she was trying. A great confidence-booster for her.

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Accommodations:
I booked us primarily in apartments through Booking.com and Homeaway.com. All accommodations were pretty much as described (details below); no big surprises, and all checkins/checkouts went smoothly. My criteria when looking were: 1) central location, 2) accessibility (minimal stairs), 3) 3-BR and 2 bath minimum. I was willing to spend more on accommodations in order to be well-located and comfortable; I knew we'd have a good bit of hangout time in our rooms (especially in Granada), and it was worth it for me, in our situation, to spend a little more to be able to relax.

Toledo: Casa de los Mozarabes. https://www.casadelosmozarabes.com/ We had a 3-BR apartment on the second floor (#6). It was wonderful. Comfortable, good views. No elevator, but for a short stay, this was fine for us. Highly recommend.

Sevilla: apartment near Plaza Alfalfa. https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1056719?uni_id=1308578 I booked this apartment 11 months before the trip and was already having a hard time finding accommodations because of the Fair. The apartment was fine, but not as comfortable for us as the others. My son stayed in the 4th, smaller bedroom, and it was only accessable through two other bedrooms; fine for our family, maybe awkward for some. There was an elevator, but you needed to go up a full half flight of stairs to access it. Again, OK for us, but not for all who really need an elevator. Some street noise in the front bedrooms as well. So, it was fine, but not our favorite. Recommend, with cautions.

Granada: Genteel Home Plaza Nueva. https://www.booking.com/hotel/es/atico-plaza-nueva-granada.html We LOVED staying here. The terrace is to die for; we spent hours sitting out here, eating, reading, relaxing, soaking up the sun and the view. The apartment inside was quite comfortable and roomy. Perfect location right behind the Plaza Nueva, but quiet at night. Again, needed to go up about 3 steps to access the elevator, so wouldn't work for truly disabled access. HIGHLY recommend.

Madrid: Hotel Catalonia Las Cortes. https://www.booking.com/hotel/es/catalonia-las-cortes.html Very luxurious; we felt spoiled staying here our one night (but it was nice at the end of the trip!). I picked this hotel for location (walkable from Atocha and sights) as well as having 3-person rooms so that my husband and I could have my son in our room, and my daughter and MIL stayed in a regular double room (twin beds). We loved it, but it was definitely more expensive than we really needed. Highly recommend (but pricey).

Technology and Navigation:
I used the Verizon Travel Pass for my phone. I needed to make 3 phone calls during the trip to contact the hosts and start the check-in process for our apartments, and those were the 3 days I actived the travel pass. Aside from that, I used my phone entirely with wi-fi and didn't need cellular. To navigate, I used CityMaps2GoPro, which I had set up from home with key locations pinpointed (apartments, train stations, sights, restaurants we might want to investigate). It worked pretty much flawlessly. A couple of times the app got locked up and I had to reboot my phone, but no biggie. I also used the paper maps that our apartment hosts gave us; the combination of paper and GPS on my phone worked well, and I was happy with our navigation. We walked a ton!!

Weather:
We had nearly perfect weather for the whole trip. It was 60s and sunny in Toledo, with nights in the 40s. Sevilla was warm (as we expected); 80s during the day, 60s at night, mostly sunny. Granada was warmer than expected (the forecast changed after we left home); 70s daytime, 50s at night, sunny most days, just a few sprinkles one day.

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Food:
We ate mostly tapas (yum!). It was a great way to try many different dishes, and there wasn't much we didn't like. My MIL is not an adventurous eater and was worried before the trip that she wouldn't find any "normal" food, but everywhere we ate we found relatively bland food that made her happy. Most days, we would have breakfast in the apartment, then a bigger lunch at a restaurant, and then dinner would be either tapas in a restaurant or snacks at the apartment. All the food was delicious. We drank a variety of drinks; husband and MIL drank mostly beer, I had wine or tinto de verano or mojitos, kids had mosto (unsweetened grape juice), pineapple juice, or Fanta Limon (my son must have been sweating Fanta Limon by the time we left; he had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner....). No trouble ordering tap water with meals when we asked (agua de grifo). I included details on where we ate below.

