I have traveled to Spain before on business, but this time it was different. I was unemployed and on a budget, but the flip side was that I was the master of my own schedule and had the luxury of time. I decided to fly into Madrid, spend a few days there before heading to Sevilla where I would start my Spanish study. I was landing on 31st evening in Madrid and looked forward to spending New Year’s Eve the traditional Madrid way; in Puerta del Sol with everybody else, eating a grape with each strike of the clock and ushering in the New Year. I was looking forward to an interesting international experience.
Since I had booked the hotel at the last minute and it was New Year’s Eve, there was hardly any choice available. I booked what looked like the only decent hotel in my budget range, going by the travel web site’s advice that it was in central Madrid. I considered myself lucky that I had even found a hotel. However, when I landed in Madrid, jetlagged and exhausted after a 16-hour flight, and instructed the cab driver (using my newly practiced Spanish phrases) to take me to my hotel in central Madrid, I was surprised to find him quite confused. He spoke rapidly in Spanish and gesticulated wildly, I was able to make out that he was telling me that no such address existed in Madrid. Exasperated, I called the hotel (an expensive roaming call from the US cell) and handed my phone to the driver to sort out directly (my “Habla ingles?” got a resounding “No!” from the hotel front desk). They spoke for a while, then driver handed me the phone, looking satisfied. I heaved a big sigh of relief. Finally I would get to the hotel – I badly needed a shower and a nap before the evening’s festivities.
The driver whizzed off and in about five minutes, I was surprised to see him leaving the city of Madrid. My alarm grew exponentially after fifteen minutes, when our cab was most definitely out of the city headed towards, what seemed, the middle of nowhere. With no Spanish phrases handy for this emergency situation, I was in a state of panic. After twenty-five minutes, the cab pulled up in front of a lonely hotel in the middle of an industrial zone. There was nothing but a few large supermarkets and some desolate looking industrial complexes around me. The name of the hotel matched that on my Internet confirmation slip – so it was the right one after all. The web site had just conveniently forgotten to tell me that it was 20km outside Madrid, where I would stare at the back of Carrefour from my hotel room instead of some vibrant plaza in central Madrid.
I had no choice but to check in and then spent the immediate 20 minutes fighting with the travel agency over an expensive international phone call. They didn’t apologize for their mistake, but asked me to file a formal complaint. I decided to stay the night and check out the next day and move to Madrid anyway. The money was sunk, but I could not possibly stay here in this industrial wasteland for two days and ruin the beginning of my trip.
So much for eating grapes in Puerta del Sol and having an interesting beginning to the New Year! Everything (including the hotel restaurant) was closed for New Year’s Eve and I was doomed to my hotel room in this industrial wasteland, feeling hungry, frustrated and jetlagged. Fortunately the hotel manager was nice and he fixed me some bread and cheese when I told him I was hungry. So, I stayed in my room, watched TV, ate bread and cheese, drank Coke from the mini-bar and ruminated on the perils on international travel. But tomorrow would be a new day, a new year in fact, and there was still hope for better things. Happy 2010!
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