Personal Journey: Hopelessly lost in Madrid, only blocks from the hotel

Shirley Phillips and a Barbary macaque hang out at the Rock of Gibraltar, one of many stops on her tour of Spain, which took her to sights like the Alhambra, the Royal Palace, Granada, and Casa del Sol. (Shirley Phillips)

When you travel to a foreign country, you see amazing sights and beautiful scenery.

Sometimes, however, the most amazing and beautiful thing you experience is the people.

Most of us in our lifetimes have done something incredibly stupid - something you look back on and think, "How could I possibly have done that?"

My friend and I are seasoned travelers. On our trip to Spain, the 12th European country we've visited, we had no reason to believe everything would not be as wonderful as before. On our first day in Madrid, we checked into the hotel. We were hungry after the long flight, so we decided to take a short walk and find a light lunch. We were scheduled to meet with our tour director at 7 for dinner, so we had lots of time. We found a friendly little neighborhood bistro a few blocks from the hotel and had a fine lunch.

When we came out of the bistro, I said, "Let's retrace our steps so we don't get lost." However, we noticed a cut-through that ran alongside the main street and decided to go in that direction.

To make a long story short - we got hopelessly lost. Now, what was the stupid thing we seasoned travelers did? We did not make a note of the name or location of the hotel where we were staying.

At first, we were not worried. We hadn't gone that far. We walked and walked and walked for hours. No sign of the hotel, and no way to ask directions, as we hadn't a clue as to the name of the hotel. My legs started to cramp and I could no longer walk. My friend told me to sit on the curb, that he would try a different direction. It was an hour before he returned. And guess what? No sign of the hotel anywhere.

It started to get dark, shops were closing, and we were desperate, with nowhere to turn. My friend said we had only one hope. We had to go into the first shop we saw and beg for help.

We opened the door and walked into an upscale perfume shop. That's where we met our first angel. The woman listened to our story and asked to see our room key. We knew the key did not have the hotel name, but she noticed it did have the name of the management company. She knew of a hotel a few blocks away that was owned by the same company. No, it wasn't our hotel, but it was our first ray of hope. She walked us outside to make sure we knew exactly where to go, and we found that hotel easily. That's where we met our second angel.

We told our sad story to the hotel clerk, and with dogged determination, he went to his computer and set about finding our hotel. The man would not give up. He phoned every hotel in his system and asked if they had our reservation. Every time he shook his head no, I fought back tears. I was ready to give up. But he was not.

After almost an hour, he started scribbling quickly on a note pad. He held up the pad and said, "I found it!" He told us we were never more than two blocks from our hotel at any time. We arrived back at 6:55, five minutes before our dinner appointment - and almost six hours after leaving for lunch.

I still can't think about those two without tears coming to my eyes. They made our problem their problem. I will remember all the lovely sights of Spain, the Alhambra, the Royal Palace, Granada, and Casa del Sol. But mostly, I will remember those two beautiful Spanish angels and their kindness to strangers.

Shirley Phillips writes from West Deptford.

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