What we did:

Monday, 4/16 -- arrived Madrid Barajas airport at 7:30 a.m. and took private transfer (SunTransfers) directly to Toledo. Arrived Toledo approx 10:00 a.m. and were able to check in to our apartment (wonderful, efficient check-in). We unpacked and freshened up, then went around the corner to Nuevo Almacen for brunch. Delicious! We then went for a walk around Toledo, seeing the church of Santo Tome and El Greco's "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz," ending up back at Plaza Zocodover for the tourist train. The train was really cheesy, but fun; a great way to get your bearings around the town and also see some beautiful views from across the river. We ate tapas near our apartment and then headed back. Daughter and I made a grocery store run for breakfast and snack items. Early bedtime.
brunch: Nuevo Almacen (wonderful)
dinner: tapas at Restaurante la Cuesta (decent)

Tuesday, 4/17 -- woke up 9:30 a.m.; breakfast in apt. Toured Toledo Cathedral (lovely). We used the audioguide, which was a really good one. Probably spent 2 hours inside the cathedral; we really enjoyed it. Visted Mariano Zamora's sword shop, which was fun, especially watching the men working in the shop. Walked to the Convent of Santa Rita (in Rick's guidebook) to buy marzipan; closed. The man in the shop across the street said it's been closed for over a year. Lunch at Maruxina Lounge (tapas), then Walked to the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes and did the audiogide tour (web-based); very interesting. We then walked around the outside of the city walls to the escalators back up to Plaza Zocodover (one of the highlights of the trip for my son, who is an escalator fan). Dinner at Abadia; ate downstairs in the cave rooms. Really good tapas.
lunch: Maruxina Lounge (delicious; relatively expensive)
dinner: Abadia (also really good)

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Wednesday, 4/18 -- up early to catch the train to Madrid and then Sevilla. I had booked the 10:25 to Madrid, with an hour layover at Atocha before our train to Sevilla. This was plenty of time to make our connection, even with our slow pace. Moving 5 people, one of whom was in a stoller, was cumbersome, but we found the elevator (thanks to this forum) and easily made our way upstairs to the AVE waiting area. I had purchased first class tickets to Sevilla since they were only slightly more than Tourista class, and I figured it would be easier if someone just brought us lunch on the train. Good choice.... it was easier. We had no trouble boarding the train (Renfe staff were so helpful with my son, asking if we needed assistance, ramps, etc.), and the trip to Sevilla was very relaxing. Arrived Sevilla at 2:30 p.m. and taxi'd to the apartment, which was just off of Plaza Alfalfa in the Barrio Santa Cruz. Great location, especially with the April Fair going on; it was a prime spot to see the carriages heading to the Fair. After checking in, we walked to Calle Mateo Gagos and had tapas. We had a wonderful waiter who translated my kids' names into Arabic characters. What a great keepsake! Afterwards, we walked to the Plaza Espana, looked around, then walked back to Santa Cruz. Enjoyed seeing all the carriages on their way to the fair while we were walking. Dinner at a restaurant on the Plaza Alfalfa (tapas again). After eating dinner, we stopped at the panederia right on Plaza Alfalfa for pastries to bring back for breakfast. They were so good, we wound up going there every evening and having pastry for breakfast each morning in Sevilla.
lunch: Bar la Tradicional (very good)
dinner: Luzanda (very good)

Thursday, 4/19 -- day trip to Jerez. Caught the 8:30 train to Jerez; arrived 9:35 and taxi'd to the Real Escuela. This was one of our favorite stops on the trip (we are horse people -- we have 4). We walked around the grounds for a while and watched several riders warming up, and we visited the museum (which was pretty good, although I'm feeling like we didn't necessarily need to start our education with the evolution of the horse.....). The horse show started at 12:00, and we were very impressed. Amazing training; amazing harmony between horse and rider. After the show, we wandered down to Bodega Tio Pepe, stopping for lunch along the way (more tapas). Bought tickets for the full tour/tapas at the entrance for Tio Pepe. We did the 4:00 tour, lots of fun for kids and adults (there's a train, 'nuff said for my son). The official tour ended at 5:15 and then we did tastings with tapas. Delicious; worth the extra price for the extra food/tastings. Our tour guide was kind enough to call 2 taxis for us so that we could make our 6:15 train back to Sevilla. Ate dinner on Plaza Alfalfa.
lunch: ?? missing receipt -- wasn't that great anyway :-)
dinner: Bodega Donaire (very good)

