We have just returned from the 2 week Andalucia Untour followed by 1 week in Barcelona (April 22-May 13, 2009). Here are some observations and hints.
We stayed in the Posada Real apartment in Priego de Cordoba.
Initially, it was too chilly to truly enjoy all that Priego had to offer. Near the end of our second week, however, the sun came out, it warmed up, and we could truly enjoy the restaurants, cafes, and strolls through our "hometown". For us, an apartment in Priego was the perfect choice for a home base. I like walking to the bakery, grocery store, etc. in the mornings and window shopping in the afternoons, as well as strolling to the corner cafe at all hours for a coffee or tinto de verano (more on that later).
Our landlord, Juan, was a delight...ever welcoming, friendly, and helpful.
The people of Andalusia were wonderful and we had many kindnesses extended to us, from the man in Lucena who went out of his way to lead us to where we could purchase tickets for the bullfight to the woman in Seville who invited us to her family's caseta at La Feria.
We didn't enjoy the driving - but that is just us; we much prefer using public transportation in Europe when we can. And, in fact, because we visited Seville during La Feria, when thousands flock to the city, we took the train from Cordoba.
The apartment journal identified a number of restaurants enjoyed by previous Untourists. If you want a lunch or dinner choice that is an alternative to Spanish food, we recommend the Italian pizzeria restaurant, "Varini" on Torrejon or the Chinese restaurant behind the library. Incidentally, the library was WIFI. My iPod Touch worked there one day, not the next. Alternatively, there is internet available at the back of the video game place, 2 blocks from the apartment, on Paseo de Colombia.
In Priego, be sure to stop in for churros/tostada and chocolate in the churros shop on Solana - closer to the apartment end of Solana than the town end. It’s a traditional breakfast served until about 2PM.
At the restaurant La Noria, the “house” (“La Noria”) salad is more than enough for 2. That and 1 tapas makes a full lunch. We ordered 2 tapas and couldn’t finish them.
If you are a sangria fan, try “tinto de verano” which is also called “vargas”, but only in Priego. It is red wine mixed with sparkling lemonade. Also, the grocery stores carry very good gazpacho in "parmalat" type containers. I don't cook when we are home, so I certainly don't want to cook on vacation. However, with big lunches, we often just wanted a light dinner in our apartment. The premade gazpacho was a great convenience.
Although not in the Idyll guide book, try to visit Alcala la Real. The castle remains and church, as well as ongoing excavations are worth the short (30 minute) trip. The signage to the castle is good. Look for “Forteleza de la Mota”. Afterward, we drove into the town of Alcala la Real and had a great lunch at Cafe Bar Restaurante Zacatin on Calle Pradillo, one block from the museum. I’m a vegetarian and, among all the fried food of Andalusia, was thrilled to find grilled vegetables on the menu.
The young man and woman in Priego’s tourist office are very friendly and helpful.
We noticed many police check points along the roads. Don’t worry if you are stopped by one. On the way back from Zuheros, we were stopped. My husband immediately showed his Florida driver’s license to which the officer said, “Florida - bonita”. Then we showed him the international license to which he said “Internacional - muy bien - venga” and waved us on.
Seville was our favorite city in the south. We stayed overnight and wished we had booked two nights there. Allow enough time to really enjoy the Alcazaba as well as a stroll through its gardens. Plaza Espana's tilework was a modern wonder! Because hotels are at a premium La Feria, we booked our room a few weeks before our trip. However, in the journal in our apartment, people noted that if you book a room through one of the travel agents in town (Marsans on Soldana), you can get a much better rate than if you book it yourself.
The first thing to know about Spain is that, with unexpectedly welcome exception, signage in the cities is poor to non existant. The signs on the highway are good, but once you get in the city, good luck!
And, in Andalusia, many of the streets and avenues have no names inscribed on corner buildings. Just know that eventually you will get where you want to go, relax, and enjoy!
Some examples....driving to the train station in Cordoba, we initially saw some directional signs. But, at the critical point where you must turn right, left, and left again (essentially a U turn), there are no signs pointing the way.
