My wife and I have traveled in Europe on previous occasions. On June 8, 2000, we flew SpanAir (code sharing with United Airlines) from Washington Dulles to Madrid, and returned 9 days later from Sevilla. We traveled light, and used credit cards and ATM card as much as possible. We made all our own hotel reservations over the Internet and via fax, using Rick Steves Spain / Portugal 2000 as our primary guidebook. We had a good time.
My wife and I are both fairly proficient at Spanish, which was very useful. The level of English proficiency among Spaniards that we met was not very high, and even printed translations were full of grammatical errors.
Some computer keyboard keys in Europe show 3 characters. To access the third character, press a small key just to the right of the space bar.
City buses cost 120 pesetas (0.72 euros) in every Spanish town we visited.
The term "IVT" on a receipt means Value Added Tax (like a national sales tax), and is not a service charge.
We encountered no pickpockets or other similar difficulties. A part of the reason may be that we look very plain ("all we have to do is act naturally"), to the extent that several Spaniards asked us for directions during our visit. I (male) wear a money pouch inside my pants, keep my passport in a European-style pouch under my shirt, and keep a dummy wallet in one front pocket, an important wallet in the other front pocket and no wallet in the rear pocket. My wife has a similar set of precautions.
ATM's (money machines) are very common, and accepted my U.S. Pulse bank card without difficulty. On a previous trip to Marbella, Spain, I encountered an ATM that dispensed bills in the currency of your choice, but this trip we always received pesetas.
All hotels we used had bidets. None of the hotels we visited had racks of brochures about local tourist attractions, like you would see at US motels and hotels. None of our hotels had in-room coffee makers.
Spaniards and their children dress up before they go out into the street. They do not wear shorts in public.
The hotels in Granada and Sevilla (but not Toledo) used an energy-conservation system in which you had to insert your room key card to activate electric power to your room. Therefore, whenever you left the room the lights and TV (and even air conditioner in Granada) went off. This system was easy to defeat by inserting any kind of card approximately the size of a credit card.
The air was dry and laundry hanging over the tub dried overnight (slower in Sevilla). Take your own wooden clothespins (pinzas de madera) for hanging wet clothes on the shower rods. Hang a towel on the bottom edge of your wet garments to wick moisture away.
We took and used a battery-powered noisemaker to assist in getting a good night's sleep. You can buy these for US$20 to $30 at Walgreen's and Target. We also used its alarm-clock function.
Ear plugs help you relax during long flights. Inflatable donut-shaped pillows are sometimes useful.
Public restrooms (aseos) in some train stations are poorly marked and difficult to find. You have to ask, and perhaps ask again. Look down narrow unmarked passageways (especially if you see a line of people waiting) and in basements. Sometimes there is a 25 peseta fee, sometimes 50 pesetas, so hang on to some of those donut coins. Often one person holds the stall door open for the next, and sometimes restroom doors that appear to require coins are actually unlocked. Airport restrooms are well marked. Coin operated self-cleaning public restrooms are found on some plazas.
Very few people in Spain are obese...how to they do it??
The walk from the bus station to the Zocodover includes probably a couple of hundred feet vertical (uphill). Pulling a rolling suitcase over the stone sidewalks and streets would be difficult.
We stayed in Rm. 304 of Hotel Maravilla, which is 18 yards from the Zocodover. This is probably a one-star hotel, and was generally adequate for us. There was plenty of hot water, but the cold water sometimes went dry for 5-10 minutes at a time, and showering during those periods was impossible...this happened morning and night. There was no English-language on the TV in our room, and no English-language radio station. The toilet lid and ring seat would not stay up...some Scotch tape solved the lid problem, and a loop of dental floss worked to hold open the ring until the maids discarded it. The air conditioner was a Hitachi, with easy to understand remote control, and it was very quiet. We found 23 degrees to be a comfortable setting of the thermostat.