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Friday, 4/20 -- day in Sevilla. Breakfast in apt, then walk to Triana by way of bullring (not open yet for tours, but we could walk through the building). Walked back to Centro and then toured Cathedral (arrived 11:00, waited about 15 min in ticket line to buy tickets). Used the audioguide to tour the cathedral; didn't find it terribly helpful or user-friendly and wound up referring to Rick's self-guided tour (stored on my phone) for more interesting information. Cathedral was very crowded, as usual. Had tapas a few blocks from the cathedral, then strolled down to the Feria (about a 20 min walk). Arrived at the fairgrounds around 4:30 and stayed for a couple of hours. We walked around looking at the casetas, carriages, and lovely ladies in their dresses, and we grabbed some drinks (manzanilla, of course!) at one of the public tents. Two hours was enough for us; then we grabbed a couple of taxis back to our apartment. Left the apartment at 8:30 and walked to Gago 6 on C/ Mateo Gagos for paella (a specialty of the restaurant). Delicious!
lunch: Bar Casa Placido (very good)
dinner: Gago 6 (paella) (highly recommend)

Saturday, 4/21 -- check-out time at our apartment was 11:00 and our bus didn't leave Est. Prado until 2:30, so we brought all our luggage to Plaza Alfalfa and had a long, lazy brunch at Spala Hosteleria, which was really good. I had a belgian waffle with caramel sauce that was wonderful, and my son is still asking for the fresh-squeezed kiwi/orange juice that he had there. At about 1:00 we started making our way to the bus station. Good thing we started early, because taxis were scarce due to the Saturday Feria traffic! MIL and I ended up walking half way until we found a cab; another reason to pack light! We arrived in Granada at 5:15, and check-in at our beautiful apartment was easy. Once we settled in, we walked to the Plaza Bib Rambla and had some dinner (2 of us had the menu del dia, couple of pasta dishes for others, I had calamari and a quinoa/fruit salad that was delicious). Stopped for gelato at Los Italianos (yum) and groceries on the way back to the apartment and had drinks on the terrace before bedtime, watching the Alhambra lit up for the night. Absolutely stunning!
brunch: Spala Hostereria (highly recommend)
dinner: La Seda (very good, expensive)

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Sunday, 4/22 -- the only thing scheduled today was a tapas tour with granadatapastours.com (recommended by Rick). Roberto was our tour guide, and we had a wonderful time; very educational for us on the city as a whole, plus on the tapas culture. I had booked a private tour because my son is such a slow eater and I didn't want to drag down a whole group of strangers, so our tour was very expensive. I would definitely recommend the regular group tour as a good value (40 euro/pp, I think); ours was a lot, but a fun treat. We came back to the apartment stuffed with the good food and drink, and at this point hit a kind of "wall;" we were all getting a little tired and cranky with each other. Time for a group discussion, led by my awesome husband. We had six days in Granada, and I had made a long list of things we could do on any of those days, but hadn't made too many hard-and-fast scheduling decisions. So, as a group, we went through the list, prioritized what people actually wanted to see, and made some tentative daily plans based on the weather forecast. Having a vision for the week put everyone in a better mood, plus it helped that we built some downtime into the plan so we could avoid doing too much and getting overtired. We (at least, my immediate family; MIL is a "sleep when I die" person and probably has a different opinion, but she went with the flow) realized that we don't like moving locations very often and are happiest when we can relax and settle in. Lesson learned for future trips. Dinner that night was at a Moroccan restaurant near Plaza Nueva. MIL was a little concerned about trying something "different," but I was pretty sure we could find her something, and she wound up loving her chicken and rice.
lunch: tapas at multiple locations with granadatapastours.com (excellent)
dinner: Restaurante Sultan (Moroccan) (delicious)

Monday, 4/23 -- Alhambra day. We took a taxi recommended by our apartment host; the taxi is a van and could accommodate all of us plus the stroller. We used him a couple of times in Granada, and he was always prompt, efficient (Miguel Angel; +34 658 133 344). I had scheduled a private tour with Margarita Ortega Ortiz de Landazuri (Rick's rec), and her partner Maria was our actual guide that day. She was WONDERFUL. Outstanding job of communicating the historical context of the Alhambra and its many inhabitants; a very interactive tour with lots of questions and answers. We all loved it. She was really great at accommodating the route for my son, so we saw the entire facility out of the "usual" order, but in a way that was less walking and fewer stairs for him. The tour was an outstanding value for 130 euro. We met Maria at 9:30 to start our tour; our Nasrid entrance was 11:30, and we wrapped up the tour at about 1:00. We walked back to town and had lunch near the Plaza Nueva (I had a really good eggs, beans, and ham dish). On our walk back from the Alhambra, we stopped to buy tickets for the next night's flamenco performance at the Casa del Arte Flamenco. We rested in the apartment for a bit, then headed out for a tapas crawl (free tapas with our drinks in Granada), followed by pizza dinner.
lunch: Princess Salima (very good)
dinner: pizza at PaPizza (meh, but filling)

