Our Trip to Spain Part 1: Getting There

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Spain-Madrid-Royal Palace Ceiling

| The Royal Palace (Palacio Real)  in Madrid — my son’s favorite |

This post has been a long time coming, since our trip to Madrid and Barcelona was back in March, but we started moving to the MCC house almost as soon as we got home, and then I was sucked into the vortex that is the end of the school year!

|  The Prado Museum in Madrid — my favorite  |

Before this trip, our kids had never been overseas, and we knew it was time.  We’ve tried to get them over there before, but my husband’s deployment schedule always seemed to be at odds with their school vacations.  Since our son just finished his junior year of high school and my husband will be living apart from us next year, we wanted to make family memories together (and we did!).

Connor is the one who chose Spain.  Both of our kids are very well-traveled within the US, but we knew we wanted (needed) to take them to Europe–we just weren’t sure where.  Both of them love history and languages, and at 13 and 16, we figured they were at the perfect age to actually enjoy sightseeing.  At first we were leaning towards France; my husband has always wanted to see Normandy because of its tremendous historical significance.  Italy and Greece were out because our son is going on a school trip there next spring and we didn’t want to be redundant.

Finally, Connor mentioned that since he’s switched from taking Latin to Spanish, he wanted to be able to practice his language on the locals.  That made perfect sense to us!  Also, my mom spent a year in Europe and was a Spanish teacher, so I knew we’d enjoy walking in her footsteps on our trip.

|  My mom on her way to Spain–don’t you love the way they used to dress? |

Our posts contain affiliate links.  If you make a purchase after clicking on these links, we will earn a small commission, which helps to keep our content free.  You don’t pay a cent more than you would otherwise, since that would be tacky! Read our full disclosure policy here.

A week in Europe isn’t in the budget for everyone, I know, but we found a company that offered what we felt was a great deal, so I’ll weave comments about that experience throughout in case they’re helpful for others.  We started our planning working with a local travel agent, but she really wasn’t very helpful.  We live in a very affluent area and I think she’s used to working with people who are willing to spend $5-10K per person for this sort of vacation, and that just wasn’t happening with us!

After some online searching, I found Great Value Vacations and started reading the reviews.  If I remember correctly, I called to ask them questions before, during, and after we actually booked the trip, but they were super helpful on the phone and answered all of the questions I had.  They have dozens of trips available, but we chose the 6-night Madrid & Barcelona trip, which included airfare, hotel, airport transfers (by private car/livery service), tours in Madrid and Barcelona, high speed train from Madrid to Barcelona, and daily breakfast at the hotels (the breakfast was out of this world–I am not kidding!).

Cafe con leche

|  Cafe con leche–it’s addicting! |

Right after we got back, I wrote {this} post with my must-have items for international travel; I wouldn’t change a thing on the list at this point.

My must-have items for international travel | 11 Magnolia Lane

We flew out of Atlanta; flying out of Raleigh would have been a bit more expensive, but we were also planning to head to Savannah at the end of our trip so Connor could spend the weekend at Disney with friends from his old school. Great Value Vacations lets you choose your airport–their base price is for big airports like NY, Chicago, or Atlanta, so obviously the more connections you add, the higher the price goes. We paid about $1400 per person, which is a steal, in my opinion.  The travel agent was quoting that price just for airfare.

We connected through Paris on the way there, and then through Amsterdam on the way home.  Both airlines were far superior to their US counterparts–I was so impressed.  KLM had more legroom on the return trip, but all of that wine on Air France made up for it!

One checked bag each was included in our tickets.  My husband and son shared a bag, but in hindsight, they should have each packed their own, because then I wouldn’t have had to get creative to get all of my souvenirs home.

Air France passed out a menu card; we had three choices of entrees.

Spain trip-airline food

If you fly through Paris, you can pull Euros out of the ATMs there.  I wouldn’t recommend the money exchangers as they charge a surcharge.  The best ATM rates are outside of the airports, too.

We didn’t have time to shop in Paris, but I saw Hermes and lots of wonderful patisseries!

We actually had to go through Customs when we landed in Charles De Gaulle, even though we were connecting through to Madrid.  I believe that’s because it was our first stop within the EU.  We also had to go through security again.  I wear my biggest shoes (in this case, my Tory Burch boots) when I’m flying so I don’t have to pack them, so I got to take them off twice during this trip!

Our arrival in Madrid was easy.  The driver was waiting for us outside of baggage claim with a sign, and drove us directly to our hotel (the Hotel Tryp Atocha) that was smack dab in the middle of the arts district, within walking distance of the Prado and pretty much everything we wanted to see in the city.  I felt safe in the neighborhood at all hours.

The rooms weren’t as fancy as we’re used to in the States, although our hotel in Barcelona was much nicer–and both hotel rooms had bidets, which are one of those fun European things that you just have to experience 🙂 . I’m sure we could have paid more to have an American-style room in another hotel, but our room had everything we needed, and we actually didn’t spend much time in our hotel.

Spain trip Madrid streets

|  Near the Plaza Mayor  |

We had two rooms right next to each other, although they weren’t connecting.  After discussion, we let the kids stay in the room right next to us–again, we felt safe and the kids are old enough that we trust their street smarts.  They do have “family rooms” with bunk beds for the kids if your children are younger, though.

Spain trip Madrid hotel

We arrived at our hotel around 4pm local time, and pushed through our jet lag through dinner until bedtime, but we were pretty relieved to get to go to bed that night.  I woke up around 2am because Madrileños stay up LATE, even on weeknights, but I popped my earbuds in and listened to an audiobook until I fell back to sleep (tip: download a bunch of library-loan audiobooks on your phone before you go!).

My next post will share what we did/saw/ate in Madrid, and then I’ll talk about Barcelona in the third post.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Visit Part 2: Madrid here.

Thanks for stopping by~


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