So here I am, finally back from Vacation, I’ve managed to get time, a good night’s sleep and now I think it’s time to stop procastinating and write this damn post.
So just in case you missed me in the previous week, I’ve been at Toledo with my girlfriend. This is actually the first time in my 28 years of life that I’ve ever been a tourist. Before this time the most I’ve managed was to visit some islands in my home country of Greece. I’ve never been at all interested in Tourism or seeing foreign places and this vacation didn’t really change that.
It was, unfortunately, not as good as I’d hoped.
We travelled by plane of course but because of the way we booked our trip, we were scheduled to arrive half an hour before the last train to Toledo (from Madrid).Unfortunately the online Travel agency we used to book the trip did not plan or mention this last part of the journey so we discovered this very short window after the fact (in hindsight, I guess we should have first checked the train timetables before booking). As a result, we decided to rent a car for one day in order to be able to reach our Hotel without having to spend a night in Madrid. We went with Europcar which allows you to leave your car at any other Europcar location in other City, or even Country.
And then we reached our first snag. My girlfriend was booking the car on her name as I don’t have a driver’s licence and because she doesn’t have a credit card, she used mine. Once all was done, she got an email telling her to bring her Passport, Driver’s licence and credit card to get the car. This seemed worrying as the card would not be hers. Nevertheless we thought it certainly wont be a problem.
Never underestimate beaurocracy.
Once we landed, we headed towards to first Europcar kiosk. A lady there started the procedure and at some point requested the credit card. At that point I pulled it out of my wallet and handed it to her. She looked at me and then asked us (I can’t remember exactly what was said or who of us was replying so I’ll attribute everything to me. This is the general idea):
- Clerk: Is this not your credit card?
- Me: No, it’s mine
- Clerk: I’m sorry but I need to have the same unit for the driver and the payer
- Me: But I can’t drive and she doesn’t have a credit card
- Clerk: Errr…
- me: Look, can’t you just accept it? Here’s my passport so you know it’s not stolen. Your online system already accepted it so the name is obviously not a limitation.
- Clerk: I’m sorry but I can’t. I can add you as the driver and your girlfriend as a second driver. It’s going to cost a bit more but…
- Me: But I can’t drive! I do not even have a driver’s license.
- Clerk: I’m sorry but I can’t give you the car then
- Me: So what are going to do? We booked this car because the trains are not driving to our destination anymore. This is preposterous.
- Clerk: I suggest you talk to my manager in the main kiosk.
Great huh? We though the same as well. We thought about several ways to go about this, from asking them to cancel the reservation and re-register it by cash from her, to pleading. In the end I had a good idea. Simply hand the card over to my girlfriend before we reached the kiosk for her to give over and hope he doesn’t pay too much attention to the name on it
So we reach the second kiosk and we act as if this is the first one we head to. She gives the papers and card and the clerk starts registering the car. I can honestly say that at this point I was afraid to look directly at the clerk because I was afraid my body language would make him suspicious. I ended looking at the shiny floor the whole time. My girlfriend on the other hand had to look straight at him and talk to him and I was surprised at how normal she looked. She later told me that she was so stressed, the felt her heartbeats moving her away from the table’s ledge.
Fortunately the guy didn’t seem to notice and he was happily preparing everything. There was one point of near heart-attack when he was passing back the credit card. As he was extending his hand towards us and my girlfriend reached out to take it, he paused and looked at the card…and then he pulled it back. My heart sank to my stomach and I can only remember shouting inside my head “OhnofuckFuckFUCK!!”.
Very luckily, he only wanted to ask us if we want to get insurance and afterwards the exchange ended up hapily. But this was truly a moment out of a Holywood movie. After that, me and the gf moved as casually as humanly possible to the first corner (Seriously, we only lacked the whistling) and nearly collapsed on each other from the stress. Once we recovered, we almost run out of the airport to the car.
