Our program directors asked us to write recommendations for future students. Since I’ve gotten around so much (har, har), I ended up writing 9 pages. Here they are. You can skim through them or put them in your pocket in case you ever plan a trip to Spain…or Rome, Paris, or London.
Due to various factors, including our trade and budget deficits, the dollar has been falling against the euro for five years now. So, everything in Europe is more expensive than it was in America. It would behoove you to remind your parents about this sometimes.
Real Madrid Tickets
La Liga plays on Saturdays and Sundays. The Champions League plays on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Finding schedules for both should be easy enough.
In America, buying a ticket on the Internet is cheaper and more convenient than buying one at the box office. The opposite is true for Spanish soccer games. Internet rates are positively criminal, and they run out quickly. Instead, go to the box office, which opens 2 days before each game. Your seat should cost you 30-40E. Lateral, or sideline, seats are superior to fondo, which are behind the goals. Don’t worry about which anfitrión (deck) you have because every seat is good in the Bernabeu.
I’ve been to many cities, and the one with the best metro system is Madrid. It will be your friend. You can get anywhere inside the city within 30 minutes and to the airport within 45. You lose an average of 5 minutes for each line change, so try to make as few as possible.
Regardless, if you’re planning to go out at night, learn the bus routes to your house. The metro closes at 2 AM and re-opens at 6, which is a couple hours too early and a couple hours too late, respectively. The buses run all night. Walking home is easier than finding a taxi in Madrid on a Friday night.
By the time you arrive, Line 8 may extend to Airport Terminal 4. If not, the bus (204) between T4 and Avenida de America closes at 12 AM. Line 201 between T4 and Barajas is a little faster than the shuttle between the main terminal and T4, but take whatever’s available.
For Madrid suburbs like Alcalá de Henares, Ávila, and Aranjuez, you can use Madrid Cercanías, a train system which also runs out of Atocha Renfe.
Trains run out of Atocha Renfe. The only area to which you should consider taking one is Andalucía, as the Ave cuts 3 hours off your journey through the mountains. For other locations, the buses are cheaper, more flexible, and almost as fast. Here are the lines I know:
Auto-Res – Metro: Conde de Casal – Cáceres, Salamanca, Trujillo, Valencia
Alsa Bus – Metro: Avenida de América – Barcelona, Lisboa, Zaragoza, and between San Sebastián and Bilbao
Cevesa – Metro: Mendez Álvaro – Ávila, Cabezuela del Valle, Plasencia
Continental Auto Bus – Avenida de América – Navarra, País Vasco
Buses play movies, but they don’t give you headphones, so you’ll have to bring your own. Auto-Res plays old films. Continental plays new films. Alsa plays bad films.
You can change your bus tickets for free and cancel them for an 80% rebate up to 3 hours before departure.
I highly recommend striking up conversations with the people sitting next to you on planes, trains, and automobiles. Besides interaction with your host family, it’s the best way to practice your Spanish because you’re stuck together for a couple hours at a time. Also, the majority of the strangers whom I’ve had the courage to meet have been very friendly. I’ve shared contact information with many of them, and from these chats alone, I now have friends from Madrid, Cádiz, Extremadura, France, Mexico, Chile, Australia, and Bangladesh.
To rent a car, you must be 21. I’ve heard the going rate for a weekend is 100E. I recommend this option if you’re traveling with a group to Lisboa.
The airplane lines we used the most were Vueling, EasyJet, and RyanAir. RyanAir’s MO is running very cheap flights out of remote locations, so before you make a reservation, make sure you know exactly where they’re taking you and how to get out of it.
To get around, you need a map. You can get one in a government tourist outpost (look for the i), but they’re always based in the center of the city, the very place you need a map to find. The easiest way to avoid this vicious circle is to get directions directly to your hostel and pick up a map there instead. I’m a bigger fan of using my intuition, though.
Alcalá de Henares: We passed the first two days of the summer trip here, and the city, so steeped in the culture of the 1500s, gave us a charming introduction to Spain. I have great memories of my first night, the same night Barcelona won the Champions League. Drunken young Spaniards were jumping through the street, some of them driving cars around in circles and honking and honking, in honor of their fellow countrymen’s achievement. After just 16 hours here, I already know the “Oé, oé, campeones” chant. Since the Cercanías and eventually the Metro go there, it makes for a relaxing day trip. Don’t feel guilty if you never make it out here, though, because in terms of ambience and culture, Alcalá is similar to Salamanca.
Amsterdam: Amsterdam has an excellent Van Gogh museum and beautiful architecture which passed through the World Wars unscathed. I think those are the two big reasons that so many young people love to go there.