Spain, Where We Stayed

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!

 

Cruising: On the ship

Since Frank didn’t talk much about our time on the ship in his last post, I think I’ll write a little bit about being on the ship!

As he mentioned, and much to our dismay, there were kids everywhere on this ship! Don’t get me wrong, I like kids, but we don’t have any and I don’t want to spend my vacation watching while other peoples kids get up to shenanigans! And no, I don’t want to watch Sponge Bob do some silly dance at the pool!

IMG_4572

But there were several fun things that we did do on the ship! Especially since we made the mistake of leaving out of New York when it was still cold, we spent a lot of time indoors. One of the best things we did on this whole trip was Martini Tasting for the ladies and Whiskey Tasting for the men. I say that because that is how we signed ourselves up, but we all went to every tasting (I think there were 4 days worth) and we pretty much all tried everything! I don’t remember the best whiskey, but the dark and stormy martini was excellent!

IMG_4630

Here are a few of the whiskey selections that we remembered to take pictures of. They had Canadian Whiskey, Scotch, Irish Whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon I believe…

There were several days of tastings and there were several tastings at each setting. Maybe 4 different whiskeys on 4 different nights. And 4 different martinis! I personally don’t like chocolate (I know, it’s shocking, but you’ll get over it!) And apparently my mother in law doesn’t like olives!

IMG_4542

I do, however, get motion sickness. So if you’re one of those people who gets sick in the car, plane or boat, I highly recommend staying out of the room at the top of the ship or taking motion sickness meds. Best thing to do, take it the night before and again in the morning everyday you’re on the ship.

And splurge for that balcony room! We watched the Statue of Liberty go by from our balcony, we saw people getting on and off their excursion rides, we watched the sunrise in the Bahamas while we had breakfast, and we took in the fresh air without all the other people on the ship!

IMG_4647

IMG_4691

IMG_4519

Cruising: Our first should have known better moment

Being the world travelers that we were, we decided that we were ready for whatever travel deals we could find. So the winter after we got married, we booked a trip through some discount travel page. I had decided that I wanted to try a cruise, Emily and her family had been on a couple and talked about them all the time. We were still young and didn’t have a ton of money so we booked a cruise with Norwegian out of New York City traveling to the  Bahamas in…..March.

I know….I know the writing is in the wall, how could we possibly have not thought this through but, we didn’t.

The start of the trip went really well. We travelled down from Maine to New York with no problems. My mother and her husband came with us. We met up with my in-laws and my wife’s aunt and uncle traveling up from Pennsylvania, again with no issues. In fact we timed it so well that we both arrived on the Marina parking deck within 10min of each other.

IMG_4462

Getting on board from what I was told was pretty standard. We hadn’t paid for any upgrades or higher end rooms so we had to wait in line with everyone else. “So what? We are on and adventure.” This is when I started to notice it……lots of backpacks…….small backpacks…..with small people attached. Oh no. Emily and I do not have children of our own, so things like “school break” elude us. Oh well it’s a big ship with lots of adult only entertainment, casinos, shows, bars, and the like everything will be fine.


We got on board with no incident, the crew had taken our bags and tagged them and let us know that they would be in our rooms later. We set off to check out the ship, we made our way to the top deck, which housed a couple pools and couple bars. WOW! Drinks on the ship not cheap. We picked up a bucket of Sam Adam’s and relaxed in a couple loungers near the pool. This is when the second realization hit me….we were dressed for winter, drinking cold beer, in the sun, and shivering……oh well it’s an adventure, the Bahamas will be warmer.

After awhile we went up to the front of the ship to watch as we pulled out of harbor. OMG. No warning to that horn!

Most of the trip went really well. The food was okay, the temperatures got warmer after a day or two, much better than the New England winter we were having, and we were on an adventure!

Our first port of call was in Port Canveral and our small group got split up trying to go on an excursions. We couldn’t get off the ship at the same time, ended up on different buses and ultimately Emily, my mother(Edie), her husband(Fran), and I went on a airboat ride with the crocodiles while the rest of them were 10 minutes or so behind us. We got to try deep fried crocodile, had a great boat ride on a nice day, got within 10′ of some rather large animals, and finished off with a reptile show. It was definitely a nice break to the cold breeze on the deck of the ship.

 

Our next port of call was a private Norwegian island. The island didn’t have much in the way of entertainment, but we got some food and some drinks. Emily and I snorkeled nearly half way out to the cruise ship around a small rock island that was there. Unfortunately there wasn’t really anything to see, but at least it got us out of the hot sun and in the water for a bit.


Our final port of call was Nassau. We spent the first half of the day on a snorkeling excursion that turned out to be a bit colder than we had hoped. We saw a lot of fish and even got a few good photos with out rudimentary underwater cameras and housings. The second half of the day we walked around the port, checked out the shops, and got a chance to stretch our legs, before getting back on the boat to begin our journey home. That is definitely a down side in my mind to taking a cruise, once you get back on the boat for the final port of call, you are already headed home. It kinda makes it feel like you are cutting the trip short.

IMG_4691

A couple things to note about the Bahamas in March. Yes it is much warmer than a cold winter, but water sports are still pretty cold. Secondly and what to date has turned me off from another cruise, was that there were kids everywhere at all hours of the day. You would have thought that a show at 11pm would have been adults only, but no. Kids crying, five year olds staring at you as the couple on stage talked about the first time they had sex, while driving down the highway towards Atlantic City. I don’t know if it was the value cruise, the timing of spring break, or maybe just Norwegian, but wow.

