Rita Cook

Travels with rita

Train travel in Europe, the thought of it usually brings a smile to the face of both the young and the old. 

Now, even better, you can quickly jump from city to city and especially in that jewel of the Mediterranean country of Spain where I personally did three nights in three cities using the Rail Europe AVE.

It is Spain’s super-fast, high-speed train network and in three days it was historic Madrid, vibrant Barcelona and Spain’s real hidden gem, Valencia.

At up to 220 mph, the AVE links all three major cities including a few others like Seville, Malaga, Segovia and Valladolid and you can get to each one in less than three hours in most cases depending on how you plan your trip. 

Of course, there’s nothing to say you have to do your trip as fast as I did mine, but it’s still possible.

Land in the morning from America in the centrally located city of Madrid and take an evening off at one of the many hotels in that city. One suggestion is the centrally-located Intercontinental an old 18th-century palace just minutes from the Prado Museum, the Serrano shopping street, the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Musuem. The signature restaurant el Jardin also comes highly recommended to begin your Spanish sojourn.

A walking tour in Madrid can take anywhere from two hours to all day, but in addition to the number of museums stops first-timers must also stop and admire the 17th Century Plaza, a major must before taking in some fresh air at one of the numerous Spanish outdoor cafés. 

The next morning wake up bright and early and head to the city of Barcelona.  It’s only a 2 hour 50 minute ride on the Ave. You’re certain to want to take a few of the Gaudi sites, the architecture being unlike anywhere else from the buildings he’s known for to that church we’ve all heard of that still isn’t complete called Sagrada Familía.

Of course, the beach will certainly beckon you too so don’t be shy, but enjoy the sun while you’re visiting. Barcelona is a whimsical experience and you don’t want to miss a thing, stay at the Hotel Claris located in the Palau Vedruna whiz through their onsite Egyptian Museum with some stunning artifacts right on the property.

From Barcelona to Valencia you can make it in less than three hours and still have time for a walking tour before lunch. Valencia is both an old and new city enjoying the highlights of both and sitting on the Mediterranean. The heritage you will discover along with the modernity will make this city one of the top on your Spanish list of favorites.

The Westin Valencia is an excellent place to spend the night with its modernist style building dating from 1917 and  situated within walking distance from the historical, cultural, and shopping centers in the city.

Sites to see in Valencia include the Basilica de las Desamparados – a 17th century church – San Nicolas, the city’s oldest church in the city and located on the plaza and of course, both the 15th century cathedral, the Gothic Palau de la Generalitat, and the Basilica de La Virgin de los Desamparadors. 

Heading back to Madrid to catch my flight home from Valencia the next day it only took me 1 1/2 hours on the new high-speed Valencia–Madrid route in service since December 2010.

After all the travel and the new discoveries, before heading home be sure and take one more excursion around Madrid or, maybe find some time for a well-deserved siesta.

As for train travel overall in Europe, and in Spain specifically, it can sometimes be confusing for Americans so here are a few pointers.

Buy your pass before heading over at the Rail Europe website. Rail Europe is the largest distributor of European rail products in North America, representing more than 35 railroad operators throughout the continent. Established in North America in 1990 as Rail Europe Inc., the roots of the company actually enjoy a much longer history in the U.S., dating back to the 1930s. Now the company dominates the European rail travel market too.

Also remember to activate your pass when you begin traveling and it must be activated within six months of purchase. 

Keep in mind too that although your pass gives you access to rail travel on the national railroads in the participating countries in which your pass is valid, certain trains – such as high speed, international and night trains – require you to reserve a seat or a bed for an extra fee. These pass holder reservations can be purchased from Rail Europe or overseas at the local train stations and are based on availability at the time of purchase. Advance booking is highly recommended as seats can be limited, especially during the summer and holiday season. Most trains can be booked up to three months in advance.

Reservations are mandatory on all trains traveling from one country to another and on all night trains. Rail Europe is unable to book seat reservations on trains in some countries including but not limited to Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovakia, Romania or Turkey. While the majority of trains within these countries do not require seat reservations, reservations may be purchased locally.

The following trains always require reservations so keep that in mind when traveling in these countries: 

In Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands: Thalys

 In France: TGV, Lunia

 In Germany: ICE Sprinter

 In Great Britain/France/Belgium: Eurostar

 In Greece: InterCity Express

 In Italy: Eurostar Italia, IC and EC  

In Portugal: AP and IC

 In Spain: AVE, Euromed, Alvia, Altaria

 In Switzerland: Scenic trains  

In Sweden: X2000

Got some time, from three days to three months, then consider a Rail Europe vacation and hit as few or as many European countries as you dare. The only requirement is that you are keen to see the countryside while sitting back and relaxing in the comfort of one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to travel these days.

For more information visit www.raileurope.com.