My friend just posted this question on “ASK A TRAVEL ?”. Since my reply would certainly be a long one, I shall do a quick post.
Here is what she wrote:
“Dear Living Amused:
as much as i like your suggestion about Italy, the hopeless romantic in me wants to travel there with a significant other- may happen in 20-30 years. Hope Venice is still there.
Here is a challenge I know you will like.
No direct flights from Iran to Spain so i am flying to London and plan on travelling by train to Spain.
city choices are Barcelona, Madrid and Seville for sure.
come up with some other suggestions? and on a budget (not 5 star hotels) you know you have to arrange some of this:)
- It is half way between Iran and the U.S. and easy to travel to with regards to flights.
- The distances in Italy, especially between major towns to visit is not much. You can travel from Rome to Florence by train (direct) in 1.5 of hours. The trains run from 6 am to after 8 pm and there are a couple of trains per hour. The fares start at about US$30 and go up depending on the time. Florence to Venice via direct trains takes less than 2 hrs. They start running from 9 am to 9:30 pm and the fare is only around US$50. You can check train timetables and fares at http://www.raileurope.com/index.html.
- Food/eating is still very inexpensive in Italy, even in Euros. I don’t remember having a “bad” meal in Italy, ever!
- Many good and reasonably priced 3 stars hotels with good linens. I know how important that one is to you.
- People are so friendly and warm, you forget no one is traveling with you.
If the above reasons still have not compelled you to make Italy your choice; then we must move onto Spain.
Don’t get me wrong, Spain is wonderful, too. We truly enjoyed traveling by car through a good part of it a few years back. The distances between towns you would like to visit, Barcelona-Madrid-Seville, are greater than those in Italy. Barcelona to Madrid by direct train is 3.5 hrs. and the cost is around $150+. Madrid to Seville is about 2.5 hrs. at $94+. So a round trip from Madrid to Seville would be almost $200. Of course, you could get a Eurail Spain Pass starting at $219 for 3 days of rail travel in Spain in Second Class before you arrive in Spain. I am not sure if they deliver your pass to Iran or would be able sent via e-mail. From past experience, my passes were always mailed to me in the U.S.
Now traveling from London to Spain by train would not be the wisest choice for you. Since you are arriving at a London airport, book a flight to Barcelona or Madrid (depending on how you are coming back to the U.S.-from Madrid or Barcelona) instead. If you are flying back to the UK, then reserve London-Barcelona and Madrid-London or vice versa. It is 1) cheaper 2) faster 3) no hauling of your luggages. To travel by train from London to Spain you must first transfer from airport to St Pancras International train terminal, take Eurostar to Paris (Gare du Nord International) and do yet another transfer to Elipsos trainhotel overnight service to Barcelona (or Madrid). This trip would take over 14 hours and cost you at the minimum $200 in second class/non-refundable or $350 in first class/non-refundable. Also, you need to add the cost of transferring from London airport to the train terminal carrying your (I am sure) heavy bags. There are direct flights from LHR or LGW to Barcelona or Madrid starting as low as $40 on economy airlines to $110-170 on major airlines. I would suggest paying more for the ticket and not worrying about luggage charges on Ryan Air or Easy Jet. Their fees are steep.
So here is my suggestion for a feasible itinerary of 7 days based on your requirements/interests:
- Day 1-3: Barcelona: Arrive at London, transfer to your flight to Barcelona. Barcelona is filled with hotels of all sorts. You need to be central and around La Rambla (one of the main streets and convenient to many sites) and Gothic District. For your price range try Hesperia Ramblas, Hotel Montecarlo Barcelona (a little further away) or Catalonia Catedral (in Gothic Quarter). For sightseeing- it is very simple: just go to the hotel’s concierge and tell them you want to see all of Gaudi’s works. I have been to Barcelona a couple of times and each time had to re-visit Gaudi’s Works of Art. Your whole idea of architecture would change after seeing his buildings. Trust Me! Afterwards, concentrate on walking around and through the Old City/Gothic quarter. It is very charming and relaxing. The harbor front (at the end of La Rambla) has been rebuilt and is very nice, especially for a walk and dinner at sunset. There are lots to do and see in this fascinating city.
- Day 4-5: Seville: Take a.m. direct train to Seville. Check into your hotel and start your adventure. Seville can be walked. Unless going out of town, you can use line 11 (get it?). Head straight o Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower(Minaret), my favorites. Other thing to see are Alcazar (oldest royal residence in Europe still in use) and Casa de Pilatos. Even if not staying at the historic Hotel Alfonso XIII, have lunch or a coffee break there. Make sure you catch a Flamingo Dance performance. Lots of hotel choices around 200 Euros or less: Casa Numero 7 (a private house turned into a small hotel) , El Rey Moro Hotel Boutique, Apartamentos Murillo, etc.
- Day 6-7: Madrid: take a train to Madrid. In addition to walking, you would need to use a bit of public transportation. Metro is most convenient. Try to pick a centrally located hotel like Best Western Atlantico. It is in your price range, good location (within walking distance of many attractions), a couple of blocks away from Callao Metro Station (can take the train from/to airport and the train station) and has a rooftop bar. Must visit Prado Museum (will take most of your day), Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace. The Old Madrid is very charming and makes for a great walk.
Hope this information will set you off to the right start. If you decide on Italy, let me know. I will give you an itinerary. Ask me more ? if need be.
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