Planning a solo Spain itinerary - Arts must-do's? Portugal?
Replies: 49 - Last Post: Aug 10, 2012 9:55 PM Last Post By: gawkabout
Jul 31, 2012 6:55 PM
30I'm off to Spain in October. I have a money belt and I'm just going to be myself, anyone looking shifty or getting too close will get the hairy eyeball ;) I'll take only what I need when out and about and use a cheap digital camera if needed. Its really almost impossible to not look like a tourist. By the way you can get bras that have a credit card slot on the side for stashing, I saw it on a website somewhere.
Aug 1, 2012 1:16 AM
31I think you need a reality check.
You say you have been wanting to go to Spain my whole life. And now here you are, you've started planning, read one thread and heard a few stories about pickpockets in Barcelona and are so scared that you want to give up this dream trip. Fair enough in a way, seeing as you're an inexperienced traveller. However, before you cancel your plans and book a flight to somewhere your sister says you better go to even though you don't seem to be very interested, you need to keep things in perspective.
Yes, Barcelona does have a bad reputation for pickpocketing, and that seems to be partly deserved. However, the vast majority of visitors to Barcelona get away without any problem whatsoever, and as long as you use common sense - i.e. don't display your valuables openly, don't walk into dark alleys on your own late at night, be aware of your surroundings etc. - you have a 95%+ chance of becoming one of those happy visitors too.
Tips I've read to avoid all this include not pulling out maps in public, looking like you know where you're going, not using your camera, and generally not looking like a tourist
I've done all of that and nothing happened. There are, at any given time, thousands of people in Barcelona who clearly stand out as tourists, check their maps or are absent-mindedly gazing at buildings (and therefore, from a pickpockets point of view, very juicy targets) and taking pictures. Only the careless and the really unlucky ones are pickpocketed or robbed.
I want to gaze at the Gaudi buildings
Well, you certainly won't be able to do that in NYC.
I want to stand around and let myself be a bit dreamy, and I don't want to be feeling like I'm being watched whenever I need to pull out a map. If you have any suggestions for making that work, please let me know
As a traveller you are always, even if it's just a little, more vulnerable than as a local, if only because you're likely to be disoriented, don't speak the language and are carrying around more valuables with you (camera etc). Doesn't matter where in the world you go to - although in some countries you're more likely to be pickpocketed, while in others muggings at knife- or gunpoint are more common and in again other areas travellers are easily taken advantage of.
The most important thing is to realize what might happen, take precautions and then continue to enjoy yourself. This includes:
- making sure you are aware of your surroundings; don't walk into deserted alleys
- making sure you are in control as much as possible; i.e. don't walk around intoxicated, don't accept drinks from strangers, have a healthy distrust of friendliness - in a place as touristy as Barcelona, only a con artist would start a conversation in fluent English while you're waiting at a traffic light near a tourist attration, welcome you with open arms and invite you for a drink or a game of cards or whatever
- leave some emergency money, copies of your passport and tickets and emergency telephone numbers at your hotel when you're out for sightseeing; save copies of your passport, credit/bank card details and the emergency phone numbers of your embassy, bank and/or credit card company in your email account
- realize when you are at your most vulnerable: as you say, you will be carrying around all your stuff on the way between transportation terminals and hotels; be extra vigilant then, especially when you're on a crowded metro or bus. Keep you valuables out of sight and keep your day pack in front of you; NEVER carry your wallet in your back pocket
In regards NYC, I've spoken to quite a few people who think it's one of the safest places to visit
Do they think so or do they speak from own experience? If so, here's another person's experience: I've spent a grand total of 14 days in Barcelona, about a month in Madrid and 4 days in NYC. I took the usual precautions but stood out as a tourist, took hundreds of pictures, checked my maps on the street (it's so easy to do that discretely) and gazed at my surroundings. Never had a problem.
All three cities have seedy areas, but these are generally easily avoided and, besides that, seedy doesn't necessarily mean dangerous.
Nowhere in the world is 100% safe for travellers. However, if you're really that anxious, perhaps you should leave Spain, NYC and anywhere else for another trip and go to Japan instead. Not 100% safe either, but there won't be many countries with a similarly low tourist-oriented crime rate.
Aug 1, 2012 2:17 AM
32HungryLittleMonkey ... you worry too much, and you contradict yourself just as much. You say you aren't going to Spain because of the pickpockets in Barcelona? Last time I checked Barcelona wasn't the only town in Spain. You offer up alternatives, NYC, China and India ....
Are you the least bit aware that NYC has a higher crime rate then Barcelona? In Barcelona they might pickpocket you and take your stuff. In NYC they'll stab you and leave you for dead, maybe even rape you, is that a better out come? Not to mention all the rats in NYC, maybe you might get 'The Black Death Plague'. Don't get me started on how much less safe China and India are as compared with Barcelona.
