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Trip Report: Spain, November 2023

Day 1: Toledo

We arrived at Barajas airport and took a taxi to Atocha station (fixed fee €30, no extra charge for the driver playing us Mamma Mia in Spanish). Our flight arrived extra early so our cushion of time between landing and our train to Toledo became 4 hours of surrealism at Atocha train station (all earlier trains were sold out when we tried to repurchase. We considered storing our bags somewhere and walking around Madrid but I kept falling asleep for 30 second intervals and jumping awake saying things like Where’s the money belt?! What time is it?! Where’s my purse?! When I asked my husband if we were there yet he told me to get up and go get some coffee, so I did, and along the way I visited the toilets which were the coolest strangest train station toilets I’ve seen so far. A futuristic space ship forest theme with mediation music and animal sounds and an attendant glaring at me as I tapped my card all over the place before finding the magic spot and getting through the turnstile. When I made it back to our seats, I found my husband enthralled watching an employee fight a losing battle by methodically making her way up and down the seating area with her pigeon poop scraper. This sort of thing went on for another 3.5 hours so I’ll skip ahead to when we made it to Toledo, at around 1pm).

Our hotel was Hospedium Hotel Posada de la Sillería (€255 for 2 nights w/breakfast). This hotel was in a perfect location right near the Zocodover. It was quiet, clean, and there was a small but nice breakfast. Both mornings we were the only ones in the breakfast room so I don’t think there were many people staying in the hotel.

The first afternoon is always tough as we try to stay awake. We walked around and went to Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz (€4). This was a nice but very small chapel and garden. It was an unreal first sight to see though - built in 999. We then wandered around sort of doing Rick’s Toledo Walk while detouring here and there. If you’re into winding side streets, this is your place. We went into Convento de Santo Domingo El Antiguo where a nice man showed us El Greco’s tomb. This church was very pretty with a few El Greco paintings and a back room with various artifacts and artworks.

We had dinner at a restaurant called El Trébol as it was near our hotel and the food was quite good. It was a long long day. Finally…sleep.

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Day 2: Toledo

Our one full day in Toledo was supposed to be a charming, strolling day - alas, we got to experience the strongest wind I think I’ve ever felt. I’m not sure if it was related to Storm Ciarán, but trying to walk against the wind up the hills of Toledo was like wading through quicksand. At one point I actually stopped and started laughing because it was so absurd. I literally was not moving at all against the wind. Going downhill was scarier and one time I almost brought my husband down with me as I inched my way down a hill with the wind propelling me forward like one of those people at ice skating rinks who never leave the wall. There was also a ton of rain. Long story short about 50% of my time in Toledo was spent looking at my feet, but the other 50% noticed it was an interesting and probably scenic place if one had the chance to be in it without being blown away.

But anyway, we saw a few sights: The El Greco Museum, which we enjoyed (€3); Sinagoga del Tránsito (€3), which was ok, but essentially one room with an adjacent museum of artifacts with no English signage; Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca (€4), very pretty, but again just one room, so be prepared - the gift shop was bigger. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant I had made note of from someone’s trip report, I wish I could remember who – Arabian Touch. Delicious food and nice décor. I had chicken Tajin and he had beef and we shared while the power kept going out, so we got to watch the waitress and chef running back and forth in a fluster.

After lunch we went to Toledo Cathedral (€10. Tickets are sold in the gift store across the road from the cathedral entrance). It’s a stunning place, so much gold and art, not just around the cathedral but a little museum tucked away with Caravaggio, El Greco, Goya, etc. We also went to Museo de los Concilios y la Cultura Visigoda (free). This was a nice place, very peaceful. Are you getting the sense we were rushing from A to B to C? I don’t enjoy this type of checklist traveling but the rain and wind prohibited a lot of wandering around outside.

Somewhere around this time we went back towards our hotel and saw a commotion which turned out to be that a tree had fallen in the square due to the strong wind and they were in the process of cutting down the rest of the trunk. I guess people will film anything these days as there were hordes of tourists crowded around with their phones out. It wasn’t that exciting. We picked up jamon bocadillos from a place called Viandas, a chain we’d see throughout the trip, and ate in our room as there was no point trying to walk any more in the strong wind.

I didn’t quite fall in love with Toledo the way I was expecting to. Was that mostly due to the lousy weather? I’m sure at least in part. Some sights left me a bit underwhelmed and I felt that so much of our time here was spent pulling our hoods down and rushing to the next sight before our shoes soaked through. This is likely what soured my experience a bit. It was nice that it wasn’t crowded though, probably because a lot of people cancelled their daytrip due to the weather.

