Spain 2014: a day in Madrid

After our full day in Malaga we would have loved to sleep in a bit, but we were up early to catch our flight to Madrid. The taxi ride to airport was uneventful, but “didn’t have change for a 10E note” for a 23.50 ride… mm-hmm. Personal pet-peeve of mine with taxi drivers — why do most of them seem dishonest?

El CentralThe flight to Madrid was uneventful, and we made our way through the airport to the Metro. While Madrid’s metro system can take you a lot of places, it usually requires at least one transfer from the airport which is not ideal when you have luggage and stairs are a constant sight. From the airport it took us about an hour to get to the center with two transfers.

Since it was just about noon when we arrived at our hotel we dropped our bags and had a second breakfast at the nearby Cafe Central in Santa Ana Square. Sunday was a gorgeous day with cool air and warm sun, so outside seating was a must. Plus the people and dog watching was quite entertaining. Eric had a limon schwepps with a ham and cheese sandwich and I had a glass of blanco vino with my tomato tostada. We did note that the portion sizes in Madrid were quite a bit smaller for a similar price… that’s life in a big city.

On our previous trip to Madrid we loved our visits to two of the major art museums, the Reina-Sofia and the Prado, so after eating we walked to theThyssen-Bornemisza Musuem to complete the Madrid museum trifecta. The Cezanne special exhibit was a pricey to add, so we skipped it and concentrated on amazing  general collection. It was inspiring to see so many old and new masters and classic paintings, including several women artists, which is quite rare in such a high quality museum.

Magritte  Dali  Picasso

Cassat

We spent more than two admiring the artwork, leaving us quite foot weary. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to get our luggage into our room, then relaxed for a bit.

beer, olives and hubby photobombAt 6:30pm we headed out to do some clothes/shoe shopping. We stopped at Naturbier first to try their drafts (light and dark) and watched a bit of the Seville football match. Both were drinkable, the tostada (toasted) was darker, with the rubia (blond) a more standard Spanish beer. These drinks came with yet another plate of green olives, which I love normally, but I was tiring of them after a week.

Shopping wise we mostly struck out but I did find a white linen shirt that I really liked at Springfield. The streets were very busy with lots of people out and about, including musicians entertaining the crowds for tips.

By 8pm we were ready for a snack so we followed some TripAdvisor reviews and went to Vinoteca Barbechera across from our hotel. The cold tapas choices didn’t appeal to Eric so he opted for the patatas bravas which were disappointing – spicy, but little flavor, and not crispy. Boo. At least the Rueda sauvignon blanc was nice, light but crisp. I started with a tempranillo rose and two cold tapas pieces – guacamole with cured meat (beef maybe?), and salmon on potato salad. Both on toast, of course, and substantial for the price. We did notice quite a few Americans here which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps if Eric had ordered a different appetizer we might have had a better overall experience.

Volapie interiorWe went back to the hotel to regroup and look for better dinner options, knowing some things would be closed on a Sunday night. After canvassing a few blocks around the hotel, we eventually stopped at Volapie for dinner, a place specializing in Andalucian-style tapas. Their menu was printed newspaper style and the waitress was eager to explain anything we needed help with. Eric had the Protos verdeho (from Rueda) as his first glass, which had good acidity and paired well with our food. I ordered the house rose (nice and fruity). A bread basket appeared and we also ordered some aged manchego and a plate of the albondigos (meatballs) in a light brown wine sauce and served with crispy potatoes. Very different than the tomato-based meatballs we are used to, but still tasty with good tenderness.

We still had a bunch of food to finish, so we ordered another round, Eric switched to a Barbadillo (lighter, slight sweetness) and since Eric liked the Protos white, I tried their Roble (from Ribera del Duero), a bit on the dry side but nice brown sugar spice and good with the aged sheep cheese.