My advice, chill out .... You only live once, if you are going to avoid a whole country as great and beautiful like Spain just because you are paranoid about pickpockets then you are missing out. If you live your life like this then you will miss out on so many things, what a shame. Just stay on your guard, listen to advice from locals, and use your common sense, its simple.
Don't build a wall around yourself and think you'll be safe. Paranoia isn't a good thing you know?
Aug 1, 2012 3:45 AM
33Aribo, thanks for the tips. I guess it's the "healthy distrust of friendliness" that bothers me. And perhaps I don't trust myself to not help others if they look like they need it. How do you talk to anyone with that 'healthy distrust"?
In regards NYC, yes, the people I've spoken to have been there, my sister included. And it is a place I'd like to visit, just lower on my list. I think the city's reputation for crime has changed somewhat over the years.
I am being overly cautious, sure. I am busting to see Spain, particularly Barcelona, sure. But I've been a little unwell over the past few years, much better in the last year, and I kinda need to take it easy on myself. If I don't see Spain now, I'll go when I've worked up a little more guts through other trips. But all of these tips are making it seem a lot more doable. I've read some great advice about stashing money on your person today - secret pockets, etc.
Aug 1, 2012 7:31 AM
34I think maybe for your first trip and your nervousness you should consider an organized tour! Much as I dislike them,they would give you a feel for the flavor of Spain!
I can't imagine choosing NY over Spain, no comparison!
India is a definitely a shock to the system-I would never consider going alone and have been there for business-never again! Chaotic in every way-no charm!
China is just a place that overwhelms and holds no charm/interest for me but if it did it would definitely be the place go with a group tour
Aug 3, 2012 3:23 AM
35Welcome to Houston. Stick'em up!
Please don't be reluctant to see Spain on acount of what you heard about Barcelona.
Carry your wallet in your front pocket, so you can hang your hand by your side. And only have enough cash in it so they won't demand more. They boogie men here in Spain if not most of Europe never use guns. They don't get violent unless you do.
I was robbed of everything, in a park in Malaga, by misdirection of attention. But I yelled "Robar! robar!" They dropped every thing and ran.
Don't sweat the small stuff.
Rule of threes; Pack only three compleat changes of clothes. Roll them so you can take one thing from pack at a time. Helps control wrinkles too. (speaking as a bachelor who doesn't separate colrs for washing:)
Stay for at least three compleat days at each stop. Not including travel days.
Its quality of visit/not quantity, for experience worth. These places unfold for us. And you have friends out there, you haven't met yet. Don't ditch 'em too quick. They are our fun, teachers.
If you are in a hurry in Spain, you're in the wrong country.
Spain. 1001 reasons to say, what's my hurry anyway?
As a life long art addict; (my granny taught me art history with a portfolio of Theyssen-Borzenstien stuff, from Madrid.)
That wonderful museum is a block up the beautiful blvd from the Prado.
Herronymus Bosche is called "El Bosco" in Spain. There's a whole room of his freaky magic in the Prado. You'll wanna stay all day.;D
Aug 3, 2012 5:32 AM
36OK, I'm coming back around to the idea, folks.
Chopchi, I think you're right. I like the idea of 4-7 days each in Barcelona and Madrid and a 2-3 week tour in between. Unfortunately, most tours seem incredibly rushed with a lot of time "seeing" or "passing by" great places and little "visiting". Do you know of any good tour companies? Any within Spain?
Gawkabout, you should ask the Spanish government for some formal recognition of your ambassadorial skills. Your enthusiasm is wonderfully infectious. It's hard not to come back around to the idea of holidaying in Spain while you're reflecting all of my original excitement for the country. I especially love "And you have friends out there you haven't met yet. Don't ditch 'em too quick." Beautiful.
Oh, and Bosch? I loved his work until I had a calendar of his in my bedroom while at uni. I had the most unpleasant dreams - nightmares, some - until I got rid of it. I hadn't paid enough attention to see all the really dark stories in the details. I think it was doing something weird with my subconscious. I'd love to know if anyone else has had that experience! .. Anyway, I digress .. I'd love to see the room in Prado. I can probably appreciate it again if I don't have to sleep with it! Kehe!
Aug 3, 2012 5:57 AM
37Just my 2c worth... Sitting at your computer in Oz, things look scary but I think once you get 2 feet on the ground, after 24 hrs you will regret spending a fortune on an organized tour. A map and a guide book will be your best friend. All that money you spend on a tour will give you 2 more weeks in Spain. Stay in hostels, meet people and before you know it you'll have friends to share experiences with, there will be lots of travellers looking for the same experiences who are also starting off alone.
