Renfe AVE prices drop to 11% in February, 2013

The high speed train (can achieve speeds of up...

Renfe has launched an operation to promote and encourage the use of the High-Speed Rail AVE, with discounts of up to 70% in certain routes and days of the week. Additionally, there will be a general reduction of 11% on Tourist Fares and the possibility of purchasing vouchers valid for 10 trips with savings of up to 30%. And for holders of “Carnet Joven” (for those not older than 26), the discounts are even greater.

Renfe also introduced the concept “Promo,” very similar to that used by airlines, which basically offers lower prices on tickets purchased well in advance.

The company announced the news this January. They said they expect these discounts will allow a greater number of people to use the High Speed ​​services. The new rates will be effective beginning February 8, 2013.

The changes, I believe, are just for AVE, not AVANT. But no worries; AVANT trains are way more affordable.

I ♥ it! 🙂 

This is great news for citizens and tourists alike. The tourist fare for a one-way ticket from Madrid to Seville is normally around 84€ (there’s always a 20% discount on the return ticket, and now up to 40%). For frequent travelers with an average income, that’s a crazy price to pay.  Someone said that about 60% of citizens of Spain have never taken the AVE because of their inflated rates. With the economy being a mess in Spain in recent years, they just couldn’t afford the luxury. But hopefully now this will change the game. It’s a win-win situation.

(What Renfe has to do now is introduce a way for international credit cards to work on their website. I have faith they can do it! If anyone has ever tried using a credit or debit card from a non-Spanish bank to purchase tickets online, you know what I mean.)

What to see in Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena: a Spanish city port and a major naval station located in the Region of Murcia, by the Mediterranean coast, south-eastern Spain. It is the Spanish city with the most beaches: Cala Cortina, Islas Menores, Honda beach, Mar de Cristal, Cala del Pino, Cavanna beach, Barco Perdido beach, El Galúa beach, Levante beach and La Gola beach.

Cartagena

I didn’t see much of Cartagena as it was an afternoon stop on our trip to Murcia. Nevertheless, it’s a very interesting historic place. It has Arab, French, and mostly Roman influence.

The weather was really nice in Cartagena, about 21 degrees Celsius (approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Cartagena’s climate is classified as warm and semi-arid. I asked a taxi driver whether it was typical for it to be so nice in January. He said it’s not “normal,” that it’s usually a little less warm. But if memory serves, the weather was about the same in Cartagena around this time last year…

It was off-season when I visited, but when compared to other coastal cities during winter time — like Alicante and Valencia — Cartagena looked pretty desolate. I went to the nearest beach, Cala Cortina, and spent an approximate of two hours in heaven.

Cartagena Roman Theatre

Cartagena: Cala Cortina Beach

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The city hall…

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Small groups of tourists still gathered at the city’s main sights, like The Roman Theatre and its museum. An ancient Roman theatre, which is said to have been built around 5 and 1 BC. (Read about it here)  Luckily, I took lots of pictures.

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Saludos: etiquette I like about the Spanish culture

Greetings!

One of the etiquettes that I like most about the Spanish culture is the greeting. In the Spanish culture, people greet even when they arrive at the most random places, such as a hospital waiting room.

There are different ways to say hello. Hola is the most common and general way. But you can also say buenos días / buenas noches (depending on the time of day) or simply ¡Buenas! Similarly, it is important to say hasta luego or adiós when leaving.

The Spanish are famously known for their two kisses, one on each cheek. Even in formal situations Spanish people greet with kisses.

I have to admit, the two-kissing greeting is not one of my favorites. I think one is enough. But hey, it’s just my opinion. In my Dominican culture we also have the same tradition—with the exception that it’s not two kisses but one, as I prefer. I guess it doesn’t matter when you have to greet just two or three people. But when greeting a big group (which happens often in my large family), that is when it’s a bit too much.

Hispanics living in the United States are more lenient with these traditions, as we have also adopted the American culture. In the Dominican Republic, for example, if there are ten people in a room and you greet one of them with a kiss, the right (and expected) thing to do is greet the rest the same way. People within the same culture in the US, however, do not necessarily expect you to greet each person with a kiss. If instead I decided to just wave Hello, no pasa nada. They’re accustomed to the American way, so they understand.

In Spain, they take it more seriously, especially in small towns where the tradition is carried at face value. I was sort of surprised when, meeting the teachers for the first time at the bilingual school I worked, they greeted me with the typical two kisses on the cheek. I was so used to handshakes in formal situations, I thought it was a very interesting experience.

But what’s more special is, in Spain, even the little ones greet everyone when they enter a room — something not too common in the United States. At least in my experience. In my building in Ciudad Real, children and teenagers I met on the elevator or in the hallways were always very polite. Meanwhile, my grown “professional and educated” neighbors in Philadelphia get on the elevator and hardly look at me. It is because of them actually that I thought about writing this piece!

