We are hardly caught up on all the trips we’ve been on, but I wanted to write about Spain while it was fresh! For my 35th birthday, Frank and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Spain. We are pretty savvy travelers, so we weren’t too worried about the last minute trip. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to tell you all about traveling, as a 30 year old, on a last minute trip! And I do think that age is just a number, who cares how old you are! However, there are some things in my 30’s that I care about, that I never would have thought twice about in high school or even in my travels during college. So let’s get started!
First, Frank’s mom is a travel agent and she turned us on to Gate 1 Travel almost 2 years ago before we went to Costa Rica. For the most part, we like Gate 1. We had a few snags on this trip. First, the package deal on their website wasn’t actually available. Hmm…and you don’t find that out till after you’ve booked your trip and there is a little “warning” message that says “Some things need to be verified”. This kind of stuff really stresses Frank out! But I worked through it. Second, the woman who finally got in contact with us about “re-booking” different hotels did nothing but confuse me and I thought our inexpensive trip was going to go up another $1,000. Yeah, not what you want to hear about a last minute trip. When I finally called back I got an absolutely wonderful agent who went through every detail of the trip and made sure there would be no snags. So when you get the right person, they really make things wonderful. In hind sight, while I had her on the phone I should have discussed a little more about our hotels…more on that below.
Madrid: We loved this hotel! Props to Gate 1 Travel for getting this hotel right! The Sercotel Gran Hotel Conde Duque If you’re a young traveler and you like the hype of a busy hotel, this one is not for you. I’d say this hotel catered more to a business class individual. It had some old world charm which we loved, but it also had fresh water with orange slices in the hotel lobby everyday. If you’re an American and into having an actual breakfast while in Europe, this was also the best breakfast we had the whole time in Spain. That doesn’t matter as much to us, as long as the coffee is good. And even though it comes out of a machine, the coffee was good! The room was comfortable and clean, but not fancy. The service was definitely on Spanish time, but the food was good and the Cruzcampo was cold! We sat every evening in the hotel bar sipping Cruzcampo in the club chairs before heading out for a “late” dinner. More on the 9pm dinner time in a later post! But the best part was the location. It was in a quiet residential area, but just around the corner from the Metro and it was very easy to get everywhere! Maybe it was because we started in Madrid, or maybe it was because of this hotel, but Madrid was probably our favorite place on this trip. The Pros: There was character at this hotel, breakfast was good, the location was great, the staff was friendly (although on Spanish time – not a con for us, but could be for other travelers). The bed was fairly comfortable and the room was clean, even if a little dated.
Valencia: I get that this was a package deal, and I should have asked more questions about this hotel when I had to call and change the other two hotels because of last minute bookings. This, I would say, was a Gate 1 Travel failure. After talking to me on the phone and having all of our information, I wish the agent would have considered that this hotel was really geared towards school trips. I would not ever recommend the Expo Hotel to anyone over the age of 21, or anyone who isn’t traveling as part of a group. The hotel is on the outskirts of town on the complete opposite side from the Oceanographic. The transportation system, unlike in Madrid and Barcelona, is not easy to navigate. The beds were just cots. Maybe because it was part of a package deal we did not get one of the better rooms, I’m not sure. But the room we stayed in was not updated in many years, most of which we don’t care about, however the 1970’s blankets made me feel a little ill at ease. The hotel, hallways, carpets and room were “well used”. This is just a pet peeve, but it had one of those shower curtains that attacks you when you take a shower. The shower head, handheld, had a mind of it’s own and often sprayed water all over the bathroom. The biggest down side for us: NO SAFE. Since Emily’s hobby is photography and we like to write about and document our travels, we often travel with multiple cameras, iPad, go-pro, computer and other various technology. Not having a safe means you have to cart it all around with you. And after our experience in Barcelona (see below) it just makes the idea of not having a safe really upsetting. We walked more in Valencia then we did in Madrid and Barcelona. This hotel is probably fine for school groups who were being picked up on a bus and taken to the sites around town. We would have much preferred to be in the old city in a room with a safe and a bed that didn’t belong in a hostel. The Pros: The only thing I can say that was great in this hotel was the bar. Sounds funny, but we learned that G&T’s are a thing in Spain and they make each type of gin with a different twist on flavors. The girl working the bar certainly go a workout and we had fun meeting people from Italy and Holland while hanging out in the bar for my 35th birthday.
Barcelona: Gate 1 Travel had to book a different hotel in Barcelona then the one that was supposed to be part of the package deal because the original hotel was full. That was no problem and the Gate 1 agent sent us to the Melia Barcelona Sky! I was pretty excited about this, as the hotel looks pretty awesome in the pictures and Barcelona was the whole reason I wanted to go to Spain. Well, what you can’t tell from the pictures, it’s not really in a great location. There is a little tram that goes around the block near the hotel and the metro. However, not once while we were there, did we time it right to catch the tram. So we walked, and there is not much on this street other than hotels. So after making it to the hotel from the metro we get checked in and head up to our room. Well, it turns out, there are already people staying in the room they checked us in to. Since we are upstanding individuals, we simply closed the door and went back to the lobby. But right there, that safe, oh so important! Something I never thought about when staying in a hotel. I’m sure it was an honest mistake, but yikes, anyone can key one of those magnetic cards and enter a room. We go back to the lobby, at which point there is a group trying to check in. We are tired after an extra long train ride (more on that later too) and we just want to drop our bags and get out into the city since we’ve lost 1/2 a day in Barcelona at this point. We do eventually get to the counter and they very apologetically upgrade us to a room on the top floor. It supposedly has a king size bed and a great view of the city. And here is where my critical eye as an architect jumps in. These are all knit picky things, that since the room was a free upgrade, I don’t really care about. But if you’re going to pay for these rooms on the top floor, you should know: There are vinyl tiles glued to the floor that aren’t actually glued to the floor and they are pulling up in various locations around the room. The great view of the city is somewhat blocked by the building next door which is only about 1-story lower than the Melia and has a gigantic red light on the top that shines in your window all night long. The curtain doesn’t quite cover the window all the way either. And the view is as follows, left window, covered by some kind of perforated screen, you can see through it, but you can’t really take pictures, window two – solid panel. Window 3 is the actual view, Window 4 another solid panel. Um? Why? The door to the room doesn’t close automatically behind you, so make sure you yank it closed on the way out. The elevators move quickly and can be a little vomit inducing if you have vertigo. Breakfast was the worst breakfast we had the whole time we were in Spain and the coffee was terrible. In all seriousness, it’s not that this hotel was bad per se. It just felt a little bit like they were trying at luxury and not quite achieving it. The Pros: It was the best bed we slept in while in Spain and it was defiantly clean. You could see the ocean from the hallway and the staff was very friendly. They had a security guard in the lobby so it felt safe. And if it was nice out, the pool would have been amazing. As you’ll see in the pictures though, it rained and was cold the whole time we were in Spain, so no pool dips for us.
More on our adventures in Spain in the coming weeks!