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Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

Denver
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Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

This July I will be going to Spain to run with the bulls. Aside from a couple nights in Pamplona, I will be spending a couple days each in Madrid, San Sebastian, Barcelona, Palma, Ibiza and Valencia. Now I know full well that I am trying to pack WAY too much into this trip, but I just couldn't stop myself.

So my question, to those who know, is "what is the can't miss food and can't miss attraction" for each city? I will probably pass on the museums (as fine as they are) as I don't have a ton of time, and would rather spend it getting a feel of the locale and doing things a local might do. I plan on paella in Valencia, tapas in Barcelona, and just plain eating my brains out in San Sebastian. I'll spend time on the beaches in Palma and Ibiza, and the architecture in Barcelona will keep me fascinated (I love Gaudi). Might rent a bike in a few places and take my curisoity to the road.

Beyond that I just don't know.

If anyone out there has any advice for a person who drastically overbooked his trip, but still wants to make this trip a highlight of my life, I would be most appreciative.

Gracias in advance for anyone who offers suggestions.

Madison, Wisconsin
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1. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

To provide some free "focus" to your enthusiasm...which is quite endearing, look at Maribel's guides on Barcelona, San Sebastian at www.maribelsguides.com.

Having researched those, you will have to rely on other's help here or other guides.

You will probably need to know the phrase, "Buen provecho", which is the Spanish equivalent of "Bon apetite":)

Denver
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2. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

Thanks for the link. It looks like just what I need.

Seattle, Washington
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3. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

Hopefully you'll consider spending more than two nights at any of the places mentioned. There would hardly be time to do anything including enjoying a great meal, especially in Navarra and the Basque country where dining takes time. Lunch can often be a three-hour event.

Barcelona isn't much different, with outstanding Catalan cuisine, but that should be "tapas in Madrid".

FBV
Madrid, Spain
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4. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

BullrunnerDenver, here are just a few advices for each place that you are planning to visit:

- For PAMPLONA and SAN SEBASTIÁN, with regard to the food, I recommend you to try some pinchos (or "pintxos", as it is spelt in Basque). They are a kind of small and very varied tapas that are eaten jointly with a glass of wine, beer or other soft drinks. Many people eat some tapas as an informal dinner, and it is not rare to see a group of friends ordering each one in a different bar, so they can compare. Of course, tapas can be eaten almost anywhere in Spain, but they are especially good there. A good place to eat them is the Casco Viejo (Old Part) of San Sebastián.

San Sebastián is a very beautifull city. It has a very well known beach in the city centre, called La Concha. As it will be sunny and hot in July, you surely will want to go there, for swimming or sunbathing.

Another places to visit in San Sebastián apart from La Concha and the Old Part are the Kursaal, an old institution in front of the María Cristina Hotel that is home to the San Sebastián cinema festival; and the Monte de Igueldo (Igeldo, in Basque), a hill with very nice views of the bay and an old amusement park. You can also walk through the streets of the centre and visit the Buen Pastor church.

- BARCELONA is possibly the best known Spanish city in the States since the 1992 Olympic games, and you will surely have many plans for it: Gaudí works (la Pedrera, la Sagrada Familia, el Parc Güell), Las Ramblas, Plaza de España and Plaza de Cataluña, la Diagonal, el Barrio Gótico...

Two very advisable things to get the taste of the city, apart from visiting Gaudi's works, are to walk through the Ramblas (try to do it in a lively hour, during the evening or early night) and to go to the Barceloneta beach.

- PALMA DE MALLORCA is the capital of the Balearic Islands, and offers the kind of activities that a leisure island can offer: boats for rent, diving... Seat in a terrace and watch the people passing while you enjoy a drink, and visit the Cathedral, one of the most interesting gotic temples of Spain.

- IBIZA is the Balearic capital of nightlife. If you like clubbing, save energies for the night (and some €uros, too) and go to some of the best clubs of Europe.

- VALENCIA is the third largest city of the country. In the past, it was a very average city, but during the last decades, it has experienced a surprising improvement, becoming one of the coolest Spaninsh cities. You don't have to miss the fabulous Calatrava buildings (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias), which is considered the best Spanish living architect, with lots of works and projects all around the world, such as the Malmo's Turning Torso in Sweden, the Lyon airport station in France, the Lisbon train station, the NY WTC subway station or the future Chicago Spire skyscraper.

Another thing: while the paella is originary from Valencia, some of my friends and myself have eaten there some of the worst paellas ever. Be careful when choosing the restaurant, and try to avoid the touristic places.

- MADRID. I know that your time is limited and you don't want to spend all of it visiting museums, but Madrid has some world first class museums that should be visited. In addition, the entrance fee is quite low (0 to 6€ in the great majority, depending on the day and age), so you can enter for just a fast walk.

The Prado Museum is considered one of the three best art galleries of the world, with a vast collection of paintings, none of them from the XX or XXI centuries. It holds some masterpieces of Velázquez, Goya, Tiziano, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Murillo...

The MNCARS (Museo Reina Sofía) is the modern art museum, home of the Picasso's Guernica, and many other pieces of Picasso, Dalí, Miró, etc.

Another favourite of the visitors is the Thyssen-Bornemisza, with a collection that starts with classic art (Roman and older) and finishes with the latest vanguards.

