Spain is a wonderful country and very clean. The locals we interacted with were all very nice. Overall it was a nice and memorable trip, however there were a few things that could have been done better by the travel agency.
Per our itinerary, there was to be a driver that met us at the Madrid Airport. After we landed, we searched the area several times for someone holding a sign with our name, but we could not find anyone. We were given the number of the driver, so eventually we called them from our cell phone. That number was for a taxi company (not an individual driver) who initially did not know who we were and even asked us where we were going. We were somewhat surprised because we thought this was already set up in advance. We told them our names and they eventually found us. After being on hold for several minutes, having the call dropped (they called us back), and talking with the dispatcher again, they said someone should be there with our name. Again we searched but could not find anyone, so we called them back. We talked to them again and finally they said someone will be near the coffee shop (which was just a few feet away). We eventually saw someone with a sign that had our name on it. Interestingly enough, we noted that that person had been there almost the entire time with no sign, as if he was simply waiting for any tourists to come (not specifically us).
We stayed at a very nice hotel initially. Wifi and breakfast were included (the latter was paid for in advance). The next morning we took a nice train ride to Cordoba where we picked up our rental car. Fortunately for only 5 more pounds per day we were able to upgrade to a BMW with a GPS unit. Our hotel in Cordoba was rated as 4 stars, although our room had a view of the dumpsters with stray cats directly below our window (which we could smell, forcing us to keep the window closed). The AC did not work well either making for a less than pleasant sleep. The employees though were very nice and breakfast was great. Someone also parked our car for us.
We soon met our guide for the day who was very knowledgable about the area and its Jewish and Islamic history. The tour of the Mosque and Jewish Home was very nice. Later that day we went to a Hammam for a ritualistic bath which was quite relaxing. The mint tea was also a nice touch.
The next day we went to Sevilla, which was a nice and pleasant drive. We drove straight to the parking garage and checked into the hotel. We then met our tour guide for an amazing biking tour of the city. The tour guide was very nice and knowledgable and took a lot of pictures of us. Our itinerary indicated that we would proceed to a boat tour along the river at 3:00 PM. On our bike tour, we simply happened to run into the person in charge of the boat tour and began talking, and he indicated that the boat tour was at 6:00 PM (not 3:00 PM). Confused, we contacted our travel agency and it was later confirmed that the correct time was indeed 6:00 PM. We felt somewhat lucky that we ran into the boat tour guide, otherwise we would have been three hours early and the place would have been closed (and we would not have known to come at 6:00 PM), causing us to miss the tour altogether and stress for my pregnant wife. The tour itself was relaxing and fun. The hotel was advertised as 3 stars. We noted black residue on the bed which we brushed off. The wifi and AC worked but overall I have stayed at Econo Lodges in the US which were better than this hotel.
The next day we went to Ronda where our tour guide who was quite attentive and was already waiting for us when we arrived. The tour of Zahara de la Sierra was great and very informative. We next went to an Olive Mill whose owner was very hospitable and friendly. We were told how olive oil is made and shown all of the equipment in the process. We were also given food and allowed to taste and buy their authentic olive oil. Next we went on a wine tour where we were given delicious wine and home made paella. Although we told our travel agency that we are vegetarian (and the agency confirmed they will be able to accommodate our request), the owners of the olive mill and winery had no idea. We again were very lucky that our tour guide quickly called these places up and explained we were vegetarian so that something could be prepared last minute. The hotel here was advertised as 3 stars, and everything about the hotel was nice although the breakfast had few options compared to the previous ones we stayed at.
The next day we drove to Granada. We were instructed to meet our tour guide at the Alhambra ticket office. We punched in the address given to us by our travel agency and walked. On our way there we called our tour guide to let her know we were coming. She instructed us to go all the way up the hill which is where we would find the ticket office. The GPS also told us to go all the way up the hill. Toward the top (after a 15 minute hike up the hill) we saw a long line up of people and coincided with where the GPS told us to go (from the address we were given) so we figured we were in the right spot. We called our guide again but she said we were not in the right spot and said to go to the ticket office. Being in a new place in a new country, we we had no idea where the ticket office was as all we had was the address given to us. We hiked almost all the way down the hill and found a map. From the map we were able to find the ticket office and hiked there to meet our guide. Our guide did not move from her position but rather asked us to walk at least 15-20 more minutes to meet her. This was very hard on my pregnant wife and we did not have the resources to get a cab at that point. It would have been nice, given how big this area is, to have a picture or map (like the ones posted there) indicating where to go rather than giving us an address that did not correspond to our meeting point. The actual tour of Alhambra though was breathtaking and we did learn quite a bit from the tour guide.
At the end of the day we were scheduled to take a tour of the gypsy caves and see authentic flamenco dances. Once again, the restaurant we went to had no idea we were vegetarian, and the pre-set menu had no vegetarian options. When we told them, they brought us out another menu but the only vegetarian item on that menu (other than soup) was not available unless we both purchased that item and paid extra. My wife only had some bread and soup and left hungry, which is not good for someone who is pregnant. I felt really bad for her.
The next morning we drove a couple hours to Cazorla National Park and went on a hike. Our tour guide was very nice. Afterwards, we went to a hotel where lunch had been arranged. The host was a very pleasant man who even gave us extra ice on request for our water bottles. He also did not know we were vegetarian but was accommodating and made suggestions for us based on our preferences. From there we drove back to Madrid and stayed at hotel Europa. Due to the several hours of hiking and driving that day, coupled with our next morning flight, we were too exhausted to participate in our final tour, and went straight to bed. We returned our rental car the next morning at the airport.
The bike tour
The white villages in Ronda
The olive mill and wine tour
We would book our individual tour guides instead of going through a travel agency.
TRAVEL COMPANY'S COMMENTS
It is always great to hear that another of our travelers has fallen in love with Spain and plans to return! I’m also happy that they seem to have connected on a personal level with several of our guides. We work with a select few who have shown dedication to customer service over the years, as well as a deep knowledge of the city they provide tours in.
It was a delight to arrange Preet’s tour, and her husband and I were in touch daily about tours and how things were going. During their time here all feedback was positive.
I would like to address a few of the issues brought up by the clients since we take all negative comments seriously. There is always a possibility of improving our tours even more!
I had the pleasure planning this wonderful trip for Preet and her husband. This was a very important reservation to me since I found out not long before the tour that she was pregnant. We put into extra care to check in with the clients each day and make sure that each guide kept an eye on her as I want to make sure this a very special trip for them. I hope Preet and her husband will have the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful country again in the near future.
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