It is nice to be reminded of manners and be reminded of what works in other cultures, because ours is not universal. We don’t want to be that tourist who, by his bad manners, always stands out abroad. 🙂

One day in Oviedo: What to do?

Parque de San Francisco, Oviedo

My first stop out of the three cities I had planned to visit in one weekend (the other two being Santander and Bilbao) was Oviedo. Originally, I had planned to fly to Oviedo, Asturias, from Madrid airport. Two of the major economy airlines in Europe, Ryanair and EasyJet , occasionally promote prices as low as 9.99€. If flying to Oviedo, you can cut so much time; getting there in 45 minutes, rather than five hours on the bus.

Before I continue, do you want to hear something silly? I became interested in Oviedo only after watching a scene in the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona. It also implied that there’s an airport somewhere in Asturias, so I was like, “Hmm, I could fly there.” I know, silly! That’s how much movies can inform or misinform the viewer.

Cover of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

Cover of Vicky Cristina Barcelona

They showed Oviedo as a beautiful place—with the sound of the Spanish guitar playing on the background, wine drinking in the nice candle-lit green open space… Who doesn’t want to go to Oviedo after watching that scene? 😛

Well, I did. Oviedo made it to my travel wish list. I finally went (on the bus) and to my surprise it is very modern, and pretty! And just like the movie suggested, it is very green and clean.  Oviedo is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Asturias.  It is a modern, cosmopolitan city.

I stayed at a small, conveniently located, affordable and clean hotel called Hotel Carreño. (I’ll further review it later.)

The first thing my boyfriend and I did was sightseeing. Of course, monuments like cathedrals, museums and structures at the parks were prevalent. They all looked so good and so well-preserved, too. In early In June, the temperatures in Oviedo seem nice. I believe it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and afternoon when I was there. Very pleasant.

Downtown Oviedo is very much alive. There are a lot of people shopping and going out for pinchos. We searched for what to visit, and Calle Gascona—“The Boulevard of Ciders”—came up as one of the hot spots. We just had to go there!

They say Calle Gascona is one of the most traditional streets of the city of Oviedo, where a group of settlers from France arrived and chose these streets to live and trade products. Makes sense.

Today it still is a market street. There are lots of great Sidra-drinking (crowded) restaurants on Calle Gascona. Eating Fabada and drinking Sidra (cider) was one of my favorite experiences there. I knew they were into cider; I just didn’t know how much they drank it. There can be up to 10 bottles on a single table. People order it back to back (they do cost only 2€ after all).

It must be a culture thing though because there’s really not a lot of flavor to it. I had expected this sidra to be a little tastier. Or maybe I’d just have to get used to it? Either way, it’s great fun watching the servers pour the sidra in your glass from above, without looking, with so much precision! I’d get a bunch of bottles just to watch them do it.

Oviedo is a young city and the night life reflects it. I was only there for one day and one night, but I enjoyed it. I’m sure there’s so much more to see—parks, bodegas, museums, smaller towns, etc.—and I hope I can see them next time.

Some more pictures of Oviedo below.

One day in Bilbao: What to do?

Bilbao surprised me. It is a big city, young and chic, with an incredible night life. For some reason, I always got Santander and Bilbao mixed up, but I think I now know the difference. This was my first time visiting and I liked it very much. Too bad I was only there for one day—certainly need more than that to stroll around this magnetic city!

Chris and I took a bus from Santander to Bilbao. We arrived at Termibus—Bilbao’s bus station—and the first thing I noticed was the language. Signs were written in both languages, Spanish and Euskera or Vizcaíno, Basque Country’s other official language. I walked to an information window to ask for directions and the guy greeted me in Vizcaino. It almost felt as if I was in a complete different country. I couldn’t understand a word. That language is something else… so different from every sound I was used to in Spain.

It had been raining that day. We took the Tranvía (tram), which was also a different experience in Spain, on our way to the hotel. We stayed at hotel Bilbi, not too far from the medieval neighborhood Casco Viejo. (Even though this hotel is so close, I didn’t go to Casco Viejo because not enough time.) Anyway, this hotel had decent reviews when I booked it—not bad for public transportation connections either—but I wouldn’t stay there again. The bed felt like the Flintstones’ bed and the neighborhood was kinda strange (I’ll review it further soon).