Spain 2014: a day in Malaga

On Saturday we brgan the trip home with a bus back to Malaga at 11am. To get to the intercity bus station we took the local Granada bus, and this is one of those times where a taxi would have been much quicker and easier given the long wait for the bus (almost 20 minutes) and over-crowding. Lesson learned. For the intercity bus to Malaga we had assigned seats; Leandra tried to put us on the wrong bus (which, in her defense, also went to Malaga at the same time one stall over), which necessitated me crawl into the back of the bus baggage area to get our bags out of one bus and onto the correct bus. Thankfully we had a smooth ride from there through the olive-tree studded countryside and were soon in Malaga.

It was decent walk to our hotel, especially to get around some constructions obstacles, so we arrived a bit warm. Thankfully the hotel lobby was nice and cooling. Our room was ready so check in was easy, and as a bonus we were given drink vouchers.

After a quick change of clothes we went out to see as much of the city as we could in one afternoon. We meandered through the pedestrian area to the Alcazaba. Part fortress, part palace, this historcial site was a great place to walk around with nice views over the city, cool water features, and lots of nooks. Also, few handrails or other safety measures along the walls. Well worth 2.20 euro entrance pp.

Alcazaba and palms  small fountain  Alcazaba

Alcazaba  Alcazaba  wall details

As the photos attest, it was a cloudless day and the sun was quite strong so after exploring the Alcazaba we decided to head for the interior of the Malaga cathedral. Entrance was 5 euro pp, and the church had an odd layout with large altar on one side and second altar-like area dominating the middle. The middle altar had some great carvings and details however.

cathedral interior  church organ  Malaga Cathedral

bench details

Granada’s cathedral was a little more overwhelming, but this was quite impressive. After all our touring we needed a snack and seeing the earlier crowd (and loving the name and design) we decided on Vacaloco for tapas.

Vaca Loca

mmmm tapas and a tinto verano

I tried the tinto de verano on draft, which is red wine mixed with lemon soda –  very refreshing without being too alcoholic in the middle of the day. Leandra started with a rioja but switched to the  tinto de verano after she tried a bit of mine. Each drink let us choose from five tapas possibilities, and I choose well with the empanada de carnes which also turned out to have goat cheese inside. It wasn’t pretty but it tasted awesome. Leandra’s first choice was a tostada with mustard and cheese.  OK, but after trying the empanada, she switched to the empanada for her second. The restaurant was very busy when we arrived at 3:45, and started to quiet after 4:30. For four drinks and food we were charged 7.60 euro… we would definitely return.

 

A small amble through the shopping district on Neuva, where stumbled on a view of Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. The church was open and had several of the Easter processional floats ready to go and on display.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista

At 7:30pm we headed back out to Antigua Casa De Guardia, a sherry wine bar. While located along a main road the sign is quite small so you need to know where you are going; thankfully we found the rustic shop and stepped in to a very different scene.

Sherry barrels

At this old bar you drink standing at old wooden tables with your tab drawn in chalk. Quite a unique experience. Leandra asked for semi-sweet, so the server mixed pedro ximen with seco. Honey, spices, golden raisin on tongue, very easy to drink. I choose a moscatel – very fragrant, dessert wine-like, honey and brown sugar. For our next glass, we decided to split a Pajarete 1908 – darker in color, still sweet with burnt sugar, but a lighter finish than the moscatel.Very nice, and we thought they would be good with ginger cookies.

Next, we walked down Paseo Parque, admiring the fountains and then past the fort. Not too far after we stumbled on an early Easter procession – awesome!

Easter processional

snacks, beer and futballLeandra grabbed a table at Arte&Sana craft beer for tapas/dinner and I went back to get some photos.It was quite a spectacle with the slow movement of the float, the incense, and the musicians, and I’m quite glad we got to experience it.

Leandra started with Hornbeer’s Black Magic Woman (imperial stout), and I had the Bush de Noel, both on draft. A goldfish style cracker was served as a tapas, and we also ordered a tostada extremana (with morcilla, aka blood sausage) and the jamon croquettes (very light and fluffy). Once we scored a copy of the enormous bottle list, we focused on Spanish bottles for our second round: a Guinea Pigs quad (with chocolate and simcoe hops) which was really good, rich and dark, and the Sagra rubia triple, solid effort for style, with nice warm spice and sweetness. Very tasty but I had the Guinea pig beer best :) We also enjoyed watching football with the rest of the bar, even if Barcelona surprisingly lost to Granada.

