Once away from the holiday, you could only be in Spain. In the cities, narrow twisting old streets suddenly open out to views of daring modern architecture, while spit-and-sawdust bars serving wine from the barrel rub shoulders with blaring, glaring discos. Read more...
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Cities and Destinations in Spain
Once away from the holiday, you could only be in Spain. In the cities, narrow twisting old streets suddenly open out to views of daring modern architecture, while spit-and-sawdust bars serving wine from the barrel rub shoulders with blaring, glaring discos.
Andalucia main cities: Seville (Sevilla), Malaga, Cordoba, Granada, Cadiz, America
Aragon Aragón main city: Zaragoza.
Asturias (Spanish: Principado de Asturias) main cities:Oviedo, Gijon.
Balearic Islands (Spanish: Islas Baleares) principal city: Palma de Majorca/Palma de Mallorca.
Basque Country (Spanish: País Vasco, Basque: Euskadi) main cities: Bilbao/Bilbo, Vitoria/Gasteiz, San Sebastian/Donostia.
Canary Islands (Spanish: Islas Canarías) chief cities: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Cantabria main city: Santander.
Castile-La Mancha (Spanish: Castilla-La Mancha) main city: Toledo.
Castile and Leon (Spanish: Castilla y León) main cities: Valladolid, Salamanca, Leon, Zamora.
Catalonia (Spanish: Cataluña, Catalan: Catalunya) Catalonia is the one of the most visited regions of Spain. Principal cities (ciutats principals):Barcelona, Lerida/Lleida, Girona/Girona.
Ceuta, an independent Spanish enclave city in north Africa.
Extremadura, main cities: Badajoz, Merida & Caceres.
Galicia (Spanish: Galicia, Galician: Galicia or Galiza) main cities: Vigo, Santiago de Compostella, A Coruna.
La Rioja is the smallest of the Spanish regions but well known thanks to Rioja wine, one of the best in the world. This region is called Birth place of Spanish Language because it was here were the first words in Spanish were written in the Suso and Yuso Monasteries in San Millan de la Cogolla. Main city: Logrono.
Madrid-the region includes the second, fourth and current capital of Spain Madrid with three world class museums (Prado, Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza), and Aranjuez, the Escorial, Salamanca, Segovia, Toledo, and the Valle de los Caidos are also nearby Melilla, an independent Spanish enclave city in north Africa.
Murcia (region) Murcia main cities: Murcia, Cartagena.
Navarra (Spanish: Navarra, Basque: Nafarroa) Main city: Pamplona/Iruna.
Valencia (region) Valencia (Spanish: Comunidad Valenciana, Catalan: Comunitat Valenciana) principal cities: Valencia, Alicante/Alacant, Castellon/Castello.
Spain is now divided into autonomías or autonomous regions/ plus 2 independent cities. Some of the autonomías-notably the ones with languages other than Spanish as co-official (Basque Country or Euskadi-Basque language-, Galicia-Galician language-, Catalonia or Catalunya, Valencian Country or País Valencià, and Balearic Islands or Illes Balears-Catalan language-) and Andalucía-are historical regions. Travelers to these parts of the Iberian Peninsula will do well to respect their history and language. The Canary Islands are actually off the coast of Morocco and are properly in Africa and so are the two Autonomous cities: Ceuta and Melilla.
There are a number of ways to get into Spain. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride is feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.
Spanish national carrier is Iberia.
The busiest airports are Madrid, A Coruña, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Murcia, Barcelona, Jerez de la Frontera, Seville, Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante, Santiago de Compostella, Vigo. All are listed on the official site of the airports governing body:
Madrid and Bilbao have the most beautiful airports, designed by famous architects.
Low cost carriers operating to Spain are: ClickAir http://clickair.com (a discount subsidiary of Iberia; operates from Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia ), Vueling http://www.vueling.com, easyJet http://www.easyjet.com, RyanAir http://www.ryanair.com, Blue Air http://www.blueair-web.com, Sterling Airlines http://sterling.dk.
