Monday, April 29, 2013

Review of Hotel Polo in Ronda

The fam on our balcony at Hotel Polo.
Location, location, location - always so critical when choosing accommodations - was unfortunately a bit neglected when we selected Hotel Polo in Ronda, Spain, for our two night stay.  Not that its location was inconvenient or cumbersome.  It was only a short walk to the magnificent Puerte Neuvo, or New Bridge, which soars over the dramatic El Tajo canyon dividing Ronda into old town and new town.  But Hotel Polo is located on the "new" side, and after strolling through the quiet, lazy, charming "old" town, I would much rather have slept there.  Precious little Hotel Ronda (link to it here) in the center of the old quarter would have been just my taste.  Maybe next time.

Anyway, my disappointment in Hotel Polo was somewhat hastened when arriving in what was obviously one of their unupdated rooms:  dirty carpet, slouchy beds with thin sheets and no pad, rickety old furniture, and moldy bathroom.

Our guest room in Hotel Polo.
Extra bed is a good feature.

En suite bathroom

Old furniture.

Alas, however, it's not always easy to find a room (with air conditioning) for four people in Europe, and the price was right ($125/night - in dollars because I booked on  The reception staff was kind and helpful and the lobby was clean and cheerful:

Lobby at Hotel Polo in Ronda.

Traffic on the street outside our window was not too heavy:

And I peeked into some nicely refurbished rooms that perhaps one might request:

My husband and daughter, big breakfast eaters, really liked the hotel breakfast (not included in the price):

And for families with little ones, a park with playground is nearby:

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Dramatic Cliffside Town of Ronda

The white hill towns and villages in Spain's Ronda mountains are nestled in striking natural surroundings, but none so magnificent as the city of Ronda itself.  Ronda is built on either side of a dizzying ravine, and the impressive 18th century bridge that spans across it is one of Andalusia's most awesome sights.

Puerte Nuevo, completed in 1793.

Founded by the Romans, conquered by ancient empires, Ronda finally fell to the Arabs in 713, from whom it received its rich Islamic architectural and cultural heritage.  Painted bright white to reflect the hot summer sun, and built on the edge of cliffs and hillsides as a natural defense against invaders, the village offers dramatic scenery and vistas.

Guadalevin River Trail

A good place to start your exploration of Ronda is to walk beside the deep gorge carved by the Guadalevin River.  Along the paved path are views of the hilly surroundings, handsome old mansions, and several more older bridges across the ravine.

Walking trail along El Tajo Canyon and the Guadalevin River.

Palacio de Mondragon at the top of the photo.

The pedestrian-only Puente San Miguel.

The Puente Viejo, also known as the Arab Bridge.

Arab Baths

At the bottom of the cliffside path are Ronda's 11th century Arab baths, thought to be the best preserved in Europe.  The cool, underground chambers and seating for the informational video are a welcome respite from walking in the hot sun.


Ronda's bullring was built in the 16th century as a training facility for developing horsemanship, but in 1726, when Francisco Romero, from Ronda, used a sword and cape in the arena in a bullfight, he gave birth to modern bullfighting as it is performed in Spain and other countries of the world today. The guided tour of the complex (6.50 € per person) is extremely interesting, as is the accompanying bullfighting museum. What my kids (and I!) found extraordinarily cool about Ronda's bullring (as opposed to Seville's bullring, which we also toured) was that we were allowed into the ring! Needless to say, my son enjoyed a little role-playing:

Also exciting is visiting the bullpens:

Old Town Ronda

On the south side of the fabulous Puerte Nuevo bridge is the old quarter of town, with narrow cobbled streets, sunny Plaza del Socorro, and charming whitewashed residences.

Plaza del Socorro in Ronda

We stayed in a hotel (see my review here) on the "new" side of town because it was cheaper, but I regretted the choice once in Ronda since the old quarter was so much more historical and beautiful.  If you're just driving in for a day visit you'll be pleased to know there is an underground parking lot directly beneath Plaza del Socorro in the middle of town.

This is my link-up post to Photo Friday at

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review of the Broadway Hotel and Hostel in NYC

Broadway Hotel & Hostel in NYC.
After our pleasant stay at 40 Berkeley hostel in Boston, my daughter and I were hopeful at the prospect of our second U.S. hostel experience at the Broadway Hotel and Hostel in New York City.  My teenager wasn't too concerned about the condition of the Broadway, however, because after only one night there she was off to the fancy-shmancy Hilton Midtown to spend the rest of the week with her high school chamber orchestra group.  I, on the other hand, was a little bit nervous about my husband's reaction to a potentially less than high-quality experience, even though he was completely on-board with the $137/night price for lodging in Manhattan!

My husband and 14 year old son had only just joined us on our East Coast trip, and didn't have the same positive pioneering spirit my daughter and I had gained the previous four days battling the cold, braving a shared bathroom, and searching wantonly for the best cannoli.

But it was my 14 year old son who surprised me at the Broadway Hotel as we exited the rickety old elevator and approached our double room down a very narrow, run-down hallway.  He proclaimed the place "a dump."  (Had we spoiled him last summer by staying at the Grand Hyatt in NYC?  I think a mother-son trip is in order, where I teach him the finer art of traveling frugally.)