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Day 3: Seville

We arrived at Santa Justa station where they have the most organized and orderly taxi stand I’ve ever seen. Tip: Don’t follow the sign that says “Kansas City,” however tempting. Follow the taxi sign, unless you’re walking, which we were going to but it cost about €5 to get to our hotel, so we saved our legs. The afternoon was spent doing RS Barrio Santa Cruz walk with lots of detours as I swooned over how pretty Seville was. We both liked it here immediately. The whitewashed buildings with blues and yellows and reds; the narrow winding roads; the abundance of orange trees. Beautiful.

Hotel Fernando III (€750 for 5 nights w/breakfast). This was our favorite hotel of the trip and the breakfast spread was very extravagant. I couldn’t believe how much food there was. My favorites were the mini ham and cheese croissant sandwiches and the mini ciabatta sandwiches. Oh, and the pastries, of course. The only thing is the hallways were constructed with very squeaky material so you can hear footsteps from other guests. This was funny at first, then annoying, then forgotten as there didn’t seem to be many guests in the hotel (are you noticing a theme? November is a GREAT time to go to Spain).

Day 4: Seville

We started the day at the Royal Alcazar for our 9:30am booking (€13.50, prebook online). This was spectacular. Gorgeous architecture and the gardens were peaceful and scenic with the palm trees, fountains, and a duck pond. We spent about 2 hours here, then went to Iglesia Colegial del Divino Salvador (included with the Royal Alcazar ticket), the second largest church in Seville. It was quite striking. My husband had removed his hat when we entered and after we left, he realized he left it inside. I surprised myself by being able to convey this in Spanish to the man at the counter who let me back in to retrieve it.

Next, we went to the Catedral de Sevilla, the world’s largest gothic church and a UNESCO site (€11, pre-book online). Wow wow wow. Lives up to the hype. It’s huge, soaring, dark and brooding, flashy and somber. Most of the people crowded around Christopher Columbus’ tomb and the gold altar, but there’s a lot to see here, including really beautiful art.

When we left the cathedral, we were strolling around the area outside and a woman appeared from nowhere thrusting something at me. I exclaimed “Oh! It’s the Rosemary Scam!” My husband claims I had a big smile on my face. I guess it’s a rite of passage. “I’ve finally been Rosemary-ed! Now all that’s left is the Pigeon Poop Scam.” My husband reminded me that we almost had the real thing the day before while eating lunch outside and moving the plates back and forth to avoid the bird’s deposits.

The rest of the evening was spent strolling as Seville was made for it. It’s somehow even prettier at night. The weather was mild and the crowds were light.

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Day 5: Seville

This morning we walked to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla (€1.50). This one was a surprise. It was bigger than we thought and we really enjoyed it here. I discovered Murillo for the first time as they have an extensive collection of his. We then walked around the northern part of the city aimlessly, stumbled across a book fair, and briefly saw the Metropol/Mushroom building thing, which looks odd online but downright hideous in real life. Somewhere near here I had my first churros and chocolate.

We made our way back to the Bario Santa Cruz and had dinner at El Beso Gastro, then walked to nearby Case Del Flamenco for what was a very enjoyable (but obviously touristy) flamenco show (€22. We booked online but the show was only half full. You could also walk up and pay at the door). Afterwards we walked around the Jewish Quarter again to see it at night.

Day 6: Seville

Today we walked to Plaza de España and it was a bit disappointing that half of it was closed off due to construction, and the nearby park was closed. We then walked towards Torre del Oro and walked along the river and over the bridge to Triana. We had lunch at the Mercado de Triana and spent the afternoon wandering around this neighborhood. Triana was colorful and really interesting to walk around in. We popped into one or two random churches, stopped for coffee – no real plan here other than to just be. We went back to the streets around the Cathedral and Alcazar tonight and the whole area looks beautiful illuminated at night.

Day 7: Cordoba

We arrived in Cordoba about 10am and stopped at a Cafeteria for a quick coffee. Since we weren’t sure what time we’d get here we bought our tickets for the Mezquita on our phone at this time (€13). I had been monitoring the ticket availability before and during the trip and wouldn’t recommend this approach during peak times. The Mezquita was one of my bucket list items, a place I had been looking forward to for years, and finally I was here. When we walked in I audibly gasped. Take all the photos and video you’ve seen and believe them – this place is remarkable. And it's bigger than it appears. The vastness, the columns and rows, it goes on and on. I was mesmerized.

