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Spain trip report, Additional thoughts

  1. Trains--I found the train station at the Madrid airport to be extremely helpful and a representative spoke English. Also, at Madrid train station, RENFRE had English speaking reps at help desks That wasn't the case at our other train stations. It was difficult to know what line to stand in and the agents though fairly friendly spoke little English. I ended up purchasing tickets online through loco2 while actually in the train station instead of using the onsite agents. It is an easy website to use. The only caveat would be is I think the tickets in and out of Madrid train stations can include an cerrancias ticket (not sure how to spell this). I know this because we got a "free" ticket to Atocha from the Madrid airport and then a local was helping me with a machine and she was telling me that since I came from Segovia, I should get a free cerrancias ticket but the machine wouldn't let me. I think perhaps the tickets purchased thru a 3rd party may not include this "perk". It's not a huge deal because the tickets are something like 1.4 euro. Also, I was warned, and it was also my observation as we;; that the tickets from Madrid to Toledo or Segovia (and returns) can sell out, especially at the day's end. I'm thinking that the combination of day trippers and commuters may be the issue. Also about trains, even the tickets to Toledo or Segovia will vary in price. You can save some money buying a few days in advance. I was told that round trip tickets were not much more than one-way tickets, but I didn't find that to be the case. I checked at both a RENFRE counter and online. Perhaps things have changed.
  2. Maps.me app. We used this a lot. It is easier to use when driving because the app can tell which way you are moving. Not so when you are walking. When walking, it is initially hard to know which direction to start. It just took some getting used to. We only had one error by the app. When leaving Ronda, the app told us to turn down a one-way street (the wrong direction). So we ended up navigating out until the app recalculated. It was my first time with this app and I LOVE it. I have been using it a bit at home. It works off-line, you download your maps when you have wifi. I still recommend having a paper map and looking at it, to get a general feel for route. The only limitation of the app is that it doesn't yet include public transportation, just car or walking.
  3. Cell service--We decided against purchasing a SIM card and opted for a Verizon plan that charges $10 per 24 hour period that you use cell. Once you use it, you get 24 hours of use. It was nice to have, but we never actually utilized it. We used wifi in our hotels, TIs, etc., and actually not much at all. Wifi in all our hotels was excellent.
  4. There has been some discussion of purchasing teas, nuts and spices. It is not a problem to bring this back. You will probably have the luggage searched so they can identify the powder, but in the end, it's fine. I purchased spices and almonds at Medievo behind the cathedral in Granada. The salesperson was nice and spoke a bit of English. The only issue was they only sell the spices in largish quantities. It ended up to be small jelly (4 inches high) jar amounts.
  5. English--There are limited Spanish speakers in Andalusia, Segovia and Toledo. Even in Madrid, except for the hotel, we didn't find many English speakers. I had learned some limited Spanish thru Duolingo which was helpful and I also used my google.translate a bit. (offline) I don't feel this should be considered a limitation. Except occasionally in train stations, the locals try very hard to communicate. The people we met and dealt with were very nice.
Posted by
21050 posts

Jules, I'm afraid I was the source of the misinformation about the relative cost of round-trip vs. one-way train tickets. I misinterpreted something I read. I apologize for causing confusion.

Unless something has changed recently, rail fares to Toledo do not vary, but those to Segovia definitely do.

Posted by
4249 posts

OMGoodness, Acraven, not a problem at all! You and others have made my trips to Spain so much easier and enjoyable! I recall that it was you that got us to and from Besalu from Girona with ease and advised prepurchasing most everything in Barcelona! I do think, tho, that the Toledo tickets do vary in price. If I had prepurchased I would have saved myself a few euro. Again, no biggie. And thank goodness you advised that the Toledo tickets do sell out!

Posted by
4455 posts

Interesting, Jules, that you found limited English speakers. We went to Spain last year, ready to speak Spanish and were surprised that almost everyone immediately replied to our Spanish in English. I had pre-purchased all of our train & most bus tickets, so we weren’t running into the situation you mentioned at the train stations.

Beautiful country; we really enjoyed our first trip in Spain!

Posted by
4249 posts

Jean, where were you in Spain? When I went to Barcelona a few years ago, I found a lot of English speakers. It was very different in Andalusia. Usually we could muddle thru with google translate or my limited Spanish. Where things got tricky was restaurants. Even if a waiter spoke some English, he/she wasn't always able to explain menu items and google translate wasn't always helpful. However, the people are so nice and patient and they will make significant efforts to communicate when necessary (as did I,haha)

Posted by
2595 posts

Interesting enough the number of English speakers in Spain seems surprisingly low for such a large western European country.

Here's an article going into some of the statistics: https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/01/04/inenglish/1483542724_068710.html

Here's also a rather illuminating map of Europe, based on English proficiency:
https://jakubmarian.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/conversation-english-eurobarometer.jpg

Also who you are talking to and where your location is in Spain will have a lot to do with the probability that the person will have English language knowledge.

Posted by
1216 posts

Strangely I found Barcelona the most English friendly-perhaps because they speak Catalan. In all the other cities most young people knew enough English to help. However some of the older shopkeepers it was easier to converse in Spanish.