The city of Bilbao is different, but in a good way. It is very modern. There’s a lot of energy. A lot of things to do, lots of bars. And I noticed men were a lot taller up there than in Southern Spain. Really, men were taller! Maybe I had too much Prosecco? Speaking of which! Bars in Bilbao carried Prosecco!  It is Italian champagne, which I could find nowhere in Spain until then, and it is one of my favorites. After that discovery, I felt there was no need to go back to America, or Italy…

One thing they tell you to visit when in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum: modern and contemporary art. So we did. The building is an interesting look. Pretty? Not quite. But it’s a very interesting design. The giant flower-puppy dog sitting by the entrance looks more interesting though.

It was David Hockney’s month (or year?) when we visited and I’m glad it was because, otherwise, I would’ve been bored. I discovered Hockney’s art that day. His landscape exhibitions—David Hockney, a Bigger Picture—blew me away. And how he can draw on the iPad: amazing. We spent some time there.

So, here we continued wandering around this big beautiful modern city by the ocean, we had to try the seafood! Let me just say that Bilbao’s bars and restaurants serve out-of-this-world pinxos/tapas. Some of the most delicious I’ve had in Spain. A great range, too. Lunch was incredibly cheap. We went to a restaurant right by Plaza Moyua. It was just a random discovery that turned out to be really good.

On the other hand, for dinner, it’s too bad that we decided to go by Tripadvisor’s reviews (by tourists) because we ended up at an overly priced seafood restaurant. Booo. The food wasn’t bad, just ridiculously priced. I’ve noticed that Lobster in Spain is very expensive! They tell you one price and when la cuenta comes it’s another. Why is that?! Well, it is Spain. Nothing’s too clear there.

Later that night we visited the bar “district.” Most bars are packed around there. Especially, I remember one bar that was playing Latin music. We went in there, danced a little and had a great time. It’s no secret that Spaniards like to go out so streets in a big city will always be busy.

Bilbao is definitely not the kind of place to go to for just one day. I think we accomplished a few things in such a short time, but it can be exhausting. At least three days could, possibly, be enough. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot to see—and eat.

 

One day in Santander: What to do?

Well this is what I did!

I got on an Alsa bus on June 16,2012, with my boyfriend Chris, en route to Asturias and País Vasco. Santander was our second stop out of three cities we planned to visit in one weekend (the other two being Oviedo and Bilbao). I had imagined Santander to be bigger and more touristy; instead, it was quiet, cold and looked like it was under development the day I visited (I must’ve mistaken it for Bilbao the whole time).

We stayed at a small, simple and centric hostel called Hospedaje Magallanes—comfortable, quiet, close to all shopping stores, and most importantly clean. Despite it being the month of June, Santander was a bit cold. Not surprising as it is in the tippy top of Spain, up north. But this didn’t stop us from exploring the small beach city.

Having arrived somewhat late, it was almost too late for lunch by the time we got all set and ready to head out. But I asked the lady at the front desk about places to go for late-eats. She pointed out a few restaurants on the map that were still open and served comidas caseras (traditional home cooking). It sounded perfect as we always looked forward to trying the town’s typical dishes.

We walked through a few small streets with bars and taverns and finally picked a restaurant. Wish I remembered the name, but that’ll require a little more research. The food was really good. From the menú del día, I ordered a Fabada-type dish: red beans with chorizo and morcilla. I thought it’d be a normal size, but it turned out to be a massive pot of stew that we could have not finished, not even if three more people helped us. It was really good though.

Unfortunately at that restaurant, the service was one of the unfriendliest we ever had in Spain. The server forgot about our table—and my glass of wine! He never came back with it and wasn’t even trying. The table next to us, however, with the big group of entitled older Spaniards got their every order right away. So after we finished our meal, Chris decided to write the mesero a note on the receipt: “Tu servicio fue horrible. ¡Gracias por nada!” (Your service was horrible, thanks for nothing.) haha. And we took off.

Most servers already don’t get tipped in Spain, so how else were we supposed to let them know their service sucked? We take our food seriously! Oh well. I thought it was funny.

Later we did a little sightseeing, walking the little streets and along the beach. It was quiet for a Friday. It was mid-afternoon. In other words, siesta time. We walked to the port and hopped on a ferry for a ride. The name of the ferry service is Los Reginas. It transports people on the Santander Bay to and from the small islands of Pedreña and Somo. The roundtrip ride was about 4,50€ per person.

The sea was beautiful and the sun was radiant. I was enjoying the ride, although I felt a little seasick by the end. We got off at a beach which name I don’t remember—at Pedreña or Somo, not sure.  But it was a very rocky beach with brown sand. Not pretty. Sea shells, lots of them, everywhere in the sand and in the water. It was hard to walk. I thought for a second it was the Playa de La Concha, but its geographic location wouldn’t make sense. I don’t know where on Earth I was. 😀

We walked by the shore and dipped our feet in the water. There was not much going on in that part of the town. 45 minutes later we were on our way back to the port to enjoy a light dinner by the beach.

