Spain

When We Went: September 17-26, 2011

Cities We Visited: Barcelona, Ronda, Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada

What We Did
Barcelona
Jeff was attending a conference here, so he stayed for five days, but Theresa, who had been to Barcelona before, stayed only two days. The highlight of our time in Barcelona was our visit to La Sagrada Familia, which we found to be well worth the admission cost and the time waiting in line. It’s simply incredible–both inside and out. We also explored Park Guell, which was packed to the point of making it hard to enjoy, wandered La Ramblas down to the port, toured the Museu Picasso, and saw the Magic Fountain light show.

Ronda
Theresa visited Ronda alone while Jeff was in Barcelona. Perched on a gorge, the city is very scenic, and Theresa spent most of her time just walking around and exploring the town’s little lanes and it’s scenery. She also toured the bull fighting ring, which is the oldest in Spain.

Cordoba
Theresa also visited Cordoba solo. The highlight of Cordoba is the Mezquita, the former mosque, current church. It’s a remarkable building. The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos isn’t all that interesting itself, but its gardens are very beautiful and worth a visit. Wandering the narrow lanes of the old city is a fun activity in itself, with little attractions here and there to stop in on.

Sevilla
In Sevilla, we toured the Alcazar, which is very beautiful and much more interesting than that in Cordoba, though it’s gardens don’t compare. The architecture is amazing, however. We also visited the enormous Cathedral. We found the Plaza de Espana to be bustling in the evening, and we were impressed by its mosaics. We caught some flamenco in Sevilla at a bar across the river. And we spent a lot of time just wandering about and enjoying the atmosphere of this great city.

Granada
Our primary purpose in visiting Granada was to see the Alhambra, which did not disappoint. We had tickets for the afternoon session, and we stayed for about 7 hours. It’s simply fantastic. A definite highlight. We also wandered the Albayzin, taking in the sunset view from the Mirador San Nicolas. And we walked through Sacramonte, though we didn’t see what the attraction was.

Where We Stayed
Hostal Putxet (Barcelona): Finding a reasonably priced hotel in Barcelona on a weekend in September is a near impossible task. Hostal Putxet was one of the only places we found with an available double room. If you have a choice, I wouldn’t recommend it. Though convenient to a Metro line, it’s a bit out of the way. And the first room we were given was terrible. The bathroom was filthy, the room was so tiny you could hardly turn around it, and it was incredibly loud at night, being on the second floor right over a club. We complained and they moved us to a room on the top floor, which was quiet and nice (I think it’s the room they show you on their website.) The staff was friendly and nice, but I think most rooms are like the first one we had, making it not at all worth the price. 65 euros for a double with a private bath.

Hotel San Cayetano (Ronda): This was a lovely and highly affordable place right in the heart of Ronda. My single room had a big double bed, and both the room and bathroom were spacious and clean. It was quiet as well. I’d definitely stay here again. 25 euros for a single room (with double bed) with private bathroom.

Hostal la Fuente (Cordoba): This was another great single room that was very comfortable and spacious. The only negative was that my room was right above the interior courtyard, which was a bit noisy at siesta time and around 7 in the morning. Located just outside the walls of the old city, the hotel provided easy access to both the tourist area of the city and the local areas. I’d stay here again but ask for a room higher up or away from the courtyard. 33 euros for a single room (with double bed) with private bathroom.

Hostal San Benito Abad (Sevilla): I stayed here both by myself and with Jeff. While alone, I stayed in a single room with shared bath. It was very simple–a bit monastic, really–with nothing more than a single bed, wardrobe, bedside table, and in-room sink, but it was sufficient for my needs. The shared bathroom was clean and I never had to wait. Together Jeff and I stayed in one of two apartments on offer, which was wonderful. It had a bedroom, bathroom, living area, and kitchen plus washer and dryer. Very roomy and well equipped, we’d definitely stay in the apartment again. 25 euros for the single with shared bath. 70 euros for the apartment for two people.

Hotel Molinos (Granada): Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the narrowest hotel in the room, Hotel Molinos only has a handful of rooms, but they don’t feel particularly small. The rooms are nothing fancy but sufficient, and the hotel is right on the minibus line to the Alhambra and within easy walking distance of the rest of the city. If you travel with a lot of luggage, note that the hotel does not have an elevator, and it’s a fair amount of steps up to the fourth floor where our room was. 39 euros for a double room with private bath.

Hostal Abel Victoriano (Madrid): We were in this room for about 7 hours total, arriving late at night and flying out first thing in the morning, so we don’t have a lot to say about it. The room was nicely decorated, but the bathroom was rather tiny. There was also a fair amount of noise, both from inside the hotel (thin walls) and from outside. It’s very convenient to the Metro, which was our prime consideration. I have no idea about it as a place to stay to actually explore Madrid. 45 euros for a double with private bath.

Notable Places We Ate
El Lechugita (Ronda): With an enormous list of tapas, most of which come in at 1 euro or less, this is a great place to try out a variety of tapas. Everything I tried was delicious, and the only thing that made me sad was that I was there alone and thus not able to sample more.

Bar Alfalfa (Sevilla): Seemingly always busy, this place draws in the younger crowd, both tourists and locals. Lots of good tapas, including daily specials worth checking out.

Come y Calla (Sevilla): The tapas list here isn’t as long as it in some other places, but the food is delicious. The ventresca de atun we had was maybe the best thing we ate in all of Spain. It was amazing.

Notes
*We used Booking.com to book all of our hotels except the one in Sevilla and found it to be very convenient. It was easy to see what was available, read reviews, and book a room. We had no trouble with our reservations anywhere.

*Ronda and the other “white villages” are popular tourist cities, but most people visit on day trips. Come evening, it’s a whole different city and experience. It’s definitely worth it to stay the night.

*The Cordoba library, which is right near the Alcazar, offers free Internet access and computers if you didn’t bring yours with you.

*In southern Spain, the buses run more often and are often quicker (and cheaper) than the trains.

*Buy tickets for the Alhambra online in advance. It’s simple to do, and it’s really easy to pick up your tickets upon arrival—Just swipe your credit card in a machine and your tickets pop right out. We were impressed by the ease of the system. Buying in advance guarantees that you’ll get in (if you don’t buy in advance, be prepared to line up early) and allows you to skip the lines.

*The Mezquita in Cordoba is free if you go before 10 am during church services. I’m usually opposed to doing things like this, since it feels invasive of religious services, but the church is basically a separate area of the whole, and you can explore the non-church part (my favorite part) during the service and then enter the church area once service is over. Groups are not allowed in at this time, so it’s also much quieter and easier to explore. The hymns ringing out from the church also created a nice ambiance. Additionally, the Alcazar in Cordoba is free on Wednesday, so if you time things right, you can do Cordoba’s main sights for free.

*Southern Spain is hot, even in September, and you’ll want to be out of the heat during the middle of the afternoon. Plan to do your sightseeing in the morning and evening, and follow local custom and siesta in the afternoon.

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