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Tuesday, 4/24 -- today we did the 10:00 Olive Oil Tour (oliveoiltour.com). Sounds touristy, right? It was, but it was really interesting and a lot of fun. We learned a lot, and there was no pushy sales spiel to buy products. We were picked up in their van near our apartment (part of the tour cost) and driven about 30 minutes outside of Granada to the olive orchards. Beautiful drive, stunning location. Worth the price of the tour just for the drive! We then had an overview of the growing and harvesting cycle, and then hopped back in the van to take us to an old mill (no longer used) to learn about the olive oil manufacturing process. Then a short walk to their dining room for tasting and more education about how to use olive oil. We did not do the wine tasting, but the olive oil tasting was really informative; we experienced some great flavor combinations and ate a ton! No need for lunch that day. Would highly recommend the tour (38 euro pp for adults; kids were less). We were back in Granada around 1:00. We split up in the afternoon; MIL, daughter, and I did some souvenir shopping (and more gelato at Los Italianos), and husband and son took a walk back up to the Alhambra and beyond to the park to look at the sheep. My husband went running most days and had a great time exploring up in the hills. Dinner was snacks on the terrace. Left at about 6:45 to catch the 7:30 flamenco show (no assigned seats; first come, first served for seating). While we were in line for the show, a shopkeeper who had seen us waiting came out and gave my son a Barcelona #10/Lionel Messi cap. What a wonderful souvenir! Again, people in Spain were SO nice! We enjoyed the flamenco show (it's never been a favorite of mine, but I think you need to see it when in Spain). The venue was great; very small and intimate. The show lasted exactly an hour with a small intermission in the middle. After the show, we walked back down to the Plaza Nueva and ate at Los Diamantes. Excellent, one of the best meals we ate. We were starving when we got there and over-ordered; next time, we would order one dish at a time. We shared a mixed seafood platter, octopus, and baby clams, and a plate of grilled mushrooms was the tapa. MIL ordered her own 1/2 ration of fried shrimp (the only seafood she will eat, so she didn't want to share in ours; all fine). It was all absolutely delicious.
lunch: olive oil tour (oliveoiltour.com)
dinner: Los Diamantes (Plaza Nueva location) (EXCELLENT!)

Wednesday, 4/25 -- toured the Granada Cathedral and the Capilla Real, both with audiogudes. The audioguide was reasonably good, and we enjoyed walking around. The cathedral is absolutely lovely inside; it was our favorite of the ones we saw (although Toledo was a close second). And so amazing to see the actual resting places of Ferdinand and Isabel in the Capilla Real; reminds me of the moment I had in Westminster Abbey when I realized that, oh my goodness, THAT really is Elizabeth in there. Awe-inspiring. Afterward, we walked a block or two off of the cathedral for tapas, and then back to the apartment. In the afternoon, daughter, MIL and I walked across town to the Corte Ingles department store to look around and pick up some small items. Husband and son chilled in the apartment (siesta time was a big hit for the male members of my family). Dinner was snacks in the apartment; too windy to use the terrace tonight. In the morning, we would find all the patio furniture in a pile in one corner and everything coated with fine sand blown in from the Sahara. A little after 9:00, we started walking back up to the Alhambra for our 10:00 Nasrid night visit. We loved it; totally magical. We wandered around for a couple of hours and walked back down to our apartment; got back around midnight.
lunch: Monje (very good)
dinner: snacks in the apartment

