Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

12.6: Munich -> Girona -> Barcelona
13.6: Barcelona
14.6: Barcelona
15.6: Barcelona -> Madrid
16.6: Madrid
17.6: Madrid
18.6: Madrid -> El Escorial -> Toledo -> Cordoba
19.6: Cordoba -> Sevilla
20.6: Sevilla -> Zahara de los Atunes
21.6: Zahara de los Atunes
22.6: Zahara -> Cadiz -> Zahara
23.6: Zahara -> Tarifa -> Zahara
24.6: Zahara -> Marbella -> Granada
25.6: Granada -> Malaga
26.6: Malaga -> Memmingen -> Munich

Overview and general impression

This was an amazing trip, with lots of things to see. I wish more time would have been available, because in Spain there is so much to explore and local atmosphere to absorb. Toledo for instance would have deserved an overnight stay, and in the Alhambra, where the standard visit lasts three hours, we could have spent half a day or longer without getting bored.
The cleanliness and good infrastructure of Spanish cities also left a good impression. Historical sights were all well maintained.

This was a bit an unpleasant surprise, as the cost of having a holiday in Spain was higher than what we were expecting. Restaurants were very expensive, shops and groceries were selling expensive stuff and drinks. Rail travel was pricey and in almost every city you had to pay for car parking. Entry tickets for even not that interesting places seem to start at 10 Euro/person (multiply by four for a family of four). Spain is a very interesting and amazing country, but not really a place where to have a budget vacation.

We didn't sample much of the Spanish gastronomy, because restaurants in Spain are expensive (14 Euro for a plate of spaghetti in Madrid...), too expensive for a family of four. Also, travelling with small kids, we needed places offering noodle dishes. So we ended up eating often in Chinese restaurants, because prices were lower, noodle dishes were available and Shirley could precisely explain what she wanted to have (lots of people in Spain are not too fluent in  English).
We noticed that everywhere air-dried pork hams were sold. Perhaps the average Spanish family has a pork ham leg at home?
There are restaurants in the tourist areas offering all-inclusive menus with a first dish, a main dish, a dessert, bread and a drink for 9-10 Euro.

Travelling as two adults with two kids (the smaller no longer baby-size) we stayed in a mix of hotels with three or four bed rooms and apartments. The apartments had the advantage of offering more space and separate sleeping rooms for the children; sometimes a washing machine was there which allowed to wash clothes (very useful if you travel with children). Overall we spent between 63 and 120 Euro/night. Most of the time the breakfast was not included.
The cheap option with the Etap hotels (rooms for less than 40 Euro/night) was not possible in Spain because in Spain the Etap hotels do not allow two small kids in the room. This had been no problem with Etaphotels in France and Switzerland.

Money  / Exchange rate
The Euro, same currency as in Germany.
1 Euro = 1.4 USD at the time of travelling.
Plenty of ATMs everywhere, easy to get cash.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
I bought a Yoigo SIM card (3G network) for 20 Euro with 20 Euro of airtime. It could be recharged with amounts in multiples of 5 Euro, either in a shop or via the Internet. This offered voice and data services. The Internet cost 3 Euro/day with a 100MB daily traffic limit, after which it was not clear if the Internet would be cut off or switched to a slow connection. I spent a total of 40 or 50 Euro over these two weeks, mainly because of the Internet access.

Internet access
As explained above I relied on a 3G phone with the Yoigo SIM card which I used as a modem for my computer. The last hotel where we stayed offered free Internet access. All other hotels with WLAN in the room charged between 10-20 Euro per day for the service. We didn't bother to look for Internet cafés.

After an initial not-so-hot weather in Barcelona with some clouds and even some rain at night, starting from Madrid it became very hot, sunny with spotless blue skies, with temperatures rising up to 38-39° C during the day. It was a dry heat however with fresh mornings. Windy and not too hot on the Andalusian beaches.

No vaccinations required, no health risks.

VISA / Entry requirements
Spain belongs to the Schengen zone, which means that between Germany and Spain there were no passport controls.

Before leaving for Spain I was reading in the Internet a lot of reports about crime and cars getting broken into in Spain. During our stay nothing happened, except for a small incident in Madrid where a pickpocket tried without success to steal my wallet.

