168 hours in Spain, part 2

I took my two older boys to Spain over spring break. You can see part 1 here.

We checked out of our Grenada hotel (Seda Club) on Tuesday morning, and met our guide and driver to go to Alhambra. This castle (featuring mostly Moorish architecture) and gardens has a long history, and the gardens were really beautiful, even a week or two before the rose peak — wisteria! snapdragons! peonies! — but the weather, unfortunately, was just crap. At one point as we were waiting to get into Alhambra proper, the rain started pouring down, the wind kicked up, and the temperatures dipped to about 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), which was just miserable.

The boys were fairly stoic but it was not pleasant. I should mention here that I had a winter coat and my 14-year-old had been wearing hoodies all week but the 16-year-old’s jacket had mysteriously disappeared somewhere, and he only had long sleeve shirts plus a vest. Correspondingly, he was the least pleased with the situation (even though he had our umbrella, and we shared a second one with our guide). So it was perhaps one of the world’s quickest tours! We warmed up with coffee at a nearby hotel and then went to the Grenada train station.

Taking a European high-speed train was an experience in its own right (my 14-year-old in particular rated it as a trip highlight). We zoomed through the country side from Grenada to Madrid, even arriving — note this, Amtrak! — 15 minutes early. Alas, we then lost those 15 minutes because we got lost in the train station. I had directions but it is possible our train showed up at a different platform than usual because the directions didn’t make sense. So I just followed the crowd, figuring that was probably wise, but then we wound up somewhere totally different than our driver was waiting for us. After a long text exchange of me sending him photos from our locations in the station, we eventually found each other and went to our hotel (a Gran Melina property, Palacios de los Duques). We quickly checked in and made it to our 8 p.m. (early for Spain!) dinner reservation at a place that served Mexican food. This was a big hit after a long day of rainy travel. Guacamole makes everything better.

I was nervously watching the weather forecast, because the next morning we were supposed to do a bike tour of Madrid. Cold and windy is one thing. Cold and wet is another. Fortunately, it looked like the rain would hold off. I texted the bike tour operator to see if there was a place that sold sweatshirts near her store and she sent us to a shopping street nearby. We got to a sporty menswear store right when it opened and I bought the 16-year-old a rather fashionable hoodie. A souvenir that doesn’t look like a souvenir! Victory (note: he wore it to school today – so we will get use out of it). We got our bikes (e-bikes!), and then the weather was blessedly calm and beautiful for the 3 hours we were out biking about.

We’d done some e-biking in Norway last summer, and I have to say, I am a fan. Madrid has hills, but hills aren’t a problem when your bike has some juice for them. We rode through the city (kind of a new experience for me — urban biking!) and through various parks, then got a coffee and snack next to a lake, then rode back just as the rain was starting. Phew! Biking is always a highlight for me and I think the kids liked it too — enough to power them through our trip to the Prado and the Reina Sofia museums that afternoon/evening. My 16-year-old wanted to see portraits of Hapsburgs and he got his wish. We ate at La Roostiq in the evening and walked back to our hotel in 40+ km per hour gusts of wind — that was an adventure. Spain was definitely not on its best weather week!

The next morning the 16-year-old wasn’t feeling so hot and needed his space. So I left him with some euros and a hotel key and the 14-year-old and I did a market-plus-cooking-class extravaganza together. We went to Mercado San Miguel and admired the various vendors (everything from piles of mozzarella to a giant eel on ice…). Then we went to a commercial kitchen and learned how to cook a Spanish omelet (potatoes and eggs), chicken paella (chicken, tomato sauce, peppers, and rice, mostly), and then a special Easter dessert that is similar to French toast. This was fun, though we returned to the hotel completely stuffed. Meanwhile, the 16-year-old had managed to navigate Madrid on his own to get a Cafe Americano, so good for him, but he was starving. So I took him over to Mercado San Miguel and navigated it a second time (sans guide), purchasing him an Iberian ham sandwich and a fruit salad. This made him happy. We all walked through Madrid for a bit, took in something of the sunset from our hotel’s roof deck (it was kind of cloudy), then eventually walked through the famous Plaza Mayor to have dinner at Los Galayos.

I have strong memories of being in that square during my trip back in 2005 (it’s pretty distinctive — the building surrounding the square is red and large). So there I was again — with my boys who are taller than me now, who did not even exist when I was there last. Funny to think of. Anyway, we had a traditional Spanish dinner, had some good conversations, then came out to an absolute downpour. I mean, rain like Noah experienced. We could walk under the covered walkway around the Plaza Mayor for a bit, and we had one umbrella, and then I made the executive decision to purchase two more cheap umbrellas at a souvenir stand. This made our 10-minute walk home far less terrible, so as far as I’m concerned, that was money well spent.

