[Day 13] Day trip to Segovia

My last full day in Madrid, I decided to check out Segovia. I really wanted to see the Aqueduct of Segovia. This was as great place for a day trip and I highly recommend it. I was an 1 hour 20 minute bus ride and I booked the bus ticket using Omio. This website is super convenient for all travel in Europe!

In the morning, I made my way to Moncloa Station, which was a transit bus and train center. Once you were inside, you should see a line of people waiting by their bus gate number. I did not get my gate number on my ticket so I had to look for it. I could not find any information booth here so I went from gate to gate, looking at the signs and luckily, I was able to find the gate. The seats are the assigned so it’s first come, first serve. If you have someone you want to sit with, it is best if you get here early.

TIP: Even though it was off-peak season, the bus was filled! So I would recommend booking tickets early and getting to the transit center early, too.

This bus had two stops. The first one is Cristo Mercado and the second one is Segovia. Do not get off at the first one! This is a local bus stop by the street. They don’t really make clear announcements on the bus and lots of locals were getting off here so I can seem like this is the stop. Wait until the next stop and they should stop at a Bus station.

Once we got off, we started to walk towards the Aqueduct. The city is very small and everything is walking distance. Once you start walking towards the city, you should see the Aqueduct in the distance. And once you get close to it, you will notice how huge this is.

Walking through the arches, you are just amazed by ancient architectural beauty. Seriously, how did they built such a thing back in the days? You can walk up to the top and get a view of the city with the aqueducts. It is just spectacular.

After admiring it for awhile, we headed towards the city to find a place to eat. There were several restaurant choices but a lot of them were closed. So we ended up at Restaurante El Sitio. It didn’t look it from the outside, but it wasn’t a cheap bar/restaurante. I guess never judge a book by its cover.

We tried lubina horno (fish) and cochinillo racion (suckling pig). We didn’t get to see them actually cut the suckling pig but I was told that if we order 4 servings of it, they will bring out the whole pig.

TIP: If you are looking for something on the cheaper end, look for MENU DEL DIA. This is like the daily special menu and for a set price, you get a small course meal.

After our meal, we headed towards Catedral de Segovia. This catedral was not as grand as the one in Seville but still amazing. The gothic architecture and its details were so pretty. When we went inside, there was a ticket booth. There were two options for tickets available when we got there : General entrance fee (€3) and entrance and bell tower (€7). We wanted to get a good view of the city so we decided to do the bell tower. However, for the bell tower, they had a specific time slot and they only had the 4pm one available.

So while we waited, we decided to head over to Alcázar de Segovia first. The line for the ticket was really short but they had ropes wrapping around for busy season. General palace tickets were €5.5 and an extra €2.5 for Torre de Juan II. Since we were getting the bird’s eye view of the city from the Catedral, we decided to just do the Palace.

Before entering the palace, we spent some time admiring the outside of the Palace. Some people were saying that this place inspired Disney when they were designing the Cinderella’s castle. And I could see some resemblance in the pointy tops.

The inside was also impressive. The decors in each room were vastly different and each were unique. The Galley Room was my favorite with the gold molding. All the rooms had lots of windows that brought in sunlight and I bet the Royals living here loved to look at their land while enjoy the sunlight.

After walking through the rooms, you end up outside on the castle walls. It’s not the highest part of the castle but provides some view of the outside area.

After seeing all the rooms, we headed back to the Catedral for our tour. Unfortunately, they only provided one English tour and we had missed that one. Our tour was conducted in Spanish but our guide was able to answer questions in English and most of the signs had both languages.

We had to climb up several flights of stairs but had breaks in between which helped a lot. And once at top, you won’t regret it. The 360 view of the Catedral and the city was amazing! One really interesting fact I learned was that this Catedral’s tower was burned down due to a fire and they had to bring in another architect to rebuild. And their new architect decided that instead of a tower, he built a dome in a different style.

After seeing the view from up top, we headed back down and looked around the Catedral and found a small museum. We couldn’t take photos but they had several different Virgin and Child paintings. And as it was getting closer to sunset, we headed outside towards the courtyard and was greeted with amazing colors. It was hard to find the entrance to the courtyard and because of this, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was beautiful.

After viewing everything, we walked around the city. We needed some pick me up and ended up at Confitería El Alcázar, a sweets shop, and tried Ponche Segoviano. Guys. 100% please try this! This was amazing! It was like custard filled pastry and it was so good! I wish I could have bought a bigger size as take out! It was that good.

This was a really good day trip. Since it only took 1 hour 20 minutes, you got to spend more time seeing the city than in a bus. You can definitely make this into an overnight stay if you end up seeing both towers and doing some hikes around the city.

[Day 11 +12] Relaxing like the locals in Madrid

I am combining day 11 and 12 because most of the days, I just hung out with my brother and sister-in-law. After our other brother’s family left, we just wanted some time to be lazy.

