To the Blog Readers:
The following is a note to Rick Steves the travel Guru. We bought his book Guide Book to Spain for 2007. We wanted to let Rick know what worked and what didn’t for us on our trip to Spain. Our comments are also offered to Blog readers “FYI” about our impressions of Spain.
We are back after 16 days in Spain and we want to thank you for a great introduction to Spain with your 2007 guide. We read the book for all areas we were going to visit and were not disappointed. We are the Lynn family – papa Mike, mama Sophia and child Nadia – originally from Denver, now living in Yekaterinburg, Russia. We organized our travels in small bite-sized chunks so we didn’t tire and burn out on the trip. My only criticism of the Guide is for you to complete your clockwise trip and go from Jerez up to Barcelona.
We traveled via Czech Airlines Yekaterinburg-Prague-Madrid and then Barcelona-Prague-Yekaterinburg on the return. Three round trip tickets for $500.00 each person; a bargain with flights/equipment all very comfortable.
We arrived in Madrid and were instantly happy thanks to Avis Rent-a-Car. They were out of VW Golf’s, the car model we had reserved. We received an upgrade to a brand-new-in-the-fleet six speed, BMW 118 turbo diesel. We left Madrid with 123 kilometers on the odometer and turned the car in 16 days later in Barcelona with over 2,000 kilometers. A pleasurable machine that was great on gas mileage and a “rocket” to drive. It made me feel 16 again!
We saw Madrid for 2 ½ days and then off to Barcelona to conduct business and to play some more. We stayed in 6 different accommodations over the 16 day period. Here is the hotel run down. We did all our own hotel bookings using www.bookings.com or calling the phone numbers in your book. We had only the first two of the 6 hotels booked at the time we left home, Yekaterinburg, Russia.
- Our first stop was at the Eurostars Zarzuela Park on the outskirts of Madrid. The Zarzuela Park was a quick drive to a nearby metro stop where we could park the car for the day and travel around Madrid the smart way – on the metro. Eurostars is a small chain of business hotels with locations mostly in Europe. We were very pleased with the clean neat room for 60 Euros per night. We stayed three nights.
- Next in Calella about 45 minutes north of Barcelona we stayed at the Hotel Las Vegas. We had originally opted to be closer to the Mediterranean and use the car to get into Barcelona-proper. This is an older four story hotel that was clean, neat and a two block walk to the great Calella beach area. The Las Vegas is an establishment that caters to tours of German and French students. We had an ocean view terrace room for 60 Euros per night. The students and their night time activities were manageable with no interruption in our sleep routines. However, the hotel had a booking snafu and booted us out even after we told them we were good for 10 more days; I’m assuming they wanted not to ruffle the feathers of one of their tour partners. No problem, my wife gets on the phone and calls one of your recommendations from the 2007 Guide the Fonda Marina in Cadaques. We were at the LV for three nights and hold no ill-will against them for getting the boot. The move to Cadaques was as they say – “in the stars”.
- We stayed with Paco and his mother and father at the Fonda (Hostel) Marina in this totally delightful accommodation again for 60 Euros a night and only a ½ block from the main beach. Several years ago I lived in Key West; FL. Cadaques reminded me of Key West with its laid back manner but is much richer culturally than Key West could ever hope to be. We stayed three nights.
- Next we decide to get in closer to Barcelona for hard core sightseeing and we book another of your suggested accommodations the Hotel Peninsular. Again my wife Sophie called and we were able to get reservations over the phone. We stayed only one night. You warned us that the street was creepy and Sophie didn’t feel safe even with the ghosts of all those nuns who had lived there before, it was not enough to keep Sophie from worry. We moved on to our next stop…….
- The Eurostars Mitre nestled in one of Barcelona’s residential neighborhoods; located on Bertran Street with 57 double rooms. Our room rate was 70 Euros per night. We used Bookings.com and got same day reservations having to move only about 3 miles from the Peninsular to the Mitre. Breakfast is extra but it is a wonderful morning buffet that most Americans like to start the day with – lots of eggs, meats, cereals muffins and fresh fruit. We stayed 3 nights.
- Our final accommodation put us out in the country in a “bedroom community/burb” of Barcelona named Rubi. Rubi offered our last accommodation the Park Sedo www.parksedo.com . The Park Sedo bills itself as an “Aparthotel”. It comes equipped with a fully-equipped kitchen, private patio restaurant and pool and private underground parking. It is a small complex on the edge of a business district with other similar residential condo-like buildings around it. Again our preferred threshold price of 60 Euros was met.
Summary: Don’t be afraid to go to a destination during high season and “hotel hop”. We had great places to stay. Our goal was to lay our weary head close to where we were playing. Even with the “boot” from the Las Vegas we were able to regroup and have a thoroughly memorable time. Had we not been sent packing from the Las Vegas we would never have met Paco and stayed in this jewel in Cadaques. We found Bookings.com easy to use and internet cafés abound in both Madrid and Barcelona so getting the new accommodations was only a mouse click away.
