Driving in Spain

It pays to know how to drive a manual car because in Europe it is much cheaper to rent one than an automatic. We don’t have our own vehicle in Madrid so we rent from Europcar. Zipcar hasn’t added Madrid to the map yet but they are in Barcelona. If you only want to rent a car for a couple hours every now and then in Madrid then you should check out Bluemove Carsharing. I haven’t tried it myself but I know a few friends who really like it.
There are a lot of car rental agencies out there with tempting cheap prices online but we always stick to Europcar. For a while there was a glitch in their websites between their US and Europe sites where you could rent a car with unlimited miles from the US site much cheaper than the Spain site but unfortunately they figured it out and corrected the glitch. Tip: always shop around. Also, renting from the airport and train stations usually adds on an additional cost.
When we rent we always use an American Express card. They have an auto insurance plan that costs $25 per use and covers more than the “packaged Europcar insurance”. Once we even had an accident where the frame was damaged, it would have cost us a lot without insurance (I can’t remember but it was over $400). But American Express covered it all, it just took a long time and some communication on our part to connect the 2 companies to settle the issue.
If you do rent a car, it doesn’t hurt to get your international driver’s license from AAA; It only cost $15. I’ve rented cars without one but you can never be too sure what to expect if you get pulled over.
Driving in European cities can be really annoying, there are a lot of roundabouts but don’t be intimidated. The roads and highways are fairly easy to navigate and it is worth the cost because you have more freedom to travel and can explore all the hidden places off the beaten path that Spain has to offer.

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Cartagena

cathedral cartegena   We didn’t have much planned for the city of Cartagena but we knew we wanted to check out the Roman Theatre. While looking for the entrance we took a detour up a side stairwell. There was an opened door to the left that looked like it was part of a church; we walked in and were inside the ruins of a church that overlooked the theater. A man appeared from the ruins and told us that no one was allowed in this part; he had just been changing a light bulb for the theater. He ended up being super friendly and told us a little history about the place. It turns out we were exploring the ruins of the Cathedral de Santa Maria Vieja which had been bombed during the Spanish Civil War and has since been abandoned. The cathedral is actually built over the top of the theatre even built with the same material, we were lucky to chance upon that open door. Never hesitate to explore the unknown.
After, we climbed the stairs we came upon a lovely park with incredible views of the theater and the whole city, we explored the walls around the Amphitheater, we purchased entrance into the Castillo de la Concepcion and the museum associated with this entrance for 3 euros per adult. The museum is really interesting and the entrance takes you to the top of a great lookout and at the end you can take the sky elevator down to where you parked. You can purchase a bulk entrance fee to more museums and monuments but we just didn’t have the time.
sunken treasureInstead we headed to the ARQUA the Museo Nacional de Arquelogia Subacuatica to see the controversial gold recovered from a Spanish shipwreck. The museum was amazing and if I was a teacher in Cartagena I would definitely bring my students here. They had a large collection of artifacts from shipwrecks and a detailed history of trade that was quite fascinating; the exhibits are interactive, really interesting and the atmosphere is ethereal. Definitely worth the few pennies it cost to get in. tour boat

We ended our trip to Cartagena with a tour boat ride! Yes you read it correctly, a tour boat that stops at the Christmas Fort and explains the history and details of how the city was protected. I’m a sucker for a good tour but this was a great addition to our plans and I’d recommend it to anyone who has the extra time during their visit.

 

 

Rome Metro

subway no jokeBe careful catching the metro in Rome.  Heed the “doors closing” warnings, don’t take them lightly.  It happened to me.  I was running to catch up with my partner who had made it onto the train.  Unfortunatly, I was a bit too slow and this picture is what happened to me.

Luckily Tom is strong and was able to pry the doors apart but for a second there I thought I was toast.

Navibus Madrid

We finally took the Navibus!And it wasn’t worth it at all.
We waited on line for 2 hours @ Plaza Colón (Calle Serrano, frente al número 30, junto a los Jardines del Descubrimiento).
Then it started raining.  But even if it wasn’t raining it wouldn’t have been worth it.  We sat atop a double decker bus and saw the christmas lights of Madrid.  Honestly, it would have been better by foot.  If you have kids this could be a fun distraction for them but even for the  2€ ride it isn’t worth waiting in line for that long.
If you do want to check it out buses usually start the 5th of December and run until the 6th of January.  You buy your ticket on the bus.

NavibusSpain 099Spain 107

Iberia Student/Auxiliare deal

I’m back in Spain again.  Tickets are always expensive unless you can find a student deal.  Since I’m over the student “age” I have to look for other deals and resources.  Luckily, because we are in the Auxiliares de Conversación  program Iberia will strike a deal with us.  If you are in this program (even if you are over 25) you can qualify for student airfare plus one free date change.  Here is the offer.  Sometimes it doesn’t work and you have to be careful that they don’t reroute you to the normal fare page.  Just stay on top of it and it will be a worthwhile deal.

