Sunday, 13 May 2007

Vilanova - well connected, in one direction

In the competition for business and people, a lot of cities come up with funny slogans stating that they are located right in the middle, where things happen. The important thing seems to be the central location while little time is spent on critical questions whether being in the middle really matters. Vilanova i la Geltrú lies right in between Barcelona and Tarragona.

Vilanova is located 50 km south west of Barcelona and the fastest way to get here is by car. As long as you avoid peak hours, when traffic is always congested, the drive will take you 40 minutes from the centre of Barcelona or 30 minutes if you start from the Barcelona Prat airport.

The most convenient roas is the toll way C-32, which is considered a bit expensive by daily commuters (€ 4,85) but we largely have ourselves to blame, since the politicians on our side of the tunnels have not united to negotiate higher subsidies from the regional government, as has been done in other places. The only alternative is to use the old coast road (C-31). This used to be the only direct link to Sitges and Vilanova and we have heard horror stories about people having to go through the sharp curves in an ambulance. With two small children who easily get sick in the car we never hesitate to pay to go through the tunnels.

Having a car is a clear advantage for tourists who want to travel around, especially if the plan is to visit the wine and cava districts around Vilafranca del Penedès and Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. These two towns are only 15 minutes away from Vilanova, but there is no smooth train connection and the public bus service is poorly developed.

For anyone who comes to Vilanova to enjoy the beaches and only wants to make some trips to Sitges or Barcelona for the exciting contrast, public transport is fully sufficient. Rodalies, the local trains, take you to Barcelona Sants and Passeig de Gracia four times an hour. I have to admit that during the last year or so, the trains on this line usually are delayed, resulting in journeys taking up to one hour rather than 45 minutes. To daily commuters, like my wife, this causes a lot of irritation, but we are being promised that the situation will soon go back to normal since it is all caused by the construction work for the AVE, due to be completed before 2008.

The newly remodeled station in Prat de Llobregat forms a part of that package and now when it has been finished we think it was worth the temporary inconvenience. This is where you change trains if you go to Vilanova from Barcelona Prat airport and families with children will appreciate that this is now an indoor station, fully equipped with lifts and escalators. When making the trip back to the airport, before you leave Vilanova, make sure that the train stops at Prat de Llobregat. Unfortunately, not all trains do and the message over the PA-system in the station is only made in Catalan and Spanish.

Rodalies stop going at midnight but that does not matter for those who want to explore true Barcelona nightlife. Since dinners start late, local people come to clubs well after midnight. Several places have 3.00 a.m. as there opening hour so you can easily keep yourself entertained until the train service starts again in the morning. For people like my wife and me, who are simply not created for advanced partying, the only alternative is the night bus, leaving from Plaça Catalunya throughout the night. I am sure that we will use it some day, but so far we prefer taking turns driving the car home. Taxis in Barcelona are relatively cheap, but it will cost you € 70 if you take it all the way out here.

The only bus from Barcelona we make use of is the one from the airport. It goes once an hour and the advantage compared to the train is that you do not have to change. At the Barcelona airport, look for the sign of Mon Bus, where terminal B ends, in the direction of terminal C. Do not be discouraged if you see a Mon Bus coach stop to let passengers leave but does not let you board. That is not the bus you are waiting for but, unfortunately, the drivers are not service minded enough to tell you so. Delays are standard so have patience and feel confident there will be a bus in the end.

In short, Vilanova i la Geltú is very well connected to Barcelona, at least during daytime. To Tarragona, communication is equally efficient if you go by car. However, that is where the similarities stop. For all the history and beauty of Tarragona, Catalonia only has one centre point and that is Barcelona. When checking out the public transport networks here you will immediately find out that Tarragona is just another satellite to the Catalan capital. So if you live somewhere in between, like here in Vilanova, while commuting by public transport towards the centre is easy, that is not the case if you have to go in the other direction. However, do not let this scare you off, if you are here as a tourist. You have plenty of time and Tarragona is well worth a one-day visit. The trains are reliable - they are just not very frequent.

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