My brother and sister-in-law really wanted me to try this restaurant called Taberna El Sur so we headed there for dinner. This place was really small and I would recommend that you make reservation in advance. There are lots of bar seating if you are ok with that as well.

It was tapas style and we tried different things from the menu. We all got sangria first and ordered tapas like ropa vieja (braised flank steak) and carrillada (braised pork cheeks). They were so good. And the portions were good too. We ordered 4 tapas and it was enough for us.

After our filling meal, we walked to Plaza de Cibeles to see Cibeles Palace. I saw this place while driving by so I wanted a closer look. The building is all white but during the night time, they flashed different color strobes on it, making it look green, red, and more. We tried to go inside but they were closed.

TIP: I also did not realize how close this place was to Retiro Park. I would see this Palace first and head into Retiro Park for a half day tour.

And because it was the holidays, the streets were full of decorative lights. And by the Metropolis Building, they even had a giant Christmas Ornament. While walking back to Puerta del Sol, we saw several Christmas trees as well. It was really beautiful during the night time.

Our Sunday morning started with us visiting a church. We walked most of the way to church but on our way back, I got to ride the metro for the first time. The ticket was easy to use but we ended up getting off at the wrong stop and had to buy another ticket. They had pretty bad customer service.

We didn’t know what to eat for lunch and ended up at Tierra Burrito Bar and it was similar to Chipotle. But the portions were huge! They couldn’t even roll the burrito all the way, which was better for me 🙂 I think this solved my craving for American food.

Afterwards, we headed to the Royal Palace of Madrid. I just wanted to see what it looked like. There were lots of street performers outside the Palace and many tourist and locals taking walks. It was pretty peaceful. I did not get to go inside since I did not have tickets but by the size of it, you would need to spend at least 3 hours to see the place.

I also got to see the Catedral de la Almudena and this was impressive. Even more so than the palace! The architecture was stunning. We couldn’t go in because it was too late but still amazing. I would recommend staying here and seeing the sunset. It would make a killer photo.

[Day 10] Easy day in Madrid

Today was the last day we were spending as a family in Madrid. We didn’t have a lot of time so we decided to take it easy.

First, we headed to Puerta del Sol and saw the KM 0 marker. It is easy to miss since there are no signs pointing to it and it’s in the middle of the street. It was used as a place people would come and set their odometers to zero when they were traveling. Sort of like mile markers.

Afterwards, we headed into the Square to see the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry tree. I’m not 100% what it means but it represents the coat of arms for Madrid. I know it is popular because I saw all the magnets and mug cups with the bear on it in several different gift shops.

The Square was full of people in lines to get the lottery tickets and we had to zig zag around them. For our last meal together, we decided to do something simple but impactful and ended up at Chocolatería San Ginés. My brother told me that this was his favorite spot for hot chocolate and churros. And yes! I agree. This place was the best! The hot chocolate was thicker and less sweet and the churros were hot and crispy. We also got to try the porras, which were thicker version of a churros. (Personally, I like porras better. It’s more fluffy)

After snacking on our hot chocolate and churros, we had to say good bye to one of my brother and my sister-in-law. And I had to move my luggage to my other brother’s house which was between Puerta del Sol and Mayor, a prime location. After moving all my stuff to their house, we took a small break because it started to rain.

Since it was getting chilly, we decided to get some food that would warm us up! My brother really wanted me to try the pho place in Madrid and I am also down for pho. We headed to a restaurant named Vietnam and ordered pho. Their menu was not as extensive as the Vietnamese restaurant in the US but had the essentials. The pho was pretty good but the sauces were not the best. They had a different version of sriracha sauce and it was too runny and the flavor was not the same. But it still warmed us up well.

After our meal, we walked back towards Puerta del Sol and saw a line of people headed into a building. We weren’t sure what it was but decided to check it out. We later found out it was the Real Casa de Correos building and they have an annual Nativity scene display inside called Navidad el Sol.

The display inside was amazing and I was so glad we accidentally stumbled in. The nativity scene here wasn’t just the stable but all of Bethlehem! I couldn’t fit all of it into my camera in one go. You can imagine how big it was. They also had Christmas Forest with several Christmas trees. If you visit Madrid during the holidays, this would be a must see!

[Day 9] Touring Madrid

Our first full day in Madrid started with some bad weather forecast. It was going back and forth between cloudy and rainy and we were prepared for both.

First stop, Mercado de San Miguel for some breakfast. The market is not as big as the one in Barcelona but it has all the offerings. It is indoors and when we arrived around 10am, it was already bustling with tourists. Similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona, they had simple take out stalls as well as restaurants. I ended up getting empanadas and they had so many different fillings.