Fortunately, the rest of the trip did not hold any other surprises. We did manage to get lost in Madrid as the google map directions I printed were ridiculous. You can basically see how there is the direct highway A-42 towards Toledo but yet, GMaps takes us on a merry-go-round in the countryside. Fuck if I know why. Fortunately I noticed A-42 before we got lost in the dark and we simply followed that.
Finding the hotel was simple as every corner in Toledo was basically chock full of hotel pointing arrows.
I don’t want to get into much details of what we did in the vacation as that would probably bore everyone to tears, including me. Our end result looked like this.
Drive around for an hour or so in Toledo to find somewhere to eat. Get lost in the maze of the inner city. End up eating at a chinese restaurant outside because there was no fucking place to park, or drive for that matter within the city walls. It turned out that this chinese restaurant was the best and cheapest meal we had in all our vacation there. Go home and sleep.
Look for an open gas station for 40 minutes or so in order to refill the rented car before returning it. Return the car and find out the europcar office was closed and there was no parking place nearby (the original directions from the clerk in Madrid was that we “leave the car close to the station”). We decided to park it at the station, next to the Europcar positions which were all already taken. After we parked we found a sign (in Spanish) on the door of the closed-for-the-day Europcar office informing us that if we parked the car at a station parkplace that was not reserved for Europcar, we’d be charged for the time.
We walk back to the hotel on the other side of the city to rest and in the afternoon go shopping. Eat dinner at an overpriced, medium-quality-food, crappy-service Tapas (Sersiouly, the waiter didn’t smile once and looked as if he was doing us a favour) in the middle of the town square. Eat a very tasty chocolate ice cream and go home
Get up at 8:30 to have breakfast [rant] Don’t you hate it when Bed & Breakfast Hotels serve breakfast at some ongawdly hours like 8-10am? WTF is that? I wouldn’t mind so much if they had actually a cook present but to have to wake up at anything before 11am on vacation time to eat premade cold food on self-service is a goddamn crime.[/rant]
Laze around a read books until 3pm. Take the bus downtown and start doing the tourist. Attempt to find the Tourist office with a tourist map taken from the hotel, so as to get perhaps a better map and any more info). Spend two hours walking in the maze looking for that place. I can’t remember how many times we turned back because the crappy map we had seemed to simply teleport us around. We’d be walking down a street and once we reached the intersection we’d discover that we were 2 “blocks” further than we expected. Eventually find the Tourist office near the big cathedral and discover that it basically only had the same crappy map to offer. Sit around the cathedral to rest our feet and get shat on by birds.
Pictures, window shopping etc continued. After 2 more hours of that, my feet were basically killing me so we look for a moderately cheaper place to sit and eat. We manage to find one which was something like 10% cheaper than the rest (thus only 180% overpriced) and discover that it’s even more crappy to sit it. At least it played AC/DC in the background. The same night both of us had stomach troubles.
Tell this girlfriend that until now I’m not finding this vacation too great. She agrees sadly.
Decide that I’m not going to try and be positive and invite the girlfriend to eat dinner at the overpriced hotel restaurant. Sit around all day reading books with a short break to get online for 30 mins (at 1 euro per 15 mins!!) from the available PC. Discover that the PC runs windows without any Antivirus software. Get scared enough to download firefox portable and login to my gmail account from there, still certain that the PC will certainly have over 9000 keyloggers by now. Fortunately I was spared.
Other than that, the day ended up with an ass-grabbingly expensive dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was at that point that I realised I still hadn’t adjusted my clock for Daylight saving. Specifically it was at the point were the front door clerk asked me to stop banging on the restaurant door and shouting “feed me!” because they open in one more hour.
Weather: Sunny but cold.
Having stumbled into a few seemingly cheaper shops in our previous travels in Toledo, we decided to try and find those and then ride a little tourist bus-train which looked promising. We started at around noon as always, had some delicious cake, some photo-tourism, some shopping (it was there were I saw Emo Jesus) and the best part was when we discovered the museum of Torture.
We then headed to find the train-bus. Unfortunately by the time we reached it, it was 5 minutes before it left and we didn’t have time to buy tickets. We thus went to a nearby Tapas we just noticed and for the first time we managed to eat good food that was only a bit overpriced. Both me and the gf showered the waiter with thanks for simply existing.
