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Report 845: The Beauty of Northern Spain

By Sharonov from Spain, Fall 2005

Trip Description: Using Madrid as a base, we traveled through Galicia, Asturia, Cantabria & the Basque Country.

Destinations: Countries - Spain; Regions/Cities - Basque Country, Madrid, Other Spain Region

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 8: How Much to Plan in Advance?

photo by Bob Novickas

Madrid Post Office

Planning a trip is half the fun! Before we left, I spent hours on the internet and perusing guidebooks, and finally decided to plan only the first four days and just broadly outline the rest. Since we were traveling off-season, we figured that it would be easy to find accomodation, and it would be more fun to play it by ear.

We arrived in Madrid and took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Hostal Macarena. Here we made a mistake: BEWARE THE TAXI DRIVER WHO SAYS THAT LUGGAGE COSTS EXTRA! Being tired, we hadn't read the warning in the airport. We ended up being fleeced for an extra 10 euros and later felt very, very stupid. There should be no extra charge!

The Hostal Macarena had been highly rated by two guidebooks and also several websites. The location was superb--right off the Plaza Major. Our room was small but clean, we had our own private bath complete with bidet, and something I require every three days--a hair dryer! The staff spoke enough English so that between my pidgin Spanish and their pidgin English we did just fine.

The location was a bit noisy at night, since the Spanish stay up very late indeed, and there were two outdoor restaurants right under our window. But we looked at it as part of the charm, especially when the accordian player played Spanish favorites. This definitely added to the flavor! This hostal cost 64 euros per night, without breakfast. We liked the fact that we could store some luggage here while we made our forays into northern Spain.

We were amused by the "Museo de Ham", with its hundreds of hams hanging along the walls. There are several in Madrid. Luckily, breakfast there is very reasonable. Two cups of wonderful Spanish coffee, two croissants, two freshly squeezed orange juice: 4 euros. At the little Ital Cafe down the street, the same breakfast cost double that.

Sometimes we'd have our main meal at night, but it was hard to get used to eating so late. Eating the main meal in the afternoon between 2:00 and 4:00 worked much better, and usually the food was cheaper. A "menu"--three to four course meal--is usually more reasonable in the afternoon. This leaves the evening free for tapas!

The variety of tapas was staggering, but typically would include an assortment of little open-faced sandwiches. Some had tomato and a sardine, some tuna salad, occasionally we'd find little kabobs or stuffed mushrooms. There were lots and lots of fried/breaded choices. Portions are small, so it's possible to sample many different concoctions.

In the evening, we'd go into a bar and order a canas of beer, which is a small (8 oz.) glass. Invariably, we'd get a little present with the beer. Sometimes it was a dish of potato chips or nuts, sometimes a small tapas. When no "present" was forthcoming, we'd be very disappointed.

We'd then choose either from a menu of tapas or, better still, simply point to what we wanted. The only negative was that it was difficult to find vegetable choices. Most would be frowned on by a dietician.

SIGHTS: Any guidebook can give you a list of Madrid museums and other sights, but suffice it to say that the Prado and Reina Sofia museums are among the best art museums in the world. We made two trips to the Prado, since it's only possible to absorb so much in one sitting.

The city itself is lovely to look at. Much of the lovely architecture is only from the beginning of the 20th century, but it's somehow still bright and light colored. In my home city, buildings that are as old are now gray and dull due to pollution. One surprise was the beautiful Post Office (pictured above). I thought it must be a castle, as was shocked to find it had such a prosaic function.

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