Escapade in Espana

Escapade in Espana
Our adventure to Spain, the "land of the setting sun" began on Thursday, September 22, 2017 and ended on Sunday, October 1st.  We landed in Madrid for two days, took a train to Seville for a two day stay.  In Seville, we rented a car and drove to Tarifa, with a quick detour to the beaches of Cadiz. From Tarifa we took the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morroco.  After a two day stay in Tarifa, we continued our drive to our next city, Granada, but decided to take another detour to the town of Ronda. We soon made it to Granada, where we turned in our rental car and stayed two days.  Finally, a train ride back to Madrid and one more night before our departure back to the States. 
Madrid, is a city beyond beautiful.  It is sexy and bold, yet still cultivating its twenty-first century character. We stayed at the AC Palacio del Retiro on Alfonso XII, 14, across from the Parque de Retiro, located just east of city Centro.  We learned the hotel chain Marriot has purchased many old buildings in cities around the world and turned them into amazing 5-star hotels that they call "autograph collection hotels".  This particular structure was a palatial home built in the beginning of the 20th century, but now converted to a fifty-room luxury hotel. The service was impeccable, and the staff was simply outstanding, and I just cannot say enough good things about this hotel!
There are so many things to see and do in Madrid, including the Plaza Mayor, a central plaza built during the reign of King Philip III; Museo del Prado, for the art lover; the Almudera Cathedral, with its own crypt and the Palacio Real, the official palace of the Royal Family.  There is also a great night life in Madrid and you must visit the Circulo de Bellas Artes for a great view of the city, but get there early because it is quite the "hotspot". 
Spain has a great rail system, so we rode the AVE trains (Alta Velocidad Española which means fast speed train), to Seville and arrived in about two hours and twenty minutes.  After a quick taxi ride and a short walk, we made it to the main office of the Murillo Hotel on Calle Lope de Rueda. Maria, an office attendant, walked us to our suites which were located right across the street from the fabulous Alcazar, a Moorish palace built during Muslim rule.  In my opinion, the Alcazar was by far the most amazing building in all of Spain. I would suggest getting tickets before your trip, because there is always a line outside the Alcazar. We were so lucky to have a rooftop patio above our suite which overlooked the Alcazar and the Catedral de Seville and there could not have been a better view anywhere in the city! Seville has such a "down home charm" about it.  Small walkways and cafes on every corner to enjoy a glass of wine or a plate of paella.  You must try Mama Bistro on Calle Mateos, which has a great, creative menu and perfect service.  
Then it was on to Seville, where we rented a car to drive to the city of Tarifa.  On the way we made a detour to Cadiz, to check out the beach. After a lunch stop at Chirinquito El Potito and a dip of my toes into the sea, we were off once again on the Spanish highways to Tarifa. Since we are talking about the highway system in Spain, please allow me to elaborate.  I was really impressed with the highways in Spain, and if you are one of those people who love driving, don't feel one bit intimidated.  Just remember, there are no stop lights, only the "round-a-bouts", so be aware of these, so that you don't end up heading the wrong direction!  Don't forget to have some Euros ready for the tolls.  We only paid a toll once, but it was about 8 Euros.  
Upon arriving in Tarifa, the city by the sea, in between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, it took us a bit to find our accommodations which were located on a street called Trinidad.  The hotel was called Hospederia Diez y Sies and was a lovely, modern hotel with four other rooms available for rental.  The bottom floor was a common area with dining tables for the free morning buffet.  I loved this place because it was different, with a modern twist and the touch of artistic detail was interesting and compelling.  Tarifa is a city that feels so alive. I could only think of the days of old when ships would sail into her harbor and sailors would disembark, searching for fun and mischief on her city streets, and I got the feeling that not much has changed since those early days.  After exploring the Isla de las Palomas, we ended the night with dinner at the Misiana Tapas Bar inside the Misiana Hotel and topped of the night with baileys and coffee at Cafe Santa Christina while listening to the street musicians belt out some lovely tunes. 
