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Our Trip to Spain - March 2003
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Detailed trip logs

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Here's what I wrote when I started planning my trip. Now let's see how it all worked out...
Ever since my friend Carlos showed me his vacation pictures, I've wanted to visit Spain. As I surf the net planning my vacation, I'm finding it even more interesting than I had realized. Not only is the Iberian Peninsula the historic frontier between Europe and North Africa, it's one of the cradles of civilization. I knew about the Moorish mosques and magnificent cathedrals, but I had never realized that Spain is full of cities dating back to the Romans, Greeks, and even the Phoenicians! The geography ranges from North African aridity to Mediterranean to mountainous. And somehow all of this seems to lead to an incredible artistic tradition that combines flamboyance, surrealism and wild creativity (El Greco, Picasso, Dali, Gaudi).

The immediate justification for this trip was to get together with our daughter Amber, who is spending a year abroad studying in Germany. She wanted to visit Spain on her semester break to get a chance to practice her Spanish. This seemed like an excellent excuse for us to make our first trip abroad. So we planned to rendezvous with Amber in Madrid and travel together for 2 weeks. 

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F-Seville Sa-Frigiliana Su-Frigiliana M-Nerja Tu-Nerja W-Alhambra Th-Axarquia
F-Gibraltar Sa-Up the Coast Su-Catalonia M-Catalonia Tu-Barcelona W-Barcelona Th-Madrid&Home

Thurs, Mar 13, 2003Arrival.  Detailed trip log...
The Plan: Arrive in  Madrid, stay one night in Hostal Barerra. It's walking distance from the Atocha train station, as well as the Art Walk, where the big & famous art museums of Madrid are located: the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza  Museum and the  Reina  Sofia National  Art Museum. We planned to get to the hotel at noon, where we would meet up with our daughter Amber, on semester break from  her junior year abroad in Munich. 

A long, exhausting day, as you'd expect of a travel day. Air portion of trip went smoothly, but we made the mistake of trying to get to our hotel by bus, a thoroughly unpleasant experience culminating in Richard getting his pocket picked (losing only cash and driver's license, fortunately). Once we arrived at our little hotel and met up with Amber, things started looking up. The hotel manager spoke no English, but was very friendly. The room was clean and pretty, and the location was as convenient as we had hoped. Despite our exhaustion, we managed a very enjoyable 2-hour visit to the Prado (Spain's premier art museum), sampled our first Spanish food at a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, and even managed a little Spanish-language shopping. 

Lessons learned: in Spanish cities, don't carry ANYTHING that you can't afford to lose in an unsecured pocket, even a front pocket. Don't take the bus unless you really know what you're doing. The street signs (if any) are on the buildings.

Highlights: Plaza Colon, Prado, shopping for cards

Friday, March 14.  Seville      Detailed trip log...
PLAN: Take AVE bullet train to Seville, find a place to stay, see a few sights during the day and go tapas-crawling in the evening.

This was probably the most frustrating day for me, although there were actually lots of fun parts. I was looking forward to Seville, and as it turned out we barely had a chance to see any of it. Everything hinged on the lightning-fast train to Seville (about 2 hours). Our plan was shot to hell when we learned that  trains to Seville were sold out for the entire day. After almost 3 hours in the train station, we finally ended up renting a car and driving. The drive was pleasant enough (once we got out of Madrid), but took most of the day. This left time for only a brief excursion into the old quarter for tapas. 

  • Atocha Train Station - spent about 3 hours there. Seemed really cool at first, with the historic architecture and tropical forest, but we were thoroughly sick of it by the time we got out of there.
  •  Rented car from Hertz for one day - total about 125E, including prepaid gas. 
  •  Drove to Seville - took about 6 hours.
  •  Lodging: Hostal Arias- very charming, good location. About 55E for 3. 
  • Breakfast at Cafe Europa, Plaza del Sol - really nice
  • Lunch - small restaurant halfway from Madrid to Sevilla - good soup and salad

