Words can't explain just how important this trip was for my 90-year-old Uncle. In 1944, he was a U.S. soldier in Germany, and during that time, he had one week's leave from the Army. He decided to visit Spain for that week, and he absolutely fell in love with the country. He promised himself that one day he'd return. Nearly 75 years later, I had the privilege of helping him make that dream come true. However, I could never have made that trip as smooth and absolutely enjoyable and free of all stress that it was if it weren't for our travel planner and her associates at the travel agency. They were careful and thoughtful in their assessment of what and how we needed to travel the country, given my Uncle's age.
The travel agency asked all the right questions, then created an amazing itinerary that encompassed all the cities and towns we wanted to experience without rushing from one place to another. My Uncle did not want to be herded on a bus tour, nor did he want to sit on a bus with lots of other tourists and not be able to understand the tour guide. He wanted private tours of major sites in each of the towns we visited and he wanted to be able to have resting time each day. Additionally, he wanted four-star accommodations, rather than whatever accommodations a group tour was providing.
Our travel planner and her team created the most incredible vacation for my Uncle, that included professional, patient, and incredibly knowledgeable tour guides who were also personable and fun-loving people. They all spoke excellent English besides their native Spanish, and had tickets to the most popular sites, bypassing huge long lines to get us into the facilities ahead of everyone. They also provided wheelchair accommodations and made sure my Uncle had access to bathroom facilities when necessary. I made sure each private tour guide received a generous tip for their wonderful services.
Additionally, I can't say enough about the accommodations that we had along the way. They were all four to five star that all included an AMAZING delicious breakfast buffet each day. I can still taste the wonderful cheeses, fruit, huevos, ham, chocolate croissants and perfect cappuccinos! The presentation of each breakfast was outstanding!
We first visited Barcelona and had a two bedroom apartment that was absolutely perfect and located near food, fun and transportation. The staff was friendly and amazing, and everyone spoke English. The apartment was five star all the way! We had a wonderful tour with our guide where we got first class treatment, bypassing the long lines for the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, which was designed by famous architect Antonio Gaudi. Then she took us to the Old City of Barcelona where we walked on the same streets built by Romans. My Uncle is still talking about that experience!
The next day, we boarded a bus with a small group of travelers to see Monseratte, a Benedictine monk mountain retreat. It was one of our highlights of the entire trip, and was quite emotional for my Uncle. The views from Monseratte are absolutely breathtaking and I was able to get some fantastic photographs from the top of the mountain. Absolutely recommend this day trip. After we left Monseratte, we enjoyed an afternoon of wine tasting and tapas at a family vineyard with our small group of about ten travelers. We had so much fun and we all bonded as a group. Such a wonderful way to end our day.
From Barcelona, we were flown to Granada, where we stayed in another fantastic five-star hotel adorned with Marble and decorative rod iron throughout the facility. It was also in the heart of the town and easy access to shopping and sites. We took a taxi up the mountain to the La Hambra where we met our next tour guide who gave us a wonderful tour of the city within a city. What a site to see and such history to learn! Later in the day, when we returned to Granada, we walked the city and shopped- lots of great shopping- and had a wonderful dinner at an outside cafe. This is definitely a trendy, upscale shopping area.
Next, our travel agency arranged for a private driver to take us from Granada to Seville because the train was inoperable and we would have had to take a bus for part of the nearly three-hour trip to Seville. Our private ride was smooth, relaxing and our driver was very personable. He also had a very clean, comfortable car. I highly recommend this mode of transportation!
Once in Seville, we checked into our hotel- yet, another spectacular accommodation- including a rooftop pool and bar that overlooked the entire city of Seville. The rooms are spotless and I absolutely love the bathrooms, equipped with glass showers, large overhead showerheads and excellent craftsmanship. Our evening Tapas and wine tour with our guide was so memorable. She took us for a walk through her neighbourhood of narrow cobblestone streets and rod iron balconies to see various historical sites such as a Music museum and conservatory, an ancient breathtaking Cathedral that was still operational, and the town plaza where neighbours would meet and children would play. The area was so quaint, we didn't want to leave. Moreso, our guide had arranged for us to go from one Tapas bar to another in the neighbourhood- never waiting in any lines- and tasting the most exquisite Tapas and wine/beer we'd ever had on the trip! She paid all expenses and ordered the food and drink throughout the night.
Sadly, we had to leave Seville and take the highspeed train to Madrid, where we stayed for several days in an absolutely beautiful hotel on Jorge Juan Avenue. Newly renovated with an old European flair of gorgeous white marble everywhere, beautifully decorated lobby and bar, a lower-level cellar that was renovated into this amazing kitchen, breakfast buffet with old brick and wood decor, including an old iron stove, and central to the whole hotel was a gorgeous rod iron cage-elevator that Europe is so well-known for. Can't speak highly enough of this hotel!
Madrid is a very large city and quite majestic. They have a large central park in the midst of the city and it's filled with people walking their dogs, scooters, joggers, and kayakers surrounding a beautiful small lake adorned with marble monuments. We really enjoyed eating ice cream and walking in this park, and also saw a lovely art exhibit while there. Our second day in Madrid included a 25-minute train ride to Toledo, where we met our tour guide who showed us all over this quaint historical town. She grew up in Toledo and knew everyone, so we got private tours of little businesses that would make gold jewelry by hand, as well as a six-generation business that handcrafted amazing pottery with 24K gold inlay. The town is also known for its steel and sword making. We saw amazing swords and gold- lots of gold. Absolutely a must for gifts of gold or steel products at amazingly low prices. We truly loved the Cathedrals and narrow winding cobblestone streets of Toledo. It's a small town with a rich religious history of various religious backgrounds. Now I know where "Holy Toledo!" came from!
Overall, the trip was a life changer. My Uncle shed a tear when we had to leave because he enjoyed this trip more than any other place he's ever visited in his life. At 90 years old, he said he is now complete. To our travel planner and everyone at this company, I can't thank you enough for providing such a memorable gift for an old man who wanted nothing more than to have one last trip to a beautiful country he has never forgotten. Muchas gracias!
Everyplace we visited was memorable, thanks to our private tour guides. However, my very favourite was the time we spent with our tour guide in Seville visiting her neighbourhood and trying the local tapas and wines. We had a blast and my 90-year-old Uncle stayed up until 1 AM as we visited with the locals and had the best food we'd ever had on the entire trip!
I'd make sure that each of the tour guides provided digital audio players with headphones that allowed my nearly deaf 90-year-old Uncle to hear them speak while we toured cavernous-sounding museums and other places that had noisy background environments. My Uncle had difficulty hearing them and I had to repeat everything in his ears so he'd understand what they were saying.
Secondly, I'd make sure what time we could get into our hotel once we arrived into the Country- which is typically early in the morning, if coming from the states. We had to wait nearly six hours to get into our apartment in Barcelona once we arrived because check in time was 4 pm. We dropped off our luggage with the facility, and we were able to change at the sister hotel two doors down, but our apartment was not ready for us for several hours, unbeknownst to us. I don't even think the agency realized check in was so late. However, staff was very accommodating and told us that two doors down we could relax in their sister hotel lounge and have coffee and drinks or rest on the couches, so it worked out well for us.
Finally, I'd make sure that I researched other restaurants to visit other than Tapas bars!
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