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Thursday, 4/26 -- I took a walk by myself around Granada and did some souvenir shopping. Nice to have the quiet time (I will do more of this on future trips; I enjoyed all the family togetherness, but proactively need to set aside some "non tour guide" time for myself in order to be less grumpy when asked "where are we going to have lunch today" and "what building is that" and "how much does that cost," etc., etc., etc.). Everyone else slept in, and kids were just having breakfast when I got back to the apt at 11:30. At about 12:30, we all walked down to the Plaza Nueva to catch the C1 bus up to the Albaicin. No trouble with my son and the stroller getting on the bus (he walked up the steps on his own -- slow, but there was no rush). Rode the bus up to the Plaza San Nicolas and got off to enjoy the view at the Mirador San Nicolas. How lovely! Took lots of photos and hung out for a little while enjoying the location. We then walked down to the Carmen de Aben Humeya for a lovely, elegant, leisurely lunch. My son had to do a good bit of walking in the Albaicin; lots of really bumpy cobblestones that the stroller couldn't manage, plus a lot of steps here and there to connect the roads. He did fine and it was good exercise, but tough going (maybe impossible) if someone is really wheelchair-bound. Our lunch was fantastic; beautiful views of the Alhambra, fantastic food, a really nice treat. After lunch, we walked back up to Helados San Nicolas for ice cream. Maybe the best ice cream of our trip. I had lavender-flavored; daughter had mango; son had lime basil. Delicious!! We then started walking back down the hill. Our plan was to follow the bus route, and if the walk was too much for my son, we would hop the bus back down. But he made it; downhill was pretty quick (about 20 minutes), and we walked out right by our apartment. We rested in the apartment for a while, then cleaned out the fridge for dinner and walked to the cathedral area for coffee and ice cream.
lunch: Carmen de Aben Humeya (very expensive, very delicious)
dinner: snacks in the apartment
ice cream/coffee: Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla (delicious coconut ice cream!)

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Friday, 4/27 -- packed up and sadly said goodbye to Granada. Took Miguel Angel's taxi to the train station and did bus/train to Madrid; seamless transfer, and no problem for my son. There was plenty of time in Antequerra to use the restroom and leisurely make our way to the train platform. The Renfe employee at the train station was very helpful to have us stand in the right place on the platform to line up with our car so that we would be less rushed to board. Arrived at Atocha at 1:40 and walked to our hotel (Hotel Catalonia Las Cortes; about 3/4 mile). Checked in, cooled off (it had been a hot walk in the sun to the hotel!), ate a snack in the complimentary dining area of the hotel (really nice perk). Walked back to the Reina Sofia and spent about an hour in the museum (daughter had wanted to see Guernica, which was, as always, absolutely amazing). My son efficiently squeezed in his siesta in his stroller while we walked in the museum. After we'd spent enough time looking at the art, we walked up and through the Plaza Mayor, and then went to San Gines for a churros break. Very yummy! Once we were done, we went back to the hotel to change for dinner (my son had had a bloody nose right before churros and looked like a horror movie victim), then back out to Sobrino de Botin for our 8:00 reservation (made weeks ago while still at home; daughter had seen the restaurant on an Andrew Zimmern show, so it was fun to book it). Dinner was absolutely fantastic; roast suckling pig for myself, son, and daughter; lamb for husband; steak for MIL. Crema catalan and pineapple with caramel for dessert. Totally wonderful food, and of course excellent atmosphere and service. We ate upstairs, so son needed to walk up a flight to get to the table (which was fine in our situation). Wonderful, memorable last big meal in Spain.
lunch: cafeteria on the train (OK)
dinner: Sobrino de Botin (absolutely wonderful)

Saturday, 4/28 -- packed up and checked out of the hotel. Traveled to Barajas via Suntransfer private van; driver was prompt, and we arrived at the airport 3 1/2 hours before our flight. Security was efficient (we were moved to the fast-track line because of my son) and we moved pretty quickly through all of the processes, but the airport is so big that it just takes time to get to the gate (we were in terminal 4S, so lots of walking, a train, elevators....). We arrived at the terminal about 2 1/2 hours before the flight, so plenty of time for a big, sit-down breakfast that was actually pretty good. Plane departed on time, and our processing through Philadelphia was mildly chaotic but relatively speedy (considering that most of the check-in kiosks were down and lines were long; still, things moved along). Took about 30 minutes to get through immigration/customs/security. Carry-on helped a great deal; many people on our flight were still waiting for their bags to unload as we sailed through customs. We made our way to our connecting flight to Burlington and were home by 9:00 pm.

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Impressions of Toledo:
We loved Toledo. It is small enough that you can kind of wrap your head around its boundaries and layout, and we really enjoyed wandering through the old streets and alleyways. As everywhere in Spain, people were really nice, and once we got away from the Zocodover and cathedral area, the town was fairly peaceful. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is visiting stay at least a night or two; it is so much more relaxing when you have time to get away from the "main drag." If (when!) we go back to Spain, we'll make it a point to stay in Toledo again.

