Posts Tagged ‘hotels’

Rail trip across France, Spain

May 23, 2014

“I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Trying to get back to Europe is no easy feat (lorsque le temps viendrait!). Airline tickets can cost, at the cheapest, anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800 per person. Decent hotels in big cities like London, Paris and Madrid are usually over $200 a night. Forget about hotels by the beach in July and August. And while rail travel is still relatively inexpensive, it’s not what it used to be. Of course, you can definitely do Europe on a budget. Staying in hostals and sharing a shower with a bunch of backpacking twentysomethings is probably your top best budget saver. But, really? Not for a family of four.  So…bide your time, save your money and try to devote a few hours per week to perusing TripAdvisor for deals and tips and soon enough, you’ll have a realistic idea of how much you’ll need for the trip of your dreams.

Style, budget and space, check!

A rail trip across France and into Spain not only requires money but time. Reasearch time, in particular. Hours of Google searching went into each of these hotels, painstakingly trying to find ones that fit into my budget, without compromising that one commodity I just don’t ever want to give up: atmosphere.  Being the hotel snob that I am, any place I stay must have that certain je ne sais quoi, that ambience that delivers a true “I’m in Europe” feel. And believe it or not, that “feel” is not easy to find. Many hotels across Europe are plain, simple, and at best, functional. They may have a stunning reception area, but rooms oftentimes can be barren (a bed, end table, TV and bathroom), and lacking in what I call an American idealized version of what we think a hotel in Europe should be. Worse yet, is that in certain cities the hotel fashion at the moment happens to be all-American, New England, circa 1982 (ahem, Madrid, I’m talking about you. You go from the sublime to the ridiculous). The worst though are the hotels along the coast in France and Spain. Little seaside resorts that are inundated in summer with European travelers. Booking three months in advance isn’t soon enough. You need to grab some of the better hotels six months to a year in advance, or get stuck with the typical highrise hotel room that makes you feel more like you’re in Wildwood, NJ than on the Costa Brava.  Lastly, and most importantly, is that when you travel as a family through Europe, it’s almost impossible to find big rooms with a separate living area. Many times what they offer are quadruple rooms, or “quads” which is basically two double beds smushed together in one small room. And while that may save you money, you just may end up killing each other by the end of your trip. I hate to be a whiny, privileged American girl, but — when you’re traveling together for 18 days straight, you need your space. So, all of the rooms I booked either had connecting rooms, a separate bedroom area or, we simply rented two rooms.

OK, so…the particulars… This particular itinerary is an 18-day rail trip, consisting of  seven stops, beginning in London and ending in Madrid. Because my kids’ grandparents live in Madrid, we saved it for last, where we will stay for five days in an apartment, not a hotel (I’ll get to why, below). Every other stop along the way will be a two-day stop. Had we not extended our stay in Madrid, we probably would have gone from Barcelona over to Pamplona (one day) then to Bilbao (two days) and then Madrid. Each hotel is in walking distance of public transportation, either directly walking from the main train stations, or by connecting Metro stops. The only time where this is not the case is in Annecy, France, where we plan to rent a car from Paris and drive to Annecy (in the French Alps). We are doing this for two reasons: once in Annecy, we would like to take what we believe is a 45-minute car ride to Geneva, Switzerland (a train ride from Annecy to Geneva apparently takes three hours, due to a gazillion stops and layovers along the way), and so that when my husband has to go back to Paris the next day, to head home, he can simply take the car back, and drop it off at Charles du Gaul airport. If you would like actual cost of the trip, or hotel recommendations, please feel free to comment. And of course, when I get back, I will give my firsthand account of how it all panned out!

LONDON, ENGLAND • HOTEL: The Academy Hotel,
 21 Gower Street, Bloomsbury 
London
WC1E (Tube Goodge Street- Northern Line 6HG)(Two night, family room) I chose this hotel (instead of the Think Apartment Hotel, which I had originally booked) because it was a little cheaper and it was a little more central to where I wanted to be. This hotel is in the literary Bloomsbury district in walking distance to Covent Garden. Their family room consists of two separate bedrooms and a living area. It doesn’t look too fancy, but London hotels are extremely expensive. We’re lucky to have found what we hope will be a nice place. • TRAIN: Aprox. 2 hours, EuroRail Train London-Saint Pancras to Paris Nord (four persons $459)

PARIS, FRANCE • HOTEL: Villa Pantheon, 41 Rue Des Ecoles 5th arr. – Quartier Latin Paris, 75005 (Metro Maubert Mutualite) (Adjoining rooms) Also pricey are hotels in Paris. This is a British-style hotel supposedly in the Latin Quarter, but it’s if it is, it’s on the very edge. It’s much closer to the Saint-Germain-des-Près area, farther south-east. But the area itself is another favorite area of mine–right by the Pantheon, and of course, in the heart of Paris, on the left bank. Here, we reserved connecting rooms. • Rental Car Company: Auto Europe. Picking up a midsize car at the Gare du Lyon around the corner and heading to Annecy (aprox 5h 30m )

