If you are preparing to travel to Spain and have questions regarding what to bring, money, health, food safety and issues alike, here is some information that will help you prepare:
What to bring
Comfortable cloths and shoes—new, nice looking jeans are fine; one dressy outfit; waterproof jacket; sweater; umbrella (in the fall); money belt (or similar to keep petty thieves away). Walking shoes (same issues as jeans)or other comfortable shoes. Bring a hat for the times we will be out sightseeing, especially in the summer or if the sun bothers you (the sun is hot). Your passport (and copy of it to carry with you when you are out), credit or debit card (and pin number), camera, medication, and lost of enthusiasm and energy.
If you are coming from the US or the west, also bring Melatonin or a similar remedy. You will have difficulty falling asleep because of the time change. It can also be taken to prevent jet lag (or so they say). You will need it!
Currency: Euro. Currency exchange rates at http://www.oanda.com/convert/classic
Euro bills: 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 euros.
Euro coins: 2 euros, 1 euro; 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cent.
How to get money in Madrid
There are ATMs everywhere, where you could get money. Make sure you have a valid pin and that your bank allows you to use your debit card abroad. If you will draw money from your credit card, make sure you know your pin number. You can get money from an ATM at the airport.
You can get money exchanged also at the airport. Just as you come out the luggage retrieval area, there is an American Express counter. You can get your traveler's checks exchange there also—you may not be able to get them exchanged anywhere else other than an American Express office. Make sure you have some euros with you when you leave the airport. On Sundays and holidays, banks are closed. Sometimes the hotels will exchange money, but don't count on it to be safe.
The weather in the Madrid area is very dry. If you live in a humid area, the temperatures here will seem to you lower than what they really are. The sun shines most of the time and during the day hours it will be much warmer than in the evening. The temperatures can drop 10-15 degrees during the night. The months of October, November and December are the rainy season, however the last 2 years there has been little rain. Temperatures in the beginning of November: average high: 61 F (16 C); average low: 46 F (8 C).
Times and Schedules
The time in Spain is GMT+1 (6 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard time).
The following information is meant in general terms; and exceptions should be expected—nothing is cast in stone in Spain!:
Times meals are served at restaurants : Breakfasts: 7 to 11 am; lunch (this is the main meal of the day) 1:30 to 4:00 pm; dinner 9 to 11 pm. There are some restaurants where meals are served continuously (mostly fast food places).
Store hours: 10 am to 2 pm and 5 to 8 pm. Large department stores open 10 am to 10 pm. All stores close on Sundays (except the first Sunday of the month) and holidays.
Banks open Monday through Friday 8:30 (or 9) am to 2:00 pm. Saturdays until 1 pm.
There is a lot of activity going on until late hours of the night—if not all night.
Food and Health
The typical Spanish cuisine is distinctively Mediterranean, and it is characterized by its tremendous variety in meat, poultry, fish, seafood, vegetables and fruit. Typical ingredients are olive oil, garlic, parsley, saffron, meat, poultry or fish, and fresh vegetables. You will be happily surprised to find out how good food can taste--Spanish gastronomy is among the best in the world. Please be aware that the Spanish diet with all its fresh fruits and vegetables and specially its olive oil could cause you loose bowls. If you think you might have a problem, bring some medication or other remedy with you.
Spanish water is safe to drink (except in public fountains where there is an “agua no potable” sign (this is not common). You do not have to buy bottled water, but it is convenient to have a bottle with you when you go out sight seeing. Water in Madrid tastes good, but not so in Barcelona. Although it is safe to drink, you probably will prefer to get bottled water when you visit Barcelona.
If needed, good medical care is available in Spain. You should contact your medical insurance companies prior to traveling abroad to confirm that your policy applies abroad and it will cover emergency expenses.
Spain has a moderate rate of crime and most of the 58 million tourist who come to Spain each year have trouble free visits. However, street crimes against tourists occur in the principal tourist areas. In Madrid and Barcelona there have been incidents of muggings and violent attacks. Criminals frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, outdoor cafes, Internet cafes, hotel lobbies, beach resorts, city buses, subways, trains, train stations, airports, and ATM machines. You should to carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a copy of your passport; leaving extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location. If you are victim of a crime, report it immediately to the local police and to your Embassy or Consulate.
Telephone codes: to call Spain dial 011 34 and number (9 digits).
Postage. Purchase your stamps at the post office or at any tobacco store. Here you can find out the correct postage for your country. Yellow mailboxes are located throughout the city. They usually have 2 slots: “Madrid capital” and “otros destinos.” Place your letter in “otros destinos.”
Electricity is 220 (110 in the US). If you come from the US bring and bring an electrical device, you must have a transformer to change the current and an adapter for the switch (with round prong).
Smoking is not allowed in public buildings. There are smoke free restaurants and restaurants with non-smoking sections.
Drinking: Wine is always served with your meals (lunch and dinner).
Tips. It is customary to tip at restaurants, but not as much as in the US because the service charge is included in the bill and waiters are usually paid on a salary basis.
Taxis. They are inexpensive, and you can find a taxi just about anywhere in the streets of large cities. In Madrid they are white with a red stripe. To know if they are occupied of free, look for a “libre” or “ocupado” sign on the windshield during the day. At night a green light shows they are free.