Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spain Roadtrip

Our itinerary: Start in Barcelona and finish in Madrid

One of the highlights of 2010 for us was a 6-day road trip of Northern Spain with 5 other couples 
right after a conference in Barcelona. 

What's great about traveling in a group of savvy travelers is the shared responsibility of arranging the trip. Our "couple assignment" was to arrange transportation for 12 people. The foodie couple was in charge of researching the restaurants, another couple in charge of booking them, and  the-most-particular-about-hotel-couple was choosing and booking the hotels.

 With most travel information available online, I didn't feel the need to get  a new edition

Our itinerary was to leave Barcelona a day after the conference, make our way to San Sebastian, the gastronomic capital of Spain, via Lerida, Zaragoza and Pamplona. Then from San Sebastian onwards to Bilbao, Burgos, and Segovia before ending in Madrid. 

None of the driving legs would stretch out more than 2.5 hours.  Our route was mapped out by a well-traveled friend who had done a similar trips in the past, and was based mostly on places eat and see (and yes, in that order).

Paella in Barcelona

A quick survey of the group showed that we had four able and confident drivers so we could have  2 or 3 mini-vans (our luggage would never fit in regular cars). Booking a mini-van in Europe is not easy 
and it was going to be a challenge to find a rental company that would have 3 units available for us.

I emailed friends in the Philippine Embassy in Madrid for some recommendations of transport
and they in turn forwarded my request to our consulate in Barcelona (our starting point). The very helpful Mr. Eddie de Vega, Consul General in Barcelona, emailed me a whole list  of providers. Two were even Filipino-owned.

I emailed three of the companies on the list and the first to respond was Abaser, a Spanish company. 

I gave them our itinerary and their quote for an executive mini-bus including a driver, was lower than renting 3 mini-vans (!), and about half of what was being quoted to us on a per person tour through a local tour company in Manila. The wonders of direct contact by email. They even emailed me photos of what the vehicle would look like.

Now my concern: was it really going to look like the bus in the photo? Another company emailed me photos and I wasn't too thrilled with the white, red and yellow vehicle they were proposing for us. It would not only ruin our photographs, it would also be a jarring sight to see every morning (I'm picky about colors that way).

We were pleasantly surprised.

Admittedly the total cost would've been quite steep for one family with one person footing the bill, 
but divided among 6 couples, it was definitely better than renting 3 vehicles. 

The "executive 19-seater" was the same cost as the 15-seater so we chose the more spacious option so that we could move about freely and not get stuck to one seat, and still have lots of space for handbags and carry-ons.  Luggage was stowed in a separate luggage area below.

But the best part was none of us had to worry about international driver's licenses, insurance,
or staying alert while driving, plus we were all together. The trip would have had a different dynamic had we all driven separate vehicles.

The iconic "bull"boards of the Spanish countryside

With the vehicle arranged and booked, our task was done.

We always left room to be flexible. We could easily cancel restaurant or hotel bookings and change plans with a phone call.

The service of Abaser was excellent.  Our driver, Sergio, was very pleasant and eager to please.
His English as as good as our Spanish, which is not saying much, but was sufficient. On my speed dial was Steven, the British-accented guy in their Barcelona office, who could explain to me anything else I wanted to know.

 Arriving in Segovia from Burgos

I'm usually very happy to drive around the easily-maneuverable-roads of European countrysides, but with a group like this, it was better to be all together and leave the driving to someone else.  

When we ended out road trip in Madrid, we realized we left a precious (indie producer, bought on the street)  CD in the player of the vehicle. With a quick email, Steven promptly snail-mailed  it back to us in Manila. We all agreed that one of the best things of this trip was the quality of the transportation, 
and the service we got from Abaser.

Gracias, Gracies, Eskerrik Asko to Abaser, Steven and Sergio!

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