Timeline: June 5-19, 2019
If you haven’t already, you can check out my previous posts on our trip timeline here:
- EuroTrip 2019: The Final Itinerary
- EuroTrip 2019: Kicking Off the Trip in Madrid, Spain!
- EuroTrip 2019: Our 2 weeks in Portugal!
We had planned about 2 weeks in Portugal and 2 weeks in Spain during our trip. The way the transportation worked out, we ended up flying into Madrid, Spain first from the US using airline points, then it worked out for us to go “clockwise” from Madrid, over to northern Portugal, then work our way down to southern Portugal, and loop back around the south of Spain up the east coast of Spain. So, we had actually already been to Spain for a few days at the beginning of the trip before this part of the trip!
With our experience traveling internationally for 5 months last year, my mom was really missing me being gone so long. So this year, I decided to plan part of the trip so she could join us! I picked the 2 weeks in Spain for several reasons: I figured 2 weeks was about enough time for my mom for her first experience in Europe; the timing of this part of the trip worked out well with her work schedule with the school system; Spain was a more affordable country for all of us especially with housing accommodations for 3 people; and I figured she’d enjoy the culture and beauty of Spain, while not being TOO much of a culture shock to her compared to some other places!
So, Jared and I helped my mom to “travel hack” along with us by using a credit card sign up bonus to pay for her round trip flight from the US to Spain. This credit card (The Barclay Arrival Plus) was also good to use while on the trip since it has no foreign transaction fees. In addition, we got her signed up for a Charles Schwab debit card so she could withdraw cash without fees from any ATM while out of the country. This all took a lot of planning, starting back in December when we had just returned from Asia!
My mom was very nervous, but excited, for her first trip to Europe! Probably the hardest part for her was the travel from the US to Spain and back, because there were several connections, making it a very long journey both ways, and she was traveling solo. We would be traveling to 4 different cities together in Spain (Seville, Granada, Valencia, and Barcelona), but, she had to get to Seville to meet us first! This part was a little tricky, because after her long international flight with a couple connections which landed in Barcelona, she then had to navigate checking in through customs, switching to a domestic flight from Barcelona to Seville, getting Euros out of the ATM, and getting her own Uber to the Airbnb! Thank goodness for technology though, which makes all of this much easier these days! My mom was able to use her phone on data to help with some of this during her day of travel, for an extra fee to Verizon of course. We had gone over all of this several times before she arrived, and she was able to text us throughout the day, so she arrived safe and sound!
Our first stop was Seville, or as they say in Spain, Sevilla! My mom actually got to the Airbnb before us because we were coming on a bus from Lagos, Portugal, and the timing didn’t quite line up. So this left me and Jared communicating with the Airbnb host via Airbnb messages, then texting my mom the info to try to coordinate check-in! Luckily she was able to be let in and was so happy to see her bed after her long day of travel! Unfortunately, it was the early afternoon in Spain, even though she was so ready to sleep!
During our whole time in Spain with my mom, we rented full apartments on Airbnb rather than rooms in houses like Jared and I usually do. It was a big relief to be able to have the whole place to ourselves, including access to the kitchen, living room, and laundry in most cases. Unfortunately, our first place in Seville was in a bit of a sketchy part of town, which we didn’t realize because it had very good reviews. My mom was definitely experiencing a lot of culture shock when she saw graffiti everywhere (pretty standard we had come to find out in bigger cities, even in the non-sketchy areas), in addition to some sketchy looking locals hanging around the building. Luckily though, we didn’t have any problems or feel unsafe during our time there.
After our first day there, and after mom was able to get some rest, we started our sightseeing and activities in Seville! We soon learned that our style of traveling was also a huge adjustment to my mom, because we are usually on the go a lot and walk 8-10 miles or more per day (specifically when we only have a few days to explore a city), while my mom’s idea of a vacation is relaxing by the beach reading a book! But, for the most part, my mom was really a trooper and walked about 5-8 miles most days along with us!
