Revisiting Spain solo

This item appears on page 15 of the February 2009 issue.

Taking advantage of some frequent-flyer miles on United Airlines, I decided to travel to Spain on my own, May 10-27, 2008. It had been 10 years since my late husband and I had been in Spain, and I wanted to revisit the south.

Although I have Spanish friends near Madrid, I decided to join the hospitality organization SERVAS (US SERVAS, Inc., 1125 16th St., Ste. 201, Arcata, CA 95521-5585; 707/825-1714, in order to meet new people and have some personal contacts during my travels.

The purpose of the organization is to promote peace through person-to-person contacts. Hosts are not expected to take guests sightseeing but to let them participate in their daily lives.

You can apply to be a traveler and/or host; it requires a nominal fee ($85 per adult international member) and a personal interview. Travelers normally are limited to a one- or 2-night stay with a host.

Upon arriving in Madrid, I took the metro from the airport to the Atocha train station. Unless you are traveling light and can manage the numerous stairs on the changes involved, a taxi from the airport to Atocha (about $35) might be a better choice.

I had not made advance reservations with RENFE for a train ticket, as I was not sure at what time I would reach Atocha, but I had no difficulty in obtaining a seat on the swift AVE train to Cordoba. As a senior, I also could get good discounts on train travel by purchasing a Tarjeta Dorada (“Gold Card,” about $7) in person at the train station.

In Cordoba I stayed at the centrally located Hotel Maestre

(c/Romero Barros, 4 & 6, 14003, Cordoba, Spain; phone 957 472 410). Room prices were €30-€50 (near $38-$63).

I met up with a cousin, also a SERVAS traveler, and we spent two days enjoying the Mezquita (Mosque) and the annual Patio Festival in which numerous homes open their flower-bedecked patios to visitors in a friendly competition. The tourist office provides brochures showing routes to the festival homes in different neighborhoods.

My cousin also contacted a SERVAS day host, who led us to a favorite local place for evening tapas and conversation, so we learned about his life and interests.

On my own, I next headed to Ronda on the train. Lines for tickets sometimes can be long; fortunately, I had purchased my ticket upon my arrival in Cordoba.

In Ronda I stayed at the economical Hotel Arunda II (c/ Jose Maria Castillo 10-12, 29400, Ronda, Spain), where the price was €30 for a single or less if you paid cash; they also accepted credit cards. It was a short walk from the train station and very close to the bus station.

In Ronda I delighted in exploring the town and especially liked the menu-of-the-day lunch (about €10) at the Restaurante Santo Domingo, which I found on the street of the same name just after crossing the bridge into Casco Viejo, or Old Town. It was easy to chat with people at outside adjoining tables.

After a large lunch, for an evening meal I would just buy rolls, cheese and fruit. An option, of course, would be light snacks after 7 p.m. at a tapas bar.

When walking around on my own, I often would find others to talk with. One day I took a local bus to Grazalema, one of the Pueblo Blanco towns. After visiting the town and having a short hike in the rain, I met an Englishman with whom I shared a seat and an interesting conversation on the bus to Seville the following day.

Using my prepurchased phone card, I was unable to obtain hotel reservations for Seville so decided to reserve a room at Hostal Comer­cio (listed in the Lonely Planet guide) in Carmona, a 45-minute bus ride from Seville, and commute in to see the sights.

It turned out that all the historic sights, most of the restaurants and the Roman necropolis in Carmona were closed that Saturday due to a local feria on the outskirts of town. However, it was fun to see all the women and girls in town dressed in Andalusian dress and to see many of the men parading around the fair venue showing off their beautiful horses.

Another, less-welcome surprise — after arriving in Carmona, I found out that the bus line would be on strike (a work slowdown and irregular schedule) all the following week. Fortunately, I caught a ride into Seville with a French couple.

Arriving in Seville, I found a hotel nearby without much difficulty, although it was not a budget place. It served its purpose for one night; I was able to leave my things there and sightsee.

The next day I found Hostal Roma (c/ Gravina, 34, 41001 Sevilla; phone 954 50 13 00) at about $45, plus it was more convenient to the north bus station and the Museo de Bellas Artes.

After sightseeing on my first day in Seville, I was able to share a table in an outdoor café with a Belgian couple. Later I contacted a SERVAS day host and arranged for a late-afternoon stroll the next day. Again, I learned a lot about current conditions in Spain.

I proceeded to Cortegana and Aracena, two towns in the hill country more north toward Portugal, and stayed one or two nights each with SERVAS hostesses I had contacted. Both were teachers and quite busy, but we had very nice conversations and shared many aspects of our lives. I am hoping to reciprocate someday.

Returning to Seville I took the AVE train to Madrid, where I had a chance to see friends and visit old and new sights.

To summarize, I think that, although it is very nice to have a travel companion, perhaps by traveling alone one more often meets new people one might not get to know otherwise, plus there is certainly a sense of adventure. One always needs to be flexible and allow plenty of time for getting around, especially when using public transportation.

For those interested in meeting new people, I also highly recommend SERVAS.


Bethesda, MD