From here we walked to the Roman Bridge and old city gate, and then a quick stop at the Sinagoga and the streets around the Jewish Quarter. In some parts Cordoba felt like Seville in miniature. Our train wasn’t leaving until 6:30pm so we spent a leisurely afternoon walking around. When we got to the station our train was delayed. No big deal, right? We looked at the Renfe app and saw another train a few minutes after ours…and then we saw about 100 people crowd around the Renfe ticket office overwhelming the sole employee. We made a snap decision to buy tickets for the next train on the app and deal with trying to get a refund later, if possible (our tickets were purchased through trainline at home as the Renfe website and app wouldn’t cooperate with us). A couple of minutes after buying tickets to the next train our original train was cancelled and of course the next train rapidly sold out, too. No idea if I’ll ever get my money back for the cancelled train – per trainline, they’re ‘working on it.’

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Day 8: Granada

We checked out of our hotel and took a train to Granada. The scenery between Seville and Granda was enjoyable and started to get more mountainous closer to Granada. We arrived in the afternoon and checked into our hotel.

Hotel Catalonia Granada (€311 for 3 nights w/breakfast). I had originally booked a hotel near Plaza de la Trinidad, but when our train to leave Granada turned out to be before 7am, I changed to a hotel near the train station so that we could walk to it easily. The hotel and staff were nice and it was only a short walk to the main sites.

The old center of Granada was fun to walk around. It has a different look and feel to the places we’d seen so far. We visited Granada Cathedral first (€5) which has an interesting décor and the building looks sort of crammed into a tight space and seems to sneak up on you as you turn a corner. The interior is not gothic, and it was a nice change of scenery to be in a light, airy cathedral with contrasting checkerboard flooring. The Royal Chapel is a separate attraction (€5) so we went there next. This was incredibly beautiful, the highlight being the intricate tombs of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. There was a little staircase near the tombs where you can walk down and see the coffins. There’s also some beautiful art here, including some work from the Dutch Masters.

We then wandered around the Alcaicería – rebuilt due to a fire in the 19th century, and unashamedly touristy, but fun to poke around in. This area of Granada was nice and we spent time sitting in Plaza de Bib Rambla and Plaza de la Trinidad. We picked up some sandwiches and ate them on a bench enjoying the scenery.

Day 9: Granada

Alhambra day! My husband had started dealing with some sinus pressure the evening before and was not feeling great, but he pushed through. This was one of the main sites we were both looking forward to. We took a taxi to the Puerta de la Justicia gate which allowed us to get in quickly. There was no line – in fact, we were the only ones walking through at that time. We had 9:30am tickets for the Nasrid Palaces and were early, so we first looked around the Palace of Charles V then went back to the Nasrid Palaces entrance. Of course, it was beyond impressive. So much intricate detail. The Alhambra is an overload for the senses and we spent several hours here.

Late afternoon found us back at Plaza de Bib Rambla because I had Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla on my list for their churros with chocolate. So glad we were able to come here as they were my favorite churros of the trip and it was nice to eat sitting outside on the square.

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Day 10: Granada

Sadly, this day was a bit of a wash. I had planned to explore the Sacromonte and Albaicín area and also wanted to go to The San Nicolás viewpoint, but my husband’s sinus infection upended our plans and he spent most of the day in the room. I could’ve gone but didn’t want to go too far or be gone too long. I visited nearby Basílica de San Juan de Dios which was probably the most over the top baroque church I’ve ever seen. This was a nice place to visit as you can go upstairs and see everything from a different perspective. There were also some skeletons boxed up in glass cases and attached to the wall. A stop in a café, a supermarket, people watching in a square…then back to the patient.

Day 11: Madrid

We arrived in Madrid about noon but our room wasn’t ready, so my husband rested in the lobby while I went to a laundromat.

Hotel Catalonia Plaza Mayor (€670 for 4 nights w/breakfast). Very nice hotel and breakfast and they upgraded us to a superior room. I also liked the location of this hotel – we were able to walk everywhere and the windows were double glazed so even though we were on a main road there was no traffic noise in the room. There was an issue on our last night where it seemed someone in the next room was smoking into the vent. Our room suddenly started filling up with strong cigarette smell (perfect for someone with a sinus infection!). They handled it professionally and were very nice about it by giving us another room, which turned out to be another upgrade. In the morning the man who checked us out went above and beyond, even running out onto the street to hail a taxi when he saw me fiddling with the taxi app. Overall, we found the employees in all our hotels in Spain to be very polite and helpful.

