The online Plaza Mayor for those who love Spain, and those who blog about it.

Category Archives: Transportation

Once de Marzo, y Córdoba

April 7, 2013 by Luann Edwards

His name was Enrique, and he was carrying a man-purse. I was very happy to see him as he met me outside of the AVE station in Córdoba, since without him I would have been completely lost.

I’d awoken that morning to a beautiful, strong sun peering through the shades in my hotel room at the Westin Palace. The meeting I had organized in Madrid had just wrapped up, and I was free to explore for the day. It would have been easy to stay in Madrid and visit some of my favorite haunts – I could get lost in Plaza del Sol and shop for days. But it seemed like a terrible waste to be in Spain and not explore a bit more of it before I had to leave.

My local contact had sent me some suggestions that we felt I could cover in a day via the AVE train: Segovia, Sevilla, and Córdoba. I had spent some time in Segovia in the front half of my trip, and Sevilla was a place to which I’d wanted to dedicate more than a few hours. So, Córdoba it was.

I was to board the train in Madrid’s Atocha Station, which was a short walk from the hotel. Since I’ve never traveled through that station before, I often think of Atocha in connection to the terrible event on 11 March 2004.  As I walked into the interior of this grand station, I offered up a silent prayer to those who lost their lives. (I do the same whenever I hear La Oreja de Van Gogh’s Jueves, which was also written in tribute to those same souls.)

Traveling for the first time alone by train in a foreign country is a rite of passage. It was disconcerting to try to navigate the large, busy station, with my limited Spanish skills and all of the baggage that comes with being from somewhere else. Added to that was the solemn feeling I had as I recalled the significance of this station, which helped me to feel at once somber and watchful. I felt comforted, though, as I passed through the security x-ray on my way to my train and reminded myself that it was certainly more secure than the Providence to NYC train I often take. While the boarding experience was a bit different for me as an American, I’d already had a printed ticket to expedite the process.


If there is a train that runs between your city of origin and desired destination in Spain, then you must consider taking the AVE instead of flying. (Here’s a great article from the Guardian by someone who feels the same about the train ride on the AVE. And another blogger has written a great review of his trip via the AVE train.) I found my assigned seat on Coach 8, and was handed a pair of free earbuds by an attendant. And then I relaxed into the almost-two hour ride to Córdoba.


The interior of the train was modern and clean, and I had plenty of room to stretch out. The seat next to me was unoccupied, which was probably due to the midday timing of the train. Instead of taking out a book or watching the free movie, I just gazed out the window at the passing scenery. The fast-moving view from the window was mostly hilly, and very green. As opposed to flying, an experience akin to boarding a tube on one end and emerging, almost untouched, on the other – I felt like I had experienced every kilometer of this earthbound journey.

Before long, we arrived into the airy sunlit station at my destination. And while I felt proud that I had made the solo train trip without much help, I was happy to let another person do the driving. Enrique – a professional tour guide – met me as I exited at Córdoba station, and I followed his lead as he showed me his city over the next two and a half hours. As for touring Córdoba: I’ll save that for another time, but as a down payment, below are some photos.



Posted in Cities in Spain, Transportation |


March 31, 2013 by Luann Edwards

My first trip to Madrid was as a newlywed in 2003. We emerged from Madrid Barajas airport, startled by the bright late-May sun, our vision still cloudy from the overnight flight. A driver met us in the arrivals area, and ushered us to a small white hatch-back car. We sped into the city, with Michael Jackson as our soundtrack as we emerged from the underground exit into the capital.


First ones to arrive (at 9 p.m.) at a restaurant in Madrid 2003

First ones to arrive (at 9 p.m.) at a restaurant in Madrid 2003

That first time, Madrid was overwhelming. I stumbled through the check in at the Occidental Miguel Angel (“Tenemos una reservación,” I said. The clerk responded, “Your last name?”) and went straight to bed, shutting out the bright Castillian sun with the heavy velvet curtains. We remained three days, including a day in Toledo – another day trip! – and a planned city tour that our jet lag helped us sleep through. Even still, Madrid remained an unwrapped gift until I returned three years later.


A day trip to Toledo, 2013

A day trip to Toledo, 2013


In 2006, while studying at Suffolk University for a master’s degree, I joined a mixed group of students (grad students and undergrads) for a two-week summer session at its Madrid campus. (Here’s a blog from a student studying at Suffolk Madrid now that I found courtesy of Google blogsearch.)  Even though it was a short time, sharing an apartment and establishing a routine made me feel like I had actually lived there. I always wanted to be a Madrileña, and for fifteen days, I could be. My first lesson: The best way to learn Madrid was through its Metro system – the cleanest underground transportation I had ever encountered.


When we arrived at our apartment, we were armed with the first set of directions: “Walk two blocks to the Cuzco station. Take the blue line to Nuevos Ministerios, and transfer to the orange line. Exit at the Universidad stop. Walk up the hill and the university will be on your right.” None of us were prepared for the masses of people who also needed to transfer at Nuevos Ministerios during the morning commute, and that it would take us nearly thirty minutes for what was seven stops on the Metro. The roommates at Calle de la Viña – our address in Madrid – went together that first time; we needed moral support and only a few of us had a strong working knowledge of the language. Little by little, though, we grew more comfortable with the system, often using it as a guide to explain where something was.


On a walk through Madrid

On a walk through Madrid

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Want to go shopping at El Corte Ingles? Get off at Sol. If you walked a little bit, you could even find a Ben and Jerry’s near the stop. Visiting the Royal Palace? Take the metro to Opera and it’s a short – and beautiful – walk. Or head in another direction to the Plaza Mayor. Great meals and nightlife – head to Chueca. My favorite memory of using the Metro was the morning we went to visit Madrid’s El Rastro, the famed Madrid flea market.


We took the green line to La Latina, with what seemed like a million other Madrileñas. The station was subterranean, with hundreds and hundreds of steps to climb to get to the surface. There was an escalator, too, but after a few tense minutes, I was unable to fight my way in and join the masses on it. As I watched two of my roommates get on the escalator from my place at the side, I gave in and started to climb the stairs. They were endless but I persevered. As I neared the top, I heard a gravely voice call out in approval, “la fuerta!” At least, I think it was approval. After all, for that moment I was one of them: a Madrileña.


El Rastro, 2006

El Rastro, 2006


Question for the community: Have you ever traveled a city primarily through its Metro/Underground/Subway system? Did you feel like you got to know the city better for having used public transportation?



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Posted in Transportation |