So several months ago I went to Spain. I was able to time my trip during a holiday we had at school, in order to miss only one week’s worth of classes. When I was first getting into the miles/points game, I noticed that a great deal was on US Airways- from Jan 15-Feb 28, it was only 35,000 miles to fly roundtrip from the US to Europe. It’s usually 60,000 miles, so this was a savings of almost 50%!
I was fairly flexible with where I would visit in Europe, which was good because the only catch with the deal was that I had to fly on a plane operated by US Airways; I couldn’t fly one of their codeshare partners. There was a lot of availability for flights to Madrid so I hopped on that! I had to wait for some miles to post from my winter break travels, so unfortunately the flight on the way back I wanted disappeared. Luckily I was able to talk to a friendly US Airways agent who suggested a stopover in Philly on the way back overnight, and to catch the plane to LA the next day (unfortunately that plane was late and I missed class, whoops!).
SPAIN TRAVEL REPORT
I ended up spending 4 days in Madrid and 4 in Granada based on advice gleaned from the Lonely Planet travel forum. In retrospect I wish I stuck with my original plan and spent at least one of the Granada days in another city, Sevilla for example. Oh well, what can you do.
One of the main plazas at night in Madrid. This place was crazy during daytime- guys would show up with a blanket full of “designer” bags, watches, etc. Then the police would come and they’d grab everything and disappear. In no time, they’d be back at it. Also there were these incredible street performers who would act like statues. It was really freaky!
Madrid was soooo much hipper than the travel forums led me to believe. There is amazing food everywhere, and it can be quite cheap! My favorite was Museo de Jamon, these little pubs around the city where you can go get any sort of jamon or cheese you like. There is also a stand-up bar, you just go in and order a plate. Very cool to go by yourself, it’s packed especially at lunchtime. You can order a plate of chorizo, jamon, etc for 2 euros, and a cup of wine for 1 euro (sandwiches also 1 euro, but I don’t eat bread). There is of course more substantial stuff there and elsewhere. Going to San Miguel market with people from hostel for tapas was a real culinary highlight. Some things I had there were seafood paella, venison sausage, fresh wines and sherry, local orange chocolates, just amazing stuff.
There’s a ton of free stuff to do in Madrid! All of the museums are free at some point during the week, at least for a little bit. I went to Prado and Reina Sofia museums at night when they were free. It was perfect for me since I like museums, but I can’t handle them for more than a couple hours (I think the museums were free for the last 3-4 hrs of the day). I went on a free walking tour by New Sandemann tours because of my great experience in Hamburg with them. This one was not as good as that one, but it was still okay, and a good intro to the layout of the city.
Reina Sofia was really avant-garde! This is from a communist-punk exhibit they had running
There’s a lot of UNESCO sites nearby that are easy daytrips. I went to Segovia (loved it!), El Escorial (very cool, also made some nice friends on that trip from one of the symphony orchestras in Berlin. Funny, the violinist went to school with my old roommate and dated his friend while she was in undergrad! Classical music is a small world.), Acala de Henares (fun, there was a random Polish-Spanish religious parade/procession, also made friends with a lady studying at the school for a couple weeks), Aranjuez (I liked it but I think it would be better in summer with the gardens out back, and you can go on a boat on the river then) free museums, tours etc. Also Cardamomo for flamenco tableau, even if a little touristy, was very good. They have a student discount, saves like 10 euros or so. Okay, so I admit, I cried, it was so good. I’m a musical sucker, what can I say.
I stayed in Way Hostel which is a really great hostel, walking distance to a lot of stuff, or you can hop on the subway that’s a couple blocks away. There was always some event going on, and the Sandemann Free Tours even picked me up there. We watched the Manchester-Real Madrid game there, it was pretty fun! At $13/night, it’s about as cheap as you can get in a big Western European city. Highly recommended!
Granada was cool but I got there at a bad time, Sunday-Weds on off season. I saw music every day but every jam I went to was canceled or just music, no one allowed to sit in. Good music and big scene at Booga club even on a Sunday night (samba/bossa nova, cool though disappointed since it was supposed to be a latin funk jam). It rained/misted every day which sort of sucked but wasn’t awful. I heard a Roma trumpet player at the Sacromonte museum, the museum owner let me go back behind the gates and up to the caves with my horn and that was the only jam I had, lol! Hiking tour to Sierra Nevadas and waterfalls was really great, highly recommended! The guide Wayne was really great and we had a good afternoon at a local pub after. Alhambra was just ridiculous, I think THAT should be in the 7 wonders of the world. By the way, Granada is great for cheapskates, as you get FREE tapas at most any bar when ordering a drink. Most things are GF (quite a few let you pick which tapas you want) so it wasn’t a problem for me. I saw flamenco every night but a lot of the more “legit” places are only on the weekends or weren’t happening when I was there. Cardamomo in Madrid was better for me. I’d love to come back during a more busy time and hear more, it’s just so powerful music. Maybe it’s the pseudo-Roma in me.
I also enjoyed the hamam there, which is a little touristy, but nice, VERY clean if not authentic, or as I compare it to the ones I visited in Turkey. They have a student discount which is really quite reasonable, I think 23 Euros including a 20-30 minute massage. There’s a couple different temperature pools to go in, which was great since it was so grey and misty outside.
Herbal/traditional medicine is very strong in Granada and there are herb shops all over town, I wasn’t expecting this. Very good quality for this, also honey.
I stayed in a really beautiful hostel called Rambutan Guesthouse. It was in the old Albayzin part of town, close to the border with Sacromonte. We were wayyy up on the hills, and had a perfect view of the Alhambra on the other side of the river. I was the only guest during my stay so had the place to myself. The lady in charge was so hospitable. Again a steal at $17/night, really special place. You could rent a private room there if you didn’t want to stay in the dorm (small at 5 beds/room), which also would be very nice and romantic.
I took buses (ALSA) in Spain and they were quite clean and operated on schedule. Make sure you book ahead of time; you can often save significant money. Trains (RENFE) regionally are nice but you will pay much more, and the buses are quicker. I did take subways and regional rail in Madrid for the most part with no problems. I bought a multi-day metro pass to save money.
I was a little tired from school and studying for midterms, I think I could have gone to Seville with one more day but oh well. At least I know I definitely would like to go back.
My conscience being somewhat appeased, it’s time to meet up with the girls for dinner before gigging tonight in Venice. At this rate, I might catch up on all of my trips before I leave next Saturday!!