For e-tickets bought from Iberia/ClickAir over Internet with a credit card, it is required to show original credit card upon check-in. Failing to do so, you will have to purchase another ticket with the same fare, and the original ticket will be refunded many weeks or even months later.
Train system in Spain is modern and reliable, most of the trains are brand new and the punctuality rate is one of the highest in Europe, the only problem is that not all the populated areas have a train station; sometimes small towns don't have one, in those cases you need to take a bus. Another issue with the Spanish Rail network is that the lines are disposed in a radial way so almost all the lines head to Madrid. That's why sometimes traveling from one city to another geographically close to it might take longer by train than by bus if they are not in the same line. Always check whether the bus or the train is more convenient.
Bus travel in Spain is increasingly an attractive option for people traveling on a tight budget. Thanks largely to European Union funding, Spain's road network has vastly improved over the past twenty years, so bus journeys don't take nearly as long as they used to.
There are lots of private bus companies offering routes to all major Spanish cities. If you want to travel around Spain by bus, the best idea is to go to your local bus station (Apart from Madrid and Barcelona, most towns and cities have just one) and see what is available.
Traveling by bus in Spain is usually reliable (except on peak holiday days when roads can be very crowded and you should expect long delays on popular routes), coaches are modern and comfortable. You can expect to pay about 8 Euros per 100km.
Renfe http://horarios.renfe.es/hir/ingles.html is the Spanish national rail carrier. Long-distance trains always get in time, but be aware that short-distance trains (called Cercanías) can bear long delays, from ten to twenty minutes, and especially in the Barcelona area. To be safe, always take the train before the one you need.
The easiest way to get around most parts of Spain is by bus. Most major routes are point to point, and very high frequency. There is a different operator for each route, but usually just one operator per route. At the bus station, each operator has its own wicket. The staff at any of them is usually happy to tell you who operates which route, however.
Movelia-provides schedules and fares for most operators.
Wherever you are in Spain, from your private yacht you can enjoy gorgeous scenery and distance yourself from the inevitable crowds of tourists that flock to these destinations. May is a particularly pleasant time to charter in the regions of Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and the Balearic Islands as the weather is good and the crowds have yet to descend. The summer months of July and August are the hottest and tend to have lighter winds. There is no low season for the Canary Islands, as the weather resembles springtime all year round.If you would like to bareboat anywhere in Spain, including the Balearic or Canary Islands, a US Coast Guard License is the only acceptable certification needed by Americans to bareboat. For everyone else, a RYA Yacht Master Certification or International Certificate of Competence will normally do.Although a skipper may be required, a hostess/chef may or may not be necessary. Dining out is strong part of Spanish custom and tradition. If you are planning on docking in a port and exploring fabulous bars and restaurants a hostess/cook may just be useful for serving drinks and making beds. Extra crew can take up valuable room on a tight ship.
Sailing in Spain-All types of yachts for charter, skippered and bareboat. Hire a motor boat, sailing boat, exclusive mega yacht, wooden gulet or motor sailer for an unique nautical experience.
In major cities like Barcelona and in mid-sized like San Sebastian, moving around by car is both expensive and nerve-wracking. Fines for improper parking are uncompromising (€85 and up).
Having a driving map is essential-many streets are one-way; left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable).
Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to move from one city to another every other day, ideally if you don't plan to park overnight in large cities.
Intersections of two highways typically have a roundabout under the higher one--so you can both choose any turn and to start driving in an opposite direction there.
Green light for cars about to turn is frequently on at the same time as green light for pedestrians: every time you turn, check if the pedestrians pass you cross doesn't also have green light for them.
Between cities, drivers are required to have some rest every 2 hours they drive--there's a fine if you don't follow. It's unclear how it's enforced, however.
Filling procedure for gas stations varies from brand to brand. At Agip, you first fill the tank yourself, and then pay inside the shop.
Renting a car
If you plan to move around large cities, consider renting a car with GPS navigation--it will be even easier to drive than having an automobile map.
Consider having full-coverage insurance instead of franchise: other drivers are not always careful parking near other cars, especially when parking space on a street is limited.