Bike Spokes

So Tom has had some bad luck with his bike wheels since they were last laced.  Every summer we head to Martha’s Vineyard with the intent to bike the whole island and every year multiple spokes break.  You’d think we would learn our lesson and bring some backups with us but we always forget.  Most things on the island are overpriced but Edgartown Bicycles is guilty of highway robbery; they sell one spoke for $4 when you can buy them off the island for $0.50 or less, plus they always try to talk you into letting them respoke your whole wheel for much more.
If something goes wrong with your bike there aren’t many shops you can go to if you just need parts and want to fix it yourself.  Edgartown Bike Shop carries parts and so does Cycle Works @351 State Road- Vineyard Haven (next to Cronigs Market).  The guys at Cycle works are super helpful and friendly and don’t have that “salesman” vibe that Edgartown has.  The prices are lower and they know their stuff.  So if you need a part then go to Cycle Works but if you just need a rental then there are a few shops to choose from.

 

Cabo de Gata Tips

If you are planning a trip to the beaches of Cabo de Gata my tips are as follows:
1.    Rent a car.  Although buses do bring you to some of the beaches, the hours aren’t frequent and you will see more with a car.
2.    Stay in Almeria.  This city was a great “home base” because the hostels are affordable and at most it is a 45 minute drive from the furthest beach in Cabo de Gata.
3.    Make your own food.  Stock up at supermarkets, our hotel even had a fridge.  This way you will save money and can treat yourself to a nice dinner one or 2 of the nights you’re in town.
4.    Don’t forget that parking in a parking garage could cost you a pretty penny so look for hostels that offer complimentary parking.  Sometimes staying on the outskirts of a city is worth it for the price.
5.    Go snorkeling! But don’t forget to coat your legs and back with sunscreen, it’s easy to forget how long your backside is exposed to the sun when you’re seeing all kinds of cool things underwater.
6. Relax and enjoy yourself. Soak in the beauty and the tranquility of this preserved coastline.

Bike Vienna

Take advantage of city bikes.  Many European cities offer bike rentals for a small fee, even some US cities are adopting the practice finally.  In Vienna the bike paths are not amazing but almost everyone rides a bike there so cars are used to commuter bikes.

So be at ease and rent a bike.  You register online and pay 1 euro to start which covers the 1st hour.  Additional costs are as follows: 2nd hour: 1 euro per started hour, 3rd hour: 2 euros per started hour, 4th – 120th hour: 4 euros for each started hour. Flat fee for exceeding the hours or loss of the bike: 600 euros.  And you can drop the bike off at any Citybike station.

Smoking in Airports

vienna airport smokingAustria loves its smokers and smokers love them Austrian smoker booths.

I’ve been cig free for years now but I can sympathize with those who after a 7/9 hour flight can only think of one thing, that next cigarette.  Even as an ex-smoker I was pleasantly surprised to find that in some European airports there are smoking booths for those who need to satisfy the immediate urge.  These booths satisfy the smoker and yet unknowingly benefit the non-smoker because the air is not fully being shared.  Actually, the smoker is getting an enclosed taste of what it is like for a non-smoker on a daily basis (around other smokers).  Whether it affects them or not is open for discussion but I know that this addiction is hard to kick so having a place to smoke immediately after a flight at least helps alter the rage levels of a smoker having to deal with all sorts of airport delays etc..  At many airports in the states you have to wait to have a cigarette until you make your way outside which can take a long time after waiting for baggage etc.

There used to be and maybe still are smoking rooms.  These are gross because all the tar and smoke gets absorbed into the walls and furniture and even for a smoker it can be unbearable to be in an enclosed smoking room with no ventilation.  But these smoking booths, this may be something I can get behind…since smoking may be around forever.

Bike Riding in Retiro

Spain 018 If there is a chance of sunshine, especially in the dead of winter please take advantage of the sun and go bike riding in Parque del Buen Retiro.  By Bike has affordable rentals  €4 per hour or a tad cheaper if you increase your usage.  If you are into roller blading the costs are the same for rentals.  The bikes aren’t anything special, mainly just cruiser bikes so they can get uncomfortable after a long haul but definitely worth it for a 1 or 2 hour spin through Retiro.  It is always nice to lay out in the sun along the lake but nothing beats a good bike ride through the park. It really is the best way to explore every bit the park has to offer in the shortest amount of time.Spain 022

Check out the website for rental times and prices as they vary from season to season.  But in general they are cheaper than most bike shops in Madrid and located right across the street from the Ibiza entrance.