Santander is a cool spot, perhaps better during the summer since it’s a beach city (with really pretty buildings!). The ocean is super blue and beautiful. Next time I’d like to explore the nightlife and check out their wine routes—I hear it’s terrific.

Five Nice Hotels in Ciudad Real

 

Ciudad Real Capital was my home for eight and a half months. It is a city-turned small town. Ciudad Real isn’t exactly aesthetically appealing and there’s not a lot to do, but it allows for cheap relaxing living and vacation. It is also in the heart of Spain, in the region of Castile La-Mancha, which means you can easily travel to different major cities by bus or train. The Renfe high-speed trains are about five minutes from the center city and the transportation system is extremely efficient. If planned well in advance, it’s possible to visit different cities by train in one day.

Where to stay in Ciudad Real?

The city has a small range of hostels and hotels. It can be hard finding people who speak English in Ciudad Real. Though, if visiting a country where the native language is different from yours, I’d suggest learning at least the basics before the trip! Anyway, people in Spanish little towns like Ciudad Real tend to be friendly, especially once you exchange a few words with them.

These are some of the top five hotels in Ciudad Real. They’re all located within walking distance from the center, where the “fun” is. (The city’s outskirts are desolate and quiet—or quieter). I never stayed at any of them, but I did visit the restaurant and bar at Hotel Alfonso X, the lobby at Hotel Santa Cecilia, and I used to walk (and ride) by the rest of these almost every day. As far as I could see, they looked really nice!

1. Hotel Silken Alfonso X

Probably the most centrally located hotel in Ciudad Real, it’s at Carlos Vázquez 8, Ciudad Real 13001, Spain. “The beautiful nineteenth century building that houses the Hotel Alfonso X has kept its original façade, integrating it completely into the historic center city, next to the Plaza Mayor and the City Hall.”

The hotel interior has been refurbished with contemporary furniture. It offers free Wi-Fi, a private parking lot, smoking floor, handicap-accessible rooms, and exclusive junior suites with terrace.

The restaurant is on the second floor of the hotel and it offers a daily and a traditional menu with typical dishes of La-Mancha. (I can confirm that the food and service are really good.)

Popular and fine Spanish shopping stores are within steps from the hotel.

2. Hotel Doña Carlota

Located at Ronda de Toledo 21, Ciudad Real 13003, Spain

It is practically next to the University of Castile La-Mancha, Ciudad Real Campus, and close to the train station. The Plaza Mayor, restaurants and bars, and shopping stores are within a 15-minute walking distance.

Hotel Doña Carlota is a luxury hotel in the inside.  It’s one of the largest in Ciudad Real: 161 rooms, of which 16 are fully furnished apartments with all the essential amenities included.

It is also easily accessible by bus, taxi, or by foot and it’s close to the shopping stores.

3. Hotel Santa Cecilia

Located at Calle del Tinte 3, 13001 Ciudad Real, Spain, next to Plaza del Pilar. The Hotel was renovated in May 2011. It has 70 elegant and modern rooms.

The hotel has a restaurant, “Guijas de la Mancha,” which offers La Mancha’s typical cuisine. The hotel also features several halls for conventions and conferences, banquets, weddings, a typical Manchego patio with natural light, an outdoor swimming pool and private parking.

4. NH Ciudad Real

Located at Avenida Alarcos 25, Ciudad Real 13001, Spain

From the well-known chain NH Hotels, the NH Ciudad Real is near all main attractions in center city. It is within a few steps from the big park Parque de Gasset and about 500 meters from the beautiful, almost-too-modern-for-this-small-town public library of Ciudad Real.

NH Ciudad Real is a big and basic modern hotel, with just the right amenities for a comfortable stay. It’s perfect for business stays.

5. Hotel Cumbria

Located on Carretera de Toledo, 26 13005 Ciudad Real, Spain

Cumbria is very new and it’s not just a hotel, but it also hosts businesses and recreational activities for the community. It’s a “unique contemporary building” in Ciudad Real. It is about 20-minute walk to the center (five minute-drive), but it’s located in one of the main access roads to the center of Ciudad Real which makes it easily accessible. This hotel offers all amenities necessary for a comfortable stay.

There is a big pool, a tennis court, a gym and full spa. The pool and gym aren’t completely private; residents of Ciudad Real who hold a membership can swim and exercise here.

On the outside, the building looks huge and round. (I thought it was a mini-stadium at first.) It features large rooms fitted to host any kind of event and a playroom with a playground for any kids in the house.

In terms of location, even though two or three hotels are more centrally located than others, anywhere you choose to stay in Ciudad Real (capital) is relatively near to everything.