Spanish Rundown - Our May Trip to Spain

The Always Buzzing Plaza Mayor

It's Saturday night... we're still jetlagged and tired from our trip so rather than doing something this evening, we're chilling out, watching shows on our DVR and pining for some evening Starbucks. Now is as good a time as any to catch you up on our trip to Spain.

We arrived in Spain on the 23rd... save for a few bumps in our travel from Houston to Madrid, everything went smoothly. While in Madrid, we hooked up with family and also just spent some time enjoying the city. Since our Madrid stop was spread out over two different stays, we stayed in the Room Mate Mario hotel for two nights and the Hotel De Las Letras for one night. Even though the De Las Letras is a higher end hotel with great reviews on TripAdvisor (both are listed in the top 10 on TripAdvisor), I enjoyed the Mario better. The service was much better and we just dug the lower-key atmosphere. I liked the neighborhood near the Opera better than being on the Gran Via.

A Rainy Stop in Plaza Del Oriente

From a tourist standpoint, we didn't have a ton of time in Madrid. The first two days were surprisingly rainy so we were somewhat limited in what we could do. We did enjoy some time at the Plaza Mayor (a must-do in Madrid), tapas with family, plenty of shopping and a great tour of the Palacio Real. While my cousin's Spanish husband tried to discourage us from visiting the Palacio Real, it was well worth it. Not only is the palace itself an astounding building, the armory had to be the most impressive I have yet to visit.

On Friday, we took a flight on Spanair from Madrid to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Our fare was only 107 EUR per person - much cheaper than competing flights on Iberia. The 2 1/2 hour flight seemed to drag but we were rewarded with a great vacation once we got to Grand Canary. Now, if you're not familiar with the Canary Islands, that's not surprising. While the islands are packed with Brits, Scandinavians and Germans (lots of Germans), we only heard one other American during our stay. In fact, a waitress at a restaurant in Puerto de Mogan told us that we were the second Americans she had met in two years (!). The Canaries are big with Europeans but virtually unknown to Americans.

From Friday until the following Wednesday, we came to find that the Canaries have amazing weather. For an island like Grand Canary (and this applies to Tenerife, Fuerteventura, etc.), the southern end is typically dry and sunny while the northern end tends to be cooler but damper and lusher. Grand Canary's southern end, particularly our location at the Sheraton Salobre, was very reminiscent of the landscape in Palm Springs. Still, each and every day, there might be a few clouds here in there but we were typically blessed with plenty of sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and a comfortable ocean breeze. Evenings were relatively cool and dry - overall, really really nice.

Stylish Sun Loungers at the
Sheraton Salobre Offered Stunning Views

At the Sheraton Salobre, we found a very tranquil environment in a hotel that, frankly, we really enjoyed. I'll provide a more extensive write-up on the Sheraton later but suffice it to say that it really had so much to offer - great design, tons of amenities, several food options, excellent service... the list goes on. The views from the hotel were stunning - each room had a balcony and the pools (especially the sunset pool on the 11th floor) all faced gorgeous scenery. The hotel offered a daily shuttle down to their own beach house on Maspalomas. The bus ran from 10:00 - 7:00 each day - very convenient.

Loungers Along Maspalomas Beach

Maspalomas offers a nice long golden sand beach with plenty of room, be it on rented chairs (2 chairs and an umbrella are 7.50 EUR for the day) or with your own towel and umbrellas. The beach stretches from the lighthouse, runs in front of the massive Maspalomas dunes and eventually connects with Playa Del Ingles. Starting at the lighthouse is Meloneras beach, a rocky coastline that is more conducive for surfing in the summer months. The beach closest to the lighthouse is more family-oriented beach but you will come across topless women. Don't get too excited, guys... you're more likely to see a topless Bea Arthur than a topless Heidi Klum. You'll also hear a lot of German and a humorous roaming fruit salesman (wassermelon...)

When it comes to eating, you can take a taxi from pretty much anywhere to the "faro de Maspalomas" (faro is Spanish for lighthouse). From the plaza in front of the lighthouse, you can go one of two ways... Heading to the left of the lighthouse will take you to a cheesier grouping of restaurants and tacky tourist shops. You're more likely to find cheesy T-shirts, knock-off VW hats, Grand Canary towels and the like.

The Promenade to the Left of the Faro by Meloneras Beach

Heading to the right of the lighthouse will lead to higher end restaurants, bars and shops. The shops tend to lean towards more expensive items and, in many ways, are more reminiscent of airport duty-free shops (think plenty of high end clothing lines combined with shoes, accessories, etc.) There are also individual boutiques like Izod and Hugo Boss. The restaurants are of a better quality with nicer outdoor seatings. Two of the more popular ones are Grand'Italia (recommended to us by a taxi driver) and Faro (great paella!). Grand'Italia is extremely popular so you might feel somewhat rushed. Faro (next door) was not like that at all. Both had very friendly staff. One staff member at Faro is obsessed with Area 51 and Roswell so if he finds out you're American, you'll hear him talk about it all night. It was quite funny.

Just past the restaurants to the right of the lighthouse is the Centro Comercial (mall) Varadero with a mixed bag of stores. Heading through the centro comercial, you'll pop out at the other end to where there are other stores, restaurants, etc. Ultimately, if you're hitting the beach, you'll spend more time to the left of the lighthouse. If you're going out in the evening, you'll spend more time to the right.

The Quaint Streets of Vegueta in Las Palmas

Now, from Maspalomas, you can catch buses to several spots on the island. One worthwhile trip is to Las Palmas, the capital of the island and the 7th largest city in Spain. I'll talk about that in another post. Your best bet is to take the number 50 or the number 30 bus. The number 50 runs less often (5 past the hour) but makes fewer stops. The number 30 runs more often but also makes more stops. Buses are a great value, especially since taxis in the Canaries are not cheap. A one-way ride from the faro to Las Palmas was a little over 5 EUR per person. With a taxi, you would probably be looking at 70 EUR. We took the bus to Las Palmas and it made for a great day trip.

Sunny Times at Puerto De Mogan

Another excellent day trip is Puerto de Mogan - a picturesque little fishing village that has grown with tourism. You can dedicate half a day to visiting Puerto de Mogan or make it an evening visit. You can take a taxi there or catch a boat that runs there from Puerto Rico and Arguinequin.

If you rent a car, you open your options up and can get to scores of smaller towns or deep into the mountains to go hiking. Really, there is so much to do in Grand Canary. This applies to the other islands, too. While we enjoyed Grand Canary, I think our next visit to the Canaries would be to Fuerteventura, Lanzarote or one of the smaller islands like La Palma. All have plenty to offer and, if you like to surf, you'll find great breaks on all the islands.

On Wednesday, we headed back to Madrid for our stay at the Hotel De Las Letras. That night, we met up with my cousins for tapas in Plaza Santa Ana. It was a great way to cap off our visit and get ready to head back to the States. As you know, our experience flying home left much to be desired but, overall, we had a great trip.

More details to follow. Next up, Canada...

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