Avis accepts payment in US dollars when you pay by a credit card. If you need to pay when you return rented car, payment is made from deposit you provided by credit card in the beginning--so you don't pay extra money upon return, waiting for weeks for deposit to be unblocked.
Spain is heaven for cycling, judging by how much of them you can see in the cities. Cycling lanes are available in mid-sized and large cities.But it must be taken into account that Spain is the second more montaneous country in Europe, mountains and hills are from coast to coast. This is the reason why slopes are a big problem for cycling. For example, Madrid is between 600 and 700 meters above sea, so if you travel through it by bicycle you have to be in a good shape.
When to go
There are four kinds of police:
'Policía Municipal' or 'Local' (metropolitan police, )In Barcelona : Guardia Urbana. Uniforms change from town to town, but they use to wear black or blue clothes with pale blue shirt and a blue cap (or white helmet) with a checkered white-and-blue strip. This kind of police keeps order and rules the traffic inside cities, and they are the best people in case you are lost and need some directions. Although you can't officially report theft to them, they will escort you to 'Policia Nacional' headquarters if required, and they will escort the suspects to be arrested also, if needed.
'Policía Nacional' wear dark blue clothes and blue cap (sometimes replaced by a baseball-like cap), unlike Policía Municipal, they do not have a checkered flag around their cap/helmet. Inside cities, all offenses/crimes should be reported to them, although the other police corps would help anyone who needs to report an offense.
'Guardia Civil' keeps the order outside cities, in the country, and regulates traffic in the roads between cities. You would probably see them guarding official buildings, or patrolling the roads. They wear plain green military-like clothes; some of them wear a strange black helmet ('tricornio') resembling a toreador cap, but most of them use green caps or white motorcycle helmets.
Given that Spain has a high grade of political autonomy released to its regional governments, some of them also have regional law forces, such as Policía Foral in Navarra, the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country or the Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia.
All kinds of police also wear high-visibility clothing ( reflective jackets) while directing traffic, or in the road.
Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions encouraged the entire world:
Try not to show expensive stuff in depressed areas (most of these ones are not touristic places, though, and you probably shouldn't get through them).Try not to show the money you have in your wallet or purse.Always watch your bag or purse in touristic places, buses, trains and meetings. A voice message reminding that is played in most of the bus/train stations and airports.Do not carry large amounts of money with you, unless needed. Use your credit card (Spain is the first country in number of cash points and most shops/restaurants accepts it). Of course, use it with caution.Beware of pickpockets when visiting areas with large numbers of people, like crowded buses or the Puerta del Sol(in Madrid). If you report a thief, people are generally helpful.In Madrid and also in Barcelona, criminals target particularly people from the Far East (especially Japan), thinking they carry money and are easy prey.Don't hesitate to report crimes to local police.In general, you must bear in mind that those areas with a larger number of foreign visitors, like some crowded vacation resorts in the East Coast, are much more likely to attract thieves than places which are not so popular among tourists.Avoid gypsy women offering rosemary, refuse it always; they will read your future, ask for some money, and your pocket will probably be picked. Some gypsy women also will approach you on the street repeating Buena suerte ( good luck ) as a distraction for another gypsy woman to try to pickpocket you. Avoid them at all costs.A great tourist attraction is the Flea Market (el rastro) in Madrid on the weekends. However, as it is nearly standing room only-it is also an attraction for pickpockets. They operate in groups... be extremely cautious in these tight market type environments as it is very common to be targeted... especially if you stand out as a tourist or someone with money. Try to blend in and not stand out and you will likely not be at as much risk.Women that carry purses should always put the straps across their bodies. Always hold on to the purse itself and keep it in front of your body.Never place anything on the back of a chair or on the floor next to you, keep it on your person always.If you must us an ATM, do not go alone, or go to one that is enclosed in locking doors.
Some people could try to take advantage of your ignorance of local customs.
In Spanish cities, all taxis should have a visible fare table. You shouldn't agree a fixed price to go from an airport to a city: in most cases, the taxi driver will be earning more money than without a pre-agreed tariff.
