Hotels: A Review (with links!)

I used TripAdvisor for most of my hotel searching initially. They have a nice feature that rates hotels in the area you are looking in, and then links to various booking platforms like and Expedia.

I generally read a bunch of reviews - carefully. You know, you just have to toss out the reviews that bitch about stuff that has nothing to do with the hotel ("My flight was late!"), or things like "No elevator!" in a 400 year old 10-room hotel (duh); and then there are the travelers who are horrified that the bathroom is down the hall. I found most sites were very clear about whether a private bath was an option. I also look at the reviews on the reservation sites as well.

I didn't see that booking directly with the hotels offered any better deals, generally, but I did always check. Using and Expedia in some cases offered better deals, or free cancellation, etc.


We stayed at Pensao Royal or Royal Guesthouse. We booked a triple (3 twin beds) with private bathroom for 60 euro/night. At the time I booked, their website booking system was not working, so my reservation was made via email with no payment...and it turns out, they only take cash anyway.

The location was great - one block from the Baixa/Chiado metro and walking distance to the river and lots of shops and restaurants. The decor was...whimsical and very much at odds with the goth-ish appearance of proprietor Paula. But it was clean, room was fairly spacious and quiet, bathroom was small but functional. Breakfast was an amazing and filling all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of pastries, quiches, ham and cheese. Drawback: flat is up several flights of stairs, no elevator. Staff spoke fluent English.


We were only at the YH Giralda for one night, but the location was fantastic, about one block from the cathedral and surrounded by shops and restaurants. Booked a triple for 65 euro through Expedia. It was a bit noisy considering it is down an alley not accessible by any vehicles other than motorbikes (trash collection in the middle of the night, jackhammering somewhere early in the morning). Room was spacious, modern bathroom. Drawback: Again, no elevator, lots of stairs. No breakfast included. Staff spoke fluent English.


Hostal Africa wasn't awful, but was definitely the worst of the places we stayed. It's probably the only place that we would definitely not stay at again. Booked a triple with private bath for 60 euro/night (booked through Again with the third floor walk-up. No heat in room, tiny bathroom, NO HOT WATER (complaint met with a shoulder shrug pretty much). Location was good to walk to ferry and dinner, not so good for car and luggage (narrow street, no parking nearby). But the roof top deck and enclosed living room - very very awesome. No breakfast included. Staff spoke limited English.


The Hostal Don Peque is a little hard to find, but perfectly located in Nerja. Triple room with private bath for 60 euro/night through Room was small - hard to get us and our luggage in, and you had to move furniture to get to the closet - which was not designed to accommodate luggage anyway. Modern bathroom. No elevator. Nice balcony, great rooftop deck where they serve breakfast during the season (we were there in off-season, so no breakfast - but they had kettle for tea and instant coffee in the room, and a refrigerator which was a first). Some street parking, free public parking about 10 minute walk away. Staff spoke fluent English.


I booked Hotel Juan Miguel directly through their website. This is a hotel in the American sense of the word - large lobby, elevators, big rooms, spacious bathrooms. We had a quad room (Vonn was supposed to join us here) with private bath for 74 euro/night, and it included a very good breakfast of eggs, ham, pastries, etc. The room was huge and included a sitting area and a fridge. Great location within walking distance of shops, restaurants, cathedral and the Alhambra (although easier to walk down from there than up!). Our room faced the square though, so it was noisy. Staff all spoke adequate to fluent English.


Hostal Grau is a "green" hotel and is one of those places where you applaud the concept but the execution leaves a little to be desired. I booked this directly with the hotel, triple room with private bath was 112 euro/night. No breakfast included. Yeah, Barcelona is expensive! Location was fabulous - local shops and restaurants and Las Ramblas, the main walking thoroughfare, is just a few blocks away as is the metro at Placa de Catalunya. Vonn joined us here and they added a bed to the room (and another 25 euro), but it was still quite spacious. Beds were the most comfortable of the trip (Cocomat mattresses $$$). Clean, modern, hardwood floors, power to the room controlled by putting your key card in a slot, a nice energy-saving feature. Modern spacious bath, awesome design-flawed shower that resulted in water all over the tiled floor - which meant we used a lot of towels each day. Not so energy-saving, that. The workmanship was a bit off throughout the room and hotel - paint splatters, rough edges. But, man, it was quiet. Soundproof interior shutters blocked all the light and sound, and we all slept like the dead. Staff spoke fluent English.

