A Summer Vacation in Spain, 2021.

Earlier this summer Spain announced borders would open to American visitors once again. As cities came back to life, and flights took to the air, travelers ventured out to reconnect with Europe. When we learned one of our team members had made the journey, we just had to hear all about it.

AAA Travel was quick to sit with Ray Hourani, the Director of our Air Operations team upon his return from Spain. Ray had been a key part of several behind-the-scenes tours, where airlines invited AAA Travel to an insider’s look at gates, lounges and planes as the industry shifted protocols in response to COVID-19, and we gathered his firsthand account on traveling to Europe and his time in Spain.


AAA Travel: Spain had opened their borders in early June for vaccinated travelers. When did you decide to plan your trip?

Ray Hourani: My wife and I heard the announcement of re-opened borders and decided to book our trip on the very same day Spain opened to U.S. travelers. I had been to Spain before but had not taken in Barcelona. My wife had never been to the mainland section of the country, so this seemed like a great destination to make our personal return to travel.


AAA Travel: Did you use a travel advisor to book this trip?

Ray Hourani: Yes, we did. Being in the industry, I personally feel like I know a great deal about planning a trip and booking travel. Yet, with all that experience I still feel it is important to have someone on your side who, even in my case, knows more! COVID-19 has really highlighted the importance of working with a good travel advisor, someone who can jump in and drive the conversations when travel is disrupted. In our case, we booked with Lyn Natale from the AAA Worcester branch.


AAA Travel: Lyn is wonderful! Did you spend a week in Spain?

Ray Hourani: Even longer! We spent nine nights in the country, which allowed us to see the city of Madrid, enjoy the sites in Seville and immerse ourselves in the culture of Barcelona.


AAA Travel: Nine nights seems like a great window of time to spend away. Did you see all the places you had hoped to experience?

Ray Hourani: I would have stayed a year if I could have figured out how to make it work! Spain is amazing, and really offers sites and scenes that appeal to everyone. One of the reasons we visited Madrid was my wife’s desire to visit the cities museums. We were able to spend time in Prado, which has a large collection of Spanish and European artists. We were also able to spend hours awe-struck in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. This museum is mostly modern art and houses one of Picasso’s most famous paintings “Guernica” which links fascism and politics in 1930 Spain. While we were in Madrid, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt Centro. This hotel is centrally located, and you can walk to all the major sites. I must share that the service was excellent. I Highly recommend it.


AAA Travel: Now you mentioned you also spent time in Seville. How was that experience?

Ray Hourani: First off, we arrived there by train from Madrid. Highly enjoyable, this was a smooth, and non-eventful ride that took less than 3 hours. Seville is the Capitol of Andalucia and one of its most charming cities. With a mixture of Roman, Moorish and Spanish influence, the city has a different feel than what you find in Madrid. The old part of town has winding streets, small shops, and amazing restaurants. We took a private day tour to the White Villages and Ronda during our second day in the city. I would tell everyone considering a stay in Seville to take advantage of this opportunity. Lyn booked this excursion for us, and it really elevated our experiences in Seville. We were greeted by our guide Henrique, who was knowledgeable in various subjects, from history to fauna.


AAA Travel: Adding a day tour, or an excursion to a vacation can really make for a special moment on a trip. What were the highlights of this tour?

Ray Hourani: Well first, these villages are characterized by whitewashed walls and red or brown tiled roofs. Historically, the narrow and steep alleyways throughout the villages served as lookouts during the Moorish invasion. Ronda is the largest of these towns and is positioned on top of a deep gorge. One unforgettable highlight was the stone bridge that spans the gorge. Truly breathtaking. The area is also home to modern bullfighting, though we did not see any duels during our visit.


AAA Travel: Did you stay in Seville for a few days?

Ray Hourani: We did and spent our evenings at the AC Hotel Sevilla. Honestly, the hotel is a bit too far away from the major sites, about a 25-minute walk, which we knew but wished we had stayed a little closer to the action. However, the hotel is next to Seville’s largest public garden which is very nice to walk through. We also took advantage of the hotel pool, as it was quite relaxing after a day spent walking about.


AAA Travel: But the adventure continued, correct?

Ray Hourani: Yes it did! We spent much of our vacation at our final stop, Barcelona. We flew from Seville to Barcelona, which is less than two hours in the air. Neither of us had been to Barcelona before, and we picked this city for the beaches and the cities great seafood dishes. We did break away from the sun and sand for a visit to the Picasso Museum and found ourselves spending a morning at a local food market as well. Our time was also spent on a tour of Montserrat, and we treated ourselves with a visit to a winery. We stayed at the W hotel in Barcelona which overlooks all the beaches in the city. We agreed on this hotel because of the proximity to the coast and our desire to relax by the beaches. Similar to our stay in Seville, the W was a 20–25-minute walk to most of the major sites. Unlike our time in Seville, we were happy to sacrifice a little exercise at the expense of the shoreline views.


AAA Travel: It sounds like you were able to see the sites and museums you wanted to see and dine at the places you wanted to eat. Did you find parts of your trip impacted by COVID protocols and restrictions?

Ray Hourani: My wife and I did have to wear our masks anytime we were indoors, which included restaurants, shops, and museums. We were never turned away from a location, as every place we wanted to visit was open. During our nights in Barcelona, there was a curfew where restaurants, bars, clubs, and the beaches shut down at 12:30 AM, but much like Cinderella, I find I need to be home before midnight. Our fun was not impacted.


AAA Travel: Your vacation required three flights when you include the quick hop from Seville to Barcelona. Did you find a big difference when compared to your pre-COVID travels?

Ray Hourani: We had to wear masks from the time we entered the terminal in Boston until we left the terminal in Madrid. The only time you could remove your mask was in the airport, while eating or drinking. I will say, we were lucky in that our international flights were not heavily booked. I was able to tour the terminals at Logan with some of our Airline partners earlier this summer, so I had known what to expect. Everything they had shown us on those tours held true, from mask requirements to cleaning procedures. I felt as though everyone in the airport understood the processes, and most travelers complied with the rules in place.


AAA Travel: Did you have to test for COVID-19 before or after your travel? Was the process complicated?

Ray Hourani: We did have to test prior to departing Spain. The process was not terribly difficult if you plan ahead and make the necessary appointment ahead of time. We made our appointment for a local clinic in Barcelona, which had been listed on the Barcelona tourism website.


AAA Travel: Thank you for taking the time to tell us about this adventure. It sounds like a beautiful vacation, and as though you and your wife created new and lifelong memories.

Ray Hourani: We did. We truly found ourselves immersed in Spain. With the pause we all took on travel, our desire to stretch our legs grew to a point where we needed to find adventure. Spain was the perfect place for us. We bonded over art, reconnected at dinners, and shared moments on the beaches of Barcelona. As the destinations spring back, I know we will be on the lookout for our next great vacation.

Perhaps your next adventure awaits in Spain, or a beach in the Caribbean, or the redwood forests of California. No matter your destination, your trusted AAA Travel Advisors are here to help you plan the perfect escape. Meet with an Advisor now.