Travel Plan – Discovering Spain

Enjoy entry # 16 in the summer vacation plan travel writing contest. Entries must be received by May 17, 2006 and can be emailed to jtrotta@gmail.com.

We plan to spend a short vacation in Spain, exploring some of its wonderful history and culture while enjoying the warmth and ambiance of this fascinating country.

Day 1. Depart JFK New York, about an eight-hour flight, $1,500 U.S. round trip for two. Arrive in Madrid and take the Aerocity car, 19 euros for two, and check into the elegant Westin Palace hotel. The Westin Palace hotel is located on the Plaza de las Cortes in the heart of the city, within walking distance to the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen museums. Beyond the glass-domed lobby of this majestic hotel, the exciting sounds of flamenco can be heard coming from the Bar del Palace. Accommodations are quite luxurious, $300 U.S. for a double room, with breakfast included. Have a couple of cocktails in the Bar before dinner; enjoy the piano music and atmosphere that Hemingway spoke of. Dinner is leisurely and delightful, a marvelous shrimp paella and Cava wine, the champagne of Spain. Dining in the hotel is relatively expensive, but worth it, comparable to what you would pay at other five star hotels in New York, Paris, or London. Slightly travel worn, retire for the night, eager for the next day’s adventures.

Day 2. After a sumptuous breakfast with great Spanish coffee, take a short walk to the famous Museo del Prado, constructed during the reign of Charles III in the 1700’s. The Prado’s extensive collection of art includes masterpieces by Rubens, El Greco, Melendez, and Goya, as well as many others. Needless to say, a couple of hours is not nearly enough time to fully appreciate the museum, so much to see and contemplate. Next stop before lunch, the Thyssen museum, a marvelous collection of 13th to 20th century art, including Rodin, Pissaro, Picasso, Renoir, Monet, and Degas. Entry fees are extremely reasonable, approximately three to five euros. It’s a little early for lunch, usually around 2 in the afternoon, time for a stroll through the shady gardens of El Retiro Park, just behind the Prado. Although the park is refreshingly cool and inviting, with trees, fountains, and lush gardens, dress appropriately. Madrid can be quite warm in the summertime.

About 2:00 in the afternoon, lunch at La Costela, east of Retiro Park. Prices are reasonable, about 19 euros for a delicious order of tapas, small croquettes filled with Spain’s famous Serrano ham, cheese, and spinach. Tapas are very similar to the tacos of the Southwest. After a small pitcher of sangria, return to the hotel for a short siesta! Dinner at Botin, a popular tourist spot in Old Madrid near the Plaza Mayor, reservations advisable. Botin, considered to be the oldest restaurant in the world dating back to 1725, was frequented by Hemingway and it is said that Goya worked here before becoming an artist. Try something different at Botin, roast lamb or suckling pig, dinner in the bodega or wine cellar. Prices range from 20 to 40 euros for a great meal with wine and dessert. Botin is a must for first-time visitors, great atmosphere, and traditional music by local groups.

(Note: Public transportation is inexpensive with the Metro, numerous buses, and taxis. Bus trips cost about $1.55 U.S. to anywhere in the city and a 10-trip pass, on either the Metro or bus line, is $6.15 U.S.)

Day 3. Have an early breakfast at the hotel and go shopping! Spend the morning wandering around the streets, in and out of shops around the Puerto del Sol and Gran Via area. Visit El Arco de los Cuchilleros Artesania de Hoy in the Plaza Mayor for unique items of pottery, wood carvings, and papier-mache; Excrupulus Net for high quality leather products, and Adama in the Salamanca district for excellent, although expensive, ceramics. Antique lovers might browse the Centro de Anticuarios Lagasca arcade of shops in the Serrano or Velasquez district. Late lunch at the Posada de la Villa, historic old inn near the Plaza Mayor, good selection of grilled meats and fish for $15 to $25 U.S. Next on the agenda, a visit to the Royal Palace and the lovely Campo de Moro gardens, admission is free.

Return to the Westin to relax before having dinner at Casa Ciriaco in the Plaza Mayor, a traditional restaurant in true Spanish style and cuisine. Try one of the specialties, partridge with fava beans, a flask of Riojas wine, and dessert for 18 to 25 euros. No trip to Spain is complete without flamenco, and the Corral de la Moreria, the Moors, located in the Austrias quarter, has some of the best in Madrid. Strolling performers, dancers, and the lively music of flamenco add up to great entertainment for around $35 U.S. Late night show and return to hotel.

