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Published: June 26th 2022
We’re on the road again! Our last European vacation was back in June of 2019 when we went on a trip to northern Italy with Grand European Tours and Insight Vacations. It was our first European bus tour, and we had such a great time, when we returned, we immediately booked the Best of Spain and Portugal Tour for 15 days in June of 2020. But in March of 2020, COVID-19 hit and the tour, along with most travel was cancelled and the lockdowns began. For the first year of lockdowns, we mostly stayed home, with just a few domestic excursions by car. But the vaccines came, and after the second year of locksdowns, we were vaccinated and double-boosted and venture bqck out among the living!
Fortunately, Grand European Tours was great! While they wouldn’t refund our money due to the pandemic being a Force-Majeure, they were willing to honor our previous discounts, and added an additional 10% to our total for the inconvenience. European travel has opened back up, and the testing and masking restrictions are now much more relaxed. We were only required to prove our current vaccination status, and file some additional Vaccine Health Status with the
Spanish government and we were ready to go!
We were a little nervous; the news was full of flight cancellations due to pilot shortages and fuel price increases – gas is currently over $5 per gallon. But our flight on United from Orlando to Madrid through Washington-Dulles wa on time and ready to go. Hopefully, our trip back on Air Canada from Barcelona to Orlando through Montreal will be the same. Learning a lesson from our last trans-Atlantic flight, this time I carried my laptop and various phone charging cables, along with a set of Bluetooth headsets, in my carry-on baggage. We were seasoned travellers and just happy to be travelling again!
The short flight from Orlando to Washington-Dulles was without incident, and we even had just enough time to grab some dinner before boarding the long journey from Washington to Madrid. On line entertainment these days is streaming video, either on the seat-back display, or on my phone or laptop. I have a new Dell 4k display laptop, and this, along with the Bluetooth headsets was certainly the best way to go. Jody just stuck with her Kindle, but I, of course, had to go with the
best high-tech streaming option. Luckily, I found the entire 10 episode series “Only Murders in the Building” with Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez available, and 5 hours of binge watching kept me occupied for most of the trip.
Customs in Spain was easy, and Health Screening was also quick, since we had already filled out the paperwork and had our QR code ready. We were through custome and reunited with our checked baggage within 45 minutes! Since we had booked our flights through Grand European Tours, the airport transfers to the hotel were included so we easily met up with our Insight Vacation coordinator and by 9:00 AM we were on the road to the hotel. We were the only ones on the 9:00 AM transfer, so we met our tour bus driver and headed over to the hotel. There we met Dominic Nemers, our Travel Guide, and got setup for early check-in at the hotel. It looks like Dominic is going to be great! He’s originally from London, but has been living in Spain for a couple of decades. He has an easy British accent, and has been very helpful in getting settled in.
getting settled in at the hotel, we set about looking for coffee and exploring Madrid. Other members of our travel group will be arriving during the day, and we have a dinner get together scheduled forn 6:00 PM with the entire group. So we got a map from the hotel, spoke to Dominic and headed out to explore. Luckily, it was a beautiful day, sun shining and temperature about 75-80 degrees. We found a Starbucks right around the corner from the hotel, and sat outside, people watching and enjoying a couple of lattes as we tried to wake up from the jet-lag.
We wandered around, checked out some of the shops, and just tried to soak in the ambience of Madrid. Madrid is a beautiful city. It’s obvious a modern metropolis with all the conveniences of the 21st
century, but most of the buildings are old architecturally beautiful. It’s very clean, though there was a lot of road construction near where we are staying. There is a lot of graffiti on construction walls and fences, but it’s all words and no murals. We didn’t find any good souvenirs, we usually look for t-shirts and magnets. There were some, but
all the magnets were huge, and we didn’t find any interesting shirts.
We were getting tired, and we hadn’t really slept on the plane, so we headed back to the room of a little traditional Spanish afternoon siesta. Dominic says that some of the shops, especially out in the countryside will close for a few hours in the afternoon for a siesta. After a couple of hours of trying to catch a little sleep, we headed down to meet Dominic and the group at about 5:30. I was curious as to the size of our group. Since Insight Vacations, is really just the upscale version of Trafalgar, one of the perks is a smaller group size as the 58 passenger busses are redesigned to accommodate 44 passengers maximum to give us all a little more leg room. Our last Italy trip had a group size of 32, which seemed a good size. This time the group size is 28 which is even better!
It looks like we are 13 couples and a couple of singles. Most of the tour group is about our age, most look pretty active, so there shouldn’t be a problem keeping up with what
appears to be a lot of walking. There are several Australians, but most are American, and as usual, everyone is friendly. We left the hotel around 6:30 for dinner at 7:30. For Spain, 7:30 dinner is extremely early, and they actually opened the restaurant early to accommodate us. Most restaurants open at about 8:00 to 8:30 for dinner with typical diinner at 10:00 PM. In southern Spain, dinner can be as late as 11:00 PM! Quite a culture shock for us Floridians where early-bird dinner specials begin at 3:30, and anything after 5:00 is considered late.
Our restaurant wasn’t very far from the hotel, and was a combination bus ride and walk. Dominic pointed out some of the local sights, and since we were in the theater district, we ended up at the Opera Victoria Restaurant at 7:30. Dinner was delicious, we ende up with a goat cheese salad, beef medallion entrée and a parfait for dessert. We were both pretty jet-lagged, and Jody was having an especially hard time staying awake. But dinner perked us both up, and a couple of Americano coffees kept us from falling aspeep at the table.
Both our conversation skills are a
little rusty after 2 years on lockdown, but we talked to a few of our fellow travellers, and had dinner with a couple from Lubbock, Texas who’s name I will need to remember and Karen and Dennis from Australia, who were great! We headed back to the hotel about 9:30, and by then the streets of Madrid were really bustling with pedestrian traffic. Of course, it was Saturday night, and everyone was out for a great night. In the courtyard, we saw a wedding being performed, various street dancers, and mostly just lots and lots of people having a great time!
We made it to back to the hotel by 9:45 and were collapsed in bed by 10:00. Hopefully, we will both get a great nights sleep, and be ready for what promises to be a very active day tomorrow!
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