We spent the afternoon walking around Plaza Mayor and the surrounding streets. In contrast to the café in Granada, I now had the least favorite chocolate and churros of the trip at Chocolatería San Ginés. You know when you know some place is a tourist trap but you still want to go so you end up with an experience exactly like you imagined so you only have yourself to blame? Well, that was this. It wasn’t bad, of course it wasn’t, it was fried dough and chocolate. It was just being funneled through like a production line, dodging the Instagram models in the doorway and then having some thin, lukewarm churros and some runny chocolate slapped down on the table as we admired the numerous photos of famous people who’ve been there while others stared at us waiting for a table.

I have no memory of where we went for dinner that night, no photos, no notes. I guess we can assume it was something jamon related. Between us I think we consumed an entire pig during the trip. We stopped off at a pharmacy and my husband was given something that actually seemed to help.

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Day 12: Madrid

We started the day doing Rick’s Historic Core Walk with lots of detours as usual. Mercado de San Miguel was interesting and we sampled a few things for lunch. They were tasty, but pricey. We then kind of zigzagged our way towards the general area of the Royal Palace for a couple of hours exploring random streets in this area. Some highlights were Iglesia de San Nicolás de los Servitas, and Church of Saint Genesius and the Arco de Cuchilleros and surrounding streets. Once we got to the palace, we admired it from outside but neither one of us felt like going inside.

In the afternoon we wandered around the Barrio de las Letras and be still my heart when I walked into Librería Desnivel, a large travel bookshop. My husband was making fun of me saying that I was still doing travel research while literally on a trip.

We had dinner at an Argentinean restaurant, La Choripaneria, and then had the best gelato since Italy at GIOELIA Cremeria near our hotel.

Day 13: Madrid

We walked to The Prado Museum and lined up to enter at 10am (we had pre-bought tickets online, €15). We loved this museum so much! I think we spent longer here than at The Vatican Museums if you can believe it. It was not crowded so we were able to take our time and revist rooms, stop for lunch, go back and look some more, browse the gift shop. There seems to be almost no filler. Almost every piece is amazing. My husband was enthralled by Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. I loved the El Greco room and the Velázquez's, particularly, of course, Las Meninas, which was much larger than I imagined. We both discovered and loved Zurbarán.

Day 14: Madrid

Our last day. We slept in a bit, had breakfast, and started walking towards Grand Via. There were multiple police barricades and road closures and it became almost comical, like we were on a hidden camera show. Every time we were redirected, we’d face another closure and go further and further, ‘round and ‘round in circles. We eventually made it and aimlessly strolled towards Plaza de Espana, stopping at random shops, having a last churro and chocolate.

We talked about Madrid and had similar feeling about it. For a big city we both thought it was fairly clean. We also both liked the architecture and general vibe. My husband is not a big city person (or so he thinks), but it’s funny that one year later from our trip to Rome he still often mentions how much he liked it, and whenever we bring up this trip, he says similar things about Madrid.

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Weather: Apart from our first day in Toledo we had pretty good weather. Cool but not cold, and no rain. As I said earlier, November seems like it would be a good time to visit for mild weather and lighter crowds. This is the second consecutive trip where it rained on the first day, as if welcoming us, and then never again. Dare I leave my umbrella at home on the next trip? It’s London, so haha, no.

Language: Even in the touristic area, not everyone spoke English, even young people. I was actually pretty surprised to learn that my Spanish is better than I thought it was. I was able to communicate the entire time and more surprisingly, I could understand when asked something. I had the misconception that people in Spain speak a lot faster than the Latin American Spanish I am used to, but it didn’t seem that way (at least, not compared to the couple of seasons of Money Heist I watched before going).

While I don’t think you necessarily need to know Spanish to travel here, it would be helpful to at least learn a few basics. At the airport on my way home two US flights were departing at gates side by side – Atlanta and JFK. I ended up having to translate for several Americans who couldn’t or wouldn’t say a single word of Spanish to the overwhelmed and amazingly patient workers at a café. One woman actually barked “What’s Caal-en-tay?!” and I told her “She’s asking if you want your food heated up.” She then demanded I ask the woman for butter and “how do you say I’M IN A HURRY?”

Prices: My last trip was the UK, so prices felt much more affordable on this trip. You can definitely eat well here without breaking the bank, and our hotels were very nice for the price (again, comparing to the UK). Things felt like the lower end of mid-range.

Taxis: We found them clean, easy, and cheap. Again, I wish I could find where I notated who on the forum suggested the PIDETAXI app, because I found it very helpful to request a taxi in the app (no surcharge). It worked well everywhere except Granada for some reason.

