Feature Stories

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

After the Alhambra Palace, the Sercotel San Juan de los Reyes hotel seemed like walking out of a Technicolor movie into a black and white one.  No more sunny terrace, crisp white monogrammed sheets, beautiful tiled bathroom, or heaps of smoked salmon at the breakfast buffet.

Lynn had booked separate rooms for this next-to-last leg of the trip.  We had shared rooms in Madrid and Granada.  We got along fine, but sometimes it’s nice to have your own space for a few nights.  I was looking forward to some long baths, which would have felt weird in a shared room.

The Sercotel wasn’t a dump; it’s not fair to compare any hotel to the Alhambra Palace. It certainly wasn’t as bad as the EconoLodge Vince and I stayed at in Green Bay, Wisconsin on our pilgrimage to see John Cleese.

The Sercotel was a mid-range hotel.  Functional but worn around the edges.  The ceiling was sloped, with a skylight that had one of those complicated blinds I could never figure out. There were various possibilities, none of which I could operationalize.  I was able to open the window but it wouldn’t stay open unless it was propped with something.

My room in Sorrento had had one of these skylights, and I had used a spare pillow to prop it open and block the light, since the blind kept snapping open with an alarming noise.  There was a thunder storm in the night and the pillow got soaked.  Before I realized that it now weighed 40 pounds, I went to grab it, forcefully, and it nearly slid out of the third-story window.  I grabbed it by the corner at the last second.  The image of a wizened Italian mama getting bonked by a giant marshmallow-like missile while she pushed her bread cart made me wince. I put the pillow in the bathtub to make them wonder what I’d been up to, and left a big tip.

So I was wise to these skylights, and I propped the one at the Sercotel with three “courtesy” size bars of unwrapped soap.  There was no way to block the light, but that wasn’t a problem in Toledo because it was so gloomy.

I snooped around the room to check out the features.  The shower was another European thing I’d seen many times.  It featured a nozzle on a long pipe with three different dials marked with indecipherable numbers, letters, and symbols.  I knew the one for water temperature had a stop—that is, if you tried to get water warmer than tepid you would hit a stop—you had to intentionally hold in a button to go beyond luke warm.  This is a nanny function to keep children and idiots from scalding themselves.  I guess it’s a good thing but I have to re-learn it every time.

The complimentary toiletries included a large sponge—did people get so grimy in Toledo that they couldn’t wait until they got home to exfoliate?  Then there was a comb:

I couldn’t resist posting a photo of it on Facebook and asking, “Who uses these free hotel combs?”

Immediately, two of my cousins responded that they wanted it.  Then a friend wrote, “We can never use these combs because they’re not designed for ethnic hair.”  We’re talking Jew-fros.  I was tempted to respond, “I’ll be sure to lambaste this hotel on Trip Advisor for its anti-ethnic-hair combs.”

Another day, another breakfast buffet.  Now, you know me, I’m not one to be critical.  But the buffet at the Sercotel featured dry white bread, spam-like rendered pork products, and processed cheese.  It was also energy inefficient.  The “toaster,” below, blasted out enough heat to keep the whole hotel warm, but never actually toasted the bread.

There was a cappuccino-espresso-coffee apparatus though, and that’s the main thing in the morning.  I stuffed myself with cheese toast while Lynn ate the Spammish ham.

“Londoners ate Spam for decades after the war,” Lynn said.  “I had hoped to never see anything like it again.”

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