Monday, January 3, 2011

Our Impromptu Spanish Christmas Vacation

After the disastrous Saturday at the airport with fabulous cancellations and snowpocoplyse in northern Europe, we rethought this Christmas in Europe thing and chose another destination!

So on the Tuesday before Christmas, the family and I boarded a flight to Madrid via San Juan.  Throughout the week, I jotted down notes on my iPhone which I won’t post verbatim, but it’s giving me some good material to let you know what we did each day

On international (and other longish flights, I guess) they always have a movie. I’ve always wanted to watch one in flight! It was just enough time on the flight to San Juan that I could watch Get Low. What a great movie – and based on a true story!

We had a two hour layover in the smallest international airport I’ve ever seen in San Juan, with no signage for the departure gate.  Seriously. Had to ask multiple people and they kept pointing us to various desks with NO signage to say it was American or Iberia or whoever was running that flight. I realized that our limited Spanish  was indeed very limited! Thank goodness for our phrase book.

Since we flew overnight, we arrived in Madrid on Wednesday. After an 8 hour flight with two meals and a quick sleep, we landed in Europe. Finally!

We made our way through passport control and found all of our bags, which we were definitely happy about. James hung out with the bags while Mom and I got some change in Euros and attempted to use the pay phones to book a hotel for the evening. Apparently, I know some Spanish but not enough to make a phone call on the fancy payphone. Ironically, my mother works in telecommunication! Hehe. Hubs came over to figure out the directions, and we were able to get Daniel from Hotel Opera on the phone and he had a triple available for that night! Plus a 10% discount for mentioning Rick Steves? It made for a perfect combination and we booked it right away.

The hotel was beautiful but of course I forgot to take pictures. We were so exhausted! Jet lag really does suck, even if you sleep on the plane. Beautiful and spacious room and even bigger bathroom! It had a shower and a bath, plus a double sink and a bidet. Seriously, I think I could have slept in the bathroom it was so big. Quite European!

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The view from our room – the Opera! It’s like, right there. :)

After a change of clothes and brushing of teeth [totally necessary after that flight, and it just makes you feel human again!], it was time to find lunch. Daniel at the front desk suggested a place that was also in the guidebook, La Bola. It had hearty winter Spanish stew. But when we got there, it was just about 2 pm and the start of the lunch rush - and such a small place didn't have a lot of tables. We had to punted but found a tapas bar down the street. Total local place. The only seats in this tapas bar were upstairs in a hallowed out little cave above the standing room in the bar. We had goat cheese and honey in some kind of phyllo dough, grilled tuna bites with leaks, asparagus and ham, and french fries with eggs (eggs a la Madrid). We were stuffed!

After lunch, it was off to the royal palace only to find it closed for official royal ceremonies for the holidays! Hmph. It was also closed on New Year’s Eve (when we’d be back in Madrid) so it was out for the vacation. :(

Madrid (3)

We were able to take pictures of the outside and the cathedral next door. Could have bought something in the shop because THAT was open. :)

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Brother, me and Hubs in front of St. Peter at the Cathedral next to the palace.

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Goya statue outside the Prado

Instead of the palace, we went to the Prado. Amazing paintings. They also had a Renoir temporary exhibit that we were able to see with the basic admission, which was really wonderful to see those paintings. There was a ton of walking – and the boys nearly fell asleep right in the exhibit hall!

2. Wed, Dec 22, 2010 - Madrid (17)

On the way back to the hotel, we saw some wonderful architecture in the city…

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Yup, that’s the Ritz across from the Prado. I wish we could have stayed there!

We all fell asleep around 8 o’clock and woke up 12 hours later feeling slightly more rested but still cursing jet lag. We hoped it would only get better!


  1. FABULOUS photos!!!! Keep em coming, girl! What an outstanding trip! I have ALWAYS wanted to go to Spain!

  2. Wow - it sounds like an amazing trip! Can't wait to hear more about it - and see more pictures!!

  3. Oh, that jet lag is such a killer! When I went to England several years ago, we flew overnight and when we arrived it was early afternoon. We decided to just stay awake and get on a normal schedule. It worked for me and I never felt off. However, some of the other people decided to nap and they were off for a week at least! Coming home was a different story, but I had a few weeks before I went back to work so it was ok!

  4. I stumbled over here from elsewhere and am SO glad I did! I'll be back again as I am off to Spain in May for two weeks so am very keen to hear of your experiences. We're also landing in Madrid and then going to Barcelona, then to friends in Nerja. Luckily, though, we live in Africa, so no jet lag to contend with! Wishing you a wonderful 2011, and looking forward to more stories from Spain.

    Shiny x

  5. P.S. Was the Hotel Opera within walking distance of the sights of Madrid i.e. the palace and the Prado?

    Hope you don't mind me asking questions... a little presumptive of me really!

  6. Wow! I am so jealous! What a fun time!

  7. First thing I noticed when I went to Europe was the bidet too. Ain't it neat??