How to get around in Spain.

This summer, I helped an American couple get around Spain. For someone who speaks Spanish, it doesn’t seem too difficult, but I realised after helping them that for someone who doesn’t speak Spanish, it’s a daunting and intimidating task.

Este verano, ayudé a una pareja estadounidense con su viaje a España. Como hablo castellano bien, no me parece tan difícil, pero después de echarles una mano, me di cuenta que para alguien que no habla castellano, puede ser algo intimidante y agobiante. 

What’s the best way to get from here to there in the Best Peninsula in the World? There are a variety of options depending on where you want to go.

¿Cuál es la mejor manera para ir desde aquí hasta allí en La Mejor Península del Mundo? Hay muchas opciones que depende en adonde quieres ir. 

Driving: For the most adventerous people or for those who come from other parts of Europe with their car, it is probably the easiest way to see the most. You can stop where you want and go where you want when you want. If you drive stick, you can rent/hire a car rather easily. Just make sure you have plenty of money on a credit card and not debit for your deposit. It’ll cost a pretty penny if you want to rent an automatic (I speak from experience.) And for those wanting to split costs and meet new people, I highly recommend BlaBlaCar. It’s a site designed to help people going to the same place share cars and expenses. I’ve done it twice too and from Madrid and arrived safely and met great people.

En Coche. Para la gente más atrevida o para ellos que viene de otros partes de Europa con su coche, es probablemente la manera más fácil para ver más. Puedes parar donde quieras e ir donde quieras cuando quieras. Si sabes conducir con marchas, puedes aquiler un coche bastante fácilmente. Pero AVISO: asegurarse que tienes suficiente dinero en un tarjeta de crédito y no débito para la fianza. Te costará bastante si quieres aquiler un coche automático (hablo de experencia). Y para ellos que quieren compartir gastos y conocer gente nueva, les recomiendo BlaBlaCar. Es un sitio creado para ayudar la gente que quiere ir al mismo sitio compartir coches y gastos. Lo he usado dos veces para ir a Madrid de Bilbao y llegué vivo y conocí gente maja. 

Flying: For those without a lot of time, who have money and/or just like flying, Spain is pretty well connected by plane. They even have several infamous airports without any flights (Castellón and Castilla La Mancha come to mind). Iberia is Spain’s air company, but many flights can be found on Ryan Air, Easy Jet and Vueling. If the site comes up in Spanish and you want to choose English, look for “En” for an English version. Taxis can be expensive to go to and rom the airport, but almost every airport I can think of has regular public transport (metro (subway or underground), bus or tram) from the airport to the city centre.

En Avión. Para los que no disponen de tiempo, que tienen mucho dinero y/o les encanta volar, España está bien comunicado por avión e incluso dispone de aeropuertos infames sin vuelos (estoy pensando en Castellón y Castilla La Mancha). Iberia es la compania de vuelos española, pero muchos vuelos se puede encontrar en Ryan Air, Easy Jet y Vueling. Si el sitio web está en inglés y quieres ponerlo en castellano, busca un Es para español. Los taxis pueden ser caros para desplazarse hacía y desde el aeropuerto, pero la mayoria de los aeropuertos tiene transporte público (metro, autobus o tramvía) desde el aeropuerto al centro de la ciudad.

 Train. Travel by train is probably my favourite way to travel. It’s comfortable, and although it is sometimes slow, it’s easier to contemplate the beautiful scenery you’re travelling through. (It’s Spain. Wherever you go, you’re going to pass by beautiful scenery). Renfe is the main train company in Spain. Their high-speed train, el AVE, is the best way to travel around Spain. At the time of writing in December 2014, it has routes from Madrid-Barcelona, Madrid-Sevilla and Madrid-Valencia with plans to add many more. If you know when you’re going and have a Spanish credit/debit card, you can take advantage and find great deals by booking in advance. Last-minute deals are hard to come by.

En tren. Viajar por tren probablemente es mi preferido transporte. Es cómodo, y aunque a veces va lento, es más fácil contemplar el paisaje precioso. (Es España. No importa a donde viajas, vas a ver paisaje bonito.)  Renfe es la compañía de trenes en España. Su tren de alta-velocidad, el AVE, es la mejora manera para viajar por España. A la hora de escribir en diciembre 2014, ofrece rutas de Madrid-Barcelona, Madrid-Sevilla y Madrid-Valencia con planes para aumentar sus servicios. Si sabes cuando vas a viajar y dispones de una tarjeta de crédito o débito español, puedes aprovechar y encontrar ofertas por comprar con antelación. Ofertas de último minuto son díficiles encontrar.

