Spanish Spree (Winter) » Review by Andrew Cashmore
According to Dictionary.com the definitions for the word "spree" are
1. a lively frolic or outing.
2. a bout or spell of drinking to intoxication; binge
3. a period, spell, or bout of indulgence, as of a particular wish, craving, or whim: an eating spree; a spending spree.
4.a period or outburst of extreme activity: scoring spree.
These definitions accurately portray what this Contiki is all about! This Contiki well covers shopping, drinking and cultural sprees over 14 spectacular days.
The tour takes you all over Spain covering Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Pamplona, Bilbao, Granada, Seville and Cordoba, with day trips to Toledo, Zarragoza and Gibraltar also included.
All of the optionals (except perhaps the obligatory group photo) is a must. Some of the tour guides also include even further optional activities such as dinners, pub crawls, walking tours, bike rides and a visit to a Turkish spa in Cordoba. These are also mandatory to enhance your Spanish experience but the cost does add up. I chose to do all of the optionals on my tour and the bill was over 300 euros. If you are on a budget than the optionals you simply can't refuse are the visit to a monkey wildlife park in Gibraltar (most are well adapted to human interaction) and also the leisurely bike ride in Barcelona which takes you past all the city's beautiful sights.
This trip takes you through some of the most impressive churches in Europe such as Gaudi's masterpiece (and unfinished) Sagrada Familia and Valencia Cathedral (the home of the Holy Grail.) Spain is mostly Catholic and there are thousands of grand churches all over the country. The tour will take you to at least eight over the trip so it will become tiring after a while. For a change of religious scenery there are also visits to the Alhmabra and the Alcazar of Seville (*optional) royal Muslim palaces and wander through their beautiful immense gardens. If football (soccer) is your true religion than you are in for a treat. The Bernabeu Stadium - home of Real Madrid (the most successful team in Europe) is about a 5 minute walk from the Madrid hotel - although you will need to cover this in your own free time.
Spain has more bars per capita than any other country in the world! Your tour manager will know the best places to go and being in a large group many bars will shout you with complimentary drinks to keep you in their establishments. Sangria is the drink of choice in Spain and a jug will set you back 5-7 euros. Wine is also popular. With the purchase of a drink many bars will also offer you complimentary tapas, so it is great to go around lunch time.
1. The hotels are excellent with most being 4 stars. All hotels have hot showers, free wifi and hot breakfast. The beds are comfy and the rooms are adequate for two.
2. All tour guides I had were excellent. Many were humorous and went the extra mile to give you a good, enjoyable and informative experience.
3. In this tour you pay for a standard cereal breakfast, most of the hotels will give you a full English style breakfast upgrade.
4. There is plenty of free time for shopping, relaxing and drinking sessions. Spain is in economic crisis so most places are pretty cheap. The El Courte Ingless shopping malls and Zara boutiques were great shopping experiences. Plaza Mayor in Madrid is recommended.
5. The public transport is very easy and cheap to navigate.
6. Bring a student card and you get free (or minimal price) entry to most sites.
7. The saying "The rain in Spain falls mostly on the plain" seems to be true! I was in Spain for 3 weeks during (January) Winter and did not see a drop of rain. It was cold (-3 to 8C every day) but often clear blue skies. This is great for taking pictures. (Do not blame me if your experience varies)
8. Churros!!! - Enough Said.
9. The Spanish alcohol is fantastic. Be sure to try Sangria, Tito-Verano and Spanish Cider.
1. I did this trip over New Year. This was a mistake which I would re-consider if I had my time over again! I was expecting January 1st to be a public holiday but I was not aware of Spanish Christmas. Spain celebrates Christmas on January 6th with absolutely everything closed on these two days which cuts a major chunk in to the itinerary considering it is only 13 days long. January 7th is the equivalent of boxing day sales so forget trying to shop on this day too it is simply too crowded.
Whilst celebrating New Years Eve in Barcelona was fun but there are a lot of gangs up to no good! For them this is their Christmas. In our group at least 5 people had belongings pick pocketed or forcibly tugged off them despicably in full view of hundreds of people. There were also some indecent assaults.
I hope this does not put you off the trip. New Year's was a fun night but take extra care, especially considering you will be drinking, leave all valuables in the safe (for the entire time you are in Barcelona not just NYE) stay in the Contiki designated club(s) and leave in large groups preferably with males. Simply put if I had my time over again I would have chosen to go a week or two later in mid/late January.
2. This was my first European Contiki. After an enjoyable Contiki throughout Asia in a relatively small group I was surprised to discover that this tour had 52 people on it. I have no idea if this is a regular occurrence and everyone's opinion is different, and with this large amount it is great for making friends but for me this was simply too many. Even by the end of the tour I could not remember people's names. This was also chaotic at meal times with restaurants unable to cope serving (nor fitting) such a large group. This was especially apparent at meals not organised by Contiki.
3. The Spanish way of life can take some getting used to.
Dinner time is not until 10PM,
Literally every shop closes in the middle of the day for siesta
Night clubs are practically empty until 2-3AM
4. Fortunately on this tour we had a fantastic bus driver, however our tour manager told us that "horror stories" regarding bus drivers and refusing to pick people up etc is all too common in Spain.
5. If you are Vegetarian, Jewish or Muslim and don't eat pig than you will struggle! The Spanish have bacon and omelettes for breakfast, ham for lunch and pork for dinner. Beef/Chicken/Fish and Vegetarian options are available at all Contiki sanctioned places however on the street you may struggle with the lack of variety.
6. The Spanish economic crisis can not be underestimated. The unemployment rate in Spain is about 25% and over 35% for the under 30 year olds. Due to this their are massive rally's held almost daily in the major cities throughout Spain. It is very likely that at least once this will affect your tour. There are also beggers and scam artists all over the place - especially in Madrid.
7. Gibraltar is not part of Spain but part of Great Britain. You will need your passport and may require a special visa to enter. Several South African members of our tour were denied entry here.
8. Simply not enough time in Barcelona and Bilbao.
Overall Spain was an incredible and unforgettable experience packed full of fun, culture and flair. I would rate the trip 7.5/10 and definitely recommend it for travellers. Another tip would be to spend extra time (2 or 3 days in each city) in Madrid and Barcelona following the end of the tour, as there is just too many things to do to fit in.
Review written Jan 2013event 0.3