Recommended things
  • That beach near Tarifa with the kite surfing centre. Very cool place.
  • There is not one major sight but a multitude of amazing sights all over Andalusia. Lots of old buildings with very interesting architecture.
  • Park Güell in Barcelona is very nice and a place where to bring the kids.
  • Barcelona is nice for a few days, Madrid surprisingly has fewer sights despite being the capital.

Things to avoid
  • There is nothing I would suggest to avoid. The Escorial was a bit less impressive than I had imagined.

Getting around
This was the more complicated part of the trip, given the need to move around a family of four with two small kids.

Inter-city connections by public transportation are good:
  • The bus from Girona airport to Barcelona is fast and not too expensive, although once you reach Barcelona you must take a taxi to reach your hotel and this won't be cheap.
  • Excellent train connection between Barcelona and Madrid: comfortable train taking you from Barcelona to Madrid in less than three hours. Not cheap however, since it's 70 Euro/person even after discount.
Driving on Spanish long-distance roads and motorways is easy and uncomplicated. We experienced only one brief traffic jam near Algeciras, otherwise the roads and motorways were mostly empty.

Where it get complicated, is when you need to get around in the cities with small kids. Public transportation in Barcelona and Madrid is good, but you still have to do some walking since there aren't metro or bus stops everywhere.
With small children and the summer heat this turned out to be a problem and in fact in Barcelona we ended up taking taxis to get back to the apartment in the evening, since the kids were simply too tired.
In Madrid I had to push a stroller with my two kids up a hill, because both kids were too tired to continue walking (also my wife complained about so much walking).
It would have been better in Madrid to get around by car since that would have reduced the amount of walking, but the problem is the parking, which can be quite expensive:
  • It's relatively affordable in some cities (Escorial, Toledo, Granada), more expensive in other cities (36 Euro/day or 3 Euro/hour in Barcelona).
  • In Sevilla it is even so that once you enter the city your car's licence plate is scanned and read electronically and if you do not manage to park the car in an official parking within 45 minutes you are automatically fined with 75 Euro.
  • There are almost no free parking spaces in Spanish cities. In other European countries instead (France, Switzerland and Germany for instance) it's very easy to find free parking and only in the historic centres you need to pay for the parking.
This parking situation is not acceptable in my opinion. You cannot always rely on public transportation, especially if you travel with small kids or have lots of luggage.

Car rental prices are in line with prices in other holiday destinations. At the time of visiting, gasoline cost a bit less in Spain than in Germany (1.3 vs. 1.5 Euro/litre).
The motorways we used were mostly free, except for some toll roads in Andalusia.

Regarding Ryanair
This was the first time we flew with Ryanair. What we liked about them:
  • The flights arrived punctually and we got our luggage quickly.
What we didn't like about Ryanair were all those extra fees, restrictions and draconian fines for very small infringements:
  • Fine of 40 Euro per person and trip if you don't check in online and arrive with a printed boarding pass.
  • Check-in luggage has to be paid for and costs 30 Euro/trip for a 20Kg piece. Overweight fine of 20 Euro for each Kg above 20Kg.
  • Only one piece of hand-carry item per person. Every small bag you carry with you is a hand-carry item. A small camera bag and a backpack with a notebook computer are two hand-carry items.
  • Distant airports: both Memmingen and Girona are 100km from the departure and arrival points. No fast public access to these airports from Munich and Barcelona.
  • Uncertainty until the end if the baby stroller would be accepted by Ryanair for our 3-year old or if Ryanair would force us to treat it as check-in luggage and fine us 40 Euro. The Ryanair policy only allows strollers for kids below two years of age.
  • No allocated seating on the plane, meaning that a family with kids can end up being spread across the plane (unless you pay 4 Euro/person/trip for priority boarding).
  • 6 Euro fee per person and trip if you want to pay the ticket, unless you have a prepaid credit card.
The Ryanair flight was not that cheap either: 1100 Euro for two adults and two kids to fly to Spain from Germany (we didn't use a standard airline because between Germany and Spain open-jaw flights are ridiculously overpriced).

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon