The allure is there – cheap flights, hotels, small crowds. These conditions drew us to Spain for the winter holidays.
My fiancée Megan and I just can’t resist the call for a travel adventure, but let’s be careful about COVID-19 guidelines. Our ultimate goal was to travel to the different cities of Spain, enjoy the architecture, food and culture, while avoiding the possibility of contracting COVID. While the majority of our objectives have been achieved, some have not.
Before buying tickets, which we always seem to do within two weeks of our departure, we made sure to read the guidelines for COVID in Spain. With low prices on flights, as well as ‘off-season’ crowds, we were delighted to learn that Spain is open for full-access travel. With a COVID-19 vaccination, there was no requirement to get a negative antigen or PCR test before arriving in Spain, which saved us money.
Our first days were spent in the center of Madrid walking several kilometers on the first day to admire the many squares (the Plaza Mayor built around 1580), the beautiful architecture and the shops along Gran Via street, eating ” oreja y bravas” (pig’s ears – Megan loved that one), and stroll through the lavish parks with fountains and palaces. I recommend you take food to go so you can enjoy the parks more.
When you search Madrid on travel websites, you will likely see mentions of Segovia or Toledo. Both are worth every effort to see. Segovia is a fantastic city to walk around and has a huge Roman aqueduct running through the city center built somewhere around 1 AD. Toledo is a magical ancient city that climbs up a hill beside a river.
On our trip, we decided to opt for the freedom of a car, increasing the choices for our adventure, instead of using the high-speed trains prevalent in Spain. Soon enough, the concrete sidewalks and buildings begin to merge. We like to change geography as often as possible.
Excessive driving is not for everyone. But we decided to drive from Madrid, via Zaragoza, to Barcelona, then headed south along the coast to Benidorm. We stopped in Grenada with its beautiful Muslim influences then skipped the border to Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory. You can see the divide between Africa and Europe from there.
Heading north, one of my favorite towns was Ronda – this is said to be the birthplace of bullfighting, there is an old bullfighting ring. A huge concrete bridge spanning a deep gorge is one of the main features of the city.
When driving through Spain there is an endless supply of castles to stop and look at, many of which you can enter and see. One advantage of renting a car is the ability to see more sights. If your travel adventure is all about staying in a big city, I wouldn’t opt for a car rental. Parking and fuel aren’t cheap, unlike public transport, and driving is extremely difficult without Waze or Google Maps.
On our last day, we took a COVID-19 test for our return to California. Eight hours later, the test came back… positive! We are vaccinated and have had no symptoms…or so we thought. “My lymph node is weird” and “my throat is dry” resulted in a fever about 18 hours later. We thought our common symptoms were from the cold, hiking in the hills, and drinking too much Spanish wine. It turns out the PCR test picked up COVID-19 before we knew it.
During this period of disbelief, we found an apartment hotel with a small kitchen and all the items we needed. Lufthansa changed our flights without question. We updated the car rental (lesson learned: don’t return the car late because they will charge you a new daily rate triple what you were paying and a late fee) and managed our 7 day quarantine by cooking the meals we bought at the local grocery store.
I am grateful that we were not seriously ill. My fiancée called a doctor she found on the US Embassy website. They actually made a visit to the hotel and confirmed I had an ear infection caused by COVID (weird) and wrote a prescription which we filled at the local pharmacy, all within 2 hours .
I would say we were ambitious in estimating how long it would take for us to test negative. We tested positive again on a PCR test again almost a week later. Again Lufthansa changed our flights – although we spent up to 3 hours on the phone listening to Lufthansa music and “We are experiencing a high volume of calls…”. I can still hear the music in my head. Luckily my fiancé and I each had a Spanish SIM card in our phones which cost us less than $15 each. Patience is a virtue among airlines, since with each change of flight (we changed it 3 times) we never had any additional costs.
Contracting COVID-19 added nearly two extra weeks to our vacation – certainly a period of time we hadn’t anticipated. Financially, we managed the extra costs by staying in cheap apartment hotels, buying groceries at the market, and cooking almost all of our meals. Honestly, the quarantine week was our least expensive of the whole month we stayed in Spain. Well…minus the cat babysitter we had to use at home, the activities we enjoyed after our quarantine ended, and the extra COVID testing. Do not travel abroad if you have to attend a wedding the following week. Lesson learned, and a trip enjoyed even with difficulties.