By Ginny Prior
As members of BATW, we all know the value of our tourism partners. A well-run press trip allows us the freedom to explore, worry-free, the destinations we cover. Yet, sometimes we have to ‘fly solo’ — relying on our own navigational skills and the kindness of strangers. My story, below, illustrates what can happen when you don’t have a PR partner planning your trip.
A good travel story needs elements of surprise. Our colleague, Tim Cahill, said this to highlight the importance of mishaps in the art of adventure. But a dozen kerfuffles in 10 days? Do the math and even Cahill may think this is too much adventure.
Late last month, I made a snap decision to travel to Spain. I don’t speak Spanish and abhor hot weather — which put me two strikes down in the count — right off the bat.
“You’ll love it, mom,” said my millennial daughter, who was planning the trip with two friends. She’d taken Spanish from grade school through college, and was adept at navigating websites for transit, hotels and Airbnbs. ‘If not now, when?’ I asked myself as I pondered adding the warmest cities in Europe to my bucket list.
Overall, our trip was a dream — from our Norwegian air non-stop between Oakland and Barcelona to our adventures in six cities in Spain. But it’s the mis-adventures that made the trip memorable. Here are just two examples:
EL HORNO DE CRISTO. The aging porcelain sign, bleached in the scorching heat, translated, literally, to the oven of Christ. To Kara and me, it seemed more like Dante’s inferno, as we dragged our roller bags along the cobbled streets of Córdoba. We’d chosen to take the city bus from the train station to our hotel, instead of the seven Euro cab. All together, it took two extra hours and near heat stroke to get to our destination. Lesson number one – pay the extra price for the cab.
THE AIRBNB FROM HELL. Madrid is a fascinating city. The history, the architecture, the shopping, the nightlife — you could spend weeks here and never get bored. But in the place we had booked — we weren’t willing to spend even one night. Our room was on the third floor — with no elevator — which meant humping our bags up 36 narrow stairs. Our reward? One double bed in a tiny apartment which smelled like a smoking lounge spritzed with cheap air freshener. “I can’t breathe,” I said to my daughter, “and weren’t there supposed to be two beds?” We dragged our bags back down and returned the key to the landlord. My daughter got to use her best Spanish swear words (okay, I’m exaggerating here) and we found a hotel nearby. (A complaint filed on Airbnb did result in a refund.)
From getting stuck in un baño in the bowels of a bus to Granada (minutes seemed like hours until someone jiggled the lock outside) to riding the metro in the wrong directions, we sputtered our way through Spain, a country of great beauty and rich tradition, in which people seemingly speak little English. Were it not for my daughter, who took Spanish in school, I might still be trying to get back to the U.S. It’s a humbling realization for a travel journalist – admitting things would have gone more smoothly with a professional guide. But I take solace in knowing the memories of our mishaps will grow sweeter with time.