ANNECY, FRANCE • HOTEL: Hotel Les Tresoms 3 Boulevard De La Corniche Annecy, France TELEPHONE: +33-450514384 I wanted to splurge a bit at this location. When will we ever be back in the French Alps? Why not have a hotel room on Lake Annecy? A bit over budget, but hopefully worth it. • TRAIN to Aix-en Provence (aprox 3h39m)

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, FRANCE • HOTEL: Hotel Aquabella 2 Rue Des Etuves, Aix-en-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhone, 13100 This hotel is right in the center of town 11 minutes walking distance from the main train station. I can’t forget to have some ratatouille while here, and of course, a little bit of red wine de Provence. We reserved two separate rooms at this hotel because of their size. And unfortunately, there is only one late night train to Aix from Annecy, so we will pretty much lose a day here. Quel dommage! • TRAIN: (About 2h30m to Sete)

Update: this hotel was a huge disappointment–very unclean and definitely not as up-to-date as the photos would have you think. However, it is very close to a charming plaza right off the rue Merindol, before you hit the the Place Forum de Cardeurs where we had a great Moroccan dinner in an outdoor cafe, called Le Pe’tit Tagine. My suggestion: if you want to experience Aix, rent a house in the countryside

SETE, FRANCE • HOTEL: Le Grand Hotel, 17 Quai Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, Sète, France. This is one of those places that has probably become far grander in my imagine that it is in reality. I say this because the hotel looks amazing, yet the town looks completely lacking. In fact, it looks as if it’s just a canal town. And yet, it’s Provence. I’ll make the best of it. • TRAIN: (aprox 3h3m)

BARCELONA, SPAIN • HOTEL: Hotel Duquesa de Cardona 4* Sup.Passeig Colom 12 – 08002 (Metro: Jaume 1 or Drassanes) Barcelona (España). This is another stuning hotel with a roof top bar and pool overlooking the sea. Here, we will be staying in their largest room, the Junior Suite La Duquesa, with double balconies and a separate bedroom. Once I arrive in Spain I believe I can finally relax! I speak Spanish far better than French, and I am far more at ease here as I know the customs much better. Además, este es el país del padre de mis hijos. • TRAIN: (about 3 h 5 m)

MADRID, SPAIN • HOTEL: Apartment Plaza de Santa Ana 1, 2º Dcha B, 28004, Madrid (Metro: Anton Martin. Apartment arrivals can be made between 4.00 pm. and 9.00 pm. Last but not least! Madrid, my old home! Because we normally stay with my in-laws, I have never had need for a hotel in Madrid. However, now that my sons are so big, and we all take up so much room, it’s time we got a place of our own. When I looked into hotels in Madrid, I was greatly disappointed. And then I remembered apartment rentals for a similar price. Bingo! For under the cost of a hotel room with two double beds and a bath, we will be renting a two bedroom apartment on the Plaza Santa Ana (one of the most popular plazas in the center of town), a huge living room, kitchen two bathrooms and a dining room. Outrageous. It’s also right near the Tirso de Molina metro stop, which means it’s a direct line to my kids’ grandparents’ house in Vallecas.

Feel free to share this itinerary. And if you have any questions, comment below!

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Andalucía

April 16, 2010

So, I had to scrap the idea of going deeper into the heart of Morocco, due to time and lack of resources, but I sold the Audi and by God, I’m going to Spain this summer.

I am excited about two things: summer camp for the boys and mine and D’s voyage into the south of Spain. We’re going for two weeks, the kids and I. D will come with us for the first 10 days. And while the boys are in an intensive Spanish language summer camp for one week (all-inclusive with sports, pool, activities, crafts, flamenco classes, day trips in and around Marbella, huge buffet dinners of tortilla de patatas, jamon serrano, lomo con queso, and of course, Spanish language immersion classes), D and I will drive around the south of Spain for seven days. Aside from being extremely nervous about leaving my boys in camp for a week straight (despite my sister-in-law K praising her days as a kid in summer camp), I am looking forward to an adventure of my own, albeit a more modest one than the previous I had imagined. Oh Sheltering Sky! I must wait a little longer for you.

Here’s the itinerary:

Day 1
MADRID
Compostela Suites
This was the only hotel that slept two adults and two kids for a decent amount of money (90 €). I settled for clean and contemporary because Madrid is SERIOUSLY lacking in hotels with charm and old world ambience. This is one of those new long stay hotel-apartment places for business travelers and families. So, I’m not sure it will have all the amenities as a regular hotel. But it does have a pool! And it’s right by the airport, which is all we really need as we will be catching a train for the South the next morning. Hopefully worth the night. They do have a little cafeteria, but hotel breakfasts are usually overpriced. So, I think it’ll have to be  churros con chocolate and some fresh squeezed OJ on the train’s dining car instead.

