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Some Tips for Travelers to Spain and the UK in 2016
Spain's great but good weather is further south in MarchClick thumbnail to view full-size
Based on a recent trip to Spain and Britain
Having just taken a month traveling around Spain and a slice of jolly old England, I wondered if I had learned anything to pass on that hasn't been said a thousand times, a hundred ways?
Probably not, but let's push on for a coupla paragraphs and see what comes to mind.
Number one tip has been recorded ad nauseum, but you have to get it wrong to realize all you heard about EXCESSIVE LUGGAGE was spot on!
OK. These days, if you use budget airlines, you pay for your belongings as well as yourself. Both Easyjet and Ryanair, the UK's competing discount carriers, charge to put cases - even one case - in the hold. It works out around £20 for a 15 kilo load, not very much weight as you soon find out, throwing stuff out to make the limit. They also charge for many other services, short of allowing you to breath free.
So my first advice is - wear jeans and a warm jacket and carry a few polos, shorts, a sweater, and perhaps one formal outfit. I'm talking to blokes here; women's clothes are a lot lighter. You take two pairs of shoes only: one tennis and one dress. Limit all the other stuff, you can buy toilet items at your destination, which also cause problems in security and are heavy-ish.
So now you are so streamlined with all you need in a small, carry-on case WITH WHEELS. And maybe a small shoulder bag, also allowed on board for passport, papers and some medication. Stupid (that's me) had a large suitcase AND a holdall which weighed a ton and had no wheels! Sometimes I could balance it on my wheeled suitcase, but as often not. Curiously, airlines and airports have grown, but not made it any easier to get around in 2016. There seem to be less escalators and moving walkway whatnots. This often means a long walk from the airside entry to the gates. What envy I felt for the stews and other seasoned travelers as they zipped past me towing their smart little trailers!
Medication. If you need to carry several items, such as diabetics will need, make sure you have a letter from the doctor and a copy of your prescriptions from the clinic. This saved me problems as I was asked for such EVERY TIME. Security is really watching this, because it would not be hard for a bomber to get a letter like this and carry explosives in insulin injector-pens! One security point even called the clinic issuing my letter to aunthenticate it. Diabetes being the problem it is, many passengers must be carrying items such as these. Also, don't just chuck heaps of your prescription drugs in the case. Calculate precisely what you will need with a little extra. I looked like a traveling pharmacy - the overkill could really have killed me! And you can easily get missing medication anywhere in Europe at a discount with a UK NHS identification. Americans (Northern variety) have so much money, they don't care. I began well by leaving my insulin pens in Britain, but they were easily and cheaply replaced in Spain. (and you'll have trouble keeping insulin as the weather gets hotter...may have to buy as needed)
You buy your ticket and get boarding passes online with most airlines these days...with the discount worthies, make sure you do, as they charge around £60 in some cases if they have to issue you a boarding pass.
For bus and train travel online ticketing is the best. I got caught between Madrid and Valencia buying at the station on the Renfe High Speed train and was charged $200 for two tickets, (that should be Euros, My keyboard doesn't have a Euro key...might not need one after June 23rd if the UK votes to leave the EU!). This train service is marvellous, truly fast at over 250 mph with great food and service, which is why it's cheaper to fly - or bus of course. This was premium class, there are cheaper levels and cheaper, slower, trains. Security is also stepped up in train stations, too, even when your trip stays within Spain. Jeez, you end up hating terrorists when you travel.
Do take the tourist buses around the beautiful cities of Europe. They are inexpensive; you can have a picnic on board; you can exit at any stop, have a look around and rejoin a later bus. (stay on the lower deck if it's the least chilly - it will be doubly so when the bus moves on the open upper deck). Same with boats: I froze in a 20 knot gale trying to be brave around Barcelona's port in a tourist launch.
Which brings me to climate. I left the UK to find better weather in Spain. It was just as bad! Madrid especially is over 1000 feet and very cold at night. You can't go in November through March unless you are an Esquimaux. Leave Spain until mid-May on. Of course, if you are under 25 go any time as you won't feel the cold like the over 60's do. Or expire with hyperthermia like the over 70's!