Impressions of Sevilla:
Sevilla has never "grabbed" me in my previous trips, and it didn't grab me or my family this time around, either. It is a lovely town, and I know a favorite of many people, but to me, it is just a little too frantic and chaotic. We never really got a sense of cohesiveness (is that the right word? maybe we didn't get a sense of "neighborhood?"). We also admitted to ourselves later that we had been too busy; too much walking around, too much rushing through meals, waiting too long to eat and getting very hangry. So part of it was our fault. Also, our apartment didn't feel as "homey" as the other places we stayed, so that probably contributed. So, nothing was wrong with our visit (and we loved the daytrip to Jerez), but we won't go back.

Impressions of Granada:
One of my favorite places in the world. Family loved it, too. It just has a good vibe. Friendly, relaxed, easy to navigate, easy to drop in and grab food anywhere that looks good, easy to stop for a drink and be served a tapa. So conducive to just "being." But of course, plenty to see. In six days, we only got through about half of my list of things to do, so there was plenty more to keep us entertained if we got bored (we didn't).

Overall impressions of Spain:
Again, I can't stress enough how friendly and helpful everyone was. People went out of their way to give us information if we looked lost; we were approached at all public transport venues by employees asking if we needed assistance with my son;
every single person we interacted with was SO appreciative at any attempt we made to communicate in Spanish. We had taught my son "hola," "adios," and "gracias" before we left on the trip, and he was the hit of every restaurant, "gracias-ing" every little item that was brought to the table and "adios-ing" his way out the door to everyone he saw. Made people smile every single time; he got lots of handshakes, high fives, and even some hugs.

We loved the pace of the trip once we realized that we had been rushing too much the first half; we deliberately slowed down in Granada and really relaxed. We will remember that as we plan future travel.

We loved, loved, loved the food. I do not consider us food snobs, but trying different foods (for the 4 of us; not so much MIL, but she ate well) is a major part of traveling for us, and we were not disappointed! We ate jamon until we were starting to ooze pork from our pores; it was delicious. We had tons of really good seafood and meat stews, plus a lot of different cheeses and of course olives. We did have to seek out salads and vegetables, but we found them and usually shared a big veggie dish at each meal.

Every aspect of our trip was truly fantastic, and I know (even though we have many other places to see) we will return one day.

I hope my notes will help anyone else planning a trip to Spain, and I'm sure you will love it as much as we did!

Posted by
124 posts

Bravo!
I'm glad you had a wonderful time. It's good to know one's own likes and dislikes, and those of family when planning and also when adjusting during the trip.

Posted by
3353 posts

Thank you sooo much for this wonderful report. I'm so glad it went great and that even though your son has some special needs, you travel anyways!
Spain may have moved up in my need to go to list!

Posted by
3961 posts

Deb, great trip report! Felt like we relived Madrid & Toledo through your eyes.
What fond memories for your family. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by
7447 posts

Thank you, Deb, for sharing your trip report! I enjoyed reading through your days which brought back some fond memories of our trip to Spain last year - wonderful Toledo, Los Diamantes fun atmosphere to eat seafood in Granada, the excellent coconut gelato that I enjoyed in several towns - yum!

Kudos to you, also, for all of your trip planning! And I’m glad that your son was treated very well. Teaching him some Spanish words to connect and be considerate with people in return was an excellent idea.

Posted by
681 posts

What a great report. Just loved it and so glad it well so well. That is what happens with great planning and team/family work.

Posted by
7050 posts

This is one great trip report!!! Thanks for sharing.

Posted by
1056 posts

Deb, thanks for your excellent trip report. I must admit that you keep far better records of where you stayed, what restaurants you ate at, etc. than I ever have. I’ll be visiting Vienna, Salzburg and Nürnberg in late November and early December. I’ll make an effort to keep better records and to write a trip report, as I really should, after all the helpful hints I’ve received in this forum.

Posted by
107 posts

Deb-just finished reading, a great gift from you. having travelled in Same areas last year it brought to life some of the experiences of well planned travel. Thank you it was a pleasure reading.

Posted by
11294 posts

Thanks for taking the time to post this. Your research and planning really paid off, and in turn, should be helpful for others.