I’d read lots online about the trains in Spain, not much of it good. Renfe lived up to it’s reputation on my visit.
I booked my first few tickets via Rail Europe. Renfe.com (or their kiosks in the stations) do not take US credit cards. Yes, I know what year it is. But, the $8 fee through Rail Europe was irritating me, so I decided to book at the station. Now, it is important to note that some trains book up quickly, like popular day trips I was taking to Toledo or Cadiz. So if you are like me, and looking for flexibility, you must know that you might be limited in your choices as well as any discount fares, the longer you wait.
Another note, Rail Europe appears to let you buy multiple trip tix in one session, but it never works when you go to purchase. You end up only seeing one trip in your cart. You end up paying their fee or commission for each train, which is frustrating.
I went to the station at Madrid, to book my trip to Corodba. That’s when I learned the kiosk doesn’t take credit cards. But, what it did allow was a chance to look at the schedule and train options. The Renfe app which does come in an English version, only translates about half the words, and is not user friendly. The kiosk gave me a view of the train options, so I took a screen shot of the one I wanted and took that to the counter to buy my ticket. The agents barely speak any English, so while you would think Renfe would make the kiosks more friendly to visitors, unfortunately at the station, if you are using a US credit card, you have to deal with an unfriendly human.
On the day I checked out of my Airbnb in Seville, I had several hours before my train back to Madrid. Like most, my Airbnb host would have let me leave my bag there, but that would have meant backtracking past the train station from town, to then go back to catch my train. It would have taken me another half hour to do this, walking in the heat. Not ideal.
Did you know that most train stations have luggage storage? In Spain, at least, the area may look like the lost and found,
but it’s also storage! There are secure lockers where for a few euro, you can store your luggage safely for a day or more, while you explore the city. The lockers do not have English instructions, but they are still fairly idiot proof to use. You do need exact change, so check the prices and get the coins if you need to. You pick a locker, put in your exact change, and get a ticket which will open your locker later when you are ready to retrieve your items.
Generally, I have found transit in Spain not very tourist friendly. Renfe customer service might rival Septa (for my Philly friends, this will make sense.) Select and sporadic signs or options are available in English, and most of the employees only speak Spanish. Now, I do not expect that in Spain, or any non-english speaking country, that those in a service position dealing with tourists speak fluent English (or French, or German, or any of the other dozens of languages they experience each day) but, it would be nice if they were at least polite and tried to be helpful. I understand and speak enough Spanish to get the basics across, sometimes with the help of an app.
Still, Europe has the US beat hands down, when it comes to train service for touring. Trains are fast, clean, and get you to most of the places you would want to visit – cheap.
One other thing worth mentioning, a fair warning. The toilets in many places do not always have hand soap. Generally, I found that places that serve food had soap dispensers. Whether they were full or not did seem to correlate to the vibe in the place. Old school tapas bars for example, hit or miss. Hip, trendy places – usually had soap. Train stations, forget it. This can be hard to get used to, I know. It’s weird when you see people walk out of a stall and right out of the facility. If you’re a germ-a-phobe, load up on hand sanitizer. For what it’s worth, it is Spring, and I didn’t see one person in my travels around Spain coughing, sneezing, or showing signs of a cold. Maybe we do have too much sanitized, antibacterial-everything in the US.
Anyway, when you do come across a place that has soap in the toilets (they don’t call ’em bathrooms here) you may, like I did, find yourself scrubbing up like you’re preparing for surgery. You get used to it. Who knows, maybe this is building up my immune system to record heights!?