There is a sit down area in the middle of the market and several of the restaurants also had stools for their stalls. If you missed la Boqueria, this could show you what it is like at these Mercado.

After filling ourselves, we headed to Parque del Retiro to see the Crystal Palace. Retiro Park is huge and you can easily spend half day here. We took an Uber to the park and our driver dropped us around Paseo de la Argentina. This entrance leads straight to the Retiro Park Lake and to the view of the Alfonso XII’s monument.

This would be a great spot to relax and hang around when the weather is nicer and warmer. There were lots of benches and playground for kids. We also saw a lot of signs for different gardens, art gallery, and monuments. One in particular was the Crystal Palace. My sister-in-law highly recommended it and we wanted to check it out.

However, when we got to the Palace, it was closed! There were many people waiting outside so I thought maybe it wasn’t open yet. However, the time posted outside said otherwise. We thought we could wait until they opened again since we saw a staff member inside the building. So we waited and took pictures of the exterior.

As we were taking photos, a police car came by and told everyone to leave the park. The officers started to usher people towards the exit. Without any explanation, we started to walk towards the exit. The park was so big and we didn’t know where we were so it took a bit to get to the exit. And once we were outside the park, we saw a sign that stated “PARK CLOSED. HIGH WIND” sign on the gates. So a storm was coming.

After a few moments, it started to pour! Thankfully, we brought umbrellas but we had to rethink our plan. Our original plan was to visit the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid but with the rain, we didn’t want to walk through the garden.

After some thought, we decided to visit the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple that was gifted to Madrid. When we got to the temple, there was a line of people waiting to get inside. Even thought it is called a temple, it is more of a museum and entry is free. Inside, you can see different gods and goddesses, scale model of the building, and learn about the history of the Temple. The inside is really small and you can see everything within minutes. Just be prepared for that.

And it would have been nice to see the moat filled with water but it was empty when we visited. We still got to walk around the walkway after we visited the temple. And because of the rain, no one was outside. Also, if you walk to the back of the temple, you can get a nice view of the city.

After seeing the Temple, we decided to take a break and headed back home. And before we got home, we stopped at Museo de Jamon. The name says it’s a museum but it is actually a store and restaurant. We stopped by to buy some jamon and cheese. They have so many different types of jamon, from front leg to back leg, and what feed the pigs were fed. If you are not sure what to get, ask for samples! The price range is quite wide and I’m sure you can find jamon that you like.

With our hands full of jamon and cheese, we came back home and rested. We snacked on the jamon and I kept going back to its saltiness. They are similar to prosciutto so if you like prosciutto, you will surely like jamon.

After some relaxation, we headed to our dinner reservation at Botin. A friend of mine had recommended this place for both the food and the history. It is considered the oldest restaurant in the world! Wow! Almost 300 years of history.

And my friend recommended the roasted Suckling pig. We ordered several dishes including the suckling pig and filet mignon. All the food was good but they were on the salty side. Ask for less salt if you do not like salty food. Also, make reservation! We had reservation right at their opening hour and there was a line already.

[Day 8] Royal Alcázar of Seville and off to Madrid

We had one last thing we needed to see in Seville and that was the Royal Alcázar of Seville. My brother really wanted to see this since it was in Game of Throne. We booked tickets in advance again and visited early in the morning. When we got there, the regular line was starting to get long.

This time, we got the audio guide and walked around, listening to the history of the Royal Alcázar of Seville. The architecture here was heavily influence by islamic design but while listening to the audio guide, I found out that because the construction took a long time, several different styles were incorporated. I guess 500 years of construction will make you want to change your mind about what is popular then.

The Royal Alcázar of Seville is made up of several different halls, courtyards, gardens, and more. I would suggest you time your visit wisely. You can easily spend 3 hours here just looking around and taking pictures.

While looking and admiring the details in the design and decor (especially the tiles), my brother was eagerly looking forward to the Game of Thrones filming locations. He was looking for mainly three things: Mercury’s Pond (Estanque de Mercurio), Baths of Maria de Padilla (Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla), and the Fountain of Neptune (Fuente de la Neptuno) in Jardines del Principe.

These must have been major view points because all of them were bustling with people. We had to patiently wait for people to trickle out. The signs in the Garden’s are not easy to follow but Mercury’s pond is hard to miss because it is higher up and Baths of Maria de Padilla is right next to it. Mercury’s pond is relatively small compared to how big Alcázar is but the small waterfall makes a very calming sound and I could see the royals relaxing on that balcony.

Baths of Maria de Padilla is just steps away from Mercury’s Pond and it is underground. All the arches and its reflection on the water makes the wait worth awhile. The water here wasn’t all that clean and I’m guessing they don’t use it for baths anymore 😉

And lastly, we had to walk a bit through the Gardens to find it but we located the Fountain of Neptune. There were so many small fountains around the gardens and even the gardens were huge! Luckily, this fountain was also relatively close to Mercury’s Pond.

