You’ve likely not heard of Tudela, a small University town in the Navarre region of Northern Spain, I hadn’t either. My friend, we’ll call him Drew, travels constantly for work and always stays in Marriott properties. As a result, he gets boatloads of rewards and perks.
So when planning our journey together from Barcelona to meet some other friends in Biarritz on the French-Spanish border, he thought it would be a good idea to stay one night somewhere along the way since we would be driving immediately after a transatlantic flight, and since he had a free night at any Marriott property, I agreed. It’s easy when it’s free.
He came back to me with two options. We could either stay in Zaragoza, a pretty large well-known city but the hotel was rated "the best". Or we could stay in a nearby town called Tudela which had the highest-rated hotel on our list.
We were only staying a night, so I figured it didn’t matter much where we lay our heads; the same could be said quality of the hotel, of course, but being creatures of comfort, we went with Tudela.
After landing and having a quick shower in the Delta medallion area (another perk to traveling with Drew). We picked up our rental car and were on our way. Almost immediately we had an issue.
We needed to pass through a toll booth, but neither of us had any cash yet and the machine wouldn’t take our cards because they lacked the chip that European cards had (America was late to that party).
His final decision was to blow right through the automatic gate for passes, he reckoned that by the time the authorities had his identity, he would be long gone and there would be no extradition to the U.S. for a toll booth fine. He added if necessary he would simply never return to Spain. Still glad the car was in his name.
As we pulled into Tudela we immediately noticed something. There were plenty of pedestrians, sure, but they were all walking along the streets with purpose. Everywhere you looked, it was all locals.
There were no misplaced, gawking foreigners here, there were no shops with knick-knacks and postcards. This was not a tourist destination. In Spain though, that doesn’t mean there isn’t incredibly rich history and culture to see, there is.
We arrived at the hotel and the clerk confirmed that our room would indeed have two twin beds. We had been adamant that we wouldn’t be sharing a bed.
We made it to the room and had to laugh; there were indeed two beds, but two mattresses pushed together as essentially one bed. We vowed to move them apart before bedtime. In the meantime though, we agreed that we should walk around the town, see the sights right away, if not we’d surely crash.
As we began to walk around the town, we got stares. Now, I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but I’m decently ok at “blending”. It helps that I have a medium complexion and light eyes, so that from a distance at least, I can pass as native in virtually any European country, provided I’m in the proper attire; it can be a blessing and a curse.
Drew, however (and he would be happy to admit this) looks and dresses very American. Additionally, there is a 7-inch height difference between us. All this to say the pair of us strolling about town caught a lot of attention. No angry looks or anything like that, just confusion. “Who are these people and why are they here?”.
Despite my delirium from an overnight flight and long-distance travel, I really enjoyed walking around the town. The great thing about this part of the world is almost anywhere you pick on a map, there will be something of interest or historical significance to see.
Though this town is not a tourist destination, as it is a town that dates back to Roman times, there are definitely sites to see. I had done the research, as usual.
There was truly something delightful about taking in the lives of the residents of this town. We came upon a large group leaving a church that was clearly celebrating something. On certain streets, you could see into lively backyards and people cooking in their houses. But this wasn’t Barcelona or Madrid where city people know their lives are on display to the world. It was really a unique experience.
After passing through the main plaza of the town we walked our way through hilly neighborhoods. People passed us and look puzzled. Drew said to me “I feel like we’re going to get mugged bro”.
I shrugged, Spain has one of the lowest crime rates in the western world and there was certainly nothing threatening to us that I could see. We were clearly seeing the place through very different lenses.
I coaxed him to continue with me to the river after which we could turn around. The river Ebro flows through the town and is quite large and wide. We made it to the river and walked halfway across the bridge that crosses it and then headed back to our hotel.
Given the lack of tourist accommodation and our mutual incompetence in Spanish at this point, we settled on having dinner at the hotel. The food wasn’t bad at all; I’ve found that short of fast food or attempts at foreign cuisine, typical fare in Spain is almost always serviceable.
The restaurant was also on the top floor and had a nice view of the town. Nonetheless, I felt a little lame for spending the one meal we had in the hotel, but I was sleepy and they didn’t have yelp here, I looked.
We finished our dinner, had a drink on the terrace, and I retired to a bath. And then Drew gave me some Xanax so I could sleep through his snoring and we slept next to each other, we were too tired to move the beds.
Want to know more? Are you interested in becoming a contributor for Pedacitos? We'd love to hear your stories! Send me a message and I will get back to you!