A few bits of practical advice from our month in Barcelona:
***Mass transit: the Barcelona transit system is excellent: diverse (subway, busses, trains, even a few trams), comprehensive, and efficient. We have taken a lot of busses, most of the Metro (subway) routes, and even the trains. And the connections are included in Google Maps (unlike Vienna transit)! You will see if you look on Google Maps that you will be given a variety of options. The Metro is usually, of course, the fastest method, but we actually found the busses to be more fun because you got to see so much of the city that way. Eventually, we even got to know places well enough that we could figure out our own routes from the many options available.
You will only occasionally find assistance at some of the stations of the Metro, and then they will often not speak much English anyway, but will do their best to help you. The cards for all lengths of time are available from the machines in the stations, and the machines give instructions in English. If you are going to be in town for any length of time, the best thing to get is a T-Mes card–a month card, right now about 52 Euros for unlimited travel on all lines. You may have trouble getting one on your own in a machine, because it will ask for your DIN number (more on that in a minute). I realized that we had been lucky to have an assistant at the station when we tried to get ours, and she must have made it possible to override the DIN number question. Otherwise, get a T-10 card, for 10 rides for a Euro each ride. The cards themselves are very flimsy, so try to put it away each time you use it, don’t bite it (I don’t know, that’s what the station master said I’d done) or roll it in your hand. Mine got so that it kept reading ”defective” and I had to get an assistant to make a new one for me.
When trying to find the correct bus stops, don’t expect the tour bus information people who might be standing around at Placa Catalunya or elsewhere to give you the correct information–they don’t know where anything is except their stops! We did find it hard sometimes to find anyone who could answer our questions about where specific bus stops were–in either English, Castilian, or Catalan. But otherwise, we found the systems great! For one entire week, we had to take transit from Poblenou, where our apartment was, to Centro Medico Teknon, which was nearly to Tibidabo, Barcelona’s old amusement park on the mountain behind the city–so about as far as one could go and still be in the city. We took several routes and were given good directions online for how to get there.
***The mention of Centro Medico Teknon leads to my next bit of info: English-speaking doctors. Because there is such a big ex-pat community in Barcelona, the U.S. Consulate here is extremely helpful on all fronts, and in finding doctors, they are especially good: they have an enormous list on their website (http://barcelona.usconsulate.gov/citizen-services/helpful/medical.html)–listed by specialty.
Unfortunately, along with our traumatic robbery, I also needed to visit two doctors, one for gastro issues, and one for knee injections to keep these creaky bones going for just a little bit longer. I found both of them through the consulate’s list, and both of them answered my email requests themselves on a Sunday evening, and both of them had offices at Centro Medico Teknon (http://www.teknonbarcelona.com/en/). The center is in the toniest section of town, and is completely state of the art. It is, therefore, pricey if you are not on a Spanish health insurance program. I hope and pray that my travel insurance will reimburse me for some of these expenses, since, given that I needed to pay them right after we had been robbed, it left us pretty skint.
That being said: the doctors were splendid. Dr. Fermin Mearin worked at the Mayo Clinic for three years, and is a specialist in digestive health. He is the first doctor I have spoken with who took my IBS symptoms seriously, and gave me very good treatment. Truly, I have never had anyone explain things as well or as thoroughly as he did.
Same with Dr. Enrique Boada. Trained in orthopedic surgery at Case Western Reserve, and with continuing connections to the U.S., h,e gave me the injections I needed, and charged me a lower rate than he would have since I had to pay out of pocket. I would definitely recommend him for anyone looking to have hip, knee, or shoulder surgery, at what would probably be lower prices than in the States.
All up, these little episodes set us back almost $1,000. But that was 5 office visits, six injections, and lab work. Fingers crossed some of this will be reimbursed!
***Internet: because we lost everything in the robbery, we tried to order somethings online through amazon.es. In Vienna, we had no trouble buying stuff through amazon.de, or even amazon.uk. But Spain, apparently, wants online purchasing only to be for their own citizens. Each time we tried to buy something, we were asked for our DIN. This is a tax ID number that all Spanish have, and it’s a pain in the neck to get around. We actually found the formula for devising the number, and figured that since we had a six-month EU visa from the Austrian government, we were legit. It almost worked, but then amazon wouldn’t accept our payment methods, which may have had to do with the cards recently being replaced, we’re not entirely sure. But then we tried to book train tickets online and the same thing happened: request for DIN, then the need to have some other number to do it. Our friend Annie says that Spanish internet seems to be set up only for the Spanish!
So be aware: it isn’t always easy to buy anything online in Spain. But unlike Austria and Germany, where train tickets are vastly cheaper if purchased ahead of time and online, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. When we went to the train station today to buy a ticket to Girona for Wednesday, we were told that we couldn’t buy tickets ahead of time, and had to come on the day and purchase them, but that the cost would be the same.
***Using Smartphone/Android: I’m afraid that we are still thoroughly confused about how all of this works. We had been continuing to use our phone SIM card from Vienna, because the rates weren’t bad, and we could use it for internet access pretty well. When the phone was stolen, however, and we had to go get new phones (at the Phone Store, branches everywhere in Barcelona–although, despite the English name, don’t expect the clerks to speak English!), we found that the plan (actually, prepaid cards) we got made it much, much easier to access the internet, the WiFi services throughout town, and it was cheaper, too. I suppose that once we get to our next destination, Athens, we’ll have to buy a new SIM card.
We really don’t feel at all qualified to tell anybody what to do or how to do it when it comes to the phone/camera/internet. All we can say is that each country is different in terms of what’s available and how it works, and everywhere it is an EXTREMELY competitive market.
***Post Office: in one of our more baffling discoveries, we found that our post office here in Poblenou didn’t have stamps! We had to go to the Tabac–the tobacco shops–to buy them. We’re still not quite sure if this is a normal occurrence or not, but the people at the tobacco shop, when asked why this would be, just shrugged and said ”Correos”–it’s the post office!–so I guess it’s not that unusual. Annie also tells us that she’s been waiting for months now for a package to be delivered that is held up in Customs, so mailing anything can be a pain. I’ll let you know if Max succeeds in covertly sending our replacement credit cards through FedEx.
***Museums, etc.: tickets ahead of time for museums CAN be purchased online and ahead of time! One nice thing about the museums and other public institutions is that most of the ones that do have fees are not too expensive and do have senior rates (except for the Gaudi venues, which are pretty pricey). Seniors also get in to some venues for free after certain times (late in the day) and/or on certain days. At the Palau de la Musica Catalana, for example, one has to buy the tickets at the office in order to get the senior discount, and in most places, we have had to show our ID to prove that we’re over 65!
That’s it for now. We have loved being over in Poblenou, so near the beach and in a real neighborhood. Oh, one last thing: remember that ALL shops are closed between 2 and 5 (or 4:30) everywhere except in the most touristy parts of town. So plan your day accordingly. Of course, restaurants are open during the 1:30 to 5:00 lunch time.