I just returned from a 12-day trip to Spain and came away with many impressions.
First, the info I had gleaned from Madridman's list of accomodations and message board was excellent. Thanks.
Next, though the lack of tourists was a definite plus at this time of year, a trip that includes Christmas Eve, & Day as well as New Year's Eve & Day posed its own hassles. Not too many restaurants were open on those days, especially New Year's Eve/Day in Madrid. The Prado was closed, as were most shops, and the locals must have stayed home because there was nobody on the streets! It was quite dreary. However, on New Year's Day we finally found a nice (and expensive) restaurant called El Caldero not far from our hotel (Hostal Persal). The food was good but best part was that it was filled with Madrilenos, celebrating the new year with their families. We were in Madrid at 2 different times during the trip and stayed in a couple of places. The one we liked best was the Hostal Persal on the Plaza del Angel (close to P.d.Sol). Rates were higher than others but it was close to Puerta del Sol and was clean, comfortable and had excellent service. It included a nice continental breakfast - a real godsend on New Year's morning! I would definitely recommend it, if your budget can tolerate it. Earlier in the trip we stayed a night at the Hostal Las Fuentes, also very close to Puerta del Sol. Once we got past the entryway, which was cold, dark, & sandbagged on either side of the hall
, it was OK. However, the room we got was tiny and unheated - we both had to wear wool sweaters and socks to stay warm. It wasn't awful but not great and since the staff wasn't particularly friendly or helpful I wouldn't stay there again another time. Note: by the time I started booking rooms for this trip, many of the hostals were unavailable, so if you're planning a trip book early.
Salamanca: This was where my daughter had been studying for the past 4 months and it was a wonderful little place. It was also the place where we allowed ourself to splurge on the accomodations. We stayed at the NH Palacio De Castellanos at just under $100/night and it was absolutley fabulous in every respect. Our window had an extraordinary view of the top of the Cathedral, which was illuminated at night.
We were there from 12/23-12/25 and discovered that, like Madrid, things got awfully quiet on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, since the weather was beautiful, it was a pleasure to spend a 2 days wandering around - and that is plenty of time to see this town, despite its historical significance. Referred to as Plateresque, all the buildings are built out of a golden-hued stone that looks glorious under a sunny, blue sky. All the travel brochures comment on the beauty of the Plaza Mayor - it's all true! Architecturally, it is fabulous and on Christmas Day it was filled with families out for a stroll. We even encountered an impromptu flamenco dance - fun. Also, I have never seen as many beautifully dressed people in my life - my daughter says that it is a relatively wealthy, conservative area - I saw more full-length fur coats in the Plaza than I have seen in my life! I really enjoyed my two days there. Back to the Plaza Mayor, if you want to stay at a hostel above the Plaza you should be aware that in renovating the buildings they have not added amenities like HEAT!! So, if you go in the winter take plenty of warm gear to sleep in. Side note: according to my daughter Salamanca has a population of about 160,000 (incl. 50,000 sutdents) and 1800 bars! It rocks at night!
: We took the AVE from Madrid(a blissful extravagance!)and in 2 1/2 hours were in sunny Seville. We stayed in the Santa Cruz barrio at the Hostal R. Atenas (close to the Alcazar)on Calle Caballerizas and it was a dear little place - I would definitley give this 2 thumbs up! Our room was modest but comfortable was staffed with really nice people. After cool, gray, rainy Madrid, this was heaven. The Plaza de Espanna by night is a sight worth seeing. The gardens of the Alcazar were gorgeous, even in winter - a place to take lots of photos so bring plenty of film. The weather was good enough during the day to be able to have a great lunch at outside tables on a side street near the Alcazar... a great place for people watching. Dinner at the Pizzeria San Marco (Meson del Moro, 6) is a must. Beautiful interior, respresentavie of the Moorish influence, good food and a lively atmosphere. Souvenir shopping is good in this area, too, and the ceramics are most attractive. I can imagine that at the height of tourist season Sevilla could be a zoo, but in December is was delightful. I would love to go back and spend more time there, especially at orange blossom time. Great place!
Granada: Unfortunately, we only had 1 full day, which was taken up entirely with seeing the Alhambra and Generalife. We had to stand in long lines, both to buy admission tickets as well as gaining entry into the grounds and had to wait almost 4 hours for our scheduled entry into the Palacio. Admittedly, our pace was leisurely and it is as spectacular as one could imagine, so we didn't mind that it was basically a full day's event. We stayed at the Hotel Sacromonte, which was in a good location and was perfectly adequate for our purposes. Note: on the long walk up to El Alhambra beware of gypsy women trying to tell your fortune - it's not a safety issue, just annoying.
Finally, although I got really tired of the filth (spit, dog poop, and litter on the streets), the trip gave me just a taste of what this country has to offer and, most importantly, revealed how wonderful the Spanish people are!!