Els Quatre Gats - The 4 Cats Cafe

Modeled after Le Chat Noir in Paris, this was a popular hangout for the Barcelona art crowd, including, of course, Picasso. There are several stories about the name - one being that there were four founders of the cafe, another that the initial reaction to the concept was that there would be no one at the bar except the owner and four cats, a colloquial phrase meaning a few people, or a few crazy people, depending...

I didn't see absinthe on the menu. But Bob and I had drinks (poor Bob...he had to endure "the local swill" throughout the trip, although he did find a small place in Barcelona that sold bottled somewhat-local microbrews), Ryne ordered the classic Spanish treat - chocolate y churro

These are not American churros. Lighter texture, hot from the fryer, sugared (no cinnamon) - a far cry from those fried pastry sticks you can use in a sword fight in a pinch. And this is not your American hot chocolate! A mug of what was basically melted semi-sweet chocolate is what defeated Ryne in the end. He couldn't finish it.
Churros and chocolate
You dunk them. Mmmmmm.

Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona's beloved hometown architect, started construction on the Sagrada Familia
What you see when you emerge from the metro
cathedral in 1882.

It's still not done.

And there's just no accounting for taste, is there? Architect Vonn grumbled about his lack of appreciation for all things Gaudi, but admitted he should at least go see it.

This is one of those "come out of the metro and there it is" kind of sites, and I have to say that in addition to the gasps of horror from our own little group, most of the multi-lingual exclamations upon arriving in the square were some variation on "wow." And not the that-is-beautiful kind of wow either.

Some people say Gaudi is the root of the term "gaudy." It's not true, but you can see why people would make that connection.

Yes, that is FRUIT at the top of those spires

It looks marginally better from far away


We will be going waaaay up there, by cable car
There were some protests about going to yet another monastery/cathedral - but I think this turned out to be everyone's favorite day. Montserrat is a Benedictine monastery located high on a jagged mountain about an hour train ride outside Barcelona.

It is one of those impossible locations that make you wonder how it even came to be. Who decided this was a great place, and then how in the world did they get up there? The first monastery was possibly built here in 880, and became famed for its "Black Madonna" icon in the 12th century. Little of the original monastery remains, although there are still remnants of the hermitage caves above the basilica.

View down the cable car line

View up the funicular to Sant Jeroni

Nice view from not-even-the-top-yet

Mountain goat children

Pathway along the hernitage caves

Inside the basilica

The Black Madonna - so named because the
wood and varnish of he skin have darkened
over time

The Alhambra

Granada's claim to fame, this site started as a Moorish fort in the 800s and was later expanded to a castle in 1000 before graduating to palace status in the 1300s.

Then, of course, the Christians swooped in and threw them out. Repurposed their palaces as their own, if they didn't simply destroy them in a fit of conquering temper. Story of southern Spain.

The weather was fabulous. Again.

View of the Nasrid Palace - the green wall is actually a hedge

Arabic script as a plaster border - usually
a poem about the power and the glory
of the current king

Circular courtyard inside the palace of Charles I
View of the snowy Sierras

Granada Day One

View from our hotel balcony
Spent another hour driving in large circles around town trying to get to the hotel. Bob did not turn right enough when I directed him to (hey it was a circle with about 5 rights to choose from, in his defense). One wrong turn in these older cities and you are simply doomed.

And for some reason, Google Maps on a cell data connection was not operational here, or in Nerja.

Hotel Juan Miguel is in a great location, although our room (a quad, since originally Vonn was supposed to join us) was on the first floor (American second floor) and faced the square. So it was noisy. But it was huge, and breakfast was included and was very good.

We wandered around town when we got there, lit another coin-operated electric candle for Vonn at the cathedral - there was a 10 cent slot but pricing must have gone up since the candle wouldn't light until we had deposited a 50 cent coin...

Silk merchants' market, now filled with shops
selling lots of junk from India

Dome in the cathedral

Inside the cathedral - Bob and Ryne added for size

Vonn Is Finally Released From Captivity

We lit coin-operated, electric candles at the cathedral in Nerja and in Granada, which certainly contributed to the fact that Vonn finally got his walking papers today (Tuesday).

He didn't even have the measles - but they don't know what he had. One expert medical speculation was that the rash was "an allergic reaction to air pollution," which apparently requires a 5-day hospital stay these days. Who knew?

He high-tailed it out of Venice (Mestre) on the next train and is safely back at the dorm in Rome, where he is pulling himself together to join us in Barcelona on Thursday.