As was another indulgence — as I was checking in for our flight to Philadelphia, American Airlines, no doubt seeing zero actual business travelers for a Friday before Easter flight, made me a very reasonable offer to upgrade. So I took it. The boys had a blast getting to go to the lounge and then eating airline food off fancy dishes and having large seats. It helped end the trip on a high note.

We kind of crammed the “big” vacations into the start of the year (Disney, Spain) so we don’t have any big family trips planned the rest of the year. We’ll go to the beach for a while in the summer but that is much more low key. I do need to come up with an idea for Christmas, but that is a long time from now. I know the boys had a good time and found it cool to see a different country, so I’m glad we made this trip — and made lots of memories.

13 thoughts on “168 hours in Spain, part 2

  1. Y’all are troupers, so inspiring! Sometimes it’s hard to remember that travel will never be perfect but is still worth it!

    1. @Elisa- yep, never perfect. We needed to find a balance between soldiering on and pivoting when it was miserable to follow the original course. I think we mostly did ok. My travel agent noted that apparently it was 50 degrees and rainy in parts of Hawaii last week so those folks were probably even more annoyed!

  2. Thanks for sharing. You do a great job writing about travel and are honest to mention it is never perfect, but also include lots of highlights.

    I’d be interested in a post about your travel planning process if you’d like to share. I find it takes a lot of time, especially when we travel overseas.

    1. @Amanda – nothing is ever perfect. Oh well. It does take a lot of time to plan travel. I mostly outsourced the activity planning on this one – I worked with Mimi at Truvay Travel, who helped plan the London Christmas 2022-2023 trip too. I knew we wanted to do Spain, and she and I talked about what the kids (and I) would want to do. She found hotels, and suggested activities, which I then gave feedback on. When we reached an agreement on the itinerary, she booked those guides + activities. I did the flights on my own.

  3. Yes, Ms. Laura Vanderkam, I also think that a high-speed train was an experience in its own right. Whether it is a high-speed train in Europe or a high-speed train outside of Europe. Or a high speed train that transports between Europe and other continents.
    I think I will follow up on the episode of the podcast that is about this year’s mid-year check-in. I think I’m going to see if you think of this experience of travelling to Spain to be substantial enough to be listed in the episode of the podcast that is about this year’s mid-year check-in. I do, however, think it is valid whether or not you count this experience of travelling to Spain to be significant enough to be listed in the this year’s mid-year check-in episode of the podcast.

  4. That is too bad that you had terrible weather when visiting the Alhambra! We were able to walk there from our airbnb when I was there in 2016 and had such a wonderful morning looking at the property. It was early December so chilly but no rain and we had winter jackets so were comfortable. I guess one upside to traveling with my kids at their ages is that I can pack for them so they always have what they need – but that’s a double edged sword because it adds to my list of things to do before a trip.

    The high speed trains of Spain are so incredible! I wish we had something like that here in the US.

    1. @Lisa – yep, I’m pretty sure we left the US with a coat but we did not have it in Spain. These things happen! Oh well. I have lost things too. I was glad I brought my coat because I definitely needed it. It is a lightweight winter coat (pretty cheap, from Amazon) that packs down quite small. I used it a lot in Norway too…in August! Spain in August would not require that…

  5. I commented on your other post that we were in Spain at the same time and feel you on the weather disappointment. We were actually at the Prado the same day as you! (Wednesday the 27th between probably 3:30 and 5:30)

    I love hearing about your touring experience and using a travel agent to find you interesting tours. This trip was my husband’s idea and in the words of Fair Play I let him “own the card” 100% because my brain is fried with everything else. He did a good job but we agreed the 2 tours we found were the best parts, and we spent quite a bit of time in our hotel scrolling through websites looking for them.

    Wherever our next trip is, we’re going to prioritize guided tours because that’s where we learned more and got to appreciate the culture more (especially with an only semi-interested 11-yr-old).

    1. @Diana – oh how funny that our paths crossed! Yes, my general thought is that if you’re only in a country for a short time it’s good to book tours/activities ahead of time. Otherwise you’re going to spend a lot of vacation time figuring it out, which can be stressful in its own right!

  6. It’s great that you made the most of it, but how disappointing that Spain of all places was cold and wet for you! (I agree that the weather in Hawaii also sounded quite disappointing…) Regardless, international travel tends to be such a rich experience and I’m sure that years from now, the weather will serve mostly to make the trip more memorable. Glad you were able to enjoy the bike ride and so many tasty meals! Plus high speed train & flight home upgrade. Not all bad at all—though solid commiseration on the weather. I’d have been so bummed.

    1. @Betsy – it was still an experience! We had fun. I was talking with someone else who once took a very rainy trip to the “Costa del Sol” — talk about false advertising 🙂

      1. Ha! Touché! And it’s great that you had fun and a great experience despite sub-optimal weather. Great attitude!! 🙂

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