After arriving back at the hotel we used our free drink vouchers for a small glass of sherry. We had the downstairs lounge mostly to ourselves so it was a nice place to relax before repacking and getting some rest before our early flight out the next morning.

Spain 2014: Granada food and drink

Wednesday

After a bit of exploring on our first day, we headed to Bodega La Bella y La Bestia as we read they had good, ample tapas. Eric had a white wine, then a Mahou beer while I ordered a rose (very full, pretty much a light red) then a rioja. Bagel sandwiches were our first tapas (with fried potato and herbed pasta salad), then a second course of fried sliders (meat was waaaaay overcooked) with more fried potatoes and olives. Overall, generous tapas for a good setting and tasty drinks but next time I would only stay for one round unless we were very hungry.

tasty stews @ PoeAfter a great view of Alhambra from St. Nicolas Square we looked for another tapas place. The beer hall on our list was closed (no posted hours either), so we went to Bar Poë. Eric started with their house white and I had the rioja. We ordered #3 and #6 for first round, two stews that were both very tasty, a chicken peri-peri pork stew and chicken in spicy thai sauce (this one brought some heat!). For round two, we opted for the Porteguese-style salt cod (which I had to myself) and chicken in coconut sauce – both were delicious. For the second round Eric switched to rose and I followed up with another red.

Thursday

We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Bodega Vitola, since they had several tostadas on the menu along with coffee and OJ for a reasonable price. We were fine the first day with a ham and cheese sandwich and pate tostada but they ran out of almost every topping (how can you run out of Nutella for multiple days?) on the next two mornings. Somehow they managed to get us some kind of a jamon tostada (still good) each day, and the fresh-squeezed OJ was great as well as the doble cafe con leche.

latanaAfter a full day exploring Alhambra, we stopped at Taberna La Tana for a tapas lunch. The place was empty as it was approaching the end of lunch, so we grabbed a table by the door and perused the menu. The bartender didn’t speak much English but we managed to get our orders across with no trouble. Eric had white wine from Granada and I had a rose from Navarro. The first plate of tapas was toasted bread heaped with homemade guacamole — heaven! Also included were two small slices of potato tortilla. We ordered a plate of aged manchego to make sure Eric would have something he liked. We still had plenty of cheese left after finishing our first drink so I ordered a tinto verano, basically red wine mixed with lemon soda. The second tapa came out and it was a very rich tapenade of sorts on more bread. I scoured the menu and finally figured out it was morcilla — blood sausage. I am not one to shy away from strange foods, but everything was so filling that I could still only eat one of the generous portions.

Around 10pm (this is Spain) we went out for dinner. Once again the beer place was closed so we wandered down to Oum Kalsum, a North Africa style tapas place. Eric was tired of wine, so he ordered a limon fanta and I ordered a glass of rose. Like Bar Poe, you selected from a list of tapas, so Eric choose a chicken samosa and I opted for the falafel. Both were good but very small portions. This place was packed with families and friends so it really had more of a local vibe.

Om Kalsum

Friday

After a morning of shopping, we needed some refreshments and grub, so we opted for lunch at La Cueva de 1900 near our hotel.  Jamon croquetas for the win, with a local Alhambra beer for Eric. I had a rose and enjoyed the tapas meats that came with it. We also admired the countless hams hanging from the ceiling.

Later that afternoon, we stopped into Rey Fernandos, a pastry place to try a pionono (little apple cake with cinnamon) and churros. The cake was good but it’s a little misleading to show a huge photo of these traditional cakes in the window and then get one on your plate that’s an inch tall. The churros were hard (stale/overcooked) and I had to ask for chocolate sauce. Many people seemed to be getting ice cream and they had a ton of creative flavors for shakes so that’s probably their strength.