In Seville, we started off with our usual free walking tour, which was mom’s first experience with this type of tour. We learned some more history of Spain and of that region. We took in some amazing sights, including the Plaza de Espana where we got to see free live Flamenco music and dancing for the first time, and mom and I had an impromptu photo shoot in Flamenco outfits! We got tickets to see inside the amazing Alcazar palace, which was mom’s first experience with a beautiful palace of this kind. One evening, we visited a local bar with a free live Flamenco show. We enjoyed some local tapas a few different times, and I enjoyed lots of sangria/tinto de verano, while mom stuck with her classic Coca-Cola (which she was pleased to find they do in fact have all over Spain). In addition to eating out, we cooked a couple of delicious meals at the Airbnb, and by ‘we’ I mean mostly Chef Jared!
Sevilla was a good first start to our time in Spain, but we were excited for our next stop in the smaller city of Granada! We took a bus from Sevilla to Granada, which went pretty smoothly. Our Airbnb in Granada was pretty nice and a lot closer to the city center than the one in Sevilla. It even had a little balcony where mom was able to relax and read her book some! We were able to walk pretty much everywhere in town without having to use public transport, although mom and I did opt for an Uber once and a bus once, even though Jared wanted to walk!
From our first couple hours exploring Granada, we were able to see a lot of Moroccan and Middle Eastern influence. We found out that there is a lot of Muslim history in the city, prior to the Christians taking over in the 1400’s. Additionally, in present day, there are lots of immigrants from Morocco that bring goods over. We could see in all of the shops that the souvenirs looked like ones we saw last year when we were in Morocco. And, interestingly, a lot of the souvenir clothing was the exact same as I had seen all over Thailand (literally, the same pants and dresses I bought in Thailand, and the tags even say Made in Thailand)! Although Granada is part of Spain, it’s in the South very close to Africa (Morocco), and we were starting to see huge regional differences compared to Madrid and Sevilla!
Prior to arriving in Granada, we found out that the big attraction was the amazing Alhambra Palace (historically a Muslim palace). However, we found this out a little too late, and unfortunately realized that you needed to book tickets weeks to months in advance! So, the few days before arriving that we looked into it wasn’t going to cut it, and sadly we weren’t able to go inside. But, we were still able to enjoy seeing the outside of the Alhambra and a couple of the buildings on the grounds that you could enter without tickets.
Note to the reader: if you’re planning to visit Granada, book your tickets FAR in advance for the Alhambra!
Meanwhile, mom had done pretty well keeping up with us so far, but I think after a few days we were wearing her out. So a couple times in Granada she opted not to join us for some of our adventures, including one of the free walking tours. So, she relaxed at the Airbnb while Jared and I went exploring for a few hours. After an awesome walking tour, we wandered up up up to some amazing viewpoints where you could see down over the city and the Alhambra!
But, I think mom chose to sit out on the wrong walking tour, because we ended up doing not one but two tours in Granada, and the second one she did come on, was really more like a hike than a walk! The first tour we did was just of the center of Granada, while the second one was in the area called the Sacramonte, which is in the hillsides where the gypsy people live (or used to live mostly), and they reside in homes built into caves on the side of the mountain. This was a really cool experience to see this other part of town, and there were some incredible views, but I think mom just about died on the hike up! She hung in there though, and was glad she was able to see the amazing views!
We were also able to see more free Flamenco shows in the main square in Granada. It was interesting seeing Flamenco a few different times and in different places, because we learned there’s a huge variety in the types of Flamenco music and Flamenco dancing! We really liked the female dancers we saw in Granada the best I think! We also got to enjoy some good food in Granada, including trying paella for the first time. We learned that the bars in Granada serve free tapas when you order drinks, so we took advantage of that a couple times as well!
We really had a good time in Granada, and enjoyed the smaller town feel rather than the faster paced cities. But time came to head to our next two stops (Valencia and Barcelona), and even though they were going to be bigger cities, they had beaches, which mom was thrilled about!
We had a long journey to get from Granada to Valencia, because there wasn’t a very easy direct route. The best option would have been to rent a car, but unfortunately we read that you needed an international driver’s license which we didn’t have and would be challenging to get on short notice. So, we opted for the train, which had a layover in a small town, making our total journey about 9 hours long. Luckily the train ride was very comfortable, and the views were amazing!