All in all this trip truely was an adventure. One we will never forget. But we definitely cemented in our minds, you get what you pay for. I would definitely go on another value vacation again, anything to travel really, but some more research before jumping in would definitely be warranted.

5 Things You Should Know When Traveling With a Group

As we populate this blog on the places we have been and the things we have done for the last 8 years, I thought it would be fitting to talk about some of our experiences when we travel. So here are a few tips on what to think about when planning to travel with a group.

  1. It’s very hard to get a group of people to all move in the same direction at the same time: When I was in Europe we travelled before school started as a group of three. After the first day in Paris we agreed that it would be much easier if we split into two groups. Some of us were happy to wander aimlessly to a destination and experience the city around us. While others wanted to get on public transportation and arrive quickly at a set destination and move on to another set destination afterwards. So be aware of who you are traveling with and what their travel style is.
  2. Just because they are your friends or family, doesn’t mean they should travel with you: People often comment on the places we have been and the things we have done. But when they start inquiring about joining us on our next adventure we have to buckle down and say no sometimes. We’ve been on a couple of trips where people’s expectations were not met. Our friends and family are way too important to us to have tensions flare and feelings get hurt. To the same point, we work hard so that we can enjoy our time traveling. To be away and not enjoying yourself is just not what we have in mind when we travel.
  3. Gauge the participation levels of your travel buddies: My husband and I love to dive, we love to climb things, and we love to explore. We went on a cross country trip across Costa Rica in 2016. We failed to ask one of our travelers if they wanted to drive. Which it turns out, they did not. Oops! Luckily for us we had plenty of other drivers, but if you don’t cover that base before you leave, you could find yourself stuck! We also have people who are very active and people who are less active that travel with us. So it’s really important to discuss the level of activity you plan to do and who wants to do it. We have had several successful trips where people did different activities. It worked for us because we were very clear that we were going to do a certain thing and that anyone was welcome to join, but no one should feel like they have to. We are very good at going off and doing our own thing. But we have been on trips with people who are not, so don’t plan to go on a trip and do your own thing if you haven’t discussed that with your trip buddies.
  4. Food: This is a big one. My husband and I have a travel budget when we go, but we don’t stop ourselves from sitting down at a restaurant that looks nice and eating. We have travelled with people who want to walk for an hour to find the best deal, and we have travelled with others where we ordered the special and unknowingly paid for the most expensive thing on the menu. I’ve also travelled with people who said they would only eat hamburgers (challenging when you’re in a foreign country) and people who were willing to try anything! On top of that, we have also rented villas where you have to purchase your own groceries. This can be challenging if you have travelers in your group who are watching every penny, who eat less, or who don’t drink. Tensions get high when you split the bill evenly, but they think they haven’t eaten or drank as much as others. So if you’re going to travel this way I recommend everyone putting money into a kitty that is used to buy groceries. If you go out to dinner and they won’t let you split the check, have one person pay and divi everything up after the trip is over. And ask people before you decide to go on a group trip like this how they want to handle the breakdown of expenses. For us, we don’t really care. We’ve been traveling with some of the same people for awhile now and we feel like it all washes out in the end.
  5. You can only manage your own expectations: This may sound harsh, but it is the truth. You can only control how you feel about the situation and what you personally are going to do about it or willing to deal with. Frank is a pleaser, he often goes along with things he doesn’t want to do because someone else wants to do it and they should get to. Everyone on the team is happy! I, on the other hand, am not. And if I don’t want to do something, i’m a lot less inclined to do it. When we went to Europe a couple years ago, I was the only one that had been to Italy. I thought people would put in their input on what they wanted to see and do. We picked a couple of cities and a couple of must see destinations. It turned out our travel companions didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so they wouldn’t put in any recommendations. Bummer, that wasn’t what I wanted, but I didn’t speak up enough to let them know that recommendations were welcome. At one point Frank even refused to walk next to me. I might as well have been a tour guide, and that was no fun for me. Since then I’ve learned to speak up. This is what we are going to do, anyone is welcome to join us, or if you’d like to do something else that’s great too. And I no longer worry if people don’t want to or can’t do the things I want to do. There are so many things to do when you travel there is no shortage of things for other people to do. But it’s great to have at least one buddy that wants to do the things you want to do. Luckily for me I won’t do much traveling without Frank, and he likes to do a lot of things that I like. Although, if he asks me to jump out of an airplane, he will have to find another buddy to join him! And I don’t have to be with him all the time, I’m perfectly okay with saying “no, I don’t want to do that” When we were in Costa Rica, 5 of them wanted to go 4-wheeling. I didn’t want to go, I needed a break (as an introvert I like to be alone and we had been together for days). So I opted not to go on the tour with them. There were some in our group that thought I was scared, or worried about the activity. While there were others that weren’t sure about me being on my own. I promised not to wander off alone, but I needed that time, and I spoke up. And I am really glad I did. So remember, when you’re traveling, not all of your travelers will have the same mindset as you. And you have to be okay with that. In the words of one of my best friends “Let them have their feelings”. It’s okay to feel differently. But you can’t manage other peoples expectations. Only your own. And if you need a few hours alone, make sure you take it before you turn into a grumpy traveler!