It was fun, walking and exploring Royal Alcázar of Seville with a mindset of “I’m going to find these filming locations!” because it gave us something to look for. And we tried to take pictures similar to the casts and had a lot of fun looking for pictures to try.

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time here but we had to catch our train to Madrid so we had to cut our tour short. We headed back to our accommodation and called an uber to head to the station.

At the station, we didn’t have much time so we quickly grabbed lunch from McDonald. If you have time, there are other restaurant options in the Station. When it was time, we found our platform and got on the Renfe train. It was about 3 hours 30 minutes to Madrid. The reason why we decided on taking the train was that the cost was slightly cheaper and if you consider checking in time and the time to and from the airport, it was going to be quite similar.

Once we were at Madrid, we took a cab from the station to our next accommodation near Plaza Mayor. There were lots of cabs waiting outside the station and it was very easy to find a bigger cab that can fit all our luggage.

Our accommodation was literally across the street from Plaza Mayor and it was crowded with people who were celebrating the Holidays. There was a Christmas Market here as well but they were selling more carnival goods such as masks, wigs, and small knick knacks.

For dinner, my brother recommended an interesting sandwich called Calamares Bocadillos. Literally Calamari sandwich. He took us to Bar La Campana, walking distance from Plaza Mayor, and got one sandwich. Why? Because they only took cash and we only had enough for one sandwich. They don’t give you any sauce or seasoning. It is just calamari. So if you like calamari, this is it! Since the calamari was fresh, the crispiness of the fried calamari with the soft bread wasn’t too bad. I do with they had some sort of sauces. (Maybe sriracha?)

To grab a real meal, we headed to Gourmet Experience. This was the top floor of a shopping center and the whole floor was about food. The roof top view of the place was really nice. However, all the seats were taken and there were multiple lines everywhere.

So we took this time to just enjoy the view and headed to a place my brother recommended for tacos called Taqueria El Chaparrito. And it was pretty legit tacos here. If you are in town and are craving Mexican food, this could be your spot! Great place for some late night tacos and beer.

Spain! And where else in Europe?

Back in September, my brother and his wife moved to Madrid, Spain. So since then, my family started to plan for winter break in Spain. My parents have never been there before and same with me so I thought it would be perfect. So I talked to the family and they all agreed! Spain for winter break for my parents, 2 brothers, 2 sister-in-laws, and me. This was exciting! So I started planning right away.

However, planning for this trip was difficult. I’ve never been a long vacation like this nor have I planned a trip for so many people. So this was new to me.

First thing was to figure out what day to fly out to Spain. What days can we all be available. We had to figure out our parent’s schedule and work around that. We were able to find 9 days that worked for all of us.

Second, we decided on what cities to go to. Usually, I like to go from city to city and hit up all the major spots. However, this time, we wanted to take it slow. Take time to enjoy the city a bit more. So we all agreed to do 3 cities. But which ones? The major must were Barcelona and Madrid. Barcelona was unanimous between the kids and Madrid because my brother and sister-in-law moved there.

So which city would be our third?

I was stuck between Seville and Granada. Seville is the bigger city but Granada had Alhambra. I ended up making a powerpoint presentation for my parents and they decided on Seville by just looking at pictures from the internet. Here is my presentation. Which one would you have picked?

Photos from Google images
Photos from Google images
Photos from Google images
Photos from Google images

Third, after we had the dates and the cities, I picked a route that fit our schedule. Barcelona in – Seville – Madrid out. So once the route was set, I went ahead and purchased my parent’s flights using my Chase Reserve card. It was going to be an early Birthday gift to them from the family. When I told them the news, they were so excited.

I wanted to make sure that they were not arriving in Spain and being strained alone. So I looked for flights that arrived before my parents. And perfectly enough, I found a KLM flight for my parents that arrives at 5:05pm and a TAP flight for me that arrives at 5:00pm. Perfect!

Once, we had our dates, flights, and cities, we booked our accommodations. I did not realize that booking a place for 7 people would be so hard. Hotels were out because we would have to book 2 rooms and would not know how to separate the family members.

So we started looking at Airbnb. We were looking for apartments that had multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and living area. With a whole apartment, our family could spend more time together. So we all looked. All the cities we picked were tourist cities so there were a lot of Airbnb rooms and apartments to choose from.

However, there were some issues with some of the places for family use. A lot of the places had room for more than 7 people.However, it would be 2 bedrooms with several bunk beds. This was not suitable for my parents. So when making a booking on Airbnb, don’t just look at the number of people the apartment can host but what type of beds they have and how many rooms they have.

After all the arrangements, we are just all looking forward to this family vacation!

I’ll write about my experiences when I come back!