We traveled from Barcelona to Figueres and the Dali museum. When we took the metro to the stop for the station, there was no sign for the station indicating which of the two exits to take. Once outside of the metro, we thought the station would “hit us in the face”. But, no. And, of course, no directional signs. Often, we had to ask locals, “donde esta?” and they gladly pointed the way. We encountered the same situation taking the metro to Park Guell. On the way back to the metro, we happily pointed the way to six tourits standing on street corners confusedly gazing at their maps.
Some miscellaneous tips:
TIP: Depending on where your plane comes in the flight to Malaga will probably not be on the destinations board on the ground floor which you enter after exiting the bus. Go up to second floor boards.
TIP: When you arrive in Malaga airport, do not go to the baggage claim that has the sign for your flight - go into the glass enclosed cubicle at the end - that's where international bags come in. The Idyll instruction sheet tells you that, but it can be confusing when you see the signs for your flight. We also learned that it is not uncommon for luggage from Air France flights to be delayed. As the clerk said when we put in a claim for our bag that did not arrive until the next day, "always from Paris". Be sure to pack an "overnight" kit in your carryon to get you through the first day.
TIP: When returning from the parking lot at Alhambra in Granada, the signage isn't great - just remember you have to go back through the tunnel. We had reserved tickets a head of time.
At the Alhambra, as you approach the gates, if you turn right, you go to machines where you can insert the credit card with whcih you made reservations and the tickets come out. Be aware if you walk up to Generalife, you do NOT exit down the same path you walk up and in fact are not supposed to enter the way you came up. Unfortunately, my husband had parked himself on a bench on the trail up and I had to go "wrong way" to get back to him.
Barcelona was a great city. We easily could have spent two weeks there. Although we didn’t see the other Idyll properties, the St. Joan apartment was a perfect choice. It was a moderate distance to all the sites and our balcony view was of the Arc de Triomphe (yes, there is one in Barcelona, also) and park beyond. A bonus was WIFI - my iPod Touch worked great there!
The neighborhood around the apartment has a number of clothing stores. How excited I was at first - a shopping mecca - until I realized the stores were all wholesalers and not open to the public.
If you are a walker, as I am, Barcelona is a delight. If you are not a walker, as my husband is, Barcelona is also a delight. The metro took us just about any place we wanted to go. The bus system can be a little confusing. A hint - the bus line maps are displayed on the backs of the bus shelters. However, inside the shelters are the plans for the individual buses that stop there.
We enjoyed all our meals in Barcelona. Some were Idyll suggestions, others were local places that looked appealing. Most restaurants have a menu del dia that is reasonable and satisfying. In Italy, we were warned to stay away from the menus of the day restaurants as they tended to be touristy. In spain, seek them out! One of the best shrimp aljillos we have ever had was at a little place on Argentina. Also, cafeterias can be a nice surprise. We spent some time enjoying the view from the castel in Montjuic and, becoming hungry, were pleasantly surprised by the food served in the self service cafeteria there. A great place for a quick drink or snack is the cafeteria on the ninth floor at the department store, El Cortes Ingles on Pl. Catalunya with its panoramic view of the city.
Some other hints....as the guidebooks state, if you want to visit the Palau de Musica for a tour, you should book the day before. The tours fill up quickly. If you are at the St. Joan apartments, bus 55, 1/2 block away on St. Pere, will take you to the telermeric that goes to the top of Montjuic. If you want to take a bus from Plaza Espanya to Montjuic, it is bus 50 which you should catch at the stop opposite the entrance to Montjuic. If you take bus 50 in front of the entrance, it will take you away from Montjuic. If there is a paid entrance event going on at the entrance of Montjuic and you are visiting MNAC, take the bus back. We were there while the auto show was taking place and because of that could not walk directly down from the museum to Pl. Espanya. It was a long, circuitous walk back to the metro.
I found that the best map of the city (most readable for my aging eyes) was the one that came with the Insight Pocket Guide to Barcelona.
The walk from the Lessops metro to park Guell is NOT the 10 minutes stated in many guide books. Take the bus!
Also, just a note about clothing. Jeans are often discussed on the Idyll chatboard....whether to pack them or not. If you are someone who typically wears jeans, bring them. Everyone wears them. In the cities and small towns, you see them on everyone except the older "traditional" people. Even in Seville, which was probably the most formal city we have ever visited in terms of dress, jeans were ubiquitous.