  • Tapas supper in old quarter of Seville (Santa Cruz) - excellent tapas and wine
    Saturday, March 15 - Sevilla->Malaga->Frigiliana  Detailed trip log...
    Weather: partly cloudy in the morning, gloomy with scattered showers later in the day and evening.
      RENFE train from Sevilla->Malaga. about 2.5 hours, very pleasant trip except that Richard was catching cold.
      Malaga train station -> airport - easy train trip.
      Malaga: Rented car from Avis (prearranged from US). 
      Drive to Frigiliana - took about an hour - nasty traffic around Malaga airport. 
      Arrived in Frigiliana about 6 pm. Cold, gray and damp, but not actually raining. Richard collapsed in bed as soon as we got to villa, Amber and I bought food at Camila's and Amber made dinner.
    Sunday, March 16 - Around Frigiliana     Detailed trip log...
    Weather: Cool, breezy, but partly sunny in the morning. Gray in the afternoon, raining lightly in the evening. 17 Centigrade (63F).
     R still sick, slept all day. Amber and I had a lovely day. We hiked to top of hill in the morning, explored the fancy gardens and local waterworks, encountered a few German tourists. Spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Explored the village, although most everything was closed because it was Sunday.  Dinner with Amber in the evening at La Taberna, a slightly upscale restaurant near the church. Swordfish and salmon and white wine. Delicious. Brought back chicken soup for R.
    Mon, Mar 17 - Caves of Nerja          Detailed trip log...
    Weather: Gray and chilly all day. 17 Centigrade.
    Afternoon trip to Nerja. Another really fun day, despite the unpromising weather.
     -- walked along shore in gale force winds. Very dramatic. Spent an hour in an Internet cafe. Did a little shopping.
     -- visited Caves of Nerja - wonderful!
    Meals: Paella in little tourist restaurant by the shore.
    Dinner: Amber cooked sort of Spanish tortilla - eggs, potatoes, sweet peppers, chorizo
     Tues, Mar 18 - Nerja again - Balcon de Europa, secret beach    Detailed trip log...
    Weather: Partly sunny and pleasant in the morning, gray afternoon, raining in the evening.
    Nerja again (Balcon de Europa).
    Drove down coast to Marina del Este. Discovered "secret beach" along the way (just past Cerra Gordo tunnel). Drove back up an apparently "better" road (paved), which turned out to be twice as hair-raising - two way traffic combined with cliffside hairpin turns. There are villas clinging to the cliffside along this little road. We spotted a couple of abandoned houses with phone numbers scrawled on the side - our future vacation home? We really enjoyed the drive, but got hungry at the wrong time and couldn't find an open restaurant until after we got "home."
      Meals: Dinner at little bar/restaurant on the hill in Frigiliana. We were heading for Las Chinas, but didn't make it that far up. It was a very genuine local place. Richard had the best fish soup of the trip. I don't remember what else we had, but it was tasty and filling and came with lots of fried potatoes.
    Wed Mar 19 - Alhambra
    Weather: A little sun in the morning, gray and chilly most of the rest of the day.
    Drove to Granada, took about 2 hours. Saw the Alhambra (most of it, anyway), then headed home. We loved it, but Richard didn't have enough energy to go through the Generalife, and I had absorbed about all the complex visual stimulation I could handle, so we went home.
      Meals: cheese and crackers in the car - no meals out. We whipped up some sort of supper when we got back to villa. 
    Thurs Mar 20 - White towns of Axarquia
    Weather: Beautiful, breezy day, partly sunny. Still cool, but the sun makes all the difference!
     -- Market day in Frigiliana
     -- Drove over the hills through most of the white towns of Axarquia to Lake Vinuela, then came home the fast way down the highways.
     -- War with Iraq started, as we discovered at lunchtime.
  • Torrox - large and not particularly attractive - skirted the town and turned back inland.
  • Competa - much like Frigiliana, but more real estate offices.
  • Archez - don't remember this one. Maybe we just went past it, not through it.
  • Salares - teeny tiny little town over the mountain ridge near the nature reserve (Sierras de Tejeda Almijara y Alhama)
  • Sedella - main town in the same valley - about 1000 people. 
  • Canillas de Aceituno - nice little town with a few too many new townhouses and villas under construction.
  • Lake Vinuela - attractive man-made lake, still pretty undeveloped. We drove along the lake, parked and worked our way down to the lakeshore - our target for the day.

  • Meals: 
  • Soup in Competa - gazpacho and fish soup. Yummy.
  • Full lunch in Canillas de Aceituno, last small town before we hit the main highway to the lake. 

  • We realized when we sat down that the war had started: CNN on the TV showed constant war images - everybody else in the restaurant was chatting away, paying no attention whatsoever to the television. 
    Fri Mar21 - Gibraltar
    Weather: mostly cloudy, occasional sun, breezy.
    Started about noon, drove to Gibraltar (2-3 hours, longer than expected). Arrived in La Linea about 2:30, had lunch. Parked and walked through customs. Took bus from the frontier to the botanical gardens and cable car head. Cable car to the Top of the Rock, arriving about 4:00. Stayed until the last cable car left at 5:45. Enjoyed the view from the restaurant (beatup and closed, awaiting renovation), played with the monkeys, walked up to an old Moorish outpost for another spectacular view. We enjoyed it immensely, although we would have like to have had more time to see the caves.
  • Indian restaurant in La Linea - not bad at all. Delicious chutneys with the papadum. Nice break from Spanish food. 

  • Dinner in Las Chinas, top of the hill in New Frigiliana. Excellent.
    Sat Mar 22. Up the Coast to Valencia province
    Weather: Partly sunny in the morning, gray with occasional showers in afternoon & evening.
     -- checkout of villa about 10:30 am. Fixed one last great omelet before we left.
     -- Took inland route from Motril, past Granada. Stopped in Guadix - market day, cathedral, cave houses.
     -- Very long drive to Gandia (Amber did most of it). 
  • Little lunch (bocadillos) in Guadix
  • Dinner in Favala at the hostal. Not terribly good.

