Or: Spain, Spring 2011, Day 3, Part 1: train travel
Following some advice from our extremely helpful and friendly hotel staff, we opted to do our third day on this trip outside of Sevilla in Córdoba, instead of Granada like we’d originally planned. We got a very pleasant taste of the Spanish train system and had plenty of good luck with the weather and the old walled city in Córdoba.
First challenge: picking a train station from which depart Seville. The rail network connecting Seville to other cities offers plenty of frequent options in all directions and classes of ticket, so we weren’t too worried about just showing up and picking a train based on whatever looked convenient at the time of our arrival. Our concierge recommended taking a taxi to the Santa Justa train station and departing from there. At first, we thought that was a little weird, like
- Why isn’t there there a Hauptbahnhof?, and
- Would all the bus and tram lines in the city naturally lead to said missing Hauptbahnhof?
Then we remembered, this is Spain, and not Germany.
We paid about 10 or 12€ for the taxi ride from the Casco Antiguo to Estación Santa Justa and put our Deutsche Bahn skills to work. At first glance, the layout of the train station seemed pretty much like many others we’d seen in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc.: a shopping area, ticket service counters, snack bars. We tried to use the ticket automats to seek out a hin-und-zurück connection to Córdoba, but gave up quickly owing to vocabulary deficiencies (indeed, ). So we headed off the ticket counter and were shocked and amazed to find not just one massive line, but in fact five or six different ones, organized by urgency of service need. If you need help with an immediate departure, there’s a line for that. If you need help with a departure sometime today, there’s a line for that. If you need help with a departure on another day…there’s a line for that — and it all worked (both in Seville and Córdoba). And guess what: while waiting in line — anywhere in Spain, actually — we felt the need to define and defend our personal space. It’s not like Spain is (that much) bigger or more densely populated than Germany; it’s just that they’re not seeking every opportunity to gain 4mm on their closest competitor in the race
- to the ticket counter
- onto the bus
- into the museum
I have never seen the DB ticket counters organized in such a way, and for how often their long-distance trains are delayed and passengers must be re-routed, you’d think they’d implement a system like that. But OK, this wasn’t the last instance in which RENFE impressed us with its professionalism and organization.
We headed towards the platforms much earlier than we thought necessary. As we approached the long escalator leading down to the tracks, a woman asked us show her our tickets. She checked them, and allowed us to pass onto the escalator. At the bottom of the escalator, our bags (just backpacks full of camera stuff and bottled water and guide books and other typical tourist stuff) went through an x-ray machine. At that point, we remembered what might justify the extra security “just” at the train station. Post-baggage-screening, a guy in another smaller ticket window checked our tickets yet again and pointed us to toward the train car containing our reserved seats. A smiling Zugbegleiterin greeted us there and welcomed us on board into the spacious, roomy, clean, and pleasant-smelling train car. We were travelling in tourist-class seats on a high-speed line (think ICE equivalent). Nice!
Here are some final bits of knowledge gleaned from the experience:
- Even if you buy a one-way ticket originally (perhaps, because like us, you were travelling on a loose schedule at best), hang onto it. You might be able to show that one-way initial ticket at the ticket counter for a price reduction on the way back. It’s probably still cheaper to book a there-and-back ticket at the outset, if you can, but RENFE has some sympathy for the spontaneous traveler, expressed in the form of a discounted one-way ticket back.
- These are the classes of trains we saw while thinking about getting from Seville to Cadiz or Granada or Córdoba:
Top-level. Most similar to the ICE-level trains in Germany. But the tourist class tickets for the AVE felt like ICE first-class tickets. Seems more expensive than 2nd class ICE travel for the approximately the same distance (say, from Regensburg to Nürnberg), but it was definitely a step up in terms of customer service and personal comfort. They even handed out free headphones to watch the video playing on the ceiling-mounted monitors.
Somewhere in the mid-range of the pricing, and almost as fast as the AVE (at least for the Sevilla-Córdoba route). From the outside, these trains looked a lot like AVEs.
- Media Distancia
Much cheaper and slower than the other two. The ones we saw in the train stations looked like DB RE/RB equivalents.
- Most importantly: it’s not Germany. You can’t expect to walk up the platform one minute to departure, board and seek out your seat while the train rolls out of the station; the extra security measures require more time. Expect to be on the platform at least 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure, and that ought to work out nicely.