Our first ‘tapas’ place of the night was Bodegas Castenada – Eric opted for a lemon fanta while I had a glass of sangria. A plate of salmon, lemon and cream cheese on bread plus olives (of course) came out before our drinks were even ordered which was a bit odd. However, after we ordered a second round and no more food arrived we realized that the first dish was a courtesy and this place was expecting us to order off the menu for additional food. Truly a rarity in Granada for a place calling themselves a tapas bar. Additionally, the waiter service virtually non-existent, so we decided to just pay and leave. It didn’t help that the English menu translations were pretty bad and I clearly ordered a tempranillo for my second glass (even pointing to the photo on the menu) and when the bill came, the tab confirmed he had brought me a tinto. Not recommended. Sidenote: we sat on the alleyway, while the other side of the restaurant seemed much busier, so we may have picked the ‘tourist side’… 

Casa Torcuato

Casa Torcuato — The only time on the trip where my meager Spanish did not suffice. One waiter had already taken our order, but another waiter showed up and would not budge it became a silly pantomime act to let him know his co-worker had already been by. Eventually we got it straightened out and we enjoyed a plate of fries with our glasses of wine. I noticed that the second tapas coming out of the kitchen were fried fish and squids, so for Eric’s sake we moved on to a different place! We were lucky to get an outdoor table in the courtyard which had a great atmosphere.

tapasplaceTaberna 22 — We passed by this small place several times on our treks through El Albaicín to the Alhambra overlook and it was always busy, so we figured that was a good sign. We started indoors on stools at the bar, and the friendly servers behind the bar let us know when an outdoor table opened. Their small terrace has a great vantage point on San Gregorio so we enjoyed the people- and dog-watching plus enjoyed the cool evening air. Eric started with a Barbadilla, white wine with moderate acidity, clean finish, good with tortilla. I ordered the Rueda (white) but wound up with the Riberra (red) which wound up being tasty. The first tapa was chickpeas in a tomato/pepper sauce — very good flavor. Eric really wanted a tortilla so we ordered a half portion and it was huge – fluffly and filling. Since it was our last evening in Granada we decided to stay for another round, this time I ordered (and received) the rioja and Eric had the Rueda. The second tapa was a noodle dish with ham, cheese, and olives. Tasty but we were both pretty stuffed at that point.

Spain 2014: Alhambra

The Alhambra looms large on the Southern Spain tourist route and our mail goal for Thursday. Knowing that crowds can get large we started early to arrive at the gates a little after they opened. A circulator bus is the easiest way to the top (besides a 15 minute walk up hill) so we waited in line at the cathedral stop and managed to squeeze on for the winding ride up the hill. There’s a good reason these busese are so small – the roads driving up are narrow and curvy! At the top of the hill everyone got out, and we made our way to the Generalife gardens first.

Generalife  Generalife

Generalife  Generalife  Generalife

The gardens were magnificent with great views, lots of flowers, and water features in abundance. It was hard to get Eric to leave in time for our timed tickets for the Alhambra Palace itself, which was amazing.

  Wine Gate @ Alhambra  wisteria

We were quite glad they crowd control, as though there are some chokepoints, it would be much less enjoyable with even more people. There are details everywhere you look, from the floor to the ceiling, and it can be quite overwhelming.

carved and tiled   Alhambra

Alhambra  walkway details  Eric in a doorway

Alhambra

peaceful spot

Many, many more photos on our Flickr photo set.

Unsurprisingly, there is interesting people watching at Alhambra too. Next up was the Fortress which had great views over city.

Alhambra watchtower

view from the watchtower

At this point in the day the sun was getting strong so we faded around 2p. We exited through the side of the site and walked downhill, stopping briefly for a small waterfall and continuing the downhill trek back into the city center.

We were getting a little peckish, so we continued through town to Taberna La Tana for a tapas lunch after stopping briefly at a gelato place for Eric.  After lunch we crashed at the hotel for a much needed nap and respite from the sun.