We then took the train-bus and did the little tour around the city. It was cold but worth it as it at least showed some interesting locations, some history and most importantly we didn’t have to walk. Unfortunately by the time it had ended or bus had just left so we either had the option to stand around in 6 degrees for one hour or just walk to our hotel again. We decided on the second. Yes, I could bite my dick from the cold but at least we got some nice night shots.
The bus ended up reaching the hotel 1 minute before we did.
Weather: Ice cube shit inducing
We had decided from the very start that we would head once to Madrid since we were so close and also check out the Prado Museum. We begun our journey relatively early and thus managed to get a train at around 12:30. At that time, already the trips back at the time we scheduled (18:30) were taken so we could only take the next available one at 20:30.
We reached Madrid without incidents and without a clue on what exactly to do or where to look. Initially we rode the expensive city train to a big station and ended up in a Mall to get snacks and something to eat later. We got some cold croquettes which we ate on the street. And chocolate. Lots of chocolate,
The gf bought a scarf and then we set out to find the Prado…randomly. After 2 blocks of walking around aimelessly in the freezing cold, we noticed a sign for a Natural History museum and decided to head there. It was all in Spanish but at least the clerk happened to have a map of the area which included the directions to the Prado. It was one block away from the main train station from which we entered Madrid…
The Prado was nice, although I ended up sitting down every 15 minutes because at that point my feet were sharpening knives to kill me in my sleep. Thus I saw about half of what the gf saw, but at least she was good enough to point at paintings and explain stuff. My favorite was a Virgin Mary with Baby Jeebus painting where he looked like a spoiled brat. My exact quote was:
Is that baby Jesus? He looks pissed!
After that, we headed back to the train station to head home. As always delayed, I had the idea if there was a Tourist bus for Madrid as well. There was. Duh! I decided to pay for the gf and take it on the last day before we left so that we might actually do something appropriately tourist-y.
Note of the day. If you’re in Madrid’s Atocha Train Station, don’t wait in front of the trains for yours to arrive as most people expect. You have to go out and around, then up and then in some random doors where you can pass a airport-like security check before heading to the train platform. We found out 5 minutes before our train was set to leave when we were stopped from going to it and after some frantic pantomime we understood we had to go somewhere vaguelly “above”. A 3 minute mad dash later (the gf in high heels mind you) we found the place and luckily, there was a big queue which delayed the thing.
At Toledo I just took a taxi to the Hotel as I couldn’t be bollocksed to walk and wait in the cold anymore. Best goddamn money I spent.
Weather: Cold again
After we woke up, we had the plan to go to Madrid at noon so that we don’t get rushed, and anyway, our Plane was flying at 6am so we thought we have plenty of time to waste in Madrid. We thought 2:30 might be a good time. So we get ready, go down, the hotel calls the taxi and only then I notice (in the train times they had stuck on the wall) that there’s no train between 1:30 and 3:30. Fine. Ok. We’ll take the 3:30 then. We can survive one hour of waiting.
We reach the station and what would you know. 15:30 is totally booked out. Next available seats at 17:30. So now we’re looking at only 3.5 hours of waiting. Awesome no? So we just think we’ll head back to Toledo and get something to eat.
We go to the same Tapas bar as last time and have a good, slow meal. At around 4 we start back towards the station, whereupon I notice, while in the bus, that I forgot my quite-expensive teeth shield (against grinding if you must know). So the gf gets off with the luggage at the station while I do the unofficial Ttour-de-Toledo and simply stay in the bus until it completes a full circle and takes me back to the Tapas bar. Fortunately they had found it.
Another mad dash to the bus stop hoping to catch the same bus on his return where I notice another one that is going my way. I get in, followed by half the fucking town square! I kid you not, something like 50 people entered the same bus at this stop, and almost everyone had to buy a ticket from the driver…
In Madrid, we leave our bags at a bag-holding-place and go buy some tickets. The lady at the counter informs us that the bus does not leave from the station but we have to catch it at one of it’s planned stops, 3 of which are close to us. So, we get out of the station and expectedly, the bus just passes us by.