Once we arrived in Valencia, we learned that they had a pretty affordable multi-day transportation pass, which worked really well for us because we were staying a little bit on the outskirts and needed to take buses pretty much everywhere. We were about equidistant to the city and the beach, but the area we were staying in turned out to be again a little sketchy. It can be tricky finding perfect Airbnbs at times, especially when trying to budget! The place itself was pretty decent, and we really didn’t have any trouble with the locals, it just looked a little “borderline” from the outside.
Our first order of business once we finally got there was to check out the beach! We made our way down to the port area, then the beach, where we were greeted by many beautiful palm trees and got our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea! Unfortunately, the water was quite cold, but it was beautiful nonetheless, and mom was super happy! We found a nice little restaurant for dinner where we shared a HUGE meter-long pizza!
We had lots of fun exploring Valencia, including a good tour of the city center with an enthusiastic guide; visiting the local market; and touring a bull-ring and museum of bull-fighting. We also enjoyed some good food and took advantage of the “Menu del dia” lunch specials. We had even more paella, which originated there in Valencia, and I tried the “Agua de Valencia,” which is like a mix between a mimosa and vodka/orange juice (sparkling wine, vodka, and fresh squeezed oranges). Jared and I also tried more sangria, tinto de verano, and Spanish Vermouth, making for a very boozy couple of days. Mom, meanwhile, just stuck with her Coke Zero, haha.
On our last day in Valencia, we had to check out of our place in the morning, but our train didn’t leave until late afternoon. So we made our way over to the beach and relaxed there on the benches for a while. We had to seek some shade because it was really hot and really sunny, plus we had all our stuff with us! This was a nice relaxing day before we headed to our next (and last) stop, Barcelona!
Once in Barcelona, we were all thankful that we had “upgraded” to a nice Airbnb for this last stop! It was a lovely apartment, the equivalent of being at a hotel or nice condo! It was a short walk to the beach and not too far of a walk to the city center. Mom really hung in there with us right til the end, because we did a TON of walking these few days in Barcelona!
We of course did our normal free walking tour and got to learn some more history of Spain and of this region. It was fascinating to learn the differences all over the country, as this was our fifth city in Spain. We saw the cathedral, the famous Arc de Triumph, and even went into a museum to see some ancient Roman ruins from the area. We got to check out the lovely beaches, which we learned were constructed for beach volleyball during the 1992 Summer Olympics, which has now helped to lead to the city being a major tourist destination in the past two decades! We also explored some of the famous architecture by Antoni Gaudi, including the extraordinary Sagrada Familia basilica, the Parc Guell, and the Casa Mila. Unfortunately, we again failed to realize that you needed to get tickets well in advance to go inside the Sagrada Familia, so we were only able to see it from the outside. But, it was still marvelous just on the outside. It’s a work still in progress, 140 years after it was initiated!
On our final day in Barcelona, it was all about relaxation and making it a “mom” vacation day, since it was her last day in Spain and on the trip with us! I didn’t plan any adventures, tours, excursions, or anything involving a lot of walking! Ha! We spent some time down by the beach of course, including a lovely lunch with an ocean view! We also went inside the local casino, which was actually really small and mostly just virtual games. There were live Blackjack tables, but there were no chips and the players used virtual screens to play their hands, which was interesting. We stayed at the beach until almost sunset, and took in our last views of the Mediterranean!
On the day of our departure, we had lined our flight up with mom’s around the same time. So we took a taxi to the airport together early in the morning, so she could catch her flight back to the US and we could catch ours to our next stop: Paris! It was sad saying our goodbyes at the airport, but we were so glad that we had these two action-packed weeks together in Spain! I know mom was sad to leave us, but I am sure she was also ready to get back home and rest, ha! Overall it was a very eventful and successful first trip to Europe for mom, and we hope this little glimpse of international travel got her excited for what Jared and I have been doing (and plan to continue doing for a while)! Who knows, maybe more international travel will be in her future as well!
Stay tuned for the next part of our adventures as Jared and I headed to France!