With the lure of a last-minute bargain airfare, I leave behind a bleak November day and fly away to visit the three Grand Ladies of Andalucía: Sevilla (Seville), Córdoba, and Granada by way of Málaga. Even a neophyte traveler would find it easy to enter Spain through Málaga. From the airport, one only needs to cross the parking lot to catch a train for the ten-minute ride to downtown.
Traveling cheap is important this trip, so I take my time following some hotel leads from my guide book. It is early morning and my backpack is light, but after three or four unsuccessful inquiries, I give up and book into the dark, dismal Hostal Avenida on the Alameda Principal, Málaga’s main traffic artery.
I have been warned about the lack of interesting sights in Málaga, but I fill an interesting few hours visiting two nearby Moorish citadels (Alcazaba and Gibralfara) and strolling the gardens of the Paseo de España.
With jet-lag creeping over me I return to my room only to find a small army of insects crawling on the floor. That kind of experience might have discouraged me on my first solo trip, but I remind myself that I am a seasoned traveler. What should I do? Look for another room? Will I find better? All things pass, I told myself; rest a bit. I lift up the bedspread – at least the sheets are clean.
Later, somewhat refreshed, I go to book my train ticket for Sevilla next day and stumble upon Hostal Guerrero. Impeccably clean, quiet and in the best of locations, this hostal at 2,000 pesetas (C$17; US$11) is incredibly good value. I promptly book out of the infested digs. Goodbye Avenida! Goodbye fleas! I'm moving out! Tonight I will sleep like a baby.
After that unpleasant start I try the Youth Hostel (not to be confused with the term hostal, which is supposed to identify a one to three-star hotel) in Sevilla. Originally, just meant for young vagabonds, nowadays people of all ages sleep at “YH’s,” which is a loose term for thousands of hostels affiliated worldwide through the Hostelling International network. In Spain they are officially called albergues juveniles.
At the Sevilla hostel I share a room with two women. Next morning, in the cafeteria, after a generous breakfast, I meet a New Zealander and invite her to join forces with me in visiting Sevilla.
"I have been traveling alone for weeks; I would love company," says Catherine and we spend two days sightseeing together. Then as the YH is full, we share a room by the Cathedral. Having learned that it is wise to book ahead, I call and reserve beds at the hostels in Córdoba and Granada.
In the center of historic Córdoba, my two impromptu roommates are Argentinian and British, each traveling alone.
They are half my age, so I am reluctant to offer my company but am pleasantly surprised when they suggest we explore the old Jewish quarter together. Later, Silvina, who carries with her the necessary herbs and makeshift utensils, initiates Sophie and me to the Argentinian habit of drinking maté, which is more ritualistic than our North American tea or coffee break.
The next evening we dine together and learn more about each other. Addresses are exchanged, photographs taken. In the morning, it's hard to say good-bye.
In Granada, the hostel is fine, but as for a roommate, as the saying goes: two out of three ain’t bad. (Had this been my first YH experience, it might have been my last.)
Selfish, arrogant, rude, immature, spoiled brat... an experience in itself. I could ask to change rooms but challenges, I decide, are empowering, and I ignore her.
The next day, for the same price as the YH, I book into Hotel Atena only because it is more central than the hostel, just a ten-minute walk to La Alhambra, and I want to enjoy one whole day exploring, on my own, the exquisite palace, patios and gardens within this famous Moorish fortress.
Being alone gives me time for reflection. This, I think, is all I need for a November pick-me-up – a few days to spend strolling Andalusian streets lined with orange laden trees (pretty but too bitter to eat), seductive gardens, winding, mysterious alleys, and picturesque train journeys from one grand Spanish city to the other. At the end of each day, I’ll take a comfortable bed in a humble room at a YH. Easy to reserve, inexpensive, clean, and the chance to meet solo travelers from all corners of the globe – yes this is all I need.