Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Strait Adventure (Part 1)

Finally, I'm working on finishing writing up this trip.  This one is actually going to be a two part'er so I can make it look like I have more posts.  Ok, I really just want to stop posting super long posts. It begins after returning from the United States for Christmas break.  The first adventure I took in the year of 2014 was to return with friends to Spain to visit a completely different area from the last visit I had there. This time, instead of starting in Barcelona we started the adventure in Madrid,Spain. I flew there with four of my friends and we went straight to our home away where we were going to stay for 2 nights, which was Apartments Arenal in Madrid. 

Since we were arriving late at night, we did have to pay a small fee to late check-in, but for just a hair more the apartment managers offered to arrange for a shuttle to take us directly to the apartment from the airport. This was DEFINITELY worth it and prevented a lot of stress.  I will say that while this home-away was reasonable, it wasn't the best place I've stayed in.  The unfortunate part for us was that while we were there, there was a Spanish family staying below us who seemed to try very hard to be loud and annoying when we were trying to sleep.  That's not really something to blame on the apartment though.  However it's proximity to downtown Madrid (1 or 2 blocks) made any complaints we had irrelevant.  Definitely take advantage of these apartments if you can. As a side note, the Madrid airport was one of the more laid back airports I've been too. Both arriving and departing, the airport seemed to be mostly empty which also made everything a little easier to navigate and keep the process relatively stress free.

The main purpose I wanted to stop in Madrid for was to take our obligatory Sandeman's New Europe Madrid walking tour. As usual the tour provided a fascinating insight into the history of not only Madrid but the history of Spain. Definitely, a different perspective into Spanish history than the walking tour we took in Barcelona. Our tour guide made it very fun as well. One of the historical trips she took us on was a role playing adventure with the kings of Spain's past. From King Charles V to Philip the IV.  Drawing a few volunteers up front to pretend to be the king who brought Spain to it's height of power, the king who died because he was too lazy to remove a bed warmer, and wrapping it up with the kings that lost it all. It is what made the tour really special and added that personal touch. Beyond that we enjoyed wandered around and trying out some foods in Madrid to round out the experience.  I remember trying Mueso del Jamon and Cafeeke Cervezas y Tapas.  The Museo was tasty but very overcrowded.  The first time we tried it, we gave up getting a seat.  My favorite place was Cafeeke where we had dinner.  Basically a Belgian beer with tapas (and other meal items) restaurant when you wanted to relax.  We sat upstairs which was neatly set up with low rafters and a cozy feeling.  The waiter was very helpful at Cafeeke as well. I have to admit, while Madrid was nice, Barcelona was a much more enjoyable city for me to visit.

 The next day we picked up a rental car from Sixt and drove to our next destination of La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain. On the way we visited two locations. The first was Toledo, Spain. I have to admit it fascinated me quite a bit. Part of Toledo's access were controlled by escalators external to the city with some impressive gates. To be honest, it might be the perfect place to hide from a Zombie Apocalypse, but that's the nerd in me. Aside from that, Toledo was definitely a quaint feeling city. We ate Tapas at a fantastic little place in the middle called Lizarran .  The hostess was extremely friendly even though she didn't know that much English.  After lunch we explored Toledo and checked out the local Cathedral. I happened to be the only person willing to spend money to visit inside, and it was breathtaking to see like the Basilica in Zaragoza in my last Spanish trip.  Unfortunately photographs were not allowed so I can't share the views of that location. Well worth it if you like cathedrals, so I recommend a look inside.

The other place that we stopped was a small town called Consuegra, Spain. If you don't happen to know, this is the town that has some of the best examples of the windmills that inspired the story of Don Quixote.  The town is very small and probably not worth a day trip by it self, but the windmills make it a neat stop on the way to somewhere else.  Definitely beautiful and picturesque. If you can, I highly recommend a stopover to wander around the windmills, ruins and castle on top of the hill.

 Finally we reached our destination of La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain. We stayed at a nice hotel  AC Hotel La Linea for one night, as our stopping point for visiting Gibraltar. The next day we walked through the border crossing into Gibraltar and took the bus into the center of town. Right now, while short, this is a neat drive. The main road into Gibraltar passes through their airport runway (Yes the country smaller than most towns has it's own airport, 3rd most dangerous in the world. Just saying).

As we wandered Gibraltar we were accosted by a tour guide who in the end convinced us to join him on a guided tour throughout the island of Gibraltar. He turned out to be a fantastic guide who was basically the monkey whisperer. As he drove us up the Rock and guided us to the various sites there from St. Michael's Cave to the Great Siege Tunnels built by the British to help fight against the Nazi's if they ever successfully took the Rock.
Through the whole trip the guide continually brought monkeys right up to the van, took us to their feeding ground, and even let us play with them. One climbed on my shoulder and took a break for a minute. All of it was absolutely amazing. Once we were done with the Rock, our guide pointed us to the place where we could get the best fish'n'chips place in the country. Not hard to say for a country that small.  It was a little place at the side of the plaza where we started our tour called Roy's Cod Place.  You could even chose from a couple of types of fish they would will make for you.  Now I'm not a fish and chips expert, but these were REALLY good.  I definitely recommend eating here if you want to stop of dinner.

After Gibraltar we again crossed the 3rd most dangerous airport in the world and went through the small customs point to return to Spain and travel to our next hotel of AC Hotel Algeciras, in Algeciras, Spain. This hotel was basically the same as AC Hotel La Linea. Both were decent, almost a Hilton level hotels. Nice to stay at if you want a little nice place or are a Marriott member.  So that's as far as I'm going to get on this post.  Stay tuned for the next portion of our trip.  Our visit to Morocco, Malaga and Sevilla, Spain! 

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