Posted by
4249 posts

Unemployment is shockingly high in Spain. I am told that a lot of that is due to lingering influence of Franco. I would think that if one spoke English, he/she might be more likely to get a job in Tourism. On my first trip to Europe, we were in Budapest, and I recall talking to a hotel clerk and she said that if locals could speak English, they could get good jobs.
I think in France, some of the folks are more resistant to speaking English for more cultural reasons. In Germany it seems like the locals are proud and want to show that they know English. In Spain, is it the lack of resources or a feeling that a second language isn't necessary or encouraged? And I'm trying to be careful and want folks to know, that when I travel, I don't necessarily EXPECT that folks in different countries would know English. And I realize I've made generalizations.
I do notice that younger people are more likely to speak English. When I was in line at the train station or post office I kept my fingers crossed for a younger person. It rarely worked. ;) Never once, did I feel like my lack of good conversational Spanish made it unsafe or not fun.
Spain is such an interesting country and we hear less about it in the U.S. than other countries. Such interesting and sometimes sad history, and many challenges for residents.

Posted by
2595 posts

I think that there is definitively a dynamic of younger people, who do have foreign language skills, moving out of Spain for better opportunities. I'll admit that I myself am part of this trend.

One could also say that the "second language" in Spain are our regional languages, like Català, Euskara, or Galego in addition to Castellano... but that's probably a bit of a stretch, I think that in Spain, we still have a lot of catch up to do in the field of foreign language education.

Posted by
4455 posts

Hi Jules,
We went to Toledo, Madrid, Cordoba, Sevilla, Ronda, Granada, Frigiliana/Nerja, Malaga. Even though we’re 62 years old, we tend to talk to young people; maybe that makes the difference. For example, we found a new tapas bar in Madrid that two young couples were just opening - literally, we were watching them decide where the shop street sign should be placed! They were very friendly & helpful to walk us through the tapa options which was very helpful for the rest of the trip.

Posted by
4249 posts

Jean, what a fun experience in Madrid! We didn't really spend much time there. We are actually in our mid 50s and our last two kids are still in college. My husband teases that I still think I'm a college gal. We talk to folks of all ages. I do recall reading before our trip that we would find fewer English speakers in southern Spain than northern. Its all good. I envy your Madrid experience, probably our biggest difficulty with language (and the most fun) was tapas bars. They are so busy that the bartenders don't have a lot of time to provide English explanations. Several offered to choose for us, which we did once. It was fine but from then on, I made the choices. We did enjoy talking to some locals regardless of how well we could all communicate. I found them way more friendly and helpful than other places we have visited. I found that often English speaking Spaniards made a special effort to be helpful. Honestly, I think we were offered help every time we opened a map.

Posted by
4455 posts

Jules, when I was studying up for the Spain trip, I saw a teaching video (a bit humorous) that said the two most important words to learn are “este “ and “ese” - “this” and “that”. We laughed about those later as we were selecting tapas!

Posted by
5 posts

Jules, our family of 4 is going to Spain at the end of this month and I'm trying to purchase train tickets in advance. We fly into Madrid, arrive mid-day and I think we are going to take a car (using Suntransfers) to our hotel (Santa Isabella) in Toledo as I'm not feeling up for figuring out the train with jet lag, and a 9 and 13 year old who will be visiting Europe for the first time. However, from Toledo we will go to Granada. I'm planning to use the Loco2 site to book. I know that we will need to go through Madrid. My question is: Do I book this as two separate tickets: Toledo to Madrid, Madrid to Granada; or does it work like an airline ticket in which you say "I'm going from Toledo to Granada," and it will provide a transfer for you at Atocha? I also wasn't sure if the Madrid/Toledo route counts as a commuter train or if it matters when booking? I'm usually pretty savvy about trip planning, but am finding this confusing for some reason. Thank you for any thoughts you can provide!

Posted by
4249 posts

Melinda, sorry for the late response, I've been out of town. I didn't go between Toledo and Granada. I did Sevilla to White Villages to Granada to Cordoba to Toledo(via madrid) to Madrid. Granada is a little funky of a place to get to currently. Because of work to bring in a high speed train route, Granada trains involve a transfer in Antequerra where they run a bus between Granada and Antequera. If you want to take the "train" from Toledo to Granada, yes, that would be two transactions/tickets. A ticket from Toledo to the Atocha Madrid station and then a ticket to Granada. The Granada ticket will actually end up being two tickets one for the train and one for the bus portion. BUT, you may want to look at other options. I have not used the ALSA buses in Spain, but I think for this route. (Toledo to Granada) a bus may end up being a better option in terms of time and price. I would actually start a new topic and ask for suggestions on both your itinerary in terms of the order of your planned cities and transportation.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you so much. I just came back on the forum to do a little more searching and found a post that seemed to suggest what you just confirmed. Ugh. I will start a new post for further information, as you suggest. We already have our lodging set, so switching everything around would be a bit of a pain at this point. And, I got this recommendation from a consult call with Rick Steves' staff, so that's a little disappointing that the hassle to get from Toledo to Granada was not mentioned. Really appreciate your response!

Posted by
4249 posts

Melinda, there is a contributor, acraven, who is going back to southern Spain, soon, and she is kind of a guru with transportation as far as I'm concerned. She also has a lot of experience with buses. She would be a great resource for travel in that area. There are also some people that live in Spain that are great sources for transportation options. When you repost, look for responses from them or perhaps message them.

Posted by
11805 posts

One reason I prefer Spain to Italy. The locals make an effort to be helpful even if they don't speak English. They make you feel they're glad you're there.

For spices, I typically buy from a supermarket rather than an open market. You have no issues bringing home packages from a store. Most spices cost less than at a US grocery store (Safron is expensive) and there are lots of choices not available at home. I think it's a great gift idea (light, cheap, reflects the Spanish culture and unique).