>Q: I have tried repeatedly to make reservations online for the bullet train from Madrid to Barcelona in October. Along with the language problem (no English seems to be available), the best I could get was that no reservations were being accepted at the moment. If this goes on much longer, I will have to settle for a flight. Any suggestions for train booking?
A: Don't give up yet. Last month I took the AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona and marveled at how easy, efficient and smooth the trip was. Way better than flying.
Renfre operates the high-speed train in Spain, but as you noted, its Web site is in Spanish. Fortunately, Renfre has English agents based out of London. The Web site is www.spanish-rail.co.uk.
You can request a booking online by clicking on the Contact Us link and filling out the form. An agent will e-mail or call you back to set up the reservation. You also can call the agents directly at 011-44-20-7725-7063.
Recently a reader asked for advice about the best way to get euros for an upcoming trip. Here are suggestions from a few other readers:
*You can open a savings account and use a Capital One ATM card with no currency conversion fees.
*With the advent of ATMs, I find currency exchange services no longer of use. Even if you arrive at a foreign airport with no local currency, there's almost always an ATM (or several) in the departure and arrival concourses. I just use my ATM card to draw cash. You generally get a better conversion rate than from the currency exchange services and no commission fee charged.
I have an interest-bearing personal checking account with First Republic Bank. It has the features of not charging for use of other banks' ATMs worldwide, and reimbursing your account for any fees charged to you by the bank which operates the ATM, anywhere in the world.
*Two years ago we went to Spain. When we tried to use our ATM card, it wouldn't work no matter where we went. I called our credit union and was told Spain and Portugal had been "turned off" because of theft of ATM information. We had to use our credit card at banks to get cash.
Last year I called the credit card company and the credit union to see if there were any problems with the Netherlands or Belgium. They said "no," but you should always call and check before going.
*I carried travelers checks to Italy three years ago and cashed them directly at an American Express office, where I got the best rate possible at that time.
*For the past 10 years I have been traveling to Thailand every winter. Initially, the best rate was always at the airport on arrival -- now they give slightly worse rates than the banks in Bangkok. And each bank seems to have its own rate system so one needs to check around. The best rate I found was at the Sky Train station near the entrance to the Central Chidlowm department store.
One precaution in Thailand -- money exchangers, whether banks or street exchangers, only like new or nearly new bills and you get a much higher rate for $50 and $100 bills.