In many places of Madrid, especially near Atocha station, and also in the Ramblas of Barcelona, there are people ('trileros') who play the shell game. They will fish you if you play, and they will most likely pick your pocket if you stop to see other people play. Many of them used to be foreign immigrants.
Other things you should know
Spanish cities can be LOUD at night, especially on weekends.All stores, hotels and restaurants should have an official complaint form, in case you need it.The emergency telephone number (police, firefighters, ambulances) is 112. You may call it from any phone at no cost, in case you need to.
In Spain illegal drugs are prohibited, but possession and consumption at private places is not prosecuted. Taking drugs in public and possession, for personal use, will be fined from 300€ to 3000€ depending of the drug and the quantity that you carry on, you will not get arrested unless you have large quantities destined for street sale.
Pharmaceuticals are not sold at supermarkets, they're sold at 'farmacias' (pharmacies), identified with a green cross or a Hygeia's cup. Nearly every city and town has at least one 24 hour pharmacy; for those where it closes for night, there should be a poster on a door with an address of the nearest pharmacy, possibly in one of the nearest towns--this is required by law.
People from European Union and a few more European countries can freely use the public health system, if they have the appropriate intereuropean sanitary card. That card does not work in private hospitals. Agreements are established to treat people from a few American countries; see the Tourspain link below for more info.
However, do not hesitate to go to any healthcare facility should you be injured or seriously ill, as it would be illegal for them not to treat you, even if you are uninsured.
Though most foreigners tend to think Spain is a warm place, it can be terribly cold in winter, especially in the Central Region and in the North, and in some places it is also rainy in summer. Remember to travel with adequate clothes.
In summer, avoid direct exposure to sunlight for long periods of time to prevent sunburn and heatstroke. Drink water, walk on the shady side of street and keep a container of sun cream (suntan lotion) handy.
Most cities have a good water supply, especially Madrid, but you may prefer bottled water to the alkaline taste of water in the east and south.
At the crossroads between Europe and Africa, the Iberian Peninsula has always been a target for invading races and civilisations. The Romans arrived in the 3rd century BC but took two centuries to subdue the peninsula. Gradually Roman laws, languages and customs were adopted. In 409 AD, Roman Hispania was invaded by a massive contingent of Germanic tribes and by 419 a Visigothic kingdom had been established. The Visigoths ruled until 711, when the Muslims crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated Roderick, the last Goth king.
By 714, the Muslim armies had occupied the entire peninsula, apart from the mountainous regions of northern Spain. The Muslim occupation of southern Spain (which the Spanish called Al-Andalus) was to last almost 800 years. During this period, the arts and sciences prospered, new crops and agricultural techniques were introduced and palaces, mosques, schools, gardens and public baths were built. In 722, at Covadonga in northern Spain, a small army under the Visigothic king Pelayo inflicted the first defeat on the Muslims. Symbolically, this battle marked the beginning of the Reconquista, the reconquest of Spain by the Christians.
By the end of the 13th century, Castilla and Aragón had emerged as Christian Spain's two main powers, and in 1469 these two kingdoms were united by the marriage of Isabel, princess of Castilla, to Fernando, heir to the throne of Aragón. Known as the Catholic Monarchs, they united all of Spain and laid the foundations for the golden age. In 1478, they established the notoriously ruthless Spanish Inquisition, expelling and executing thousands of Jews and other non-Christians. In 1482, they besieged Granada, and 10 years later the last Muslim king surrendered to them, marking the long-awaited end of the Reconquista.
Spain developed an enormous empire in the New World, following Columbus' arrival in the Americas in 1492. Gold and silver came flooding into Spanish coffers from Mexico and Peru as the conquistadors claimed land from Cuba to Bolivia. Spain monopolised trade with these new colonies and became one of the most powerful nations on earth. However, this protectionism hindered development of the colonies and led to a series of expensive wars with England, France and the Netherlands.
When Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793, Spain declared war on the new French republic, but was defeated. In 1808, Napoleon's troops entered Spain and the Spanish Crown began to lose its hold on its colonies. Sparked by an uprising in Madrid, the Spanish people united against the French and fought a five-year war of independence. In 1813, the French forces were finally expelled, and in 1814 Fernando VII was restored to the Spanish throne. Fernando's subsequent 20-year reign was a disastrous advertisement for the monarchy. During his time, the Inquisition was re-established, liberals and constitutionalists were persecuted, free speech was repressed, Spain entered a severe economic recession and the American colonies won their independence.
The calamitous Spanish-American War of 1898 marked the end of the Spanish Empire. Spain was defeated by the USA in a series of one-sided naval battles, resulting in the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines-all of Spain's last overseas possessions, in fact. Spain's troubles continued during the early 20th century. In 1923, with the country on the brink of civil war, Miguel Primo de Rivera declared himself military dictator and ruled until 1930. In 1931, Alfonso XIII fled the country, and the Second Republic was declared, but it soon fell victim to internal conflict. The 1936 elections saw the country split in two, with the Republican government and its supporters (an uneasy alliance of communists, socialists and anarchists, who favoured a more equitable civil society and a diminished role for the Church) on one side and the opposition Nationalists (a right-wing alliance of the army, the Church, the monarchy and the fascist-style Falange Party) on the other.
The assassination of the opposition leader José Calvo Sotelo by Republican police officers in July 1936 gave the army an excuse to overthrow the government. During the subsequent Civil War (1936-39), the Nationalists received extensive military and financial support from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, while the elected Republican government received support only from Russia and, to a lesser degree, from the International Brigades, made up of foreign idealists. Despite the threat of fascism, England and France refused to support the Republicans.
By 1939, the Nationalists, led by Franco, had won the war. More than 350, 000 Spaniards had died in the fighting, but more bloodletting ensued. An estimated 100, 000 Republicans were executed or died in prison after the war. Franco's 35-year dictatorship saw Spain isolated by economic blockades, excluded from NATO and the UN and crippled by economic recession. It wasn't until the early 1950s, when the rise in tourism and a treaty with the USA combined to provide much-needed funds, that the country began to recover. By the 1970s, Spain had the fastest growing economy in Europe.
Franco died in 1975, having earlier named Juan Carlos, the grandson of Alfonso XIII, his successor. With Juan Carlos on the throne, Spain made the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The first elections were held in 1977, a new constitution was drafted in 1978, and a failed military coup in 1981 was seen as a futile attempt to turn back the clock. In 1982 Spain made a final break with the past by voting in a socialist government with a sizeable majority. The only major blemish on the domestic front since was the terrorist campaign waged by separatist militant group ETA in its bid for an independent Basque homeland. During 30 years of terrorist activity, ETA killed over 800 people.
In 1986 Spain joined the EC (now the EU) and in 1992 Spain returned to the world stage, with Barcelona hosting the Olympic Games, Seville hosting Expo 92 and Madrid being declared European Cultural Capital. In 1996 Spaniards voted in a conservative party under the leadership of the uncharismatic José María Aznar.
Accused of playing politics following a terrorist attack in Madrid in March 2004 in which 192 people were killed, and held accountable for the unpopular deployment of troops in the overthrow of the Hussein regime in Iraq, Aznar was defeated in the polls in 2004, returning the socialists to power.
The Socialist government has undertaken a raft of social reforms, legalising gay marriage, granting residency papers to almost a million illegal immigrants and seeking to break the stranglehold of the Catholic Church as the arbiter of Spain's morals. The government's popularity dipped only over the fraught issue of greater autonomy for Spain's regions, especially Catalonia. In March 2006, ETA announced an indefinite ceasefire, raising hopes that a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Basque Country may be within sight.
Articles and Stories about Spain
Quick Facts about Spain
44,708,964 (January 2006)
Catalan (also official in Catalonia, Valencia and Balearic Islands) 17%, Galician (also official in Galicia )7%, Basque (also official in Basque Country and Navarra) 2%
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