Score Card on Spain
- People were very friendly, hospitable and they tolerated our bad Spanish. Thx.
- The road system and public transport is outstanding and driving on my Colorado drivers license was no problem. Avis never asked for an international driver’s license. I also lucked out, not receiving a speeding ticket from Spanish cops. Radar traps are surprisingly well marked!With the BMW I was always exceeding the speed limit driving 150 to 160 kilometers/hr on the expressways. Directional signs on all roads are inconsistent; you have to be a local to know where you are going. We did get lost a few times but nothing that a U-turn couldn’t solve.
- The air. With Spain being an EU member state, the air pollution control requirements for cars and trucks are quite stringent. Coming from Russia where few requirements of this kind exist, it was an absolute pleasure to breathe good air, even in concentrated urban settings in Spain.
- We loved the Dali house in Port Ligit. The pace of the house tour was un-hurried and enjoyable. Crowds were surprisingly small and we had a great walk over the hill from our hotel in Cadaques to reach the house.
- Food We Liked. Chorizo and other sausages were the standout meats for us. The most appealing food we had was at a truck stop near Girona when we were moving from Calella to Cadaques. Good portions here and more like home cooking such as a great garbanzo bean soup with jamon (ham) chunks and marinated calamari tapes for an appetizer. They had the best espresso on the trip as well. I usually ordered a “solo doughb-lee” – a double shot of espresso. I got so bold late in the trip ordering “solo quartos” when I really needed a recharge.
- Wine. We visited a couple of the wineries in the vicinity. Of note was the Coll de Roses near Figures. The Coll family has occupied this ground since 1679 with the actual core of the old winery building dating back to the 800’s. We all hear about the Jerez region with the great tradition in sherries but the other varietals are well represented by these small wineries located in this temperate costal zone which yields great cabernets, merlots, chardonnays and exciting blends. Wineries abound from Tarragona down to Valencia offering really well made and well priced wines. We had excellent tinto Rioja from Coll and others – some as cheap as 1.60 Euros for a 7.50ml bottle. A wine tour deeper into the Tarragona-Valencia region will be on the agenda during our next trip to Spain.
- Beer. Estrella Damm…….you need know nothing else about Spanish beer. Wonderful!
- Montserrat Monastery. This was originally set as a one day event. We made it two. The Monastery history and facilities was awe-inspiring and well worth spending two days. We touched the orb of the Black Virgin both days, stayed for vespers and mass and readings in Latin – just like the old Catholic Church. For those wishing to make the trip Spanish Rail operates a commuter train from Barcelona going direct to the Montserrat Monastery daily. We drove there from our hotel in Rubi. The final 15k on the twisting road was a great workout for the BM’er. Sophie was scared while Nadia told me to do more “twisty turns”. Karen just was happy to get there in one piece.
- Figures. After seeing the Dali residence in Port Ligit we drove from Cadaques to the City of Figures to visit the Dali Museum. Navigating into Figures was a nightmare from the time we left AP7/E15 highway. It was bumper-to-bumper driving into Figures and then to park and then to find a 1 ½ hour wait just to get your ticket for the Museum. We opted not to wait. It was to hot and although our 5 year old, Ms. Nadia is a trooper, we didn’t want to put her through this kind of wait; this was an E-ticket we could do without. We bought a book about the museum and felt happy to be off and driving the wide open spaces again. Before heading back for our last night in Cadaques we hit a couple of the wineries in the area
- Food. We found the food just “OK”. A lot of offerings were greasy and generally the Spanish fail to impress with anything beef. Our beef dishes were tough and tasteless. Chicken was better and probably the best offering was the calamari and other fish dishes and vegetarian offerings. They are not big on spicing as near as we can tell.
- Pickpockets. You warned us. We were OK though I must say I was overly cautious and paranoid with purses and wallets either going deep into the backpack or down my leg pouch on my shorts. Our friend Karen who flew in from Denver to travel with us was robbed just off La Ramblas in Barcelona. She admitted her being careless for just a second leaving her bag unzipped and not keeping her hand on top of the bag. Only money and a debit card were stolen as she had left her passport and some money back at her hotel. Seems to me the Spanish authorities need to crack down on these light-fingered folks with some really stiff penalties if they are caught.
- Bull Fights. We watched two matches on TV and I now understand why I would never go to one in person. There are simply less cruel ways to slaughter beef.
Spain was a wonderful adventure and we will return there again. Thanks to you Rick and your researchers Robert Wright and Amanda Buttinger, you all were right on the mark about places to visit and how to organize our days. Now for you guys to just finish the clockwise trip and cover Jerez back up to Barcelona…………all the best to you.
Mike, Sophia and Nadia Lynn