Spain 2014: Granada sights

Wednesday

We slept periodically on the various planes and buses so when we arrived into town around 5p we skipped a nap and went out exploring. First we headed to the Alhambra store to print out tickets for the next day, then to the nearby Royal Chapel of Granada. Some of the Easter floats were being prepared and the church itself was lovely.

wooden doorway   Iglesia del Sagrario

Mary float

The streets of the old town were charming in a variety of ways, from old details to street art.

tiled steps

 

charming square

scooter parking

Afterwards we made our way through El Albayzin, the old Moorish quarter. This lively district became our favorite with cafes and shops along the narrow winding streets and decorative doorways.

Iglesia de San José (?)  El Albayzín

El Albayzín doorway  barred window

El Albayzín   El Albayzín

Plaza San Gregorio

Our destination for sunset was Mirador de San Nicolas, the plaza famous for its view of the Alhambra across the valley. And that reputation is well deserved! There were various hawkers, groups of friends and photographers with tripods milling about which gave the square a lively atmosphere.

Alhambra at dusk

Alhambra panorama

Thursday

The Alhambra was our main objective for Thursday and will (deservedly) receive its own post. Later on that already full day we headed out in the early evening to see the small stone bridges along the Rio Darro.

Rio Darro

church tower  wooden doorway

The area was scenic and easy to walk, with lots of people enjoying the cooler evening air. Once we reached the end of the road, we wound our way up to Iglesia del Salvador for some photos and then onto a tapas place or two.

Iglesia del Salvador

Friday

Leandra has had good luck finding bargains in Spanish clothing stores, so most of Friday morning was spent in the downtown shopping district near our hotel. Eric had good luck at Zara while Leandra had good luck nearly everywhere else…

Granada

Thankfully we had extra room in our suitcases! Be advised that many places will ask for ID when using a credit card, so make sure you have it with you or you will end up needing to run back to the hotel (personal experience).

Later in the day we visited the large Granada Cathedral. An artist was painting in one corner, and we had several nooks to explore throughout the large (and chilly) space.

Granada Cathedral Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral  Granada Cathedral organ

Granada at night
Calle Puerta Real de España at night

As the photos attest, we walked all over Granada and found it to be a fun city with lots of different details to observe.

Spain 2014: overview

Our trip to Spain started out rather star-crossed with a series of small but irritating airline issues:

  • We found some well-priced tickets to southern Spain through http://www.cheapoair.com/ and purchased them about 9 months in advance.
  • Several changes to the schedule occurred over time that would have had us arrive at one airport about 20 minutes after our next flight took off!
  • Our flight numbers were screwed up for months, even after a half dozen calls to AA to fix them. At several points we had three separate reservations for the same flight. I don’t think this was all due to the website we bought from, but that didn’t help either…
  • When we finally got to the airport takeoff for JFK was delayed due to an emergency landing on the RDU runway (that was a first for us).
  • The approach to JFK was bumpy and Leandra experienced her first go around (and my second of 2014). Eventually we got on the ground and had to wait a while for our gate-check bags…. finally got out to the terminal for a short break in lounge. Wine please!
  • On the plane for a 7pm departure out of JFK, when the captain announces a mechanical of 1.5 hours. Blerg.
  • Arrive late in Madrid’s unnecessarily large airport with LOTS of walking (20+ minutes to transfer, through security again).
  • Make it to our Iberia connection but take a double look at the seats. Wow, tight – probably the tightest seats we’ve ever experienced anywhere. Thankfully a quick flight.
  • Did I mention that both of us had a sore throat?

In the end AA and Iberia managed to get us to Spain without stranding us or our luggage, and once we were there we had a great time in country.

Malaga was the final airplane stop for us, and from the airport we took a bus to the central bus station for a second, longer bus ride to Granada. After three planes and three buses it was nice to be in the fresh air of Granada for several consecutive days. Due to the aforementioned ticket issues, we returned to Malaga for Saturday evening, then flew to Madrid on Sunday before going home through JFK on Monday. We persevered through the obstacles and had a great time in Spain, as usual (Barcelona 2008 & 2012, Madrid 2011), and can’t wait to return in the future.