Day 4. Depart 11:35 a.m. from Madrid to Santiago de Campostela, the capital of Galicia, on Iberia airlines. An hour’s flight, round trip for two, 143 euros. Day and overnight trains a bit more reasonable, but longer trips. Taxi to the hotel, 15 euros. Check into the AC- Palacio del Carmen, a delightful, quiet, hotel, restored from the original architectural design of the convent. Great location within a few blocks of the Obradoiro Square and the Cathedral. Superior room rates from 108 –219 euros. Time for lunch at La Crepe in the Casa de Congo, a short walk from the hotel. Extensive menu of crepes, seafood (a specialty in Galicia), salads, and dessert. Prices: 20 to 30 euros.

On to the Cathedral, the highlight of our visit to Santiago. The Cathedral was built in 1077 as a shrine to Santiago, the Apostle St. James. People make the pilgrimage along the way of St. James, walking or cycling for miles to this historic shrine. An incense chalice hangs from the end of a 30 meter rope that is occasionally swung by eight men (a tradition seldom seen), as a tribute to the gods. The Gate of Forgiveness at the Cathedral will open again in 2010, a holy year, when July 25th falls on a Sunday. History reveals that pilgrims knock on the door three times with a silver hammer, hoping to gain entrance and forgiveness for their sins.

Spend rest of the afternoon exploring on foot the old quarter of Santiago, down granite alleyways, winding through a maze of 12th century streets past more architectural wonders and small shops along the way. Visit the University, one of the oldest in the world, and the Church of San Agustin. Stop in one of the many bars or pubs for a cold beverage before returning to the hotel. Dinner at Toni Vicente, gourmet cuisine, prices around 40 euros, loads of atmosphere.

(Note: For a remarkable rejuvenation of the mind and spirit, the small village of Santiago de Compostela is one of life’s incredible journeys.)

Day 5. After breakfast, pick up Hertz rental car at the train station, about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Daily rate: 63 euros. Beautiful, scenic drive (about 60 miles) on the Atlantic Motorway to Vigo, the largest city in Galicia, and a good base for exploring the Galician coast. Vigo on the coast is a picturesque city, rich in history, overlooking the Vigo Bay. Check into the Ciudad de Vigo hotel, located downtown a few blocks from the yachting harbor. Double room – 102 euros, free parking garage, restaurant. Drive north about three miles to the Madroa viewpoint on Castro Mountain for a spectacular view of Vigo, the beaches, and the ocean. Continue along the same route about eight miles to the Mirador de Coto Rodondo. Cimb through pine and eucalyptus to the top of the hill for a view of the Vigo and Pontevedra rivers below. Total toll charges and fuel approximately 6 euros.

Return driving south across the bridge to Baiona, another picturesque fishing village, with a replica of Columbus’ Pinta in the harbor. Stroll through the old parts of town before lunch. at the Parador, a fabulous hotel, situated on 45 acres surrounded by walls and pines. enclosed with walls, pines, and gardens, on the grounds of the Castillo Monte Real. Take time to enjoy the view of Islas de Cies from the 16th century walls of the Castillo Monte Real before lunch (more like dinner) for two under 50 euros. Leave Baiona late afternoon, approximately 15-mile drive to Vigo, time to relax a while at the hotel before dinner. Dinner at El Castillo, elegant atmosphere and view, great food, moderate prices, 20 to 30 euros. Retire for the night and decide to stay another day in Vigo.

Day 6. Breakfast at hotel and a walk through the historic Berbes quarter and the Calle de Los Cesteros. Lunch at one of the outdoor restaurants $11-$20 U.S. Take the 45-minute ferry ride to Islas de Cies, natural nature reserve, explore white sand beaches, amazing flora and fauna of these islands. Tickets at the Vigo Firth Ferry Station (schedule and fares not available). Return as the sun is setting for dinner at the hotel.

Day 7. Early morning drive back to Santiago to turn in rental car and catch noonday flight back to Madrid. Check in to Westin again and off to see more of Madrid. Stop at the church of Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida to admire Goya’s frescoes. Casa Mingo, across from the church, is a friendly, inexpensive place for lunch. The International Rose Festival is held in June in the Parque del Oeste, east across the overpass. Return to hotel to enjoy cocktails and dinner. Retire early.

Day 8 Depart Madrid for JFK.

We have experienced the “amistad” (friendship) and culture of just a small part of this wonderful county. Reluctantly, we say “hasta la vista” to Spain…next time for a much longer stay.

(Note: Speaking and understanding some Spanish helps, but certainly not a requirement.)

Filed Under: 2006 Summer vacation plan writing contest entries

Comments (2)

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  1. Robert says:

    You’re going to need the $500 to defray the expenses from that trip. Don’t forget the Thyssen, El Palacio Real, or the cave bars off the Plaza Mayor.

  2. Sharon says:

    True enough! We’re splurging a bit on this one in not a lot of time. Thanks for the tip on the cave bars. We have included the Thyssen and the Royal Palace (El Palacio Real).

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