Renfe also has Cercanías (Rodalies in Catalunya), which are commuter trains to and from the suburbs of major cities. In 2012, they bought FEVE, the narrow-rail train system that runs through the north of Spain. In the Basque Country, Euskotren runs independently from Renfe and operates the Metro of Bilbao and connects San Sebastián-Donostia and Bilbao in 2 hours and 40 minutes through the most spectacular scenery of Euskadi.

Renfe también tiene Cercanías (Rodalies en Catalunya), que son trenes de los pueblos cercanos a las ciudades grandes de España. En 2012, compró FEVE, que es el sistema de ferrocarriles de vía estrecha que opera en el norte de España. En el País vasco (Euskadi), Euskotren opera independiente de Renfe y también opera el Metro de Bilbao. Euskotren conecta San Sebastián-Donostia dentro de 2 horas y 40 minutos y viaja por el paisaje más espectular de Euskadi.

Bus: Spain has many bus companies, the most notorious of them being Alsa. We all talk bad about Alsa all the time, but honestly, it’s probably one of the best bus companies out there. They generally are on time (within five minutes, but there are exceptions), and they are reasonably priced most of the time (Bilbao-Madrid being one of the exceptions!) They offer free WIFI on most buses now. They also offer Supra, a first-class bus, for more money. It’s free to join their rewards program which offers cool services (no fees for buying online, for example!) Due to competition from BlaBlaCar, they are starting to offer more and more deals for buying in advance.

En autobus: España tiene muchas compañías de autobus, la con el más fama es Alsa. Siempre hablamos mal de Alsa, pero para ser sincero, es probablemente uno de los mejores compañías de autobus. Generalemente están puntuales (dentro de 5 minutos, aunque siempre hay excepciones), y también los precios no están mal. (Bilbao-Madrid es una excepción.) La mayoría de autobuses dispone de WIFI gratuito. También ofrece Supera, el clase de primero, para más dinero. Es gratis apuntarse a su programa de BusPlus, que tiene ofertas chulas (no gastos de gestión por comprar por internet, ¡por ejemplo! Con la competición de BlaBlaCar, hay más y más ofertas por comprar con antelación.

Avanza is the bus company that connects Madrid with Valencia, Salamanca, Avila and Vigo, among other destinations. It’s the biggest competitor to Alsa, but as they don’t run between the same places, you really can’t compare. They are also generally on time and also have free WIFI and a first-class bus. La Unión, the company that connects Vitoria and Bilbao with many places in the Basque Country, Navarra and La Rioja, has horrible customer service and is artifically expensive. Pesa, a bus company that connects San Sebastián-Donostia with many places, is double the price of ALSA for the same services. The buses in Catalunya are also expensive to take advantage of the many tourists there.

Avanza es la compañía de autobuses que une Madrid con Valencia, Salamanca, Avila, Vigo y aún más destinos. Es la competitor más grande a Alsa, pero no tiene las mismas rutas y no puedes hacer una buena comparación. También, en general sus autobuses llegan a sus destinos a tiempo y dispone de WIFI gratis y un autobus de primera clase. La Unión, la compañía que conecta Vitoria-Gasteiz y Bilbao con muchos sitios del País vasco, Navarra y La Rioja, tiene servicio al cliente horrible y es muy caro por poco servicio. Pesa, otra compañía que conecta San Sebastián-Donostia con Bilbao y otros sitios, es doble el precio de Alsa para los mismos servicios. Los autobuses de Catalunya suelen ser muy caros para aprovechar de las turistas allí. 

Wherever you want to go in Spain, there’s a great way to get there. No importa a donde quieres ir en España, siempre hay una buena manera llegar. 

Segovia…a Medieval Journey

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Located an hour north of Madrid, Segovia is an incredible medieval city that would have to be even more incredible covered in snow. I’ve visited the city three times and have also managed to visit a few of their coolest pueblos. The capital city and province are famous for their cochinillo (suckling pig. Babe fans might not want to try this delicacy), which is the food everyone recommends trying there. For not being a foodie, I did try this and I have to agree. It is delicious.

Segovia capital is a typical Castillian-Leonese capital city, small, medieval, quaint, and amazing. Its population tops out at 57,000 people and is in located in the Guadarrama mountains. Its Roman architecture, including that famous aqueduct, made it a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1985. It also has an old Jewish quarter

My first trip to Segovia was way back in 2009, when I was still trying to meet my goal of travelling to every Spanish comunidad autonoma and wanted to pick up Castilla y León before headed back to the States for the summer. I fell in love with the typical stuff, the aqueduct, the Cathedral, the Alcázar that supposedly is the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle, the medieval streets…I had a chance to study here instead of Toledo in 2003, and I found myself playing a lot of What-Ifs. However, both city have their merits, and Toledo is/was an amazing experience in its own right. I returned to Madrid happy with my first visit, dying for my second.

