ONCE you have arrived in a foreign city, in a foreign land, you must at some point find a place to store your things and lay your head at night. In between snapping photos and unfolding the unnecessarily large map you procured from Information, you will need to select a suitable hostel or hostal within the first day (which is why I always recommend arriving to a new city in the early morning). This dance can take varying forms. I have jogged across entire cities, sweaty and near panic in a search for any hostel that would admit me. I also have in the past made a reservation online and paid a small 10% deposit to secure a bed with my name on it and leave panic for another day.
Over the past holidays I had enough foresight to make a reservation for 7 nights at a hostel in Madrid. Usually I promote getting off the beaten path in all things travel and with regards to a hostel this would mean finding the unknown spot that had somehow called out the traveling pros from around the world. But because it was the holidays and I was enjoying thinking as little as possible, I turned to the good ole Lonely Planet #1 recommendation and went with Cat’s Hostel.
During the less than 30 seconds of online searching and due diligence, the pictures and the reviews all seemed to point to the same natural conclusion – a near impossible combination of uber-cheapness (13 euros a night) and epic perfection (free breakfast, hangout room, comfy beds, full bar, etc)
Suffice it to say that when I arrived I didn’t quite see the same thing. For starters, the entire place is now undergoing a massive renovation. The entrance is under construction and the front door is perpetually flayed wide open. The hangout room has no lights and the couch and chairs are worn out and scuffed – it appears that several stray cats slipped in unnoticed, clawing at the pillows and scraping their bottoms across every possible surface. Hey maybe that’s how they came up with the name?
The bathroom and shower room have an arctic chill because the adjacent hallway is literally missing a wall and allows for the free flow of icy Madrid air from outside. The restaurant and lounge area offers several tables which create the appearance of a work station of some sort – multiple outlets, pad and pens, etc. The one problem is that the WIFI Internet flickers on and off within every 10 minutes making it a fun little game to try and complete an email before the Internet pauses.
Now for all of the complaining this hostel does sit in quite possibly the perfect location – a two minute walk from the Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Tirsa de Molina. Other major landmarks are also easily within reach by foot. The central street in Madrid appropriately named Gran Via is a quick 10 minute hike and the well known Prado museum is roughly 30 minutes away.
While this hostel may at times feel like a broken down castle…wet, cold, and crumbly, it is now starting to feel like home. The small locker has become my closet, the small bottom bunk canopy – my room, and the winding streets of Madrid – my backyard.
Next on the list will be to rent an apartment…let’s hope it turns out better than this hostel has.
UPDATE – It turns out that the owners of Cat’s Hostel also own MAD Hostel which sits less than two blocks away. I have no idea how two places, so close together and allegedly under the same ownership, could appear so very different. Where Cat’s was a drafty Igloo with flickering WIFI, MAD is clean and feels almost resort-like in comparison. Oh and there’s a kitchen, a hangout room with a pool table, a terrace upstairs, showers with warm water, etc. and the prices are the exact same.
IF YOU GO:
Stay at MAD Hostel – http://www.madhostel.com/
(and don’t stay at Cat’s)