Spain 2005~Madrid and Andalucia
Confessions of a Travel Tyrant-
Ten Days of Tapas, Wines, and Wandering in Southern Spain.
Day 1-Travel and Madrid
Day 2-Madrid-Never send back the wine or,the Customer is Always Wrong
Day 3-Sevilla-“4 for Texas”
Day 4-Sevilla-“It’s a vacation, not a death march”
Day 5-Granada-The Alhambra
Day 6-Ronda-Stess: What road are we on?
Day 7-Puerta de Santa Maria via Grazelema, Arcos de la Frontera, and Cadiz
Day 8 Cordoba
Days 9 & 10- Madrid and Home
Note; this trip was created in a different version (older) of this blog, so the links above will take you to those pages. If you’d like to leave a comment about this trip, you can do so at the bottom of this page.
Introduction and Planning:
Hello, my name is Kristina and I am a Travel Tyrant. They say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? I’m going to try, but I imagine it will be a long, tough road, fraught with peril, setbacks and relapses. I may even fall off the wagon once in a while. The problem is that being a tyrant works well for me. I do all the research, planning, bookings, itineraries and everyone else goes along for the ride.
I like it that way because I’m a control freak. My travel companions like it because (they’re lazy and) it’s easy for them. It’s a win-win situation, right? I hate to admit it, but it is win-win, most of the time, because I’m usually well prepared and because I’m always right (just ask my husband, he’ll tell you). The problems come when I don’t know the answer to something, then I get this look of shock and disbelief from my companion, like, “what do you mean you don’t know?”
I love to travel. A lot. Some might say it’s an obsession, but I prefer the word “passion”. As I said above, I’m also a control freak, so the planning is an absolute mix of agony and joy, pleasure and pain for me. I love the research and the discovery of what I hope will be the perfect hotel or restaurant, but I agonize over making the wrong choice. I rationalize it all by telling myself I like to be prepared, like a boy scout.
For those who don’t know me, perhaps a little background will help. I went on my first trip to Europe with my husband (then boyfriend) when we were in college, backpacks on our backs, “Let’s Go Europe” and Eurail pass firmly in hand, and I never looked back. I’ve been to Europe almost every other year since then.
In 1996, on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, my husband and I decided to take a year off and travel around the world. We spent 9 months traveling in 1998-99 though the South Pacific, Asia and Europe and kept an online journal of our adventures, which is how this website was born. I think it was those two plus years of planning, combined with the advent of the internet age that really pushed me over the edge into full blown obsession. I also used to be a professional chef, so good food, and food related travel plays a big part in what I do. Plus, I’m used to telling people what to do, hence the Travel Tyrant was born.
This year was a turn for one of the every-other-year trips I take with my mother, who provided the FF miles for this trip. In return for her miles, she gets my services as travel planner and guide. Our first choice was Turkey. Unfortunately, we could not find upgradable flights on United for the days we wanted. Everything changes when you are trying to use FF miles for a free ticket or an upgrade. So, we decided to go someplace else and Spain became the next destination of choice. I’ve been a few times, including a 3 month stint of living in Madrid in the early 90’s, but this was my mother’s first trip.
Once we decided on the destination the obsessive-compulsive planning could begin in earnest. We were unable to get free tickets all the way to Spain on United (without flying to Germany first) so we took what we could get, free tickets to London. How hard could it be to get a cheap fight from London to Madrid? Harder than you think for the the day and time we arrived (a Saturday morning). Who wants to wait at Heathrow for 6 hours after a 12 hour flight? After much research and debate on where to fly in and out of in Spain, we finally decided on R/T LHR-MAD on British Airways as it fit our schedule best.
Next, I took the task of finding and booking the hotels. After going to Sicily with my mom without reservations, and on some days wasting hours trying to find a place to stay for the night, I decided to book all the hotels in advance this time. I did everything online, researching ideas on the Fodors “travel talk” message board, and heavily relying on Tripadvisor.com for reviews. With one exception, I booked every hotel directly via the hotel’s website, sticking with a “budget” of around 100 euro per night and in the end, it all averaged out right on target. We stayed in everything from 1 star to 5 star, Spanish Government rating. For our final night in Madrid, I lucked out and managed to get the Westin Palace for $135 plus tax via Priceline.com. This was my first experience with Priceline and I searched the message boards on betterbidding.com and biddingfortravel.com to learn the ins and outs of bidding before I lept in. In the end, my time paid off as this same room goes for $250 per night and up on their website.
I did most of my research into where to go and what to see via two “Eyewitness” guidebooks (“Madrid” and “Seville and Andalucia”) and the on the internet. I used the message boards on Fodors, chowhound.com and madridman.com plus plenty of other spanish tourism websites. I also used Maribels’s online PDFs, maribelsguides.com, which are invaluable.
We took almost every possible form of transportation; plane, train, automobile, bus, metro, taxi. We rented a car for 3 days from www.Autoeurope.com (for Granada to Cordoba), the same company we used in Sicily. There’s no extra charge for a one way rental which is very nice.
We took the high speed AVE train from Madrid to Sevilla and Cordoba back to Madrid (see www.renfe.com). I found the Spanish rail site to be very confusing, even in English, and certainly not as user friendly as the French rail site www.sncf.com. Instead of buying the tickets online (like I did before we went to Paris). RENFE would not allow us to print them out so we bought them upon arrive at the Madrid airport where there is a RENFE ticket counter. We also took the bus from Sevilla to Granada since the bus left earlier than the train and took less time to get there (and bought our bus tickets when we arrived in Sevilla). You can look at bus schedules on this website. In Madrid, we took a taxi from the airport and the metro back to the airport. I bought tickets online, in advance, for the Alhambra in Granada since I’d read they can sell out daily.
Finally, after trolling the internet months before the trip, I created my own guidebook of sorts by cutting and pasting information into a word document. I took various message board recommendations and our hotel info, and put them all onto pages separated by destination. That way, when we arrived, we’d have the info we needed onhand and we could take just those pages out with us. I also printed out the relevant pages from the wonderful Maribel’s guides. I did this “personal guidebook” on my last trip to Paris, and it worked well. This time, it worked “ok” but not was well as before because I hadn’t noticed that many of the restaurant recs did not come with addresses, so it was a bit more hit and miss (failure #1 for the Travel Tyrant).
I also pack as I plan, obsessively. My goal is always to blend in, rather than stick out. I know I can never do it 100%, but it’s easier to do in Europe than in Asia, and I’m always flattered when someone takes me for a local.
Plus, since I only travel carry-on now, the Travel Tyrant insisted my mother do the same. A few days before the trip, I instructed her on the joys of zip lock bag packing and she did quite well. In fact, we both made it through the trip without running out of clothes, smelling bad, or having to buy underwear. My mother however, did have to wash some things out and left them drying in the trunk of the car as we drove. At least they weren’t hanging from the rear view mirror.