We were all relieved, however, when I unlocked the door to room 436 and it had been recently renovated.  Fresh paint, clean crisp beds, a brand new flat screen TV, new window blinds, and a virtually unused porcelain pedestal sink in the corner.  Our private bathroom was not attached to our room but rather was directly across the hall and accessed with a key - it was spotlessly brand new.  New shower, sink, toilet, tiling, and fixtures.  Imagine that.  And housekeeping cleaned the bathroom and exchanged our towels every day.  At a hostel!  Throughout our stay I peeked into other guest rooms and they were either already renovated or being renovated and refurnished.  I saw several new beds installed that week.

Okay, there was one oddity about our room, but it's easily remedied.  It had no closet.  Not only that, but not even a single hook on the door or wall - not even a nail - on which to hang anything.  Nowhere to hang our wet coats or our hand towels.  And only one small nightstand on which to place anything.  I like to think the room was so new that they hadn't finished it yet.  I imagine that's so, because I heard another guest in the lobby complain that she had no mirror in her room, for which the receptionist apologized that some mirrors had just arrived that day and they would hang one immediately.

So what were we doing in New York City?  We toured Columbia University, of course, since this was a college scouting trip:

At Columbia University.

But if you would allow me to brag a moment, the ultimate purpose of our trip back East was to watch my daughter and her high school chamber orchestra perform at Carnegie Hall.  It was a memory of a lifetime for everyone.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Photo Friday: Decorating With Plates

I wonder what my neighborhood homeowners' association would say if I decorated the exterior of my house with ceramic plates the way they so decoratively do in Spain?

This post is my Photo Friday link-up to

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mother/Daughter Travel to the East Coast

I've been slacking on the blogging lately, but for good reason:  we were traveling!  First my 16 year old daughter and I spent three days alone together, and then my husband and son joined us on day 4.  We had just two days together before my daughter left us to join her high school group in New York City, and we remaining three finished off the week in NYC as well.

Since my husband demands a little more luxury than I do when traveling, I decided to take the opportunity of being alone with my daughter to show her how little it actually takes to travel frugally, comfortably, and safely.  Our first stop was Boston and we stayed in a hostel.  You may know from my previous posts that I am a big fan of hostelling in Europe, but I have never stayed in one in the U.S., so I was eager for the experience.  It did not disappoint.

The bright and spacious hostel lobby.
Our hostel in Boston was 40 Berkeley.  Located in the South End of town, the neighborhood is - most critically - safe and clean.  My daughter and I never felt nervous, not even when arriving by subway at night (Back Bay station is a block away).  The reception staff was fabulously welcoming:  they asked us not only what floor we wanted our room on, but also which way we wanted it facing and whether we preferred to be nearer or farther from the hallway restroom!  Fresh baked cookies were offered in the bright and spacious, multi-level main lobby, and there was a game room and a snack room with Starbucks coffee and vending machines.  A little later, when I asked a gentleman at the reception desk about subway tickets in Boston, he reached in his wallet and handed me a 7-day, unlimited ride, subway pass (value = $18).  When I thanked him profusely, he said, "Are you traveling alone?" to which I replied, "No, I'm with my daughter," and he promptly pulled out another card for her.  Astonishing hospitality!  And in a final warm gesture, on the morning we departed the hostel we had to leave before breakfast, but one of the cooks who'd noted that my daughter liked bacon, handed her a take-out box full of bacon.

The buffet breakfast, included in the $84/night twin-room rate, served eggs and omelettes, potatoes, bacon or sausage, pancakes or French toast, a variety of cereals, breads, and all beverages.  This hearty breakfast held us over until a late afternoon lunch (sometimes substituted by afternoon dessert instead)!

What were the 40 Berkeley rooms like?  Pretty similar to my old UCLA dorm room.  Two twin beds, a desk, a dresser, and a closet:

The shared bathroom was average too, but never crowded or out of hot water or supplies.

With our free unlimited subway rides, my daughter and I took advantage of Boston's extensive public transportation system.  We rode the trains sometimes even just one stop, rode the bus, and could have taken a ferry as well, but did not.  We were impressed how convenient it was to travel straight to all our college campus tours at Harvard, Tufts, MIT, and Northeastern University.

Will my daughter be attending college in Boston or on the East Coast?  I have no idea, and I don't think she does either.  Since we live on the West Coast it would be far from home, of course.  She's not used to cold weather, and we were both freezing on Wednesday last week when the temperature in Boston hovered around 37° F all day.  What's attractive to both of us about some of these college campuses is their beautiful European architecture.  My jaw dropped touring Yale in New Haven, CT.  Brown and Princeton University are also stunning.

A castle in the English countryside?  No, Yale's residence halls.

Beautiful Brown University campus.

A cathedral in France?  No, the campus chapel at Princeton University.

Since we suffer from limited train service out here on the West Coast, it was exciting for both my daughter and me to travel by Amtrak from Boston to Providence and then on to New Haven.  I learned another travel lesson though:  just like on European high-speed trains, Amtrak tickets are best purchased in advance because the price goes up over time, just like airfare.  We paid almost double what I expected for the ride from Providence to New Haven.

After my husband and son joined my daughter and me in Connecticut, we rented a car and drove to New York City, where we checked in to hostel number two:  Broadway Hotel and Hostel in uptown Manhattan.  The experience was a little bit different.  Will post about it next week.

See my review of Broadway Hotel and Hostel here.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Photo Friday: Scouting Colleges

My daughter, a junior in high school, and I are on a mother-daughter trip this week scouting colleges back East.  We toured Harvard and Tufts on Wednesday, MIT and Northeastern yesterday, and have Brown, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia still ahead of us.  Doesn't she look lovely in Boston?

This post is my Photo Friday link-up to
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