Yet another mad dash to the first stop, but we’re not fast enough this time and just end up arriving tired. I convince the gf to check out the next bus stop just in case the other one will come (she was so fed up at this point that she wanted to simply go back to the station) and lo and behold, the same bus we run like crazy to reach is sitting around while the driver is having a coffee. At least one thing went right.
We get in and are told that this is the last tour of the day so we won’t be able to get the other bus and get our full money’s worth of our ticket. The tour was OK but it was already dark so it was difficult to see many things, the audio playback was horrible and the controller kept missing the timing.
Anyway, after the tour, we do some further shopping and then head to the airport as we’re informed that the last metro train is at 12. We reach the station at around 11 and now we have a nice 7 hours to kill before our flight. And since the check-in was not open, we couldn’t even go through to the waiting lounge to sleep until the time. We wonder around the airport hoping to find an external waiting area but only find a closed cafe where we sit in outside, before being kicked out by the opening waitress 1 hour later (it was apparently an all-nighter)
More aimless wandering and finally we come to the realization that it’s the floor for us. Needless to say, those 4 hours until the checkin-opened did not pass quickly, especially because a floor shining device which produced a very loud sound kept on passing back and forth just next to us the whole time. It even followed us in the check-in area FFS!
So, 2 more hours of loud waiting and finally we were on our way back, both of us vowing never to take an early flight like this.
So this was basically our week of Vacation. Now for my impressions of the cities itself
Toledo is indeed a very culturally rich town. The center of the town is built inside the castle walls and everything within is totally cramped. As I mentioned above, the streets are very small (most are just big enough for a medium sized car to pass, slowly) with cobblestones as floor. There are a lot of extremely narrow streets crisscrossing where you can just go in and lose all track. The city plan is so chaotic that even with a map it took us 3 tries to find any one place.
There are quite a lot of stuff to see, including a number of musems, quite a few of which were closed when we were there. Even simply walking around nice as you get to pass some very epic locations and graphic setups. The interesting thing is that people actually live in the inner city and these extremely tight conditions.
Unfortunately, the good stop sutff here. Toledo has become so commercialized and geared up for tourism that it’s ruined the Spanish atmosphere we were expecting totally. Half the shops sell tourist shit, of which 1/4 is Swords, 1/4 Knives, 1/4 Don Quixote stuff and 1/4 Assorted pottery and jewelry. It was seriously ridiculous, I even saw knives being sold at mini markets.
Those shops that do not sell Tourist crap, sell food at prices that would rival Ibiza. Not only are they expensive but they all sell the same food. It’s the same crappy brand of Pizza (the one that send me to the bathroom on Monday) and the same brand of pre-prepared Paella. Places which sell something different charge you something like €15 a plate. We were simply lucky we managed to find a place with prices not meant for millionaires.
All this generally ruined the experience for me.
Generally we got the impression that Toledo has ended up being something like a resort for Spain’s upper class. Almost everyone we saw wore brand clothes, expensive accessories and drove big friggin’ cars. For people like this, the prices are small change I guess.
So generally it was a bit of surprise as we booked Toledo hoping that it was a low-expense location but ended up being burnt. All in all, this trip cost us together €1100 and that is with really trying not to spend a lot.
We saw Madrid only slightly and mostly through our 1.5 hour tourbus ride. All I will say is that this city has so many sightseeing items, it’s insane! Wherever you throw a rock, you’ll hit an ancient monument of some sort or a musem. I did get the impression that if we had gone to Madrid instead of Toledo we would have saved quite a bit of money and also have had much more destinations.
But that city just has a ridiculous amount of culture.
So that’s it. My next vacation is in 2 weeks were I plan to merrily not move an inch from my appartment and instead spend all the time playing Fallout 3.
PS: Ayeah, I forgot, you can see all pictures in my gallery of course