Aug 10, 2012 4:57 AM
Well, I've drafted an itinerary today, though I'm not too sure whether I need the length of time I have in some places. Ideally, I'd prefer to break it down to about 24 days, so I need to think about where to cut it. As I've been going through the bus and train timetables, I'm realising I possibly don't need to spend as many nights in some places as the travel is reasonably short depending on which option I take.
My main question at the moment is what to do to get from Spain to Portugal and back out again. It doesn't seem possible to do this directly from Seville. Apparently I should travel from Seville to Faro (info: another thread), but it appears that this trip is only available in the opposite direction (Faro to Seville). Should I travel further north and then backtrack to Portugal? Doesn't seem quite economical - time or money. What's the solution?
Anyway, here's the basic plan:
Madrid 4 nights
Valencia 2 nights
Cordoba 1 night
Granada 3 nights
Seville 3 nights
Lisbon 3 nights
Porto 3 nights
Salamanca 2 nights
Bilbao 2 nights
San Sebastian 2 nights
Barcelona 4 nights
Does it seem workable?
I'm planning to book whatever I can before I go (routes and accommodation) so that I only need to worry about how to get to the stations.
Oh, yeah .. I would have preferred a guided tour, but the ones that were economical were booked for the time I wanted to go! I decided I'd spend the money that could have gone on an expensive trip that was available on a few decent non-shared hotel rooms.
Aug 10, 2012 5:44 AM
39My main question at the moment is what to do to get from Spain to Portugal and back out again. It doesn't seem possible to do this directly from Seville. Apparently I should travel from Seville to Faro (info: another thread), but it appears that this trip is only available in the opposite direction (Faro to Seville). Should I travel further north and then backtrack to Portugal?
From one of my backpacking trips I remember a rather inconvenient change of trains in the middle of the night at Caceres, but according to the Spanish Railways (http://www.renfe.es) website, the recommended routing now is Sevilla-Madrid-Lisbon (note that arrival and departure in Madrid is from different stations).
Lisbon 3 nights
Porto 3 nights
I'd make that Lisbon 4, Porto 2 nights. Sintra is a wonderful day trip destination from Lisbon, 40 minutes by train; you can buy tickets just before boarding at the train station.
As far as I know it's also not necessary (perhaps not even possible) to book the Lisbon-Porto trains in advance.
Porto is nice, but if you take a morning train from Lisbon you'll have a good 1.5 days in Porto which for me was enough to see what I wanted to see.
Aug 10, 2012 6:53 AM
40You can travel in Portugal by bus -- more options and not very expensive. We used buses and just bought the ticket beforehand at the bus station. The tourist office (in Lisbon right near Rossio Train Station, for example) will be able to give you schedules.
I don't quite understand why travel should only be possible from Faro to Seville and not back. What do the buses do -- disappear?
I also agree with Aribo that Lisbon deserves more time than Porto.
And why a tour for a couple of weeks? Once you get the hang of being somewhere by yourself, just look in your guidebook to see where you would like to go next and go buy a ticket. Last minute buying might be a bit more expensive, but it allows for flexibility -- staying longer or less time in a place.
And you don't mention when you are going. Anytime out of high season, you don't need to book anything in advance. If you are sure of where you are going within a day or two, pop into an internet cafe and google "accommodation + name of place" and book whatever looks good to you. If not, you can also check places once you get there, but this can be time consuming and uncomfortable, especially if you have too much luggage.
And learn to pack lightly! Pack what you think you'll need, then take out half. You can do this several times.
Aug 10, 2012 7:49 AM
Aug 10, 2012 8:10 AM
Aug 10, 2012 10:16 AM
43Lisbon is just a very gritty/ poor city compared to other European cities. I have been there twice on business and really felt uncomfortable walking around by myself.Lots of unsavory characters hanging around in groups, making comments.The hotel receptionist warned me about being unsure if I should walk out alone at night.Lots of "ladies" come out.So I took the on/off bus to see the main sights-left me unimpressed.I think compared to Madrid it just is so poor-as evdent in the cracked sidewalks,untended flower beds etc.
I really enjoyed getting out of Lisbon and visiting Sintra.If I have to go to Lisbon again, I think I'll stay in sintra and commute by train to Libon.
Aug 10, 2012 12:00 PM
44Parts of Lisbon, including areas frequented by tourists such as Alfama and Bairro Alto, are indeed quite rundown and dirty, but that gives the city an extra edge and plenty of character. I don't remember having ever felt scared there, though at night it's a good idea to stick to well-lit streets with enough other people around.
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