Hotels

Hotel Párraga Siete, Granada

Párraga Siete is just off the main street (Calle Reyes Caolicos) in the middle of the downtown shopping district. Our room faced a narrow side street with double-paned windows – when opened they allowed a nice breeze, as well as some motor cycle noise. Thankfully it was generally quiet.

hotel-ourview   hotel-2   hotel-1

Overall the room was small and basic with a good size bed taking up most of the room plus a small desk and closet area. The bathroom is not separated from the room and was a feature we did not like much — your main view from bed is the sink, and the frosted glass door for the toilet didn’t close all the way. Also, for some reason the door to every room in the hotel seemed to be sticking, as we saw most other guests struggling to get in and out of rooms.

On the second floor the hotel had a small atrium/sitting area that was quiet, and the first floor was a combination of the reception and restaurant. We had breakfast there each morning and found it quite odd that they were out of Nutella, and several other items like ham, each morning. On the plus side, it was inexpensive, the orange juice was fresh squeezed and fantastic, and the made-to-order coffee was also great.

Location was pretty good, though we would prefer to be a little closer to El Albayzin hill as we found ourselves drawn to that area. While it was a good deal at 200 euros for three nights, given the bathroom layout I think we would skip this place on our next trip.

Vincci Selección Posada del Patio, Malaga

Located on the edge of old town near the river, the Vincci charmed us from the start with a beautiful modern lobby and friendly reception. The room was very large with a comfortable bed providing us our best night of sleep on the trip. Our room also featured a good size desk area, large closet, couch, and bathroom with rain shower and tub. Wifi reception in our end-of-the-hallway room was weak, much better in the hallway and lobby.

hotel-ourview   hotel-1   hotel-2

In the morning we only had 15 minutes for the buffet breakfast, and we definitely wish we had more time as the choices were great. The jamon was excellent, the fruit was fresh and flavorful, and the chocolate pastry was tasty too. Nescafe coffee was solid with hot milk on request.

buffet

Overall the location was good for us: within a few blocks to the center, a few more to the cathedral and other areas. I might look a little further east in the future, but we really enjoyed our stay and would certainly consider returning to this hotel in the future.

RoomMate Alicia, Madrid

We choose the Alicia since it was a three blocks from the metro and only a few blocks to the museum area of Madrid – basically walking distance of most of central Madrid. The lobby was small but has some memorably cool artwork.

lobby   bathroom   bedroom

We arrived near noon on Sunday so our room wasn’t ready, but they quickly stored our luggage so we could enjoy the day. Around 3pm we returned and were assigned 205, a corner room with large windows looking over the street; unfortunately, we couldn’t open the large windows in this room. Also, the room had an elongated J-shaped layout, so there was good space with a table on one side and the closet on the other, but a choke-point around the bed.

The bathroom here was partially open. At least the toilet had a proper door, but the all-glass shower was awkward right next to the bed. Wifi speed was good in the room.

Additionally, this hotel offers a ‘mifi’ device that allows you to receive wifi signal throughout Madrid. A great idea in theory, but unfortunately for us the device was not properly charged and died after a few minutes of use.

As we were getting ready for bed we had an issue with the automatic blinds. The night manager came up to try and fix them but couldn’t — thankfully the room next door (207) was available so he gave us a key to that as well. This turned out to be a better room for us, quieter and darker. Of course, the next morning the key to our original room (where all of Leandra’s clothes were) didn’t work so I had to run down to reception and get that remedied. Throughout these difficulties, the staff was always friendly and helpful and we enjoyed experiencing a different part of Madrid than we did the last time.