  • Lodging: Couldn't find Alfauir, stayed in a little hostal in Favala over a cafeteria. Nothing special, but adequate. About 60E.
    Sun Mar 23. On to Catalunya.
    Weather: Mostly cloudy
      -- long boring drive through Valencia (thank you Amber!)
      -- Peniscola  - castle on the hill and Festival of Noise
      -- checked out little villages north of Tarragona
      -- ended up in Montblanc - walked up hilltop in the old walled city at sunset for beautiful view. Lovely.
      -- watched TV in Spanish (and occasionally Catalan). 
    Lodging: Hostal Ducal in Montblanc - about 65E, including a nice self-service breakfast. Shabby, odd-shaped room with erratic water pressure, but it did have a private bath and a TV, not to mention breakfast included.
  • Lunch in Peniscola, outdoor cafe on shore 

  • Dinner: nice little restaurant in Montblanc with sweet waitress and bilingual menu (Spanish/Catalan). 
    Mon Mar 24. - More of Catalunya, into Barcelona.
    Weather: Pleasant most of the day - fairly sunny in the morning. 
     -- Monastre de Poblet - tour. Definitely worth it. 
     -- Codorniu Winery - tour. Also a lot of fun. Modernista architecture, lovely gardens, plus free champagne.
     -- Drive to Barcelona airport (Amber)  - turn in car
     -- Train to Las Ramblas in Barcelona, where we were lucky to find a place to stay. Apparently it is never off-season in Barcelona!
     Breakfast:: Cold breakfast buffet included at hostal.
    Mon Mar 24 continued... arriving in Barcelona
    Weather:  cool but pleasant 
    Train to Las Ramblas in Barcelona (a lot of walking between trains), used cell phone to call hotels. Most of them were full. Bummer.
    Lodging: Ended up at last hotel on my list: Hostal Avinyo. Smelled of paint, shared bathroom, lots of stairs, but clean and secure. 42E
    Dinner - tapas at an adequate but overpriced touristy place on Las Ramblas with outdoor tables. 
    Tues Mar 25
    Weather: Decent weather - cool, but some sun.
      -- Amber & I went to train station to buy tickets for the next day. Amazed once again at the high inconvenience level of Spanish train stations.
      -- Viewed Block of Discord from outside (Casa Batlo, etc.). 
      -- Pedrera - tour (self-guided). Wonderful!
      -- Sagrada Familia - self-guided tour. Even more wonderful!
      -- Bought beautiful silk scarf at stand across from Sagrada - 12 Euros
    Lodging: Hostal Avinyo again:  42E
    Meals: Amber and I had breakfast at a little cafe near hostal. Just coffee and pastry.
               A little tapas on the way to Sagrada Familia. Abondigas (wonderful) and something that turned out to be pig's knuckle (awful)
               Excellent dinner at a restaurant near the Hostal recommended by our Barcelona guidebook - Can't remember the name.
    Wed Mar 26 - Last day in Barcelona
    Weather: Decent weather - cool, but some sun.
    -- Amber left for Girona and her flight to Frankfurt at 8am.
    -- Richard and I spent the day walking around Barcelona, seeing some sights. Lots of anti-war demonstrations going on.
     -- checked out of hotel at 10:45, but left luggage at desk (it was fine)
     -- Walked to Palau Musica, but it was sold out for the day (lobby was gorgeous)
     -- Walked to Cathedral, through anti-war demonstrations - toured cathedral (self-guided). Pretty cool.
     -- Walked to Picasso Museum through Gothic Quarter. Saw temporary exhibit - "From Caricature to Metamorphosis" 
     -- breakfast - Same little ripoff cafe on the Ramblas (we never learn) - overpriced and mediocre
     -- lunch - delicious meal at recommended Basque restaurant - Txakolin
     -- evening snack - soup at a little restaurant in a plaze near Ramblas. 

    Wed Mar 26 - continued...  Starting the trip home -- train to Madrid
    Weather: fairly nice, warmer than usual.
    -- Barcelona train station (Sants) - kind of hard to find from Metro, but got there by 9:00, giving us two hours to wait.

  • My small bag got stolen about 9:45. Police station was closed, so I couldn't report it until next day. A real bummer - I lost my camera and all my vacation pictures. Nothing else of great value - my favorite windbreaker, my Swiss Army knife, etc.
  • Train to Madrid, private sleeper car (100E each). 11pm-8am. Really fun - we wished the trip were longer. Loved having our own little compartment. Even better, dinner and breakfast in dining car were included in fare. It was just like The Last Express!

  • Meals: 
  • Dinner on train was pretty good: entree (quail) was mediocre, but good dessert (profiteroles in chocolate sauce) and okay wine

  • Breakfast was just coffee and toast. At least there was butter this time.
    Thurs Mar 27 - Flight back to Minneapolis
    Weather: dismal and rainy, but we were mostly inside 
  • 4 hours in airport: 10am - 2  (We got there early, then flight was delayed an hour) 
  • No place to eat except dreadful sandwich shop - unable to face one more dried-out ham sandwich, we bought candy at the duty-free shop to sustain ourselves. 
  • Flight home  not too bad - good seats this time (set of 2 on the side). The pilot made up the lost time somehow so that we made our connecting flight in Philly. 

  • Home at 8:30pm. Took taxi from airport. Whew.

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    Site Last Updated  April 14, 2003
    By Sharon Kahn