But Madrid is not only museums. There are many other things to do, such as visiting the Royal Palace, siting in a terrace (a typical Madrid drink for the summer is the horchata), go shopping to the Salamanca district or Chueca, admire the architecture of central avenues, watch a sunset from the Debod 2000 years old egyptian temple esplanade and relax in the Retiro Park. This last option is a must: try to go in a holiday, when it is not too hot, and rent a lake in the central pond, lie in the grass or go to the Cristal Palace, for example.

An evening, you can go to the Barrio de Las Letras (near Sol) for some tapas, and finish in an in fashion lounge or bar, such as the Midnight Rose, the Penthouse (both at Plaza de Santa Ana) or the Glass Bar.

Finally, you can see a musical in the Gran Vía, which is the equivalent for musicals in Spanish than Times Squares for musicals in English. Many visitors (especially from Europe and Asia) enjoy to visit the Real Madrid soccer team stadium (Santiago Bernabéu) and to have some drinks (or even dinner) in a restaurant with views to the grass. You can also take a cable car to the zoo and the funfair...

In Madrid, try to book a hotel with swimming pool. Some of them have not indoor swimming pools, but outdoor ones on the roof, with nice views of the city, like the Emperador Hotel**** or the Urban Hotel*****.

FINAL ADVICES

1. You are visiting Spain during July, possibly the hottest month. And this, in Spain, means to be very hot. The north coast is warmer but humid, and the east coast (Barcelona and Valencia) are hot and humid, but have excellent beaches. Madrid has no coast and it is the hottest place of the ones you are visiting, but the heat is very dry, which makes it much more bearable.

Leave your coat at home.

2. Communication: As you will surely notice, the English spoken in Spain can improve a lot. Try to learn (if you don't already know them) some basic phrases, such as Hello or How much is it? and be patient with our English.

In Pamplona and San Sebastián, the Basque is the co-oficial language, jointly with the Spanish. It sounds very different and you won't understand a word, but almost everything is in both languages and almost everybody there (except a few very old people in very small towns) speaks Spanish.

In Barcelona, the co-oficial language is the Catalan. In this case, not everything is translated, but it is quite similar to Spanish and everybody speaks Spanish as well. In Palma, Ibiza and Valencia, they have dialects close to Spanish and Catalan.

Have a good trip!

BARCELONA.SPAIN
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5. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

Hi bullrunnerDenver,

I only second all the good information from FBV.Excellent job.

Now, just for Barcelona, have a look at: www.takeoffguides.com

They offer a complete and excellent (and free, you can print it

and carry it with you) guide to Barcelona.

Hope to have helped.

Jose

Denver
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6. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

Wow, so much helpful advice! Thanks for everyone who has taken the time to respond. It helps a planning-weary soul to get a bit of advice from someone who has already been there.

robert- I am guessing I can say "tapas in" and pick from most of those cities and be allright. My trip is already booked, so the days are what they are. I know it isn't a lot of time, and I don't expect to see activity and attractions galore. If I'm up to it, maybe some sights, a hop on/off tour here or there, good food and hang out in a bar or two.

FBV- Good golly that is a big help. pintxos are high on my basque "to-eat" list. I'll probably do a pre-fixe meal too, just because it is one of the culinary capitols of the universe. Ibiza is just a "I have to see what all the fuss is about" destination, and Valencia will include the city of arts and sciences. Good point about the paella, I'd hate to go all that way and have something my Uncle Louie could make.

I am not fluent in Spanish, but I've had a couple of years in HS, and my college roomate's grandmother always complimented my spanish whenever I spoke with her on the phone (although I generally had no idea what I was saying). I know that even knowing a bit of the language can greatly affect how you are treated, so I will be boning up on that.

JoseAntonio- thanks for the link. I will check it out.

Agian, thanks to everyone offering their advice. Assuming I survive my bullrunning, I will put the benefit of this advice to the test.

Gracias!

Madrid, Spain
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7. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

Info about tapas (pintxos) in San Sebastian:

www.todopintxos.com

Barcelona is not good for tapas but is excellent for restaurants.

In Madrid taste the typical "cocido madrileño" at Restaurante La Bola (calle La Bola, 5) but booking in advance is advised.

Tours for tapas hopping from bar to bar:

* Calle Cava Baja: Txakoli, Casa Lucas, Taberna Tempranillo, Lamiak.

*Calle Victoria: El Buscón, Alhambra, Casa del Abuelo (sweet wine)

*Plaza de Santa Ana: Cerveceria Alemana, Naturbier, La Moderna

*Calle Jesús: La Fábrica ( a lot of tapas).

Denver
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8. Re: Advice on a 'Spain trip of a lifetime' - any help?

Thanks Revulgo.

I guess from the books and research I've done, I associated tapas more with Barcelona than Madrid. Although since you are the second post in this forum challenging that, I may have to do a "compare and contrast" session myself to settle the issue once and for all!

Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

One of the resources in the Maribel guides (posted Holakjs) was www.walksofspain.com, a group that organizes tapas tours (I think in both Madrid and Barcelona). It sounded perfect for me as I am travelling solo, but would like to do the tapas crawl with a gorup to get the most out of it. Has anyone heard of that group? Any impressions of it?

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