Conclusion: We both enjoyed Spain and even without discussing it we’ve both assumed we’ll go back because conversation starters like “when we go to Barcelona” and “next time we go to Spain….” have been heard in our household since we got home. 😊

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8648 posts

Thank you. Informative report.

Have yet to get to Spain. A friend recently bought a home in Malaga.

Looking forward to visiting in the New Year.

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6289 posts

Thanks for the informative and entertaining report, Mary. We loved Spain when we were there years ago, and I suggested to Stan recently that we add Spain to our 2025 itinerary. Your report whets my appetite - for jamon, of course, and Spain in general.

Thank you!

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3214 posts

Oh very excited to read this! As soon as the Christmas decorations are up! Thanks Mary! We are planning 2 weeks in the Andalucia area in February of 2025. I’m going to see if our flights work better flying into Malaga or Madrid.

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3822 posts

Thanks for the report, it brings back memories of our trip to Spain in 2022. We took a food tour of Madrid and found a much better place for hot chocolate and nice biscuits, no churros - El Riojano which is a pastry shop with a cafe in the back, it is literally around the corner from San Gines. And we also loved the Prado, but it was a little more crowded though when we were there in October.
And I agree with your description of the cathedral in Cordoba - mesmerizing. It was our favorite of all the cathedrals we visited.

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My husband was making fun of me saying that I was still doing travel research while literally on a trip.

LOL!

I've been so looking to reading this! I've only spent 3 days in Spain (in Barcelona, 24 years ago), and so I enjoyed living vicariously.

As I'm planning our UK trip, it's also incredibly helpful to remember that prices won't be quite so high for all of the other trips elsewhere I'm hoping we'll take.

I really love that your husband is a big-city lover who just doesn't realize it and that a return to Spain will be in your future! 🇪🇸

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Thanks for this, Mary, very informative and well-written. I agree with you about the Mezquita, one of my "wow" moments from a few years ago. Too bad the rain dampened your Toledo time. I really liked the Visigoth Museum, once I found it after searching up and down those crooked streets! I stayed on Puerto del Sol, but I thought Plaza Mayor was more attractive and interesting. I hope you get to Barcelona on a future trip. Thanks again.

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4057 posts

Sounds like a wonderful trip! I am glad your husband was able to push through the most important sights for you! Now if we could only find something to help with those allergies. 😊

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87 posts

Now if we could only find something to help with those allergies. 😊

If only the goodwill of a bunch of kind strangers online could cure his sinuses!

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2181 posts

Thanks for the report and all the details. We’re headed to some of these place in May on the RS My Way Spain and doing our own arrangements is part of the deal, so I will be looking closely at your report.

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694 posts

Thank you for writing all of this. I love Spain, especially Andalucia, and it was fun reading your report and reliving some memories. We were last there about 2 years ago -- it's time to go back!

Between us I think we consumed an entire pig during the trip.

lol, this is how we roll, too!

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2708 posts

Very nice report; I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.

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6274 posts

Mary, great trip report! I love Spain and the people there are wonderful. I found, like you, that a little Spanish goes a long way there. In fact, when I went, I had spent about 4-6 months learning some basic Spanish and was really surprised at how much I had improved at the end of my two weeks there.

It sounds like you had a wonderful trip, except for your poor husband and his sinuses. Does he have sinus trouble year round or is it seasonal?

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2329 posts

Thanks, everyone. I'm glad it might be helpful/informative to some.

Mardee, not really. He used to years ago but now he only gets flare ups when we travel. We've taken 4 trips in the past 14 months and only once he didn't get a sinus infection - Rome. The only difference I can tell is that's the only trip where we didn't change hotels at all. But that's not feasible going forward.

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744 posts

Wonderful trip report, Mary! I just came back from Andalucía, too, following the almost exact same route as you did! I agree that Nov. is a great time to travel in Spain.

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648 posts

Thank you for your report, Mary. The itinerary is close to a tentative plan I have for the future.

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2661 posts

Thanks for the helpful trip report. I’ve saved this to read again when Spain makes its way up my travel list.

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10176 posts

Wonderful report Mary. We live 2 hours from the Catalonia border, but you're inspiring me to return to Madrid and the south during the winter. Yes, the Mosque is a breathtaking, unforgettable sight. We saw it in 1981 when we could come and go freely for no charge during the days we spent in Cordoba. Time to return. Really appreciate your travel style and report. Thank you.

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2329 posts

the Mosque is a breathtaking, unforgettable sight. We saw it in 1981 when we could come and go freely for no charge

Wow 😲