Spain: Two Weeks in October/November 2016
|Fly to Madrid from US||Madrid|
|Madrid - 2 1/2 weeks of language study||Madrid|
|1||AVE to Córdoba||Córdoba|
|4||Bus to Granada||Granada|
|7||Train to Ronda||Ronda|
|10||Bus to Sevilla||Sevilla|
|14||AVE to Madrid||Madrid|
|15||Flight back to US|
According to locals, October is the best month to visit Madrid. The weather is generally sunny and warm without the tourist crowds of summer. This October was unusually rainy, but I still loved seeing the fall color in Retiro Park.
November’s mild temperatures make it an excellent time to explore southern Spain. Historically, it’s also low tourist season. However, in 2016 tourists visited Spain in record numbers due to recent terrorist attacks in once popular vacation spots like Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey.
Getting There and Away: I got a good deal on a return ticket to Madrid from the US on Delta. It’s worth setting price alerts for a variety of dates on Hipmunk and Skyscanner to take advantage of fare sales quickly when they arise.
Getting Around: Uber is not available in many cities in Spain due to taxi driver protests, although excellent public transport and walkable city centers make taxis less crucial.
I took the AVE high-speed train between Madrid and Córdoba and between Seville and Madrid since it saves so much time over bus travel. Book 90 days in advance to secure the lowest rate. I used the excellent Loco2 rail booking service to receive alerts when my dates were available for booking and to avoid using Spain’s notoriously unreliable official railway site.
Once in Andalusia I took trains when they were comparable in price to buses. Buses generally are the cheapest option, and comfortable although they lack on-board toilets!
I stayed in Airbnbs throughout Spain and had a fantastic experience. The hospitable, gregarious nature of the Spanish make them great Airbnb hosts.
SIM card and apps
I bought a SIM with a 2GB monthly data plan with limited voice and SMS at an Orange store in Madrid. I needed to show my passport but otherwise it was a straightforward transaction. At the end of the month Orange granted me another free 2GB of data as part of a promotion. This worked out well since I only had another week in the country.
Having a data plan for my phone turned out to be essential since Wi-Fi in the Airbnbs often was unreliable.
As in the rest of Europe, I recommend installing WhatsApp since it’s commonly used for messaging.
I spent three weeks in Madrid. Most of my time was absorbed by intensive Spanish studies at AIL Madrid. I stayed at an Airbnb in Barrio de Salamanca, the upscale central neighborhood where my Spanish school was located.
Madrid is a vibrant city with a wealth of cultural activities and great day trips. Highlights for me included the Prado (go when it opens and during the week if possible to avoid crowds), Retiro Park, and a day trip to Toledo.
I’m still dreaming of Madrid and want to return soon for a longer stay.
I’m glad I started off my Andalusian journey in Córdoba. While lovely, for me it was eclipsed by cities like Granada or Seville I visited afterwards. The Mezquita without doubt is breathtaking and was the highlight of my visit.
Granada is magical. I recommend reading Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra during or after your visit to gain an appreciation of the city’s fascinating legends and history.
I bought my Alhambra tickets online two months in advance. In summer it would be wise to book three months ahead, as it is incredibly popular and it’s very difficult to get tickets on the spot.
Ronda is lovely and worth at least one night’s stay. I recommend doing the two to three hour Camino de los Molinos hike through the surrounding countryside to see the famous Puente Nuevo bridge from below.
Seville is justifiably famous as the crown jewel of Andalusia. You could probably spend a week here without running out of things to do. Three days was just enough to get a taste.
Devour Spain’s tapas and wine tasting tour was a highlight of my time in Seville. Our small, friendly group sampled 10 traditional tapas and seven local wines over a very enjoyable evening. Devour Spain also has tours in Madrid, Barcelona, and Málaga, and I definitely plan to check out more of their foodie experiences.
Spain is now my favorite country in Europe! I’m already planning my return. Next time, I’d like to do more language study in Madrid followed by a visit to the Basque Country and the north.
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