Try the top restaurants if money is no object (like Barcelons'a Salamanca) but eat in the markets for medium prices and the tastiest food...crowded, clean and fun all over Spain.
Wine...you don't imbibe? Neither does the writer usually. But not having wine with your main meal in Spain is probably illegal! Well, it should be. Two glasses with lunch won't get you pissed...just a bit merry; the food will taste better; your digestion seems better and the house wine is acceptable and cheap, (we liked El Coto Rioja Red...2011 excellent...even had it in the room with snacks!).
I found clothing very expensive in Madrid and Barcelona. This was probably because I bought exclusively in "Corte Ingles" A top drawer emporium with hundreds of outlets. The company puts most English department stores to shame. It is of Selfridges and Harrods standard and charges accordingly. Huge inventory for men and women with sizes all the way up to 5xxxxx. I take a 2xx or 3xxx and was in heaven after Marks and Spencer in England with their "extra-large" limit in most cases. All those little chaps in sweatshops in China think xx extra-large is for giants! (offence meant...spare the rhinos and I'll forgive you). I figured it out. An extra inch of material on one garment doesn't cost much. But on a run of 500,000 garments it adds up to thousands of dollars. So the wily Chinese (and their US and Brit retailer-customers) try to squeeze all the fatties into smaller sizes than they are comfy in. I truly believe this is fact. So many extra large you buy now are really just large, or even medium. Excuses from the obese? Up yours!
Do use these pre-paid charge cards. like Travelex, etc. They are an absolute boon giving you back the Euros (etc.) you bought in the UK with pounds Sterling, or dollars in the USA, and no commision charge. Easyjet has the one I used, a pre-paid Visa, they are all similar. But note: if you don't spend all the Euros (or any currency you have ordered) when you get back home, you will be charged to withdraw any money in your own currency.
Things to avoid if at all possible and money is tight.
Room service: even the charge for just coffee in the morning is a shock. You are paying for the waiter who has to spend 20 minutes delivering your order. It always feels like uncomfortable excess to me...all that crockery. Carry your own travel kettle and the makings to brew instant coffee or tea in the morning and a cocoa at night, or get up and out you lazy dog!. Plus stack up on some sweet bread when you shop.
I suppose few people use the hotel telephones these days with free wifi and mobile phones. So no one needs telling it's the expensive way to communicate...you can even be charged to attempt to call. If you don't have a wifi device or a cell-phone, buy a phone card in Spain (at the Tabacs...also lotto and bus tickets) much cheaper and easy.
Another time you will pat yourself on the back for traveling light is when you find it easy to use the airport shuttle buses from the town centers. Not easy to get on and off humping large suitcases, so you waste money on taxis when the modern-day shuttles are fast and cheap and take you to the right terminal.
Here's a don't. Don't use Britain's National Express Coaches to transfer from Gatwick to Stanstead airports. I realize not many will want to do this, but if I save one person from the misery of visiting the labrinthine London Heathrow Airport's 5 terminals, one after the other, it will be worth it. Careful when using one of the UK's regional airports as they can be buried somewhere many miles from where you want to be and our rail and bus network is iffy to say the least...rail service is especially expensive in the UK.
There is the usual warning regarding terrorists and Spain remains on high alert. Some 12 million Brits visit Spain every year, as do millions from other European countries and elsewhere. Locally, there have been reports of bogus police stopping tourists and getting to their wallets. As ever, drunkeness proves young visitors are their own worst enemies as they end up badly injured or worse in the A and E hospitals after falling from hotel balconies, (at least several deaths every year). The Basque extremists have been quiet for a couple of years but have caused some bomb woes in earlier years, rather like the old problem in Ireland.
The Spanish people we met were friendly and helpful; Madrid folk are especially nice. Compared to many of the French they are kindness personified. Hotel staff were especially memorable everywhere we stayed; helpful and ready to share an experience or a joke. Of course, this is partly due to your own attitude: you get back what you dish out.
I will also never forget the night manager of the B and B hotel we stayed at in Ramsgate, Kent, UK. I couldn't sleep and he made me tea and biscuits at 4:00 am!
Perhaps the problems we all face are uniting people these days into behaving better towards one another? I mean, you never know these days when you might need a buddy!
Hope this helps someone...