We hope. Everybody light some candles for us, OK?

My New Business Venture - Rebecca's AutoLaundroBar

I figured we could do laundry in Nerja, forgetting that we would be there on a Sunday. Self-serve laundromats are a rarity in Europe; when we were in Rome in 2010, we spent a small fortune at a drop-off laundry because we could not find a laundromat.

Imagine my surprise as I am sitting in the car while Bob gets gas after our afternoon in Frigliana and I notice a laundromat next to the car wash. I got out and checked it out - it was clean, the price included soap and for 7 euros we could do one big load. So we went back to the hotel, gathered up the wash and headed back out.

Why yes, I will have an espresso while I wait for my wash.

This place...I'm not sure what to call it but how can it not make money? Car wash, laundromat, gas station, convenience store, bar and cafe, complete with a small bounce house for the kids.

Espresso, beer, wine, food...and hams hanging above the bar and liter jugs of olive oil for sale.

It was crazy.

It was brilliant.

I am so opening one.

Nerja and Frigliana

View from Nerja
Ah, the Costa Del Sol, playground of the rich and famous. We drove along the southern coast of Spain from Tarifa to Nerja and all we could think was "This is really really built up." Like Florida. Somehow, we had this picture in our heads of quaint little Mediterranean seaside towns. Uh, no.

We then spent about two hours trying to get to our hotel. You can't just go around the block here if you take a wrong turn - the narrow maze of one way streets shoves you in completely different directions. We did eventually find Hostal Don Peque and it hit all the good buttons - nice rooftop deck and view, balcony onto the street, HOT WATER IN THE SHOWER, close to shops, restaurants and a bakery.
Ryno chrysalis

This area is called the Balcony of Europe due to the clifftop views of the Mediterranean and while it is smaller than Malaga and Marbella, it is still very touristy. Half of England seems to have retired here, and if you have a craving for Yorkshire Pudding and some beef, you can find it on almost every street.

Luckily, we found tapas (and more yummy berenjengas!)

We headed up to Frigliana, a "white hills town" a few miles north, where we got our now-daily quota of stairs and hills know, my left knee has been fine after rehab last summer, but now? not so much...but the views were fabulous. 

Happy lunchtime in the sun with fish stew and a glass of rioja

View from Frigliana

Looking down a "street" in Frigliana


We went to a tapas bar in Tarifa and had one of those fun experiences where there's no English menu, and no staff who spoke it either. So we just puzzled a few things out and pointed to stuff and waited to see what we ended up with. We saw a plate of what looked like really fabulous french fries go by, so we inquired "Frites?" and were told "No, berenjenas!"

Well, sure. No idea, so we ordered them anyway. And it was lightly breaded fried eggplant, with sea salt and sugar cane syrup.

Oh my God, you guys. You are all getting sugar cane syrup for Christmas, and I am growing a ton of eggplant this summer.

Tropical and Infectious Diseases, Get the T-Shirt!

On the ferry back from Tangier, I was able to get a very brief wireless connection (because that is how it works over here. Type fast!) and a text message from Vonn pops up that I should call him on his Italian Google phone number. So I turn on cell service (hurray for thinking to add a global plan for $25!) and call my kid, who exclaims "Thank God" at his end and proceeds to tell me he is in a hospital in Venice and they think he has the measles.

Several not-fit-for-a-family-blog words proceeded to fly back and forth. Seriously, who the hell gets the measles as an adult and when they had their childhood vaccines and all that?

The kid who got chicken pox a few years after his chicken pox vaccine, that's who.

And it gets worse. When he called, he was in the tropical and infectious diseases wing and they wouldn't know any test results until Tuesday. And because they think it is measles, they can't release him because he is infectious, plus there could be complications when you get measles as an adult. The good news is that he doesn't have a fever, and doesn't feel especially sick.

Naturally, by the time they know anything Tuesday, it won't matter - if it's measles, he'll be past the contagious stage. Meanwhile, everyone who comes into his room has to suit up and wear a mask. And all his friends - and his professors - had to leave him in Venice because they had spring break plans that couldn't be changed.

Meanwhile I am checking flights to Venice and back to Barcelona, except we're on the southern coast of Spain, between a couple of very small and very expensive airports. So even though I am closer than I would be if we were back in the States, it's still kind of a "can't get there from here" deal.

Of course, not too many people can say they have had a five day stay in a tropical and infectious diseases ward, so there is that...