  • Plaza Mayor
  • Sol
  • Plaza Santa Ana
  • Retiro

Day 2

MALAGA
Hostal Pedregalejo
Now that we’re taking the boys to the south with us to stay in the camp in Marbella, we decided to spend an extra night in Andalucia. We’ll take the train to Malaga, stay for the night, and the next morning, we’ll hit the road for Marbella. On the way from Malaga to Marbella, we’d like to stop in Mijas, one of the white villages of Spain,  for lunch.

Day 3

CÓRDOBA
Hotel Hacienda Posada de Vallina
From Marbella we will drive up to Cordoba. This will be our first night of “old world charm.” The hotel was supposedly constructed before the Mosque itself, and the builders stayed in this hotel while construction took place. Furthermore,  it is said that when Christopher Columbus stayed in Cordoba, he lived in room 204 of the hotel. I can’t even wrap my mind around that idea. For dinner, we made a reservation at El Churrasco on Calle Romero.

Day 4 and 5
GRANADA
Hotel Casa Capitel Nazari
I stayed in this lovely hotel two years ago with my boys. In fact, I’ve asked for the same room because I was so pleased with it. Hopefully, they will fulfill this request. Like the hotel in Cordoba, this one too is steeped in history. It’s an “ancient Renaissance Palace, built in 1503,” located right in the heart of the Albaicin. From our room I believe you can see the Alhambra.

Day 6, 7 and 8
VEJER de la FRONTERA
La Casa del Califa
When you click on this link, be sure to take the “virtual tour.” This hotel is amazing. It’s a collection of eight buildings, some of which have been in existence since the 10th century. There are vaults, catacombs, terraces and even an aljibe (an underground water cistern) dating from 700 AD, all of which are naturally exposed unto the design of the hotel, giving a traveler like me the chance to experience history and present day at once. For more about the history of this hotel and the region of Vejer, click aquí.

While staying in Vejer, we plan to visit Tarifa. What I like most about Tarifa are the beaches and the possible nightlife. Apparently it’s a very young, sporty town because of the wind surfing, with lots of fun restaurants, night clubs and tapas bars. And speaking of tapas bars, a must while in Tarifa is La Mandragora. I’ve read only good things about it and their menu looks divine.

  • Day trip Tangier and Asilah
  • Walking through the Town
  • Wine and Tapas

Day 8 and onward…
MARBELLA to VALLECAS
Back to Marbella to pick up the kids and head back to Madrid. Once in Madrid, we will say goodbye to D and stay on another week with my in-laws in Vallecas. The kids will be taking classes for the following week only in the morning, and then in the afternoons, we’ll have lunch with the abuelitos and then maybe go to the Retiro or the zoo. I think after all that, I’ll be ready to come home!

The anniversary

July 1, 2009

Doug’s “We left our watches…” reminded me of an old piece I wrote about five years ago called “The Bed,” that I’m posting below.  I’ve renamed it “the anniversary.” It was written as a tribute to Faulkner and an imitation of his writing style.

photo__Hotel_Room_by_silentmagician2001

Photo by: ~silentmagician2001 (deviantart.com)

THE ANNIVERSARY

A man and a woman stood at the foot of an old bed in a small, lousy, creaking  hotel room, with hardwood floors and the smell of staleness and closedupness. It wasn’t a king bed, not even a queen. It was a double, deceitfully grand, and covered over in one of the proprietor’s chenille bed covers- over a mattress dipping down noticeably in the center.

“It won’t be much effort in us falling close together, you and me,” he said, touching her shoulder, and her eyes opened and closed with excitement and shame. His face had been dreamed up so often by her that now, it seemed different. Not the same.

The sheets were cold, but white; the pillows sadly pulpless, deflated by a long history of faceless faces buried in them. Its one redeeming quality, the room, was the window with its openandclose shutters and transparent yellow drapes that caught the west wind in summer and the cool and renewing salt of the ocean breeze in winter. An old confederate wicker-back chair sat there at the window at a sideward glance. Its placement revealing secrets of previous guests.

The woman smiled at the man, not feeling false or untrue, and began to undress. There wasn’t much time. And yet, they both, simultaneously and unknowingly, felt as if their relationship had lasted through those entire ten years. In the cool empty timelessness of the room they felt like an old married couple, seventy, maybe even eighty, still in love and lasting, here to revisit the antiquity of their past as proof that they’d outlasted time itself. “And we have lasted so long, you and I, haven’t we, dearest?” he asked.

The woman lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. She thought for a moment how permeable she’d been to the pain and suffering of her life, how at times she wanted to run away and lose herself in the abyss of unknowing. She thought of the sacrifices she had made for her family. And the sad resignation that there would always be a hopeless emptiness to her.  But before she lost herself too deeply in these wounds, she opened her eyes, outstretched her arms and nodded, “Yes.” Through the musty thin air of the so long shut up hotel room, the man and the woman embraced. Their newlovesmells and happy breath and perfumed spiritscents swirled like a sweeping breeze through an open window. Here. Timeless. As the dust settled from their last visit, they once again stirred their hearts, falling impatiently, younglaughing, into the dip down curve of the old bed.