City blocks in Toledo are very small and most streets are very narrow. It is 16 paces from the McDonalds to the "street" that Hotel Maravilla is on, and 18 paces up the "street" to the hotel. The "street" would be mistaken for a sidewalk in the U.S. Some streets are marked with signs to notify drivers that the passage is only 2 meters (6-1/2 ft.) wide (no sidewalks).
We found two Internet cafes in Toledo: The one we used is the Cafe Escorpio (across street from Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes, in the far west corner of the old town), the one we just saw is the VIC. Internet access at the Scorpio costs 500 pesetas for 25 minutes on the arcade-style computer. The VIC is a few dozen yards uphill (toward the Zocodover) from the roundabout (traffic circle) that has the decorative fountain (north part of town), and the VIC has a yellow lighted sign. Very few local people in town know where an internet cafe or cyber cafe is...one person told me that there are none in Spain.
McDonalds is nominally open noon to 11 PM, but it actually stays open later. It seems to be the most popular place in town, with lines almost out the front door at night until closing time. You can get beer at McDonalds.
The cathedral is spectacular, not to be missed. Photos and video are prohibited inside.
The Alcazar, a massive city-block square structure that dominates the skyline, is very interesting, also. It is roughly a hundred yards (meters) south of the Zocodover. Photos and videos are permitted in most areas. The photos of its partial destruction during the Spanish Civil War are thought-provoking.
The tourist "train" ride around the city is worthwhile, but the recorded English commentary is difficult to understand. At night you can see the city all lit up, very pretty.
Street Personalities: Few if any street personalities (beggars, musicians, performers, etc.) were noted.
Toledo is relatively quiet, a nice place to visit. The heat wasn't bad, and a light wrap was needed at night. Nobody wears shorts. We recommend Toledo.
We stayed in room 408 of the Hotel Macia Plaza, located on the Plaza Nueva. It is a 2-star hotel, certainly adequate for our needs. There were no English-language channels on the TV. Breakfast in the hotel's basement (700 pesetas) included access to the coffee pot for refills (a wonderful benefit in a place where coffee refills are not normally free).
The taxi from the train station to Plaza Nueva cost 609 pesetas (by meter), not the 500 quoted by Rick Steves.
The air conditioner was made by Carrier. The remote control was confusing...you change the settings as desired, then press the Reset/Indicate button to activate the new settings. As noted above, the air conditioner went off whenever you left the room with the key, but it did not automatically turn itself back on when you returned. The A/C was so quiet you could not tell when it was cooling. You must always place the remote so it can "see" the A/C, else it cannot control the temperature properly. Do not set the remote control on something warm (like the TV), because that might affect its operation. We found 23 degrees to be a comfortable setting.
The hotel had poor sound insulation, so you could hear people in other rooms and the cleaning crew down the hall. There is no good emergency exit in case of fire.
Granada was almost overrun with tourists (mostly speaking Spanish) and motorcycles with loud pipes.
There is a well-marked internet cafe 1 block west of Plaza Nueva, 300 pesetas per hour. The machines feel like they are connected to a 56K modem or better, not bad. Machines have speakers and microphones, but I got a soundcard-compatibility error message when I tried to make a phone call using www.dialpad.com
The San Nicholas Mirador ("Clinton Mirador") is nice at sunset. Tourist buses to it cost 120 pesetas and depart from Plaza Nueva every 12 minutes.
Train tickets are available only at the train station ("F.F.C.C. Estacion"), not at tourist information offices or anywhere else. We took the #11 city bus from (near) the Christopher Columbus / Queen Isabela statue (at Banco Santander building) to (near) the train station, a 5- or 10-minute ride. The Christopher Columbus / Queen Isabela statue is a couple of hundred yards (meters) west of Plaza Nueva.
Entrance to the cathedral is 700 pesetas. Photos are prohibited, but there are no signs prohibiting video.
A mix of locals (all ages) and young visitors occupy the Plaza Nueva in the evenings. The sidewalks near Plaza Nueva are filled with dining tables and chairs at night. The outdoor restaurants on the Plaza Nueva close at 11 PM. There is a very prominent Burger King about 300 yards (meters) west of (downhill from) the Christopher Columbus / Queen Isabela statue.