Summer Euro 2013: overview

A little more than a year ago our friends Dave and Jake announced they were hosting a party and invited us to attend. Fellow avid travelers (we originally met in Peru on a train returning from Machu Picchu) they had picked a non-standard destination: Lanzarote, Canary Islands. We couldn’t say no!

summer_2013_map

most people wonder where these islands are…

Airfare to the islands is generally through Europe and can be pricey, so we decided to use miles for this trip. Since it was summer the difference between economy and business class is smaller so we also decided to fly in style! Last year airberlin joined the OneWorld alliance, which meant we could use our AA miles to fly with them. After a few days of digging we found a route that would take us through Miami to Dusseldorf and Cologne, Germany on the way and then Berlin to JFK on the way back. Thus, our summer European adventure was born.

Hotels

Hotel Cristall, Cologne

I originally wanted to use hotel points to stay near the Dom cathedral, but unfortunately for us that particular hotel pulled out of the program last spring. So I researched some of the other hotels within a few blocks of the train station (since we were coming from Dusseldorf) and the central square. The Hotel Cristall had good marks for breakfast and style, plus the requisite location, so we made a booking through Pointshound.com (AA miles for a hotel is a nice bonus). We had a pleasant stay with a few quirks.

cristall

The front desk was quite friendly and were able to assign us a room even though it was mid-morning. Though they gave us directions to our room we still became slightly lost- the elevator off the lobby was not for us, instead, our room accessed by going up stairs through the breakfast area, up a set of outdoor stairs, then an elevator or more stairs to our room. Thankfully we didn’t have much luggage as this was a bit of a hassle.

Our room was larger than expected and quite comfortable. There was a fairly busy road just outside our window but it didn’t affect our afternoon nap or sleep that evening. The bathroom was also quite large with a wide counter and a shower with good water pressure.

Breakfast was a reasonable buffet in the main building, fairly typical for a German hotel – cheese, meats, breads, granola, a few hot items, etc. Juice glasses were tiny as is common in Europe. Overall, this was a solid choice and we would consider a return.

Iberostar Papagayo, Playa Blanca

The Iberostar was the host site for the party so we stayed here too. This is a fairly typical resort, with people getting up early to drape towels over their favorite chairs and an all-inclusive mentality. We’re not really resort people so instead we used it as a jumping off point to explore parts of the island.

We had booked a Double sea view room, and we definitely couldn’t complain about our view.

ourseaview
our beautiful sea view from the balcony – room 349

The room was fairly similar to resort rooms we’ve had in the Caribbean and Mexico- a good size, with no major problems, but a bit bland and worn around the edges. The beds were annoying as they were rather stiff  and tended to come apart easily so we effectively had two separate beds.

bedroom  bathroom

Free internet was quite slow, only available in one bar, and limited to 30 minutes a day, but since we were on vacation this wasn’t a big problem. You could also purchase wifi and that signal was seen around the resort.

As mentioned above, getting chairs around the pool was competitive and it didn’t seem like the staff did much to combat the issue. The pool area isn’t large either so some areas were quite congested. While the resort is near the water the closest sand beach is bit of a hike; however the snorkeling off the hotel’s dock was surprisingly good.

poolarea
the pool area at 8:30a with a variety of towels adorning every chair

Food on the hotel plan was mixed. There was a wide variety to choose from, but many dishes were surprisingly poor, partially as a result of sitting under heat lamps. We were definitely getting bored with our choices by the third day.

While the price was quite good and there weren’t any major problems we probably wouldn’t return to this site.

bedroomber

Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof, Berlin

I was in Berlin in July and wanted to stay in the same area for this trip too. We found a good deal on the Pullman and decided to try it out for our two nights. We’re glad we did, this is a stylish hotel!

The front desk was quite helpful, putting us in a zoo-facing room on the top floor, and taking the time to explain different features of the hotel. Our room was quiet, spacious, and very comfortable with a nice view.

Wifi signal was strong in our room and in the lobby area.

Breakfast was great, the best on our trip, with quite a few hot and cold choices. Notably, the hostess was spacing people across both sides of the restaurant instead of packing people in to one side. Leandra also appreciated the strong coffee.

We really enjoyed our stay at this Pullman, and would certainly consider returning on our next visit to Berlin.

ourviewber
our view of the treetops from the 9th floor