And now for the edge of your seat, exciting part of our journey, Tangier, Morocco.  My first word of advice is to spend the extra money to procure a private guide.  We contacted Said Tours and could not have been more pleased with Said (Si-eed) and his guides.  Mustapha, our guide was attentive, well informed and very concerned about our safety.  Please keep in mind that this is a different country with different attitudes and just remember to be patient and respectful and your trip will be memorable.  We started with the ferry ride across the Gibraltar Straight and landed in Tangier after about a 40-minute ride.  The most exciting part for me was the thought of stepping onto another continent!  When we arrived, there was a band playing and we were handed traditional green tea, a biscuit (cookie) and a rose.  Apparently, we had landed during Tangier's annual tourism week and how lucky were we!  Mustapha, started our journey with a driving tour and we drove past the King's palace, we roamed the caves, rode a dromedary and next, we were taken on a walking tour and we "rocked the Kasba".  We stopped for lunch at the Dar Lidam inside the Kasba, where the food was fabulous and the view from the rooftop was spectacular. The markets in the Kasba are filled with a delightful array of tempting and colorful produce.  The "edge of your seat" part I mentioned earlier was exploring the maze that was the Kasba and you should not attempt this alone.  Mustapha, our guide, stepped in several times to circumvent the local salesmen and to prevent us from getting lost in all those narrow cobblestone pathways.   All in all, Tangier was exotic, exciting and the history of the town is complicated, yet simply mesmerizing. 
While on our tour of Tangier, we met a couple from New Jersey, USA, who insisted that we must take a detour to the city of Ronda on our way to Granada.  We did decide to make the detour, and we were so glad that we did.  Ronda was about 40 minutes to the north off our driving tour, but the beautiful countryside was worth the drive and once we got to the city, all the buzz about this place began to make sense. The city of Ronda was built on the side of a cliff and the views are simply breathtaking off the Puente Nuevo or New Bridge.  There are no words to describe this place and pictures do not do it justice.  You simply must go and view it for yourself! 
On to Granada, which was probably my least favorite Spanish city because there seemed to be a restlessness there.  A beautiful city, but it did not seem to be respected by its inhabitants because graffiti covered every building, both old and new. This was to me a sign that no one is watching over the care of the city.  However, the Alhambra is located here and it is a must see. The Alhambra was a palace and fortress built on Roman ruins, by a Moorish Emir in the 13th century, but became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella. This was the court where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition in 1492. Again, purchase your tickets in advance because these tours fill up quickly.  The tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella is located here in Granada in La Capilla Real or the Royal Chapel.  No pictures are allowed to be taken in this chapel, but still worth the look! We did stay at another Marriot Autograph Collection hotel called AC Palacio de Santa Paula which was a monastery that was completed in the beginning of the 16th century around 1540.  The rooms overlooked a large squared patio with a fountain in the center and holds seating for the restaurant around the peripheral.  There is also a chapel in the back which has been turned into a beautiful event venue.  
After our stay in Granada, we hopped the train trip back to Madrid and our last night we returned to the AC Palacio del Retiro.  For Saturday night we had scheduled a Flamenco show/ dinner at the Corral de Moreria on Calle de la Moreria, 17, 28005 and the show and dinner did not disappoint!  The dancers were fabulous, and dinner was so delicious!  Even my traveling partner who thought flamenco was only danced by the ladies, was thoroughly impressed with the male rendition of the flamenco!  
Lovely Spain, I have longed to see you for a lifetime and you did not disappoint! 
Here's hoping that you begin your own EarthQuest today! Perhaps to Espana. 
AC Palacio del Retiro hotel -
Mama Bistro: Calle Mateos Gago, 9B, 41004 Sevilla, Spain
Hotel in Tarifa -
Hotel and tapa bar in Tarifa  -
Flamenco in Madrid -
Said Tours-
Puente Nuevo in Ronda-
Hotel Palacio de Santa Paula-