Alhambra: If you stand in Plaza Nueva and look up to see a tall blocky structure 4 or 5 blocks distant with some flags, that is the Alhambra. If you get a ticket for two at the bank, note that both persons must visit each portion of the Alhambra together. Buses 30 and 32 go from Plaza Nueva to Alhambra. Headphone rental in the Alhambra is 500 pesetas, which is probably worth it, and the English voice is easy to understand. Your ticket to the palaces will have a 30-minute window for entering them. Finding the entrance to the palaces is not easy, give yourself 15 minutes once you get inside the grounds. There are restrooms just inside the entrance to the palaces, and some signs in them telling where you are and showing a map of the route. Considerable renovation work is underway.
Street personalities: Weed Women (reportedly Gypsy), we saw three of them on the streets during our stay in Granada, and did not accept a plant from any of them. Mr. Twitchy, a mute beggar with a bum leg who creeps at a glacial pace between tables at an outdoor restaurant, yet make very good time between plazas. One-Note Wanda, a young woman who plays a very simple melody over and over on a recorder while her male companion passes the hat at sidewalk cafes. The Fireman, twirls burning sticks. The Saxophone Guy, he's pretty good and we made a donation to his hat on the sidewalk. Living Mannequin, a fellow with face painted yellow who stands rigidly on the sidewalk of the shopping area during the day, then hangs with his buds at Plaza Nueva afterwards. Shoeshine Guy, very insistent if he feels your shoes need some polish.
Granada is a noisy city. Many tourists wear shorts. Evenings were not cool enough to require long sleeves. I felt that a day and a half would have been adequate for Granada.
People in Sevilla seemed more hostile (toward each other) than people in other places in Spain we visited. Perhaps the heat makes them that way. Nobody wears shorts in Sevilla. There are a few biting flies. Streets are narrow and noisy.
We stayed in room 101 of the Hotel Fernando III, a 4-star hotel. It sits at the intersection of a narrow street and an extremely-narrow street. Some times of the day we received as many as three channels in English on the TV - MTV, BBC and Deutche Welle - but other times only the BBC.
The most comfortable setting for the thermostat (mounted upside-down) was 20 (on a scale of 5 to 30).
The Sevilla Cathedral is very interesting. The 35 ramps climb to top of the tower is worthwhile for the city view.
The "Bar Casa Fernandez" outdoor restaurant is 1 short block east of the hotel, but our waiter acted like a hustler and the Cokes were very small.
Los Gallos Tablao Flamenco show: Entertaining show with a cast of 11, about 5 minute walk south of the Fernando III hotel. Dress up a bit if you go, the balcony is probably best so you can see the dancers' footwork. Auditorium is very small and holds probably 80 folks or so, price of 3500 pesetas includes one drink and they do not push you to purchase any more. There is no intermission and the show lasts the full 2 hours. Flash photos are OK, video is officially prohibited (but that didn't stop some camcorder owners). www.tablaolosgallos.com. Read up on flamenco before attending because there is no explanation during the show.
Street Personality: The Recorder Lady was fairly good, and there was also a Recorder Guy a block farther down the street. We saw only one Weed Woman.
There is a well-marked Internet cafe 1 block NW of the hotel.
Sevilla's tourism efforts are amateurish...different city maps have north at the top or left, few streets have street-signs and those that do are often covered with vines or trees. Information kiosks are mostly unmanned, probably dating from the 1992 World's Fair.
Our 6 AM cab to the airport cost 2500 pesetas, although the hotel had said it would cost only 2000. The driver said he was charging an extra amount because he had no chance of picking up a return fare at that time of day. He had a meter, but did not turn it on.
Sevilla is not as much fun to visit as other places in Spain.
You can find a description of a 1996 vacation at a Club Med in southern Spain, complete with photos of Marbella, Ronda and Gibraltar, here.
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