The second wouldn’t come until 2012. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There are just way too many places in Spain to see and experience to be able to do in one lifetime. Life always gets in the way. As the 15th of May is a holiday in the city of Madrid and many of the villages close by, I took advantage of having the day off to go to Segovia for a second time, and I was just as enchanted as I was the first time. It’s small enough and close enough to Madrid for a daytrip, although the bus seemed to be a bit expensive for an hour-twenty minute journey.

The third trip was a May Sunday morning in 2013. La Granja de San Ildefonso is a small village 13 kilometres/7.8 miles from Segovia Capital, and I took the bus from Madrid to spend my Sunday at this beautiful palace and gardens. I remember stopping at a bar with a Route 66 theme, and the bartender was so excited to meet someone who had been on Route 66 and was from the States. My freaking accent always gives me away. It was one of my favourite daytrips from Madrid ever.

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I was in Segovia again in 2013 when I went on an excursion with the Madrid gay Christian group. On the way back from visiting the Pueblos Negros de Guadalajara , we stopped in a lovely village called Ayllón. I got a free poster from the Oficina de Turismo that is still hanging in my room in Bilbao.

Many of the places in Segovia province that I want to see have horrible times for buses. For example, Pedraza only has one bus a day from Segovia at 17:00, so you have to stay the night. This is not to avoid tourists, but it’s for the people of the village who catch the bus in the morning to spend the day in Segovia shopping and whatnot, then return on the bus at 17:00. But for those without a car, it makes things more complicated. I remedied this situation on my move from Madrid to Bilbao on 30 July 2013. I rented a car and drove through the province, picking up villages like Pedraza and Sepúlvedra off my list. Pedraza didn’t have a good place to eat, I remember, so I found a great restaurant and had a late lunch (even for the Spanish) in Sepúlvedra. A great way to close out my time in Madrid.

Set Meravelles

1. La acueducto 

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The aqueduct of Segovia is the most famous place in the city and province. It is believed to have been built in the first century AD and is believed to have been commissioned by the Roman emperor Domitian. It transported water from the Fuente Fría (Cold Fountain. Things sound better in Spanish.) some 17 km/11 miles away to Segovia and was an impressive feat for the Romans. It operated until the mid 19th century. Today it’s easily the most photographed aqueduct in Spain and is currently a part of the World Monuments Watch to ensure its protection well into the future.

2. Alcázar de Segovia

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Originally built as a fortress, the Alcázar (fortress) of Segovia has also been a palace, a prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military school. It is currently a museum and a military archived storage facility. In 1474 the Catholic Queen Isabel took refuge here after the death of Enrique IV  and was crowned the next day Queen with the support of Segovia’s council. It is one of the inspirations for Cinderella’s Castle, perhaps giving credence to the myth that Walt Disney was born in Almería.

3. Catedral de Segovia

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The Cathedral of Segovia is one of the last Gothic cathedrals in Europe built before the Renaissance style took over. It’s located in Plaza Mayor in the centre of Segovia capital and was built in the 16th century after the previous one had been destroyed in a rebel attempt that lasted months. Crescentius of Rome is still buried here.

4. Ayllón

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Ayllón is a small village of 1400 people that was a random place that I visited and fell in love with. It’s 94 km from the capital (or 56,4 miles) and the Aguisejo and Riaza rivers pass through the village. The treaty that ended the wars of the Interregnum between Portugal and Castilla was signed here.  It is listed as a place of cultural interest (Bien de Interés Cultural) by Spain.

5. Pedraza

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Pedraza is a very small village of 500 people located 37 km/22,2 miles from Segovia capital. It is a medieval village complete with walls and has a castle. It’s one of those villages built on a hill that offer spectacular views, and it’s well worth the drive or staying a night if you must rely on that crazy bus schedule to get here.

6. Sepúlveda

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Located partially in the Parque Natural de las Hoces de Río Duratón, Sepúlveda is a village of 1200 citizens and is another place of Bien de Interés Cultural. It has been important in several of Spain’s many wars throughout history and offers several churches and a castle in ruins.

7. Real Sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonoso

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Sometimes known as the Spanish Versailles, La Granja de San Ildefonoso is an 18th century palace with incredible gardens and incredible views of the surrounding mountain countryside. Despite not having any elephants, it has been a popular hunting site for Spanish kings through history. Today it is open to the public and if you’re there for the festivals of San Fernando and San Luis, you can see the fountains on full display. The palace began construction by Felipe V and modeled on Versailles in France. It was the summer home to many kings, but I just don’t see King Felipe and Queen Letizia summering there today due to all the tourists. Maybe the abdicated King Juan Carlos and his wife Sofía might visit since they have more free time now.

Bonus: Riaza (yet to visit)

Riaza is another quaint medieval village. I know there are even more in this medieval province to discover one day.