Almost Homeless in Madrid

Almost homeless in Madrid. When we last posted, we happily boasted about our travel day from San Sebastian to the Spanish capital. No problem storing our bags, an on-time train, and a comfortable ride in first class. The travel gods were smiling. We should have known things were going way too smoothly.

Everything was just fine until our taxi dropped us near our new home for the next three weeks. It was in the heart of Madrid, just a block from the Plaza Mayor and a stone’s throw from some of our favorite restaurants and bars.

We were taken aback by the crowds as we hauled our bags over the rough tiled sidewalks and struggled to find the entrance. It struck me that our Airbnb overlooked one of the city’s busiest intersections but remembered that it had soundproof windows.

Fortunately, a young woman who would check us in spotted us, obviously two tired, lost-looking tourists among the throngs on the street. She didn’t speak English but motioned for us to follow her. We did, to a corner building entirely framed by scaffolding. We entered the foyer and discovered we had to climb a steep flight of stairs to get to the elevator. Stairs are bad, especially when you’re lugging nearly a hundred and fifty pounds of stuff.  The check-in lady grabbed one bag, and Mary and I hauled the other two.

More red flags jumped out at us when we saw the puny elevator, the size of a vintage high school locker. “Warning Will Robinson” sirens echoed in my mind. Only Mary and two bags fit. The check-in lady climbed the stairs while I waited for my ride in the museum-piece lift to the third floor. When it was my turn, I wedged myself and the remaining luggage into the box, only to realize the control buttons were behind me. I tried to turn around. I couldn’t. So I opened the door, got out, and wedged myself back in, this time facing the buttons. Up we climbed.

F(^)-* I thought to myself as I walked into the living room. The lovely spacious light-filled space shown in their listing had somehow turned into a shabby small room with a few pieces of furniture decades past their expiration date. And where were the five balconies with magnificent Madrid views? 

The “balconies,” in fact, were little one-foot protrusions framed by shutters with peeling paint and dry rot. Only a fool would step out on one. But it gets worse. Scaffolding blocked the light and the view out of each one. And worse yet. Workers painting the building would stand right outside our windows. If the windows were open, they could even step inside, maybe even chat with us at breakfast, or perhaps join us for wine time.

I could go on about all the things wrong, including the missing Espresso coffee maker, but you get the sad picture.  We expressed our disappointment to the check-in lady, who was busily reporting our observations to the owner. His response: “If they don’t like it, they can cancel.”

Well, that was problematic. Where would we go? Spring is prime tourist time in Madrid. The few hotel rooms and Airbnbs left in the city were either worse dumps than this, or so expensive they would max out our credit cards. We might have to bite the bullet. We asked the owner when the painters would finish. He said he didn’t know.

We looked at each other and shook our heads. We just couldn’t do it. Then we frantically searched Airbnb and Booking for anything reasonable or just slightly unreasonable. We couldn’t be homeless in Madrid. Or could we?

Then, we found an Airbnb listing in a neighborhood we had not heard of. It was available for our dates, though pricey, about $1,000 more than our current tab. We booked it. And waited nervously. The host had to review our application and get back to us within 24 hours. 24 hours!!!

We typed a pleading message to the new landlord to please, please let us know right away if we could move in this afternoon.. Meanwhile, the owner of the dump was getting impatient and demanded to know our intentions pronto. “If you’re going to cancel, get out in 30 minutes,” he virtually snarled.

Gathering our bags, we were ready to hit the streets and find a bench as a temporary residence. We looked one more time at the Airbnb message board and saw that our potential new landlord was typing a message. We held our breath! The message took what seemed like hours to appear, but it was only a few seconds. “Yes, you can move in as long as you’re here before seven and won’t have any loud parties.” No problem! We replied. We’re seniors. She sent the address. “Come on over, I’ll be waiting.”

We did, and she was. The new apartment is great. And grudgingly we got a full and prompt refund from Airbnb. We are happy.